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“Are you still so dull?”[1] Jesus asked them when Peter and the other disciples asked Him to explain about the parable on food where Jesus said, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him.  Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’”[2]  “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’.”[3]

Why did Jesus call them “dull” for not understanding what He said?  Because, for Jews under the Levitical Law, what declares a man unclean is not food, rather it is the food that is unclean for them, meaning, the food in itself does not make them unclean.  However, what comes out of a man, his emissions including semen and faeces, these were declared to make a man unclean.[4]  Commonsense tells us that faeces are certainly more unclean than food.  Thus, the unclean food outside of a man’s body does not make him unclean, the faeces he has in him, his emissions, make him unclean way before the food can do so.

Jesus called them “dull” because they could not see the obvious, but being dull isn’t just not being able to see the obvious, it includes being unable to understand what you have been shown repeatedly and above all else, being dull is being unimaginative.

We showed our dullness again when Jesus began to teach on the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and we thought He was speaking about having no bread when He was warning them of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

What causes us to be dull?  You might say that it is because they were only fishermen, tax collectors and sinners.  If you think being dull qualifies you to be a fisherman, then you have never fished, for a fisherman has to live by his wits because of the unpredictability of the weather.  Also a successful fisherman must be observant and adaptive to learn.  He has to observe the currents and tides, the conditions and places that bring the fish.  Also, Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen at a time when there were no oceanographers and satellites pictures to help them, and no fish spotting sonar.  So you see, Jesus did not select dull disciples, in fact, He selected from the most adaptive and cunning of the era.  They may not have been well educated like the Pharisees, but fishermen know to watch for the signs and situations better than learned scholars who cannot raise their eyes above the pages of their books.

When Peter said to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”[5] he said this not because Jesus convicted him of sin or gave a word of knowledge about his sin, as is popularly practised in Pentecostal circles, but Peter was brought to his knees and confessed of his sinfulness because of the Lord’s demonstration of miraculous knowledge.  When Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,”[6] Peter and the others knew this Man was no fisherman, for a lake fisherman would know fish do not congregate in deep water in freshwater, but by the shoreline or shallows.  Yet when Jesus’ very instruction yielded a catch that almost sank their boat, Peter saw immediately the power and the nature of this Man who spoke, a Man whose knowledge exceeded anyone else’s, and a Man who could perform a miracle.  Either fish listen to Him or nothing can be hidden from Him, even where the fish had been hiding from them all night!  If He knew where the fish were, then He would have no trouble knowing about Peter’s sin and so Peter confessed before he was exposed.  You see, Peter and the other eleven were not dull as you suppose dull to be.  So what made them “dull” in Matthew 15 and Mark 7?

First of all, they were out of their element.  Jesus was having a religious discussion with religious people, experts like the Pharisees and Sadducees who said, “Why do Your disciples break the traditions of the elders?  They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”[7]  Then when they heard Jesus call them hypocrites, and being worried, they said to Jesus, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”[8] 

Being distracted by the Pharisees and teachers on tradition, (which really is commonsense to wash your hands before you eat for a fisherman.  Your hands stink of fish when you are a fisherman.  You have to wash them, especially when you eat with your hands and fingers) and worried about offending those who seem to be important and somebody, they became dull and could not see the obvious that Jesus was saying either.

The most important thing to learn about avoiding being dull is not to let traditions and the sensitivities of those who seem important distract you.  You see, this discussion about food happened after the feeding of the 5000 and after the teaching on the drinking and eating of His blood and flesh,[9] for Jesus taught on the eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood to those who ate from the multiplied fish and bread immediately after in John 6:25 onward.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law of Matthew 15:1 came after He had been healing the people as well.

If you were Peter, James, John or Andrew, you have just had an incredible 24 hours, perhaps that is what made them dull, that day as well, for you had just crossed the lake the day earlier to be met by a crowd whom you saw the Lord teach, heal and feed, then you spent a night in the middle of the lake because you didn’t listen to Jesus, only to see Him walk out to you and you walk on water to fall in…  Now, the next day on the other side of the lake, you hear this teaching of blood and flesh; most of your fellow disciples leave Him, and then this parable.  You see, you can excuse them for being a little dull, and you may be excused for being dull if you have gone through such an intensely miraculous and mentally and physically challenging time, when all that you know to be true is challenged.

In Peter’s case, you knew food had to be bought.  Five loaves and two fish could not feed 4000, but it did.  You knew when you suggested going to Capernaum the skies were calm, there was no storm, otherwise you would not set out across the lake.  You know a man cannot walk on water, but you yourself have now walked on water.  You knew you cannot drink blood or eat the flesh of a strangled animal, much less that of a man, but the Master just told you not only can you eat a Man’s flesh and drink His blood, but you must.

Now come the Pharisees and the leaders of the law with the stupid question about hand washing.  You, if you have had such a few days, can be excused for being dull and being called “dull” by Jesus.  However, unless we’ve had such a time, we have not yet even qualified to be called “dull” by Jesus; and we think we are smart and enlightened.

Thus, to begin to learn to apply imagination to the Lord’s work, we must know who and whom and why the Lord called them “dull,” and what made them dull.  Avoidance of the dullness displayed by the twelve, and in particular Peter, means to avoid distraction by traditions and the opinions of those who seem to know what they are talking about, after you have had an overdose of the miracles with Jesus.  Until you and I have come to that place of intense miraculous living and challenging teaching by Jesus, we do not yet qualify to be called “dull”. 

Being adaptive, astute, observant, and able to perceive and understand is the opposite of being “dull,” and it is those who are not “dull” who have the ability of keen imagination.  Now, imagination can be a dirty word when you are a Christian, especially when yours is a ‘traditional’ Christian life.  It is a dirty word because of the warnings in Ezekiel 13 about those who prophesy out of their own imagination and those who run after their own imaginations in Isaiah 65:2.  But without imagination there can be no innovations, there can be no new progress.

Everything that we have now as gadgets and tools were once the product of someone’s imagination.  Take the mobile phone.  It came out of a cartoon strip from fifty or more years ago!  As such, do not belittle or be afraid of imagination, provided you do not prophesy out of it nor run after it for yourself.

Let no one call you “dull,” not even Jesus, if you have been called by the Father to be His disciple, for no one can come unto Jesus unless the Father has drawn him, and the Father selects those who are already imminently suitable for Jesus.  Only those who having been called to discipleship and then turn away are the truly dull ones, for they have not been able to see the opportunity afforded them for glory in Christ through discipleship by Christ.  When Satan lured the church into fellowships without discipleship, the glory that God had intended for each individual was robbed.  Salvation comes by faith and through that salvation you will behold the glory of God, yes, but without discipleship you cannot be the glory of God as Jesus is the glory of God.  Without discipleship, you cannot do the things that He has been doing, for if faith alone was enough then believers would be able to do them, and there would be no need to send the Holy Spirit to be our Counsellor to remind and teach us what He has said.  Certainly any believer who submits himself to discipleship by the Holy Spirit is not dull, but what can make a disciple dull is not what is inside him, but what is outside of him.

What is inside of a man’s heart is what makes him unclean, Jesus said,[10] and discipleship is exactly what it takes to clean out a man’s heart.  Disciplined fellowship with the One who loves you until your heart is full of thoughts for Him and His glory.  If your heart is full of thoughts for Him and His glory, then when that overflows from your heart is for His glory, and your imaginations are for His glory, you do not prophesy your imaginations then, but rather you imagine what the events prophesied can be like and how you can contribute to those events.  When your imaginations are fuelled with thoughts of His glory and for His glory, you are not running after your imaginations for your glory or righteousness, but for His.  The only reason, the only way you could have a heart and mind filled with thoughts and imaginations for His glory, not yours, is because you have been fellowshipping with the Holy Spirit who has no thought for His own glory, who has no imaginations for His own glory, but only for the glory of Those who sent Him.  You see, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth because He works only for the glory and honour of the One who sent Him, Jesus Christ.

So when you hear those who imagine glory and honour for themselves of how they will be rewarded, vindicated and glorified by God as they enter Heaven, you will know they have not been discipled by the Holy Spirit.  They may be spiritually aware and have spiritual discipleship, but it is not the Holy Spirit.  Those who are led by the Spirit like John the Baptist, always acknowledge they must decrease so He can increase, but not into oblivion but true glory that is His glory, the glory that is God’s that comes from sons and daughters raised by the Spirit of Glory through Jesus Christ.

So then, if you have displayed enough insight like Peter to recognise who Jesus Christ is and how His work reveals the sinfulness in you, and yet have taken up His invitation to follow Him, then don’t allow others, those who seem to be important, and their traditions, to make you dull in the Lord’s opinion.  Having the assurance that you have taken up the call to follow Him with signs appearing to confirm your journey, you can drive out demons, you can speak in tongues, no harm has befallen you, you can lay hands on the sick, and now even the blind see and the lame walk, do not be afraid of your imaginations.  Do not be dull but be sharp, alert, watchful, and see the opportunity and make the opportunity to glorify Jesus who saved you, even if it means breaking traditions and ignoring the so-called experts.  Especially if those experts and their traditions have never been able to cause food to multiply, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, the lepers cleansed and the dead raised.  Leave them to their devices, warn them as Jesus did, then leave them, forgive them their sins if they crucify you like they did Jesus, but do not let them distract you and so dull your senses to what the Lord is saying and showing you!

For just as Peter was subjected to a period of intense miraculous occurrences and challenging new teachings, so will you in these days of distress to come.  For no one has ever lived through such days, and therefore, no one can teach you how to live through such days except the word of God through Jesus Christ.  But since no one has ever applied Jesus’ words in and through such days, likewise you must surely see and know that the traditional application of Jesus’ words will be insufficient.  The word is sufficient, yes, for it is flawless, perfect and eternal, enduring even when the Heavens and Earth disappear, but the practice of it, the application of it, has never been subjected to such a time as we will face, the days of distress that are unequalled since the beginning of the world.

It is not that we seek new words other than what is given already, but we need to seek out what remains new, unused, unexplored, untried, in what has been given.  That can only happen after you have feasted on the words and work of God to such an extent that you are an expert and a connoisseur of His word and works.

We have used our imaginations to create a multitude of wonderful new inventions and gadgets in this 21st Century that have improved the lives of many, but not every person, certainly not that of the poor.  For the application of man’s imagination has been based on mammon’s system of lack and supply only to those who can afford them.  And how many can afford a bionic eye whilst we ignore what God has given us freely that in the Name of His Son a blind person can see for free?

Having seen the feeding of the 5000 and the 4000, the walking on water, the instant arrival of the boat at Gennesaret, as well as the blind seeing, the lame walking, the deaf hearing, the lepers cleansed and the dead raised, Peter remained dull when Jesus refuted those who are supposed to be experts, and was afraid that Jesus had offended them.

Likewise, let us not make the same mistakes, for the experts of our day, with their tradition of dispensing supply to those who can afford it, have no answer for the disaster that faces all of us.  If they are offended by Jesus, let them be, for whether they are offended or not, they have nothing to offer us that we do not already know, just like they had nothing to offer when they spoke of washing hands before eating to Jesus.

But keep your eyes and ears on Jesus and see what He is revealing to you and showing you in His words and works that are recorded.  And as you practise and succeed in doing what He has been doing, then will follow from your imaginations innovations on the way His word and work can be applied, innovations that take the work and word of God to new heights, without deviating from its truth.

It is time to learn what imagination is from God’s perspective.  Amen.


[1] Matthew 15:16

[2] Mark 7:15

[3] Matthew 15:11

[4] Leviticus 15:16

[5] Luke 5:8

[6] Luke 5:4

[7] Matthew 15:2

[8] Matthew 15:12

[9] John 6

[10] Matthew 15:18

 

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