The Next Level

A message for Akron Alliance Fellowship Church, Akron OH on Sunday, March 6, 2022.

For the “Live in Church” audio of this message, select here.

Last Sunday, during our ZOOM Bible Study, we covered a passage in the book of Luke that got me thinking more about the importance of Bible Study and how you and I can gain wisdom and understanding that is applicable to today’s world.  The passage in question that provoked additional thought is Luke, Chapter 8, verses 1 through 3.

Luke 8:1-3 ESV

1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

This is the only mention within the four Gospels of the complete group of women who traveled with Jesus and the twelve disciples.  First, it is not a stretch to note that Jesus was showing everyone that these women were important to Him and His disciples.  Culturally, women did not have the same standing as men, and yet these women were traveling companions treated as equals.  We are most familiar with Mary Magdalene, who was healed from demon possession, and if you recall, she was there throughout Jesus’s ministry.  She was there at the cross with Jesus along with Mary of Clopas1 after He was resurrected from the tomb after the crucifixion (Matthew 28:1-10).

A lesser known but very important woman referenced in this group is Joanna.  She was the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager.  This is interesting in itself because the Herod referred to here is the son of Herod the Great, the same Herod who ordered all male children age 2 and under to be killed in and around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18).  The son, Herod Antipas, was in charge of Galilee, and his reputation was just as bad as his father’s.  He was the leader that Jesus encountered in Luke 23 before his crucifixion, and he was also responsible for the beheading of John the Baptist.  Chuza was essentially Herod’s Chief of Staff or Business Manager.2  Joanna’s provision from her means was actually a large amount of money in her family—likely from collected taxes.  She was quite wealthy, and yet she was intrigued by Jesus and learned more about Him as she traveled with Him.  Joanna was also mentioned in Luke 24:10 when she, Mary Magdalene and the other women were trying to tell the apostles that Jesus was no longer in the tomb (Luke 24:10).

Now, it must be pointed out that Joanna was still married to Chupa.  There is no reference to her being divorced; yet, she moved about freely with Jesus and the disciples.  This would have been highly controversial if it were to occur today let alone back at that time, and yet it is clear that Jesus had made such an impression on these women that there was no looking back.  In much the same way that He invited members of His disciples to “come and see,” the women did much the same.

I went through this exercise to show how important it is for ALL of us to go much further in our reading and seek greater understanding of the Word of God.  Without the extra digging here, you would never have known these extra details about the women who traveled with Jesus as documented in Scripture, from early in His ministry through the time of His resurrection.

Here’s a question for you and the listening audience, both men and women:

How serious are you in taking your personal study time to the next level?

The question is for both men and women, but guess what?  It’s worth nothing that women have been more involved in church Bible studies than men have.  This is more than just a casual observation.  While the overall numbers of church attendance reflect a general decline over the past 12 years (at least for people who identify as weekly churchgoers)3, the number of women in church still surpasses that of men.

According to Pew Research:  “Overall, women are more likely than men to be affiliated with a religious organization; women also pray more and are more inclined to say religion is “very important” in their lives. These findings come from survey data collected by Pew Research Center in up to 84 countries that compare men and women in several different aspects of religious commitment.”4

The women described in Luke were wired in the same way that the women of today who follow Jesus are wired.  They had an emotional (not romantic) connection with Jesus in much the same way that today’s women of the church do.  That is why women seem to be “further ahead” in matters of faith and prayer and have an innate desire to learn about Jesus more than men do.

With this in mind, and respectfully speaking to the men in this audience and to those listening online, is it a matter of men “getting caught up” in church with where the women are?

The answer is no, not at all.  The moment that you start looking at this as a competition between men and women, you’re giving this over to your flesh.

It’s not a competition.  What this is more about is your desire to learn more about Jesus.

In the old days, men (even churchgoing men) treated Sundays much differently than the women did.  Men were the weekend warriors who found it prudent to take in football games, play golf or work in the yard.  Today’s less stereotypical view is while men in the church are more engaged with other church members during Sunday mornings, they are harder to find in church Bible studies.  My argument to men, including to myself many years ago was that if I can give football or any sports outlet a priority, then I should be able to give the One who saved me the highest priority when it comes to learning more about Him.

It’s all about taking your relationship with Jesus to the next level.

Getting to the next level is fueled by your love for Jesus. 

Loving Jesus is more than just saying you do.  When we say we love Jesus, our actions must follow our words.  John says it several times in his writings:

John 14:15, 15:10 ESV

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

1 John 4:8, 5:3 ESV

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

If you love God—love Jesus—you can take your relationship with Him to the next level.

How easy is it to love Jesus?  It’s as easy as you want it to be.  He makes loving Him very easy.

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Psalm 145:18 ESV

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

So, the Lord is near, and it is easy to call on Him and rely upon Him.  These are all very good reasons to develop a relationship with Jesus.

Is anything holding you back? (This is directed to everyone—men and women.) If there is hesitancy on your part to give everything to Jesus, perhaps it is because there’s a good chance that you are set in your ways, or maybe you think that you are losing something for giving up the way you have been living for Jesus.

Is it because you are skeptical of Jesus based upon a past event or a misunderstanding in dealing with the church?  A person who looks at these issues objectively is aware that it is not people that we are to follow or emulate, it is about following the words and promptings of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 10:31 – 11:1 NLT

31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. 33 I (Paul), too, try to please everyone in everything I do.  I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.

1 And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.

I hope you can see that throwing off how you live and emulating—not merely copying—how a follower of Jesus lives requires an act of humility, and it shows the importance of church fellowship, whether it is in person or during a ZOOM Bible study.  We learn about Jesus when we act and live in a manner that brings Jesus to the forefront.

We cannot live for Jesus when we just make lip service and keep Him in the background of our life.

And there’s the rub—coming to Jesus Christ is very easy and simple, but our flesh and selfishness makes it the hardest thing for us to ever do.

Without humility, you can’t get to the next level.

Please take a moment now to pray for those you know who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ, and also for those who do know that Jesus is Lord but have not pressed on the accelerator to move them into a closer relationship with Jesus.

Don’t let the love of stuff and money keep you from committing to Jesus.

1 Timothy 6:6-10 NLT

6 Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. 7 After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. 8 So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

9 But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.

Notice how people often find reasons to not make a commitment to Jesus, and that includes people who profess to know Him.

Don’t let your flesh hold you back.

When Jesus says it is easy to come to Him, He means it.  He encourages you to seek after Him.  If you want to learn from Him, you’ll need to sit under Him.

Luke 10:38-42 ESV

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Don’t let the cares of the world keep you from entering into a wholehearted relationship with Jesus Christ.

Just go after Jesus now.  Walk, run or move towards Him.  Jesus will hold nothing back from you as you seek after His wisdom.

He will help you, through the power of the Holy Spirit, take it to the next level.

Psalm 34:4 NASB

I sought the LORD and He answered me, And rescued me from all my fears.

Jeremiah 29:13 CSB

You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.

Remember the women we discussed who traveled with Jesus.  You can make the argument that they were most compelled to follow Him because of His healing ability.  Well, take a look at this passage:

Luke 17:11-19 ESV

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

It takes effort to seek Jesus, but it takes faith to stay after Him, and your faith will not only make you well, it will give you strength and endurance as you live for Him.

Now, after reading and hearing these appeals to put aside whatever it is that keeps you away from Jesus and seek after Him, always know that Jesus loves you and that He died on the cross for you to experience eternal life with Him.  He truly does not want to see anyone perish.

John 3:16-17 ESV

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Let’s follow the example of the men and women that traveled with Jesus during His mission.  They showed us how they took their relationship with Jesus to the next level.  It was a wholehearted commitment to love Jesus and to live for Him.

You can get to the next level in your relationship with Jesus. 

Loving Him gets you started. 

Reading and investigating His Word keeps you moving. 

Praying and meditating on His Word gives you the momentum you need.

Don’t look at where others are around you.  This message is just for you.

It’s time to get to the next level in your relationship with Jesus.

Copyright © 2022 Melvin Gaines

1 Wikipedia contributors. (2022, January 29). Mary of Clopas. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mary_of_Clopas&oldid=1068596175

2 “Who was Joanna in the Bible?” (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://www.gotquestions.org/what-happens-after-death.html.

3 McClendon, D. (2020, September 10). Gender gap in religious service attendance has narrowed in U.S. Pew Research Center. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/05/13/gender-gap-in-religious-service-attendance-has-narrowed-in-u-s/

4 Murphy, C. (2020, September 10). Women generally more religious than men, but not everywhere. Pew Research Center. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/03/22/women-generally-are-more-religious-than-men-but-not-everywhere/

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