May 11, 2015 Robert Crosby

The Circles of Christ

“Come near to God …”

James 4:8a

Closer to God. This is the soul’s deepest quest. Throughout history men and women have tried all sorts of ways to do just that – come closer to God. But, the glorious quest can seem often illusive and progress made on that journey can be notoriously difficult to measure. However a few models have been embraced throughout the years to assist Christ-followers in their journey of spiritual growth and formation.

Kevin DeYoung cites:

For centuries discipleship instruction (catechesis) has been based on three things: the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. If you wanted the basics of the Christian faith, you learned these things.[1]

Each of these approaches to spiritual development is a monumental tool for helping us grow in godliness. The Apostles’ Creed is a foremost tool of doctrinal development; the Lord’s Prayer, an aid to our meditation on God and our petitions to him; and, the Ten Commandments, a guide to our moral and character development. However, a Biblical model a bit more relational in its design would seem to be helpful.

While the Apostle’s Creed helps us with right beliefs;

The Lord’s Prayer assists us with focused intercessions;

The Ten Commandments defines clear morals in the eyes of God;

The Circles of Christ, might help display more vivid intimacies with God.

An overview of the Gospels shows that around Jesus there were at least six identifiable groups … “The Crowds”, “The 5000”, “The 70”, “The 12”, “The 3” and “The One”. Whereas the other models focus the follower of Christ on doctrine, prayer and morality, the Circles of Christ focuses rather on proximity and place; in other words, on our closeness and connectedness to Christ. Instead of majoring on right information, the approach of this book takes the follower to places of transformation, to brighter views and viewpoints of Jesus. It is a journey of walking with those who first walked the closest to Christ.

The outermost ring of association with Jesus and the first one we come to is The Crowds. Crowds started to come around Jesus early in his ministry. These groups at times probably numbered in the tens of thousands; perhaps even more. On one occasion, the Pharisees were so astounding by the crowds they said, “Look, the world has gone after him (John 12:19b ESV).”

The Crowds represent those who follow Jesus to the places of watching and listening. They come to watch what Jesus might do and to hear what he has to say. There is no place that requires any less commitment than being amidst the Crowd. However, it was from among this ocean of observers that several “fish” would eventually get further caught in Christ’s net.

The Five Thousand did more than merely observe and evaluate Jesus; they were touched and helped by him. It was this group that followed him into the desert desperate not to miss even one of his miraculous works of healing or provision (John 6:1-15).

The Five Thousand represent those who follow Jesus to the places of feeding and healing. These were those who joyfully discovered then, and still do today, that Jesus not only has many truths to teach; he has many gifts to offer. But, although Jesus willingly and lovingly met so many of their needs and led them to this place, this was not where he wanted them to stay. There were closer places to come.

Out of the Five Thousand, the ring of the Seventy emerged. Out of the larger groups, a select team rose up to share in that ministry. You might say these left the ring of observation and entered the ring of participation. In fact, the Seventy would do the same works they had seen Jesus do.

The Seventy represent those who follow Jesus to the places of working and serving. To this day, many followers of Jesus make it to this point, to this “ring”, in their relationship with him and, yet no further. Yes, ministry was and is important, but Jesus wanted them to understand that his call was not primarily to work harder, but to come closer … to Him. That’s what this journey is all about.

Next, there was the ring most familiar to us, the Twelve, Jesus’ beloved band of brothers; his chosen disciples. “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles (Luke 6:12-13; italics mine).” This “Shepherd’s Dozen” were called by Christ to leave all they had and follow him.

The Twelve represent those who walk with Jesus to the places of leaving all and following him. As they entered this ring, they left their own wishes and selfish desires and entered into a new place of surrender to Jesus. But, as close to Christ as this ring was, there were closer places still.

One of the innermost circles around Jesus was his cabinet of Three, the inner circle of Christ. This ring has been respectfully dubbed the Triumvirate by church history. Triumvirate is a Latin term that refers to a powerful team of three individuals. Of all Jesus’ disciples, there were three who clearly saw, heard and experienced the most.

The Three represent those who follow Jesus to the places of prayer and privilege, of glory and suffering, of mountains and valleys. These were the confidants of Christ. He entrusted them with insights and experiences the rest of The Twelve were apparently unprepared to hear or know. He led them to places the rest were perhaps not ready to go. But, there was yet a place to come that was even closer to Jesus.

The One

Ultimately only one person bears the distinction of having been the closest person to Christ during his earthly ministry. I like to think of this person as The One, The Closest One. None followed further. None saw clearer. None walked closer.

The One sat right next to Jesus at the Last Supper. The One listened closer to Jesus’ words than anyone else and, as a result, recorded more of them than anyone else. The One was the “go-to man” when his disciples had a question they wanted to ask Jesus. The One spotted Jesus on the shore when no one else in the boat recognized him. The One followed Christ to at least one place no other among the Twelve would go, and yet it was the most important place of all.

The call of God for us to “Come” and to “Come near” reveals there are proximities of relationship to God. While our tendency may be to look at our Christianity or spirituality as a PASS/FAIL engagement or as an IN/OUT proposition it is not that at all. It is more accurately a NEAR/FAR experience. But, make no mistake, there is one place and one place alone to which Christ wants you to be when it comes to him and that is …

CLOSE.

Adapted from a new book – The One Jesus Loves: Grace is Unconditionally Given, Intimacy Must Be Relentlessly Pursued (Nelson Books).

Book Video Trailer – www.onejesusloves.com

[1] The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2012), p. 45.

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About the Author

Robert Crosby Dr. Robert Crosby is Professor of Practical Theology at Southeastern University. He is currently planting a new church with a team in downtown Tampa. In addition to training pastors and speaking at conferences, he has written several books including his newest one The One Jesus Loves (Thomas Nelson) and The Teaming Church (Abingdon Press). Follow him @rccrosby.