Gamaliel or Jesus?
Imagine that you are a devout first century Jew. You have the opportunity to choose between two rabbis (teachers) to follow. The first rabbi is Gamaliel. He is the most renowned, respected theologian in the community. He knows the Scriptures “inside-and-out” in the original languages. He is most respected as a spiritual leader in the community and is a foremost expert on spiritual matters.
The second rabbi is Jesus. He casts out demons, heals the sick, and does “mercy ministry” with miracles. He isn't very respected in the theological community. He says there is a cost to following him, a total commitment of one's life that will include suffering and obeying his commandments. These commandments pertain to living in complete holiness and also to doing miracles (although he never commands you to do something that he didn't do himself and that he doesn't equip you with the power and authority to do). C.f. Matthew 5:19-7:29; 10:1,7-8.
Gamaliel, whom all other theologians look up to, does not heal the sick, cast out demons, etc.
Who would you choose to follow between Gamaliel and Jesus?
Jesus, the second member of the triune (three Persons in One) Godhead, is alive today, having rose from the dead physically and then ascended into heaven. He is still on the earth today vicariously through his “body,” the church--those who receive Jesus as God, Director (Lord, King, Master), and Savior (from our enmity against and separation from God). Jesus sent the third member of the triune Godhead, the Holy Spirit, to replace him on the earth. C.f. John 14:12ff; 16:7-15; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:38-39; etc.
The Holy Spirit is like “Jesus unlimited,” for although Jesus was limited 2,000 years ago to only be in one place at one time due to the natural constraints his “earth-suit,” the Holy Spirit desires for every believer in Jesus to live like Jesus did with the same character, holiness, power, and authority by being filled with Him and in connection to the Father in the same way that Jesus modeled for us. The church is supposed to be completely submitted to Jesus Christ, doing whatever Jesus did. If the church doesn't do what Jesus did, which includes living in complete holiness and surrender to God and doing miracles, then there is a disconnect. Maybe we as the church aren't as connected to our head (Jesus) as we ought to be and we need to repent (change our thinking, attitude, and behavior). C.f. 1 John 2:3-6; Ephesians 5:1,18ff; Colossians 2:9-10.
I struggled with this disconnect for so many years as a follower of Jesus, and still need to continually repent as I submit myself to God’s will on a daily basis. Like Gamaliel did, it is a good thing to study and memorize the Word of God as we seek to obey it. This I did during high school as I memorized a fair portion of the New Testament alongside some other friends with a wonderful coach who helped to provide guidance for our character and personal development. As a result of memorizing Jesus’ words and of friends pointing out things in my life that were not good, I realized that I needed to change. I realized that I needed the Holy Spirit’s help, because what I memorized in the Bible did not match up with my lifestyle.
At the Friday service of a church to which I was invited by a classmate, a pastor talked about a passage in Galatians 5:22-23, which says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Although I was well-familiar with and had memorized those verses, I suddenly realized that my life did not exhibit those qualities, no matter how hard I tried. For I reflected upon how physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive I was towards my younger brother, yet I couldn’t seem to change my attitude or behavior.
Near the end of the service, the pastor asked if we had thought about Jesus’ death on the cross within the past couple weeks, stating that if we hadn’t, then we should come to the front of the stage for prayer. Suddenly, I connected in my mind’s eye how Jesus was verbally, physically, and emotionally abused by soldiers and many people around him on his way to be executed. Also I imagined him hanging on the cross as a result of my hatred towards people (which amounted to rebellion against and separation from God).
When people prayed for me that night, I sensed that Jesus’ blood was shed on my behalf to remove my anger, bitterness, hatred, fear, abuse, and other things that separated me from God’s love. After someone laid hands on me and gently prayed, “Take away his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh,” I experienced what Romans 5:5 describes as “...God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” That unforgettable encounter with the Holy Spirit changed by life by removing some character bents, for afterwards my anger towards my younger brother was removed and I no longer lived in fearful isolation towards the people in my high school. Rather, I would start to build relationships and show kindness toward them no matter how popular or unpopular they were.
Often it just takes one personal God-encounter or miracle to tear down a lifetime of lies that have built up a kind of mental “stronghold” (or off-base belief system/attitude) in a person's life. Some people just haven't experienced, seen, remembered, or identified any personal miracles yet. Others have seen or heard of miracles, but skepticism, pride, criticism, suspicion, and hard-hardheartedness will keep them from believing or receiving what God is offering them. The Pharisees saw Jesus do miracles but didn't want to give up their old ministry styles, traditions, networks, and reputation; they simply found it easier to believe that Jesus was a false teacher involved in the occult.
Many believers in Jesus today may fall into the trap of treating the Holy Spirit just like the Pharisees treated Jesus. Human tradition, emotions, and experience (or lack thereof) have convinced them that hearing God’s voice, healing the sick, casting out demons, etc. are a thing of the past. But to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and are poor in spirit, acknowledging that they have barely scratched the surface of God's infinite knowledge and that their lives are not their own, God will reveal Himself to those who continue to ask, seek, and knock (as opposed to those who assume that they have already “arrived” spiritually). See Matthew 5:3,6; 7:7; 1 Corinthians 6:19.
Similarly, although I memorized much of the New Testament, I never seemed to get the memo that hearing God’s voice, healing the sick, casting out demons, etc. was still a thing or God’s will for His church. But after I connected with some believers who have personally experienced those things did I realize that I didn’t know God as I ought to know. C.f. 1 Corinthians 8:1-3. As I re-read the Scriptures in a fresh way, opened to the possibility that it is possible to live like Jesus did by the power of the Holy Spirit, did my relationship with God start to become more authentic, honest, and vibrant. Beforehand, although involved in ministry, I suffered a depletion of joy, love, hope, purpose, vibrancy, trust, and closeness in my relationship with God. However, when I re-experienced the good news that God is as all-good and all-powerful as Jesus modeled, my life became less boring and pessimistic.
To learn more about establishing a personal relationship with God through unconditional trust in Jesus, I recommend my post “Did You Hear the News?”