A Call for Jonathans

By Jonathan Abrahmson

I.  Love One Another With This Call

The New Commandment

Jesus waited until the night before his crucifixion to tell his disciples something they could not have found in the Torah.  He gave his disciples a New Commandment, that they love one another as he had loved them.  This commandment is new in the strictest sense of the word.  It is different from loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  It is different from loving your neighbor as yourself.  Those two commandments sum up the law and the prophets.  But the call to love like Christ loved—this is new.

Jesus tells his disciples that they will be recognized as his by the way they love each other.  Those of us who call ourselves Christians have committed ourselves to loving in this way.  Why would we call ourselves by the Master’s title if we were not striving to obey him?  Loving other believers is also the key to proclaiming the Good News to un-believers.  It is in this that they recognize Him for the first time, but they must recognize Him in us in order to see Him at all.  For this reason, loving one another as Christ loved us must come before any type of evangelizing.  It even comes before (to use the much abused words of St. Francis) preaching with our good deeds.  If everything, from our status as disciples to our witness to those who are not depends upon this love, we must ask the question: How did Jesus love his disciples?

 Loved with a Call

If love can be commanded, love must be something that can be done, a verb—not a thing or a state of being and certainly not an emotion.  Jesus reveals his love for his disciples by what he does.  In the very beginning, before the disciples were even disciples, Jesus loved them with a call.  According to Luke, the call went something like this: Without asking, Jesus steps onto Simon’s boat so that he can preach to an ever growing crowd.  Simon notices that a stranger is on his boat.  Perhaps a little perturbed that his prize possession had become a pulpit, he goes over to see what’s going on.   Instead of apologizing, Jesus asks a favor of Simon: “take me out a little ways.”  He asks a favor, but he does not say please, does not hint at all that it is anything but a command.  A bit later, he asks for something else, “Take me out further, and throw out your nets.”  Peter hesitates.  He has been fishing all night without result; he is worn out, ready to turn on the TV and turn off for a few minutes.  Nevertheless, he obeys the second request.  After two boats are sinking-full of fish, Jesus asks one more thing, this time clearly as a command, clearly as a call: “Follow me.”

What the Call Requires

The call that Jesus loves his disciples with does not require wealth, connections, or a degree.  If anything, these qualities might hinder the call.  The call requires only an action of obedience from the would be disciple—go out, throw out, follow me.  When he called they left thousands of fish, fish that the Lord gave to them as gifts, to rot in their boats.  When he called they abandoned their wives and homes—tax-collectors abandoned Rome’s money to the street punks and thieves.  We are commanded to love one another with that call.  

The call we must love one another with requires an immediate response, let it settle for just a minute and it loses its urgency, drifts back to the bottom of the jar.  No time to bury the dead.  The call is all violence and vitality, it requires the subject to understand what is required—and obey.  Because it requires understanding, the call is better simple, uncomplicated by conditional clauses: “Put out your nets”, “Follow me”.  Complexity hinders the urgency, hinders the sharp relief of either God or Mammon, hinders the scandal or tension of the moment of decision.  Blessed is the one who is not scandalized.  The one giving the call must be completely trustworthy, for in responding to the call, the hearer throws himself into the hands of the caller.  Because the call is aimed at action, it penetrates to the heart of man, the part that most closely resembles his creator, the part that does, makes, creates.

II. Jonathan’s Call

Jonathan—The Text: 1 Samuel 13:1-3, 19-23

Jonathan is not called with a direct verbal command.  The call he responds to is a promise given to his people years ago, nearly forgotten.  He remembers that God had promised a portion of land to him and his relatives, the people of Israel.  The promise is the key to their possession of the land, so much so that the land is even called “The Promised Land”.  Jonathan was something of a thinker; he calculated like this:  

1. God has promised us a specific piece of land.
2. Someone else is on that land.
3. If we go up to possess the land, God will give it to us.

Notice, this way of thinking has for its constant the truth of God’s promise. With youthful ignorance of strategy, diplomacy, and earthly counsel, he decided to take the 1,000 men entrusted to his care, armed only with farm tools, and attack the Philistines.  Jonathan’s call is God’s promise.  

The call for Jonathans is a call for those who claim to be Christ’s disciples to take hold of his promises for the church.  The promise is not an institution or a building, not even one that belongs to God. The promise is not health care for all or a good education system.  The promise, as stated in the new scriptures, is not new scriptures.  The promise is the Holy Spirit.  

Seen from outside the promise, this smiting could not have come at a worse time.  Saul had just reduced his farmer army to 3,000 men. Israel was under Philistine control, weapons were strictly prohibited and the Israelites had to go to the Philistines to sharpen their farm tools.  There were only 3,000 men in the Israelite army and only two swords—one for Saul, one for Jonathan.

Saul’s Sword—The Text: 1 Samuel 13:4-15

Jonathan is contrasted with the other sword of the Israelite army: his father Saul.  Seeing only the promises of God, Jonathan went out and provoked the Philistines.  His attempt to provoke them was hugely successful, and soon the Philistines came against Israel with troops like the sand on the seashore.  Saul ran for the hills and more than 2,400 men of his 3,000 man army ran away.  Some ran across the Jordan, out of the Promised Land.  Some switched sides and helped the Philistines.  Some were fed up, and just went home.  Saul looked down from his hill, and saw the sea of Philistines, the curse brought on him by his impetuous son.  He looked at the 600 shaking-brave rag-tags huddled in his cave.  He saw that the Philistines would attack soon.  He saw that without the blessing of their God, obtainable only through some sacrifice, Israel would be destroyed and he would be removed from the kingship.  Samuel was coming to offer the sacrifice, but Samuel was late.  Saul took his sword up to the high place, placed it on the ground, and offered a burnt offering to God because God was late.  Saul forced himself.  Saul tried to force God.  Samuel came right on time and removed the kingdom from Saul.

How Jonathan Went Out—The Text: 1 Samuel 14:1-13

The morning after Saul forced himself, Jonathan rose early and presented his armor-bearer with a proposition: “Come, let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised.  Perhaps the LORD will work for us, for the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few.”  What gives Jonathan the courage to go on the offensive when all of Israel is in retreat?  Why does he think it’s a good idea for two men to take on thousands?  In presenting the call to his armor-bearer, Jonathan invokes the covenant of circumcision against the Philistines.  Circumcision is the sign of the promise to Abraham and his descendents that they would inherit the Promised Land.  As Jonathan goes out, the promise given to Abraham is at the fore of his mind: we have the promise, our enemies do not.

Jonathan is mindful not only of the promise, but of the one who gives it.  He says, “Perhaps the LORD will work for us, for the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few.”  The God who has given the promise is the LORD, The God who saves and who is not restrained.   

As a people, we seem taken with the delusion that there is only one God.  Perhaps it is the lingering presence of turn of the century scientism that scoffs at even one God and laughs outright at a pantheon.  As culture moves post-modern and post-Christian to Pagan, it is beginning to recover an awareness and fear of gods.  Already it is clear that many gods are at work, even in the church.  Ask someone, “Who is your God?”  They will give you a strange look and say, “There is but one God, why do you ask me ‘Who is you God?’”  Ask them again, “What is your God like?” and you will see very quickly that we are dealing with many gods, all of whom have convinced their suppliants that they are The One.   We must see Our God in a sea of gods, much the way the Israelites did, if we are to see Him at all.  And who is Our God?  Brothers and sisters, Our God is the one who saves and who is not restrained.  All things are possible for Him.

He is not restrained: why does His church act as though he were?  If we worship a God who is restrained, if all our actions betray that we think our God is restrained, are we not worshiping the wrong God?  Let’s reason about our position as Jonathan did:

1. We are restrained.
2. He is not.
The important conclusion, the truth that has the power to rouse even Laodicea from her 2,000 year slumber, is this:
3. When we go out with Him, we are not restrained.  

Let us dare to wake up, rub our deeply circled eyes, shake off the sand of our 40 year murmur, and walk into the land promised us.  “Let us go out, for perhaps the Lord will work for us.”  

God is not restrained!  Yet Jonathan says “perhaps he will work”.  Because he is not restrained, he is also not compelled to work victory through you no matter how radically you go out with him, just as he is not compelled to work victory through thousands of men instead of two.  Our faith is not magic, as though just by the power of believing we could bring whatever we thought to pass.  That error is the error of Saul, who sought to stretch God to fit his will instead of allowing himself to be stretched in the direction of God’s will.  The Living God cannot be bought, coerced, or led.  He cannot even be hurried.

Faith is not the ego masturbation of self-help seminars, of money-back guarantees or salvation-in-a-box jack-ups. Neither is it magic words.  It cannot be bought or sold, yet it cannot be had without giving up your life.  It is not a value centered education, a letter to your congressman, a Bush victory.  It is not a worldview or anything else that can be fashioned, programmed, or instilled—given or taken away by human speech—Faith is the Living Word living in you, the very mystery of God.  That’s right, the mystery of God is Christ in you.  Does it sound like blasphemy or just not sound? We need to hear that, we must really hear that—the mystery that has been revealed is Christ in you.  We are called to be his body.  Let us go out.

God’s Response—The Text: 1 Samuel 14:14-23

Jonathan took his sword and went up with his armor-bearer against the Philistine garrison.  Together, they slew 20 men.  There are thousands upon thousands of Philistines.  Salvation is not the killing of twenty men.  

Brothers and sisters, I must confess that from the time I first read this passage, it took me nine months to understand the words on the page, so thick was my slumber.  My mind could not register the thought, it had no space even for the possibility of the action of the unrestrained God in response to the going out of His servant.  The text reads:  “And that first slaughter which Jonathan and his armor bearer made was about twenty men within about half a furrow in an acre of land. And there was a trembling in the camp (of the Philistines), in the field, and among all the people. Even the garrison and the raiders trembled, and the earth quaked so that it became a great trembling.”  I was able to see that two men going out killed 20 men.  I even saw that an Israelite victory followed their going out.  I could not see that the going out of two against thousands brought the LORD of Hosts Himself into the battle.  God Himself shook the camp of the Philistines.  He started a reverse earthquake through the going out of two men who trusted their God to be who he claimed to be—the God of the promise, the God who saves and is not restrained.  He showed Himself to be unrestrained on that day.

Do not forget the rest.  The going out of these two men not only brings the Unrestrained God into the battle, it brings the Israelites who had been hiding out of their holes to chase the enemy out of the Promised Land.  Even those that flew across the Jordan come back full speed, ready to beat back the same Philistines that they ran from days earlier.  When just one, no, when two, when You and I are willing, God Himself fights and the rest of God’s people—those who ran away, those who hid, even those who were fighting with the enemy—come back to fight for the Promised Land.

III. So What?  The Call for Jonathans

The Promise is Double-Edged

Jonathan responded to a promise given to his ancestor Abraham.  He took the promise to be true and he trusted the one who gave it.  The fact that the promise had not yet been fulfilled was his call to go out.  We can go out with him, or we can ignore the promise as Saul did.  When the people of God ignore or exchange the promise for something else, God calls them a harlot.  Isaiah’s portrait of that people looks something like this:

The Harlot

Stagnation is Self-defense
Silt scabs veil famished faces
with still-life boredom
with impenetrable time

Withering wails pierce fresh-pressed flesh
The Harlot rolls her head
her firstborn held safe
smouldering in the arms of a loving Moloch

Uncut hearts swell with cancer
bursting unchaste chests
Blood drips down thick-cold-honey slow
over impermeable eyes

Behold a vision:

The walls are surrounded
In the alleyways famine feeds
On dogs and small children
Unto us a child is born
That’s why Mother is out back
Stealing a few afterbirth nibbles
Before Father asks for supper.

That is what the promise became for the Israelites who ignored it, who treated it like it did not exist.  We have received the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in the man Jesus of Nazareth.  How much more will that curse come on us if we acknowledge the promise with our lips but move far from it in our hearts?

Remember, Jesus gave us a new commandment, that we love one another as he has loved us.  He also gave us a new covenant and a new promise.  The new covenant is an adoption.  We are now the children of his Father, just as he is.  The new commandment, appropriately, is to be like him.  We are to love one another as the Son loved us because we are adopted; we have become like the Son—really.  Because this love is a verb love, it requires acts of love for each other.  It’s hard love someone that you only see once a week.  Maybe we need to hang out more.

The new Promise is the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  It is not the institutional church.  It is not the Scriptures, not even the written words of Jesus.  It is not a more highly evolved moral code.  The Spirit may use these things, but for those who have fled to them as strongholds, know that you have crossed Jordan and are no longer living in the promise.  The new promise is the Holy Spirit, and taking the land of promise means walking in the places Jesus said we would walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.  He is calling us to follow him into the place where he walked while on earth, into a place where the God who is not restrained provides surpassingly more than we could ever need or even imagine.  This is an either/or choice.  Do what you must, only do not choose the lie and call it the promise.  

Where We Live

Jonathan knew which land had been promised to Abraham.  He knew what God had given to him.  Jesus also sets out boundaries for the land we are to live in.  He tells us how to enter the land—by trusting him, by following him.  He gives us lower limits, the things that all his disciples must do to be called his disciples.  He also gives us upward limits, by telling us what is possible and what his disciples will do.  We need men and women to be Jonathans, to stand up and go out to take the promised land although it is impossible, trusting no strength but God’s.  We need to catch the vision that Jesus had for his church.

Lower Limits—what is required of a disciple:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  
“If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  

"The one who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.”

“Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever wishes to lose his life for my sake shall save it.”

“No one can be my disciple who does not give up all his possessions.”

"A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit . . . So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

To be Jesus’ disciple, it is necessary to be dead, to hate your family members and those that you love the most.  It is necessary to pick up an instrument of torture and death and carry it after Jesus day by day.  You are not allowed to have any possessions—my guess is that they won’t fit through the needle’s eye he’s threading.  Notice these sayings are not conditioned.  They are addressed to “anyone” and “whoever.”  These sayings are true of all of Jesus’ disciples.  Are they true of us?

Upper Limits—what his disciples will do:

“A disciple is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will reach his teacher’s level.”

“Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in me the works that I do shall he also do; and greater works than these he shall do; because I go to the Father.”  

“All things are possible with God”
“The Holy Spirit will teach you all things.”  

“If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”  

“I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you, but if I go I will send him to you.”

Jesus repeatedly emphasizes that we will be like him if we are his disciples.  Not only will we do his works, but in his power and the power of the Father, we will do even greater works.  Why didn’t we learn in Sunday school that we were supposed to do miracles like Jesus did?  Why were we not called with that call?  All things are possible for God, and if we trust God and are acting from His promise for His glory, all things are possible for us—Christ will give us whatever we ask.  And what is the promise?  The promise is the Holy Spirit that teaches us all things.  The promise is that it is better that we have “the Helper” within us than Jesus Christ in the flesh beside us.  It is to our advantage that Jesus is gone right now; if possible, that is more scandalous than two men against thousands.  Those of you who long for scandal—put down People magazine, turn off CNN and pick up the Scriptures.

Brothers and sisters, the things that are required and expected of us are high, but they are not too high, otherwise our Lord would not have said them.  He did not come here in the flesh to bring peace, but a sword, and what he says about his disciples certainly brings division.  He came gently according to the way men measure, but he came and is coming to conquer.  He taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Do you think he asked us to pray this in vain, or will the Kingdom that all creation is groaning for finally come, on earth as it is in heaven?  He also prayed for us, “Father, may they be one, as you and I are one.”  Did he ask his Father for something impossible?  Or have we forgotten the call with which he first loved us?  We are headed toward the fulfillment of those two prayers right now.  Jesus will have what he asked for.

Going Out

As we look out over the Promised Land, swarming as it is with Philistines, the fear of Saul will whisper and sometimes scream to our souls—“Put down your sword.”  That spirit will bring up scripture: “O Lord, I remember that I am but dust.”  It will apply earthly wisdom, “You’re only human, you know.”  It will accuse you of pride, “So you think that you are going to do greater things than Jesus did—you must think you’re the Messiah.”  It will present the theological problems with the promise, “You are saved by grace; what are you doing now, trying to earn your salvation?”  The spirit that teaches all things will also teach you to fight these accusations as Jesus did in the wilderness.  

The call has been the same for 2,000 years.  It is a call for the entire church to move in and take what has been promised to us.  It is a call for those dead bones to rise up, breathing the breath of God, and fall in, forming an army.  This will not take place in our own strength; the promise is the power of God in us.  

The call for Jonathans is a call for all who are willing, whether billions or only one, to believe that the promises are for us.  If only one believes that the promises given 2,000 years ago still stand, it is enough.  If anyone believes and goes out trusting God to do what he said and asking for it to be through me and in me and with me, it is enough.  If no one will go out, God will raise up Abraham’s children from the rocks.  

The call for Jonathans is a call to go out to do what is impossible, a call to be a spark that brings God Himself into the battle in an unexpected way, a call to bring our hiding brothers and sisters i nto the battle.  Our prayer is “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven.”  Our prayer is “Make us one, as you and the Son are one.  Our battle cry is this: Our God is not restrained!  Who knows, perhaps he will choose to save through us?  Ours is not the victory—only the going out.

copyright 2004 Jonathan Friz