April 23, 2017
If someone says, “I follow the teachings of Buddha,” we know what they mean. We understand that at the very least this person agrees with the teachings of Buddha. We also recognize that the person might actually try to practice the teachings of Buddha. This is the essence of being a disciple of someone.
A disciple is a student, apprentice, follower of someone else. Usually it is someone who is successful or very skilled in business, the trades, or the arts. It is someone who has developed a compelling philosophy or healthy way of living. If your discipleship to someone has positively impacted your life, you will very likely share that with others. This morning we read about the resurrected Jesus’ conversation with the disciples in Galilee. The conversation has to do with discipleship and evangelism. We see that the most significant endeavor for followers of Jesus is disciple-making.
I. DISCIPLE-MAKING IS ROOTED IN OUR WORSHIP OF JESUS. Mt.28:16-17
On Easter Sunday we noted that when the women saw the risen Jesus they fell at his feet and worshiped him. Here we see that when the eleven disciples saw Jesus on the mountain in Galilee, they also worshiped him. There was a fundamental change in their understanding of and relationship with Jesus. Before his resurrection they believed Jesus to be the Messiah, now they realized that he was far more. Maybe they could not fully articulate what that “more” was, but it called out of them worship of Jesus. In other words I believe there was a level of recognition that Jesus is God in the flesh.
Verse 17 is a little confusing. On the one hand we have a specific reference to the eleven disciples who worship Jesus, but then we read that some doubted. A better translation is “hesitated.” Does this mean that some of Jesus’ hand-picked disciples were not sure that it was Jesus? It is suggested that there were other followers of Jesus present along with the disciples and that it was some of these others who were hesitant. I am inclined to agree with this.
But I am also encouraged by this sentence. Faith involves a lifelong journey of trust. And in that journey there are seasons of hesitancy, especially for those of us raised in a time of great skepticism. This is not the place to try to lay out an airtight apologetic for the Christian faith. Suffice it to say that both belief and unbelief in the existence of God are a matter of faith. And where you have faith, hesitancy and even doubt is sure to be lurking.
What I appreciate about Jesus is that he does not take these hesitating disciples to task. Based on Jesus’ response to Thomas in Jn.20, I would say that Jesus was as gracious to these disciples as he was to Thomas. In other words he sought to strengthen their faith.
But these verses also challenge us to consider our own relationship to Jesus. What does it mean for us to say that we worship Jesus? As I was thinking about this it occurred to me that a way to discern what we worship is to ask, “What is it that determines our lives.” In other words, could it be that your employer, your spouse, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your friends at school, your dreams, your desires, have more say or influence in your life than Jesus? It’s one thing to attend a worship service that demands relatively little from us and it is another thing to actually worship Jesus.
To worship Jesus is to bow before him in faithful, loving allegiance. It is not just acknowledging his place as king. It is taking steps to find out what he desires and to actually seek to do what he desires. I’m not so much talking about having a list of Christian rules that we had better do or else. No. Rather I’m thinking about bringing before the Lord the various activities and loyalties that we have in life and holding them up under his scrutiny. “Lord is this pleasing to you? Is my relationship with my girlfriend or boyfriend pleasing to you? Is the way I conduct myself at work pleasing to you? Are my priorities in life pleasing to you? Do I honor you in my marriage? Does this or that activity bring honor to you?”
In my relationship with Angie, I don’t measure my love for her by checking off a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s not that there aren’t any do’s and don’ts, but the more fundamental issue is do I give my life to her. After the Lord, does she have the place of priority in my life? I don’t mean to say that I worship Angie. And yet, second to my worship of the Lord, Angie has priority over the other loyalties of my life.
In our relationship with the Lord, we will often disappoint him because of our self-will, but if he has first place, if he is our primary focus of worship, we will regularly repent and pursue a life of surrender and obedience to him. Worshipping the Lord is the foundation of everything else that we do in life, including disciple-making.
II. DISCIPLE-MAKING IS COMPELLED BY THE LORDSHIP OF JESUS. Mt.28:18-20a
What actually changed for Jesus after his resurrection? I mean, he could do miracles and forgive sins before his crucifixion. He seemed to have divine knowledge and he certainly exercised authority over the wind and the sea, and over life and death before his crucifixion. So what actually changed? What seems to change is the sphere in which his authority operates. The late New Testament scholar, Leon Morris writes that this, “…points to an end to the time when he was ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.’ Now he has received the fullest possible authority, for it is authority in heaven and on earth. He is making clear that the limitations that applied throughout the incarnation no longer apply to him.” Suffice it to say that Jesus has all authority over the entire universe. And since he has all authority we listen to and obey him.
Based on his authority Jesus commands his followers to go out and become part of his disciple making ministry. Now what does that mean? Well, it means that the disciples of Jesus would go out and continue to do what Jesus had taught them to do. You remember that before Jesus died he sent his disciples out to proclaim the kingdom of God. He gave instructions and then sent them out on a practice assignment. You can read about that in Mt.10, Mk.6, and Lk.9. Listen to Mk.6:7-11. “And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff--no bread, no bag, no money in their belts--but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, ‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them."
Notice a few things here. First there is intentionality. Jesus sends them and they go with purpose. Then note that it is a ministry of dependence upon the Lord. They were to travel light, trusting in the Lord’s provision. We see that Jesus instructs his disciples to have a ministry of presence with others. It is a ministry which involves spending time with others, serving others, and being patient. It is a ministry that requires trusting the Lord to work in the lives of others. It is a ministry of peace and reconciliation and proclamation. Judging from the parable of the soils, and from the general response to Jesus, I would add that disciple-making will be a slow and often fruitless endeavor.
After the church began in Jerusalem it wasn’t long before persecution came and the church was scattered. Believers lived as followers of Christ wherever they went. The apostles proclaimed Christ in many places. As you know Paul and Barnabas undertook a number of missionary journeys. Over the years many methods and tools for witness have been developed, but I would suggest that the basic principles of evangelism given by Jesus are foundational. We share the gospel seeking to be present with others as faithful followers of Jesus, practicing a life of worship, obedience, love, service, and reconciliation. As students of Jesus, our desire is to help others become students of Jesus. This is discipleship-evangelism.
One more observation. Jesus includes baptism and teaching as part of the process. But being baptized and listening to instruction does not make a person a disciple of Jesus. In other words, baptizing someone and getting them into a class doesn’t make them a disciple. If we think this is all there is to being a disciple of Jesus, we have reduced the gospel to checking off a couple of boxes. “Were you baptized? Check. Did you take the class? Check. My work is done here.” No it’s not. Being a disciple of Jesus means that a person surrenders to Christ as Lord in repentance and faith, surrendering themselves fully to Jesus. As a person embraces Jesus they honor and bear public witness to Jesus in baptism. They desire to learn about how to obey all he commanded.
It takes disciples of Jesus to make disciples of Jesus. We say, “Seeing is believing.” Unbelievers need to see committed followers of Jesus Christ in daily living. In other words, as we follow Christ as Lord, because he is our Lord we will have an awareness and be intentional about making disciples. This command of Jesus will significantly shape our relationships. Does my daily living and conversation contribute to pointing others to Jesus Christ or not.
III. DISCIPLE-MAKERS REST IN THE PRESENCE OF JESUS. Mt.28:20b
This is a wonderful promise. The presence of Jesus is with each individual follower of Jesus at all times. Why did Jesus say this when he gave what we refer to as the great commission? I suppose one could say that since he was going to ascend to the Father, he wanted them to know that he would still be present with them. But surely it is more than just a piece of information. This is meant to be a comforting promise to his followers as they go and make disciples. The world is not particularly interested in discipleship to Jesus. Followers of Jesus who are about the Master’s business of making disciples will experience everything from polite rejection to martyrdom. What a joy and encouragement to know that Jesus Christ himself is with us.
Now I don’t know how you engage this command of Jesus to go and make disciples. I’m sure that there many professing followers of Jesus who just ignore it. They have no interest and of course that raises a question about whether or not Christ is Savior, Lord and King. If this describes you then I urge you to evaluate your relationship with Christ.
There are others who seem to be very effective in making disciples. They seem to have a gift for it. And that is wonderful.
My sense is that most of us who follow Christ do take this command seriously and feel some guilt in our inability to share Christ with any measure of success. Maybe you’ve tried but it just doesn’t seem to work. Eventually we give up in frustration.
I have thought long and hard about this matter. I am a fairly outgoing person. I am able to strike up conversations with people without fear. I have a love for people in general. I carry within myself an ongoing awareness that I am a follower of Jesus and I desire to bring Jesus to others. If someone asks me about Jesus I have no hesitation to talk about him. But when I think about this matter of making disciples of Jesus, I would say that I am a dismal failure. In my 63 years of life I can point to one, maybe two people, apart from family members, who I know are following Christ as a result of my efforts. I have been trained to use all sorts of evangelistic tools and have used them. I have learned various ways to communicate the gospel and have shared Christ many times. And there have been times when people have prayed to receive Christ. But to my knowledge none of those people are disciples of Jesus today. Perhaps you can relate.
Here is what I have come to. I’ve decided to just try to be my Christian self around people, just as they are their unchristian selves around me. So, since Jesus is the most important person in my life, I talk about Jesus and things associated with Jesus. When I say, “talk about Jesus,” I don’t mean specifically sharing the gospel. People talk about the books they are reading or the music they are listening to. They talk about things that happen to them at work or at home. And so I do the same. I talk about the books I am reading and the things that happen in my life as a Christian because that is what I am about. For example, I’ve been reading a book called, “The Crucifixion.” In the locker room I began telling a guy about the book. I’m sharing a part of my life with him. If I have read something in the Bible that spurred my thinking, I might say, “You know, I read something interesting today in the Bible that really got me thinking. I am not ashamed of Jesus, but nor am I trying to force a conversation. I am just being my Christian self. I find that people in general have little interest in Jesus. If anything they have been pushed away from Jesus. If they do have an interest I am happy to go deeper. I pray that the Lord will open the hearts and minds of the people I interact with. Now if your Christian self is not very Christian then you need to ask yourself if you are a Christian. This is why I said that disciples of Jesus make disciples of Jesus.
So this promise of the presence of Jesus is significant. He is present in every conversation I am a part of. He knows what is in the hearts of the people I spend time with. He knows my willingness to share the gospel. I am seeking to trust him to move the conversations along. God’s presence takes the pressure off. I’m looking to the Lord in every situation.
As followers of Christ, making disciples is something we embrace because our life is in Christ. Living our lives a followers of Christ is what we are all about. Ask the Lord to help you be a part of his work of making disciples. Amen.