Christianity must be relational and not religious. Christianity is all about our personal relationship with Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. Our duty as Christians is to worship God, and as Jesus says in Mark 12:30 “… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment.”
Two characters in the Bible New Testament had close personal relationships with Jesus which are recorded for us as guides as how we too, are to live. Let us look first at Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the Lazarus whom Jesus brought back from the dead. The story is related in for us in Luke 10:38-42 as follows:
“And as they went, it happened that He entered into a certain village. And a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.
But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she came to Him and said, Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.
And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’“
The Life Application Study Bible says of this passage:
“Mary and Martha both loved Jesus. On this occasion they were both serving him. But Martha thought Mary’s style of serving was inferior to hers. She didn’t realize that in her desire to serve, she was actually neglecting her guest. Are you so busy doing things for Jesus that you’re not spending any time with him? Don’t let your service become self-serving. Jesus did not blame Martha for being concerned about household chores. He was only asking her to set priorities. Service to Christ can degenerate into mere busywork that is totally devoid of devotion to God.”
Today, most Christians simply get too busy and focussed on doing, rather than listening and attending, so that like Sister Martha, we miss the best parts of Christian life – sitting at the feet of Jesus as we listen to His words. Not much has changed in the last two thousand years, for like Martha, we still complain when we get our priorities wrong. Being like Mary, however, finding the time and acknowledging the priority to sit at the feet of Jesus, is something in attitude and relationship to which we must aspire.
John 13:23 is a verse which gives great insight into the relationship between Jesus and the Apostle John. It reads “But there was one of His disciples leaning upon Jesus’ bosom, the one whom Jesus loved.” This information is important, for it is actually given twice in the Gospel of John; 13:23 and 13;25 “And lying on Jesus’ breast, he said to him, Lord, who is it?” The Apostle John is known in the Bible as “the beloved disciple” and he belonged to the inner circle, so to speak, of the disciples. The relationship which John had with Jesus was indeed special and unique. It was this special relationship of love and trust which separated the Apostle John from the others. It was this relationship which allowed the principle of words of Luke 9:23-25 to come to fruition among the disciples after Jesus said to them:
“….. If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever will save his life shall lose it, but whoever will lose his life for My sake, he shall save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses himself, or is cast away?”
Thus it was that in the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus was arrested, the Apostle John was the only one who dared to risk his life to follow Jesus; all the others fled to save their lives. As a result, only the Apostle John is recorded as having died a natural death, all others, all those who fled to save their lives, lost them painfully as martyrs. (See our article “Are You Fighting to Save Your Life, or Lose it?” for more information on this.)
It was this closeness of relationship to Jesus which gave John the single minded determination, even at the risk of his own life, to follow Jesus into the trials of the enemy; to be there when all the others had fled and deserted Him. I’m pretty sure John did not seek martyrdom, he was only seeking to be with his Master. Nothing else mattered; Jesus was his single focus.
Two thousand years later, hundreds of Christians die daily around the world as martyrs for the Lord Jesus Christ, preferring death to denying Him. They are willing to live like John, willing to risk all for Jesus, even to the extent of losing their lives.
Yes, there is was a close relationship between both Jesus and Mary and between Jesus and John, from which Christians today have a lot to learn. But what of today – can we still have that Mary and John relationship with Jesus? Well the answer is certainly “Yes.” It is yes, because Jesus lives and in a sense is more “alive” today than when He lived as a man and walked the roadways and paths of the Holy Land.
Whom do I have in mind today as Christian example? I would like to offer a man of whom you have probably never heard, an Indian, Sadhu Sundar Singh. He was born on September 1889 in Rampur, a village in the Punjab, and educated at the Presbyterian missionary school nearby. After years of travelling in India, Tibet, and Nepal, Sadhu Singh set his sights further afield, journeying to China, Malaysia, and Japan in 1919 and in 1920 touring Australia, England, and the United States. In 1922 he travelled throughout Europe and he is believed to have died in the foothills of the Himalayas in 1929.
In what ways was he like Mary and John?
Sadhu Singh writes: “Educated people, especially those I met in the West, repress their native intuition and substitute in its place a kind of artificial rationalism. That is why the Master called simple fishermen as his disciples.
I studied theology in a theological seminary. I learned many useful and interesting things no doubt, but they were not of much spiritual profit. There were discussions about sects, about Yesu Christ and many other interesting things, but I found the reality, the spirit of all these things, only at the Master’s feet.
When I spent hours at his feet in prayer, then I found enlightenment, and God taught me so many things that I cannot express them even in my own language. Sit at the Master’s feet in prayer; it is the greatest theological college in this world. We know about theology, but he is the source of theology itself. He explains in a few seconds a truth that has taken years to understand.
Whatever I have learned has been learned only at his feet. Not only learning, but life, I have found at his feet in prayer.
I do not condemn theologians wholesale, but it is unfortunately the fashion in Western thinking to doubt and deny everything. I protest this tendency. I never advise anyone to consult theologians, because all too often they have completely lost all sense of spiritual reality. They can explain Greek words and all that, but they spend too much time among their books and not enough time with the Master in prayer. It is not that I oppose all education, but education without life is certainly dangerous. You must stop examining spiritual truths like dry bones! You must break open the bones and take in the life-giving marrow.” (page 179)
“When Sundar Singh disappeared in the Himalayas in 1929, the world mourned. His twenty-threeyear pilgrimage as a sadhu – a wandering, penniless pilgrim – had led him through at least twenty countries on four continents. He had profoundly influenced tens of thousands of people. Indeed, in the first half of the last century, no spiritual teacher from the East was better known.” (page 187) “As German scholar Friedrich Heiler once put it, “He is India’s ideal of the disciple of Christ – a barefooted itinerant preacher with burning love in his heart. In him Christianity and Hinduism meet, and the Christian faith stands forth, not as something foreign, but like a flower which blossoms on an Indian stem.” (page 188) ” There was also his reputation as a miracle worker – something he worked tirelessly to dispel. More than anything else, however, it was Sundar Singh’s understatedly simple faith and authentic practice of Christ’s teachings – something utterly out of sync with western materialistic intellectualism – that his audiences found so compelling.” (page 191)
I urge you to read “Wisdom of the Sadhu,” the teachings of Sundar Singh, which is available for download as a free ebook. He opened my eyes as to how I ought to live a Christian life, he may do the same for you. If Sadhu Sundar Singh could live the relational life of Mary and John with Jesus, I believe we, you and I, can do the same.