Fitted for Hard Times (3 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:19-20, 26-33, 40-42.

Fitted for Hard Times v_03 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

REVIEW:

Part One: The Conditions of Discipleship

Part Two: The Cost of Discipleship

NEW:

Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple

I imagine all of us has experienced driving behind someone who is driving another car ahead of us, showing us the way.  This experience was much more intense in the olden days before cell phones to ask questions and smart phones to find your own directions, so bear with me if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you.

Anyway, the person you’re following is your lifeline between where you are and where you want to be.  At some point a traffic light comes between you.  True to their usual form, the leader speeds through the yellow light, leaving you behind at the red.  Distance and cross-traffic cars coming between you cause you to lose sight of the leader.  You can hope to catch up or you can hope they pulled over to wait for you, but those are pretty much your two options.  What sounded like a simple trip has now become more complicated.

That’s a little window on what following Jesus can feel like.  Sunny days and good times can make discipleship seem easy.  But then difficulties emerge and we feel separated from our Savior.  In those moments, courage is needed.  Here’s good news: Jesus provides courage for His disciples!

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

  1. We can have courage because God supplies us with the right words (vs. 19-20).

Jesus warned we would face persecution and informed us these were opportunities to witness.  As we saw last week, facing persecution was one of the costs of discipleship.  Jesus warned it would be present in all levels of society: at the family level, city government, regional government, and across the Roman Empire.

Surprisingly, the result of persecution at all levels could be DEATH.  Jesus spared the disciples none of the truth, warning about the worst-case scenario.

He promised to supply the words when witness opportunities arise.  This is kind of ironic because several years ago, public speaking was supposedly the number one fear people had, with death being number two. (Comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s take on those survey results: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” (Jerry Seinfeld, retrieved from https://www.gingerpublicspeaking.com/article/do-people-really-fear-public-speaking-more-than-death on 28 May 2020.)

So here we have Jesus directly addressing the so-called number one fear, saying, “When you have opportunity to witness to the authorities, don’t worry about it, the Holy Spirit will be talking through you.”  Wow.  OK, now that we have the number one fear dealt with, let’s move on to number two; being put to death by those guys.

But seriously, Jesus told His Apostles, “Of all the things you may worry about, don’t let the fear of WORDS stop you, because we’ve got that covered.  It’ll be our words, not yours.”  Or, as Matthew recorded Jesus’ words, “IT WILL NOT BE YOU SPEAKING, BUT THE SPIRIT OF YOUR FATHER SPEAKING THROUGH YOU.”  You will be God’s “mouthpiece!”

This is an excellent perspective to have on all of life, so let’s put it on a bumper sticker: “Life is not about me and now, it’s about God and eternity!”  Use that as your “north star” and life will be a lot easier and more productive.

  1. We can have courage because the secrets of our persecutors will be revealed (vs. 26-27).

Evildoers prefer to do their evil deeds under the cover of darkness.  The first fear to be overcome by courageous disciples was fear of words.  The second fear is fear of the dark.  Unlike a childish fear of the dark, this might be a fear of being swept under the rug; of having one’s witness made ineffective by a cover-up.

We do not fear their darkness because it will all come to light.  Jesus overcame the fear of words with a promise to supply words.  He overcame this fear of darkness by promising that the evil deeds done in darkness will be made known; they will be brought into the light.  More than that, their witness will not be in vain.  Instead, the words Jesus gives them in secret they will proclaim in the DAYLIGHT from the rooftops!

There is a third way to understand this promise.  The Gospels tell us (Matthew 8:20; John 14:26; 16:12-15) that there were times the disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching.  After His Resurrection, however, the meaning became clear to them and they proclaimed those truths.

  1. We can have courage because we fear God, not man (v. 28).

God has complete power over everything that might make us afraid.  This is the third fear Jesus discussed w/t Apostles.  Here is where fear of death is addressed.

People of faith realize death is not a fearful thing, but is our release from this world.  Neither death nor dying are to be feared, because our faith focus is on God, not evil people.  It is natural to dread dying; the physical pain and loss of health that precedes death.

But Jesus is not talking about death in general terms, as we have been.  He is talking about MEN who will use pain and the threat of death to cause the disciples to recant their faith.  Such individuals are not to be feared because their power is limited to the BODY only.  They cannot harm the SOUL.

Here again, the matter is one of perspective: keep your attention on God, who is capable of destroying both BODY and SOUL in hell. Don’t worry about what people can do to you; their worst is still only temporary.  As it is written in Proverbs 29:25 = FEAR OF MAN WILL PROVE TO BE A SNARE, BUT WHOEVER TRUSTS IN THE LORD IS KEPT SAFE.

Even death is not the end of our witness.  This fact is implied in the survival of the SOUL who shows respectful fear of God.  The SOUL who does not respect God has no place in eternity: as v. 28 plainly says, it is destroyed, not “tormented.”

  1. We can have courage because we’re very valuable to God (vs. 29-31).

When we are frightened, it is natural to feel God’s “absence.”  Some call these “wilderness experiences,” times we feel as if God has abandoned us in the wilderness, left us to fend for ourselves.

But the Bible is clear that God’s character and His will do not change.  So if we feel as if God is distant, it’s not because He moved!

This fourth fear Jesus addressed is fear of abandonment.  When we are in the throes of it, the feeling of God’s distance can seem very real.

As God is in the details, He is also in charge of the “big picture.”  When we feel abandoned, we need to remember God is in charge and He is still with us, working His will in our lives.  Jesus offered two examples of God being involved in both the details and the big picture.

Example #1: sparrow flight.  SPARROWS were the food of very poor folk because they were cheep (pun intended)!  Jesus said two of them were sold for a PENNY – an asarion – one-sixteenth of a working man’s daily wage.

We assume FALL TO THE GROUND as a reference to a sparrow dying on a tree limb and dropping to the dirt.  Actually, it pictures a routine flight from the limb to the ground.  How many times a day does that happen?  Wouldn’t this be the very example of “the small stuff?”

It’s as if Jesus said to them, “Listen, guys, a sparrow doesn’t travel from branch to ground without your Father knowing it.  I think you can trust Him to keep track of YOU!”  “After all,” He continued, “you’re worth more than MANY pennies!”

Example #2: scalp census.  Jesus assured the Twelve that God knew them so intimately, He knew the number of hairs on their heads.  (Some of us make it easier for God to keep track of that number!)  It is funny.  When we’re having a “pity party, table for one,” we think, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.  Nobody sees or cares how much I’m suffering.”  False!  Jesus reassures us God knows us and keeps track of us, even down to a useless statistic like the number of hairs on our heads.  Psalm 40:12 is interesting in connection with v. 30.

FOR TROUBLES WITHOUT NUMBER SURROUND ME; MY SINS HAVE OVERTAKEN ME, AND I CANNOT SEE.  THEY ARE MORE THAN THE HAIRS OF MY HEAD, AND MY HEART FAILS WITHIN ME.

In these two examples Jesus may be using exaggeration to make His point, but in any case, He’s assuring us we are not abandoned.  Just the opposite; God knows us intimately and cares for us completely.

  1. We must have courage because these days have eternal significance (vs. 32-33, 40-42).

Our discipleship in this world reveals our eternal destination.  We need to be careful here; on the surface it seems Jesus is teaching we can earn salvation by acknowledging Him and that we can lose our salvation by disowning Him.

The truth goes deeper than this; our salvation is not so easily gained or lost.  In fact, it is not by any works of ours gained or lost.  It is God’s gift; His grace to us.

Instead, what Jesus teaches here is two-fold. First, acknowledging or disowning is not just a verbal act and it is not a single action.  Rather, it is the course of a person’s life.  Our character, the general trend of our days is in view.

Second, it is the testimony offered by our day-to-day decisions that gives evidence of our salvation.  People headed toward acknowledgement before the Father will behave in faithfulness to His teaching. People headed to being disowned will behave in ways that deny God to the world.

Jesus has just candidly addressed four fears and offered promises to encourage His followers to remain faithful in the face of those fears. Here he describes the outcome of those who give into fear (disowning) and those who resist fear (acknowledging).

Our discipleship in this world determines our reward in the next (40-42).  These verses are actually more for the people who will assist the Apostles than for the Apostles themselves, but they are instructive for all of us.

Judgment Day will settle two important issues for each person.  The first and most important is the salvation.  Persons who receive God’s gift of salvation are true disciples and will be welcomed into God’s presence for all eternity; the receive immortality.

The secondary determination is related to works; the kind of things we did in our time on Earth.  For the unbelieving, those who will be destroyed in hell (v. 28), any revelation of their works simply proves God’s condemnation; the evil they did proves they deserve the Second Death.

For the believers, an inventory of each disciple’s good works is the basis for heavenly reward.  In the Bible these rewards are pictured as CROWNS.  It is true that eternal life with God in heaven is reward enough.  But God, in His extravagant grace, further rewards good deeds.

Jesus states the principle in v. 40, elaborates on it in v. 41, and offers an example in v. 42.

The Principle.  The Apostles were to be encouraged, because the people who receive them peaceably (vs. 11+12) have, by proxy, actually received God the Father.

The Elaboration.  The person who receives a PROPHET or RIGHTEOUS MAN has received someone whom the Lord is using to represent Himself to the world.  They will receive the same REWARD the Lord has prepared for the PROPHET and the RIGHTEOUS MAN.

The Example.  Receiving a PROPHET or RIGHTEOUS MAN need not be a complicated matter; a simple act of kindness like sharing a CUP OF COLD WATER is sufficient to merit a reward if the motive for the act is recognition of his discipleship.

The REWARD referred to in v. 42 is not the primary REWARD of salvation, but the secondary REWARD given to the saints upon their admission to heaven.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

As we’ve seen, this passage takes a long view on the subject of discipleship.  It encourages us to be disciples by reminding us that what we do in our daily lives has repercussions into eternal life.

Writing in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra Nathan C. Schaeffer took a similarly long view and wrote the following: “At the close of life, the question will not be, ‘How much have you gotten?’ but ‘How much have you given?’  Not ‘How much have you won?’ but ‘How much have you done?’  Not ‘How much have you saved?’ but ‘How much have you sacrificed?’ It will be ‘How much have you loved and served,’ not ‘How much were you honored?’”

(Retrieved from https://bible.org/illustration/life%E2%80%99s-close on 28 may 2020.)

It takes courage to be Jesus’ disciple.  In the verses we surveyed today we saw Jesus address five fears that would be very typical in the experience of those who genuinely want to follow Jesus.  He addressed fear of words, fear of the dark (evil), fear of death, fear of abandonment, and fear of failure.  In each case, He taught that our response must be trust in God and that our response matters.

Jesus did not promise to relieve us of those fears or help us to avoid them.  Instead, He offered courage through the Holy Spirit and a perspective on fearful circumstances that is faithful to see and follow-through on these opportunities to witness.  Our courage for discipleship, like our status as disciples, is Jesus’ gracious gift.

 

RESOURCE: Message #1323

 

Fitted for Hard Times (2 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:16-25 & 34-39 in your Bible.

Fitted for Hard Times_v02 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

REVIEW: Part One was the Conditions of Discipleship

There is a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin that cannot be proven he either said or wrote.  Nonetheless, it is amusing and has a good truth, especially in these times of overreaching governments: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

In our passage today Jesus is still preparing to send out the Twelve Apostles on their short-term missions project.  He is completely honest, even brutally honest, in warning them what it will cost them to follow Him.  They will be the lambs contesting the wolves of the world around them.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

NEW: Part Two is the Cost of Discipleship

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple will cost your innocence but not your virtue (vs. 16-18)

By “innocence” I mean naiveté; you will see the world as it truly is.  For the sake of our own comfort and sanity we tend to assume people are most often have good intentions and that the world is safe.  Jesus shattered any false sense of safety by saying He was sending the disciples out LIKE SHEEP AMONG WOLVES. WOLVES is an oft-used image for persecutors of the Church (for example, Matthew 7:15; John 10:12; Acts 20:29).  SHEEP is an even more frequent biblical symbol of God’s people (for example, Psalm 23).  Even though He sent them to THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL (v. 6), the disciple were not assume everyone they meet will accept or even tolerate their message of repentance.  In v. 14 He warned them some people would not WELCOME or LISTEN to them.

By “virtue” I mean a refusal to hold a grudge, get revenge or in any way compromise God’s standards.  SNAKES were an Eastern symbol for prudence.  Though DOVES are used otherwise in the Bible, Jesus used used it as a symbol of innocence.  Disciples are not to close their eyes to evil, but are to deal with it directly and even assertively.  We keep our virtue after our innocence is lost by being smart, which is exactly what Jesus is teaching here.

The effect of this transformation is for you to BE ON YOUR GUARD.  Be prepared; as sure as sparks fly upward, so will disciples suffer persecution.  Jesus’ teaching about His Second Coming required His disciples to be on their GUARD.  You do this by never giving up.  They were warned to be ON GUARD AGAINST MEN (v. 17) because men are prone to prioritize self-interest.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cost you your freedom (vs. 18-19).

Persecution can come from the top down as well as the bottom up.  V. 18 is a contrast with v. 17.  In. v. 17 Jesus warned them against local level persecution: city government (COUNCILS) and Jewish SYNAGOGUES.  In v. 18 Jesus warned them against persecution brought by GOVERNORS AND KINGS. In v. 21 Jesus warned a third group – family members – may be among a disciple’s persecutors.  God’s purpose in their being persecuted is to give them an opportunity to be WITNESSES to the Jews and eventually to the GENTILES too.

Is your freedom – your rights – more precious than your salvation?  Is your search for personal comfort more important to you than your duty as a disciple?  If the priority is on salvation and discipleship, you’ll be encouraged by Jesus’ promises and commands.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cause you to suffer persecution and rejection (vs. 22-25).

Persecution comes to Jesus’ people because evil people hate Jesus.  I wonder how much persecution the Apostles actually faced when they went out?

It’s clear He prepared them to face opposition in vs. 17-20 just as He did in vs. 11-16.  But vs. 17-20 have a feeling of looking further into the future; that Jesus is speaking here about circumstances long after His death, things the Twelve will have to face as they represent Jesus in other parts of the world.

This interpretation is based on more than intuition; in v. 18 Jesus promised they’d be WITNESSES to the GENTILES as well.  But at this moment their mission is to the LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL exclusively (v.6), the GENTILES are not included.  This warning is more appropriate to the decades after Jesus’ Ascension than this immediate situation.

To the degree that it helps to know your persecutors are not making it a personal issue, Jesus warned, ALL MEN WILL HATE YOU BECAUSE OF ME.  These words also take a broader view than just this short-term mission.  This is their future.  ALL MEN should not be understood as “everyone.”  It can be translated as “all kinds of men,” which takes in the locals mentioned in v. 17, the VIPs in v. 18, and family members in v. 21.

Jesus said, “A STUDENT IS NOT ABOVE HIS TEACHER, NOR A SERVANT ABOVE HIS MASTER,” explaining why hatred for Him automatically becomes hatred for His disciples.  Jesus did not die on the cross to make us happy or feel fulfilled, or to improve our self-esteem.  Jesus suffered and died to save us.  As His disciples we must share in His sufferings if we want to also share in his glory (Romans 8:17).  Our attitude toward suffering should be the kind expressed by the apostles in Acts 5:21 who were overjoyed to be counted worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus’ name.

Jesus has provided us with recourse to persecution: a promise, path, and a finish line.

His promise: v. 22 promises those who remain ON GUARD and STAND FIRM TO THE END they will be saved.  This command is similarly expressed in…

– Philippians 3:16 = ONLY LET US LIVE UP TO WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY ATTAINED.

– Revelation 2:25 = ONLY HOLD ON TO WHAT YOU HAVE UNTIL I COME.

Disciples experience seasons of growth and seasons which threaten us and/or tempt us to give up.  In those seasons, it is perfectly acceptable to dig in and prevent losing any ground, to cling fiercely to the measure of faith we have, and refuse to be moved.  To be faithful TO THE END means to the end of one’s life or to the Second Coming, whichever comes first.

Jesus’ path = In v. 23 Jesus advised the Twelve, “WHEN YOU ARE PERSECUTED IN ONE PLACE, FLEE TO ANOTHER.”  In other words, “You don’t have to stand there and take it.”  In this teaching and in others, Jesus authorized the use of passive resistance and non-violent protest as responses to persecution.  He did not call His disciples to be door mats: He commanded us to be as SHREWD AS SNAKES but as INNOCENT AS DOVES.

For example, a SHREWD alternative to just standing there and allowing yourself to be persecuted is to get out of the way of your persecutors.  We have an example of this happening in the history of the Church: Acts 8:1 says the members of the church in Jerusalem scattered into neighboring provinces in the face of persecution in the city.

Jesus’ finish line = YOU WILL NOT FINISH GOING THROUGH THE CITIES OF ISRAEL BEFORE THE SON OF MAN COMES.  This is Jesus’ promise that He would not leave any of His disciples to suffer their fate.  He did the opposite: He promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20).  This is an occasion where it’s especially important to be aware of the context of the verse.  Jesus has just instructed them to flee persecution.  What is he saying here is that there will always be a fall-back position, until Jesus comes again, and fall-back positions will no longer be needed.  We’ve already observed that Jesus’ instructions look beyond the time in which they were given.  This statement looks forward to the end of time.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cause a loss of false peace (vs. 34).

Jesus didn’t come to be “nice,” if that word means being completely benign, inoffensive, no trouble, no confrontations, or no harsh words of any kind.  Jesus said it plainly, but people don’t want to hear it, so they start off a comment with “Well…” and proceed to make excuses to water down Jesus’ radical statements.  To them I say, “Grow up.”

Jesus said “DO NOT SUPPOSE THAT I HAVE COME TO BRING PEACE TO THE EARTH.  I DID NOT COME TO BRING PEACE, BUT A SWORD.”  Similarly, in Luke 12:49-51 He said, “I HAVE COME TO BRING FIRE ON THE EARTH AND HOW I WISH IT WERE ALREADY KINDLED.  BUT I HAVE A BAPTISM TO UNDERGO, AND OW DISTRESSED I AM UNTIL IT IS COMPLETED! DO YOU THINK I CAME TO BRING PEACE ON EARTH?  NO, I TELL YOU, BUT DIVISION.”  This is not Jesus’ desire to be a troublemaker nor is he authorizing us to merely be troublemakers.  Instead, He is offering another explanation of why people hate Him.

Telling the truth has a polarizing effect on people.  People who are living a lie hate the truth because it exposes them as liars and thereby feels like an accusation.  People who live in the truth love the truth because it encourages and affirms what they’re doing.  Jesus told the truth, but more than that, He IS the truth (John 14:6).

Discipleship is following Jesus’ example in seeking the truth, which will produce both peace and judgment in a single circumstance.  Jesus is called the PRINCE OF PEACE (Isaiah 9:6-7) because He brings inner peace to His disciples (Philippians 4:7).  At the same time, He is a galvanizing figure whom people will love or hate.  Hear this: the most faithless reaction to Jesus is apathy (Revelation 3:14-16).  Just as history has been divided by Jesus (A.D. versus B.C.), so are people divided into for or against.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple may cost you some family relationships (vs. 21, 35-37).

Our first family is our church family.  We’ve observed Jesus’ warning in v. 21: “BROTHER WILL BETRAY BROTHER…A FATHER HIS CHILD…CHILDREN AGAINST THEIR PARENTS.”  This is such an important point, it is essentially repeated in vs. 35-37.  Note the deadly consequence of these betrayals: TO DEATH.  Jesus is offering families as an example of people we would normally expect to trust, but as we know family members are not any more likely to agree or be agreeable than complete strangers.

Jesus’ attitude toward family may surprise you.  In Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 8, Jesus responded to a call to join His family by saying, “MY MOTHER AND BROTHERS ARE THOSE WHO HEAR GOD’S WORD AND PUT IT INTO PRACTICE.”  Verse 37 is a similarly provocative statement: “ANYBODY WHO LOVES HIS FATHER OR MOTHER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS SON OR DAUGHTER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME.”  The Bible does place a high value on family relationships, but in terms of priorities, it is clear our church family comes before our birth family.

Even in families, some people will react to your discipleship with division.  Discipleship demands extreme devotion to Jesus, a situation that will not sit well with all the members of one’s family.  The polarizing effect of Jesus and the followers who imitate Him can be deep enough to part close but superficial relationships.

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple will cost your life (vs. 38-39).

Salvation is free and it costs you everything.  Salvation is FREE in the sense that it cannot be earned.  It is available to us only because of God’s grace.  Salvation COSTS us everything in the sense that following Jesus must be our first priority.  Anything that is more important than loving God is actually an idol: including family.  We can claim anything we want, but we can’t actually be a disciple of Jesus if we prioritize anything else above Him.

There are three aspects of discipleship Jesus mentioned in this passage.

Take up your cross.  In Jesus’ culture, the cross was a symbol of shame.  Jesus transformed it into a sign of victory, but He did so only by means of sacrifice.  Taking up our own cross means to do a similar thing, to sacrifice self on the altar of devotion to God.  In our culture, this will involve the sacrifice of choice, convenience and comfort, things we insist upon.

Follow Jesus.  Finding something to die for is, in some ways, easier than having something to life for, because living requires the hard work of being faithful in the mundane details of everyday life.  Following means letting Jesus lead.  Whenever we want to dictate the terms of discipleship or tell Jesus what we’re willing to do, that’s where falsehood enters in.

Lose your life for His sake.  This is obviously a figure of speech but it describes the radical depth of commitment a disciple shows.  Disciples are mostly unconcerned about their own rights.  They give evidence of humility and a servant’s heart in word and deed.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

In this second of three installments, we have observed Jesus preparing His disciples by frankly telling them what it will cost them to follow Him.  In all the years since, the cost of discipleship has not changed.  The rewards are literally out of this world but they are realized only by faith and sacrifice.

One place where discipleship can become difficult is when the faith collides with the world.  Jesus did not want to send His people into the world naively expecting to be appreciated.

I read recently that expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are “good” is like expecting a bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.  The bull simply does not care.  In all walks of life, in all situations and experiences, you will encounter resistance against your faith.  People will not care.

In those moments, Jesus does not expect us to be a witty debater, a fiery preacher, or anything other than our selves, clinging resolutely to what we know to be true.  We do not require the world’s agreement or approval to be disciples; with the Holy Spirit in us, we operate under a greater authority.  Quiet confidence and a ready reply is what’s needed when the world starts knocking our faith down.

PREVIEW: Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple

RESOURCES:

Message #1322

Fitted for Hard Times (1 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:1-15 in your Bible.  Part One: The Conditions of Discipleship

Fitted for Hard Times (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

In the white collar world of professional businessmen, there has been a lot of popular press written on the subject of leadership.  In the Bible, a lot is said about discipleship and service.  How’s that for an illustration of the clash of cultures?

The subject of discipleship, of training and being trained in following Jesus, is so important we’ll devote the next three weeks to studying Jesus’ method of discipleship in Matthew 10.  It is a rich vein of teaching, so we are going to sink a deep shaft into it.

To stimulate our thinking, it want to share a few insights into the subject of discipleship, representing varied viewpoints.

Nineteenth century Danish theologian Soren Kierkagaard wrote, “I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, “If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me.”  Kierkagaard’s comment?  “And no one laughed.”

The reformer Martin Luther wrote, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

American evangelist Dwight L. Moody said, “It is better to train ten people than to do the work of ten people. But it is harder.”

These three men all observed, in their different ways, the essential nature of discipleship in the Christian life.  Real belief is manifest in spiritual growth, as haphazard as it may look from the outside.  There is no choice in this matter; Jesus’ followers are disciples or they follow someone else.

CONTEXT: In Matthew 9, Jesus has called Matthew to be a disciple.  He is the last one to be called to follow Jesus.  Then, at the end of the chapter, Jesus looked compassionately on the crowd gathered before Him and urged His disciples to pray to the Lord of the Harvest for more workers in the field.  These two chapters have a focus on Jesus’ disciples, His partners in ministry.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

  1. To be a disciple you must first be named as one of His people (vs. 2-4).

The Twelve are named four times in the New Testament.  The four lists are here in Matthew 10, Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13; there is no listing in John.

This is the only time in Matthew and Mark they are called APOSTLES. The word itself has a specific meaning: “messenger, envoy, ambassador.”  Hebrews 13:1 refers to Jesus as an APOSTLE.

When the word came into use as a title for a church officer, its meaning widened.  At first, only the Twelve were called Apostles.  Then Paul and five others were called APOSTLES.  Then leaders over groups of churches got the title.

Regardless of one’s title, every believer is first called by God.  We are saved because God decided to offer salvation to us.  Here are some general observations about the original twelve Apostles.

– The Twelve were all laymen; there were no priests among them.

– They were not chosen because they gave Jesus any advantage.

– They were a mix of personalities w/ some opposites.  (For example, the opposing political views of Matthew the tax collector versus Simon the Zealot, the opposite personalities of Peter and the “Sons of Thunder” versus “Doubting Thomas.”)

– They were called to follow Jesus, they didn’t volunteer.  Some of Jesus’ followers did volunteer, but they are not called APOSTLES.

The Apostles were ordinary men whom God empowered to extra-ordinary things.  They were so important to the plan of God that Revelation 21:14 tells us that the foundation stones of the heavenly city are inscribed with their names!

  1. To be a disciple you must come under Jesus’ authority (v. 1)

JESUS CALLED HIS DISCIPLES TO HIM: Jesus, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, called each of these men individually.  It was His decision that made them disciples; it was their decision to accept.

To be CALLED is to be invited by God to accept His will.  Everyone is CALLED to be saved.  In 2 Peter 2:9 we are told it is God’s will that no one should perish, that all should repent.  This is a universal calling.

Those who accept God’s call to salvation receive an additional calling to do a specific kind of ministry in a specific time and place.  In the modern Church we have mistakenly used the language of “calling” for professional church leaders.  That is unbiblical.  All disciples are CALLED to minister for Jesus.

HE…GAVE THEM AUTHORITY = On this occasion, Jesus delegated to the Twelve His AUTHORITY to do two things in particular.  One: TO DRIVE OUT EVIL (“unclean”) SPIRITS.  These spirits are in opposition to God.  They do evil and tempt people to do evil.  They were to be driven out because their evil is toxic to humans, separating their victims from God.

Two: TO HEAL EVERY DISEASE AND ILLNESS.  As Jesus gave the Twelve AUTHORITY to do these two different things, it is plain that not every physical illness is a result of demonic activity.  Matthew Henry’s comment is good: “The design of the gospel is to conquer the devil and cure the world.”  Last week we saw Jesus doing both these things in Luke 4.

On other occasions (i.e., Matthew 19:28) Jesus’ delegated authority would take other forms.  What’s important for us here is to note that His disciples do not exercise their own authority.  Instead, they minister under His.

  1. As a disciple you must do service and witness at the same time (vs. 5-8).

Jesus sent out the Twelve after giving them INSTRUCTIONS.  This is a potent word, used in a variety of situations: the commands given by military leaders to their subordinates, the rules or principles given by a teacher to their students, and the word of a king or emperor as laws put upon the people.

This emphasis on service and witness means the object of ministry is not self or other believers, but others, and particularly the LOST.  In this case Jesus’ command was to minister only to their fellow Jews: the Gentiles and Samaritans would be reached at another time.  Jesus’ command to GO… TO THE LOST SHEEP OF ISRAEL fulfilled the Old Testament promises that a Messiah would be sent to Israel.  This is an example to us that ministry is not about gratifying self, but is focused on meeting the needs of others.

Our ministry of witness is to PREACH…THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR.  Repentance is the response for which we’re aiming as we witness, because repentance is necessary for salvation (Mark 6:12).  THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN refers to the people of God, distinguished by true faith.

To say t KINGDOM is NEAR means two things.  One, it is close enough to be recognized by those who have faith and the Spirit to see it.  Two, that a decision is demanded: don’t procrastinate.  The KINGDOM is NEAR in time; the opportunity to join it is now.

Our ministry of service is to relieve all kinds of distress.  SICK…DEAD…LEPROSY…DEMONS are a representative sample of all the kinds of ills human beings can suffer.  Jesus gave His disciples AUTHORITY over them all!  Following the example of the Apostles, we are to provide the material and spiritual service that results in healing other’s suffering.  The Apostles returned later and testified that they had received power to accomplish these works of service.

Witness and service are to be given generously.  As Jesus said, “FREELY YOU HAVE RECEIVED, FREELY GIVE.”  God gives to us with grace and generosity; it reveals a lot about the true state of our faith when we don’t show that same kind of grace and generosity to others.  In this, the apostles were to follow God’s example and thereby set an example for us to follow.  This instruction also helps us avoid the temptation to build our own ”empire” instead of building God’s Kingdom.

  1. As a disciple you must depend on God, not yourself (vs. 9-11).

This requires you to not trust in your worldly resources.  There is a personal reason Jesus gave this command: the Apostles were to trust God to provide for their material needs.  To teach them this, Jesus instructed them to take no provisions for themselves: no money, no bag for carrying an extra tunic or sandals, nor even a staff.  If they took it along, they were depending on their own resources, not on God.  The phrase TAKE ALONG meant “procure.”  It was about going out to get all the stuff a person might need for a life on the road.

Jesus had a theological reason for this teaching.  If you and I do only the things we know we can do, then we get the glory.  On the other hand, if we do the things that only God could do, He gets the glory.

Jesus had two practical reasons.  First, if you know you’re going to depend on others for all your material needs, you have an obvious motive for ministry.  If your next meal depends on you witnessing, you’ve got some urgency in your belly that doesn’t depend on “willpower.”

Second, this was a short-term “training” mission, not an extended trip.  They were not going to the Gentiles or Samaritans.  There was no need for the extensive preparations that a lengthier journey would require.  Ministry was the priority.

Disciples trust God to equip them through the people He has prepared.  Notice the principle behind Jesus’ instruction in vs. 9-11: worthiness.  The worker is a worthy person.  FOR THE WORKER IS WORTHY OF HIS KEEP.  Those who sacrifice themselves to do the work of ministry deserve our support.

The worker is to search for a WORTHY PERSON to supply His needs and stick with them.  The worthiness of this person would be spirituality first and material support second.  Also, because the Apostles would be associating with that person throughout their stay, their worthiness would be measured by their reputation in the community: would association with them help or hinder their witness?  Jesus told them to STAY AT HIS HOUSE UNTIL YOU LEAVE.  It would be tempting to “trade up” to a nicer house or better food, but that would be ungrateful to someone who’d been generous and might have impaired the reputation of the Apostles.

  1. As a disciple you must practice peace and judgment (vs. 11-15).

Begin new relationships with peace, but be prepared to render judgment.  Remember that the home in this example belongs to a WORTHY PERSON, so it is reasonable to expect a peaceful greeting.

The first step, then, is to give the household a peaceful GREETING (12).  In Jewish culture, that was “Peace to this house” or “Shalom.”

The second step was determined by the response of the household.  If they responded to the greeting of PEACE with PEACE, then they were deserving of PEACE.  In that case, the Apostles were to STAY AT THAT HOUSE until they left, and allow their PEACE to REST ON IT too.

On the other hand, if they responded to the greeting of PEACE by not welcoming them or not listening to them (v. 14), then the Apostles were to LET their PEACE RETURN to them and shake the dust of that house or town off their feet.  In Jewish culture, shaking the dust off one’s feet or clothing was a nonverbal curse (Nehemiah 5:13; Acts 18:6).  For example, it was their habit to shake the dust off before entering Gentile lands so as not to carry any of the soil of the Promised Land with them.  Before leaving Gentile lands, they would shake the dust off to avoid bringing any of that unclean soil with them into the Promised Land.  This was a curse that would come to pass ON THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.

Realize that not everyone will accept your witness and service.  These instructions make the most sense when we remember Jesus was preparing His disciples for the possibility of rejection and acceptance.  He was sending them out of the safety of their group and the world was as likely to show them the back of its hand as offer a hand in fellowship.

His other purpose is to demonstrate this is serious business.  To reject God’s ambassadors is a rejection of God; to reject God is to put one’s self under a curse that will come to full and deadly fruition on Judgment Day.  As Jesus explained in verse 40, “HE WHO RECEIVES YOU RECEIVES ME, AND HE WHO RECEIVES ME RECEIVES THE ONE WHO SENT ME.”

Though we come peaceably to witness and serve, there is no guarantee we will be received peaceably.  When people make up their own minds, their response is their responsibility, not ours.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

We observed earlier the Twelve were called to follow Jesus, they did not volunteer.  The difference between the two is instructive:

  • Disciples surrender their rights in service to their master, but volunteers retain their rights and some are quite likely to bellyache at perceived violations of their rights.
  • Discipleship is an act of complete self-sacrifice while volunteers offer only a portion of their resources, often what they can easily spare.
  • Discipleship is a way of life while volunteerism is more like a hobby; something we enjoy but is not central to our survival or growth.
  • Disciples live to serve while volunteers expect to be rewarded for their service.

While it is true that the church needs workers, God calls all of us to be disciples.  The difference between the two makes all the difference.  A person can be a volunteer in the church without being a disciple, but a disciple will always be a gracious volunteer.

 

Part Two: The Cost of Discipleship

Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple

 

RESOURCES:

Message #1321

http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/d/discipleship.htm

The Matthew Henry Commentary, Matthew Henry

Disappearing Disciples

reject Jesus

Following Jesus is necessary; it is not easy.

          We live in a time when the people who exert the greatest influence on American culture think it fashionable to flaunt and condemn Christianity.  With an assertiveness and obnoxiousness that would be condemned as “intolerance” if it were directed at any other faith, these self-appointed guardians of political correctness work to marginalize everyone who lives and practices the true faith.

          In my generation, the most notorious opponent of Christianity was Madalyn Murray O’Hair, a woman who brought suit to remove prayer from public schools.  It’s an amusing testimony to the power of her legacy that though she’s been dead several years, Ms. O’Hair can still cause an email firestorm when spam about her taking a case to the FCC makes the rounds every 2 years or so.

Her atheism flowed from a poisonous personality that gradually gave way to some of the vileness only hell itself could devise.  It may interest you to know that Ms. O’Hair’s son William Murray, became a Baptist minister, author, and lobbyist for conservative values.  As a child, he was named by his mother as the plaintiff in the lawsuit she used to remove prayer from public schools.  Rev. Murray says of his mother, “she was just evil.” She was murdered by members of her own organization in 1995, the dismembered bodies of O’Hair, her son, and her granddaughter were recovered in the woods near Camp Woods, Texas five years later.

https://www.religiousfreedomcoalition.org/2011/04/05/the-madalyn-murray-ohair-murder/

Good news – the Church has survived all of Ms. O’Hair’s activism.  The Church will also survive the current crop of “talking heads” who are likewise so eager to remove Christianity from the public sphere.

Bad news – things will get more difficult before Jesus comes again.  Following Jesus in America is certainly not as difficult as it is in other parts of the world, but it has never been an easy thing to do.  As a reminder to be faithful, this morning we’ll see how some people who identified themselves as Jesus’ disciples turned their backs on Him.

  1. Accept Jesus’ teaching though it can be hard to take. (vs. 60-65)

John reported MANY OF HIS DISCIPLES COMPLAINED. The may have been complaining about what Jesus taught earlier in the chapter.  Here are couple examples of the teaching to which they were reacting.

“UNLESS YOU EAT THE FLESH OF THE SON OF MAN AND DRINK HIS BLOOD, YOU HAVE NO LIFE IN YOU.” (53)

“I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE (48).  THIS IS THE BREAD THAT CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN.  YOUR FOREFATHERS ATE MANNA AND DIED, BUT HE WHO FEEDS ON THIS BREAD WILL LIVE FOREVER.” (58)

Their complaint was this teaching seemed HARD to them.  As we see in v. 52, they took these words very literally, saying, “HOW CAN THIS MAN GIVE US HIS FLESH TO EAT?”  Taken literally, the idea is repugnant, against God’s law, and physically impossible.

Taken as a figure of speech, it was meaningless to them.  They did not understand the symbolism Jesus used.  Further, Jesus’ reference to their FOREFATHERS might have made them feel defensive and a little more peevish.  So, HARD = difficult.  The teaching was difficult to understand and accept.

John also wrote they were GRUMBLING and offended by what Jesus said.  The Greek word translated as GRUMBLING can also be rendered “complaining, murmuring.”  They bellyached, but not to Jesus

When operating in our flesh alone – that is, without spiritual insight – it’s easy for us to take offense.  Maybe they felt Jesus was trying to make them look ignorant.  Jesus was not responsible for offending them; they chose to take offense at His words.  As a result, they did not BELIEVE and He called them on it (64).

Jesus’ reply revealed four more truths about Himself.

He predicted He would ASCEND TO WHERE HE WAS BEFORE. John told us in chapter one where Jesus was before, and that was with God the Father.  John’s gospel does not tell us about the Ascension of Jesus but we read about it at the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts.  It marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  This is a proof of the divine side of Jesus’ nature; He existed before all creation and participated in creation.  Jesus is telling them He is God but they’re not having it.

Their complaints were materialistic (of the FLESH) but the Spirit’s contributions bring life.  They missed the symbolism in His words because they had no sense of the Spirit’s testimony in what Jesus was saying.  Jesus clearly informed him of the spiritual origin of His teaching and promised that those who believed them would have LIFE.

We saw in 2:24-25 Jesus knew the content of people’s hearts but here He reveals this supernatural insight to them.  He said, “SOME OF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE.”  Jesus said this before many of them turned away and left Him, predicting and explaining their response before it happened.  Jesus knew FROM THE BEGINNING who would turn and walk away.  He also knew which of the Twelve would be His betrayer.

He repeated what He said in verse 44; it was impossible to come to the father apart from His words.  Many of His listeners supposed they were in God the Father’s good graces because they were descendants of Abraham.  Jesus exposed that assumption as false.  The truth is, there is no relationship with God the Father without believing His words.

  1. Do not turn your back on Jesus. (66-71)

This was the last straw for MANY OF those who had claimed to be HIS DISCIPLES.  In chapter two we saw the superficial faith of those who were wowed by His miracles.  In chapter six we see the superficial faith of those who wanted another miraculous meal.

Jesus exposed their motives in v. 26: “I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, YOU ARE LOOKING FOR ME, NOT BECAUSE YOU SAW MIRACULOUS SIGNS BUT BECAUSE YOU ATE THE LOAVES AND HAD YOUR FILL.”  If He had continued to feed them and ask for nothing in return, they would have hung around.  As it was, I guess you can say they couldn’t “stomach” the truth!

Jesus asked the essential question: “Do you want to leave me too?”  It’s a question each of us answers daily by the choices we make.  We’ve established Jesus knew people’s hearts, so this is not a question He asked for information’s sake.  There may’ve been some frustration or other emotion behind this, but I believe His purpose in asking is to draw out His disciples and give them a chance to declare faith.

Peter gave the correct answer.  Is there frustration or disappointment in Peter’s reply, “WHERE ELSE CAN WE GO?”  Even so, we have to credit Peter with having the faith to realize two important things:

“YOU HAVE THE WORDS OF LIFE.”  This statement implies Jesus alone has the WORDS that lead to LIFE.  There are all kinds of things competing for our attention but only Jesus has the WORDS OF LIFE.

“WE BELIEVE AND KNOW YOU ARE THE HOLY ONE OF GOD.”  This is how we are saved: the Holy Spirit works in every life to draw us to Jesus.  By belief in the works and words of Jesus, we gain access to God the Father.  By faith we accept the salvation Jesus provided for us and receive the forgiveness of God the Father.  We then have life eternal.

Jesus affirmed Peter’s statement of faith as true, as if He’d said, “I hear you and that’s why I chose you to be my TWELVE.”  However, He also knew that one of the Twelve was not faithful; worse, he was a DEVIL.  The word DEVIL means “slanderer” and is not usually used to refer to a human being.  Here it is a figure of speech to show how diabolical Judas was being.

John’s editorial comment in v. 71 explains who the unnamed DEVIL was and why he was devilish.  John 13:2 says THE DEVIL PROMPTED JUDAS to betray Jesus.  In 13:27 we read Satan ENTERED INTO Judas.  This does not excuse Judas’ choices; it merely explains how he was able to betray Jesus.

Following Jesus is necessary; it is not easy.

We spoke briefly at the beginning about opposition to our faith coming from outsiders.  This event reminds us that sometimes people who claim to be disciples oppose and reject the teaching of Jesus.  It’s necessary to remind ourselves that current situation exists in part because the Church in America allowed it to happen.  We dozed peacefully at the wheel and wonder how we landed in the ditch!

The American Church will most effectively resist the conductors of culture to the degree we choose to follow Jesus truthfully.  We must take up the message Peter defined in vs. 68+69, without any compromise with this culture.  We must affirm, with our words and deeds, that Jesus is the sole means of eternal life, the HOLY ONE OF GOD.  This message must go out by our love and be proven by our integrity.  Friends, this must happen as millions of convinced Christians live their daily lives in the Holy Spirit.  We must give our all to Jesus but not give an inch to the world.

 

RESOURCES:

Greek Lexicon, Walter Bauer.

Doing Our Jobs

church-work-day-clipart

Churches thrive when members do their jobs.

          Today is Church Vocations Sunday and Installation Sunday; we are celebrating and supporting those who give leadership to our church.  It’s wonderful to see the leaders of the church cooperating with one another to show a congregation the way Jesus wants them to go.

For example, I’m reminded of a church where the trustees took out the old paper towel dispensers and replaced them with modern hot-air hand dryers.  For their part, the deacons added signs above each dryer which read, “For a sample of this week’s sermon, push the button.”

<http://javacasa.com/humor/pastor.htm&gt;

CONTEXT: Our passage this morning is the second of two threats to the unity of the First Church.  The first, in ch. 5, was hypocrisy.  Ananias and Sapphira pretended to sell their home and give all the proceeds to the church.  In a demonstration of how much God hates hypocrisy, this lie cost both the husband and wife their lives.  As we will see, the second problem was complaining.

We will also note the selection of deacons set up the next two sections of Acts as the spotlight falls on two of the newly-elected deacons, Stephen and Philip (chs. 6-8).

  1. The problem. (vs. 1-2)

Part of the problem was the rapid growth of the Church = THE NUMBER OF DISCIPLES WAS INCREASING.  References to church growth bracket this narrative.  A great problem to have, right?  The Church added people faster than they added the leadership to take care of them.

How fast?  Note 3,000 converts were mentioned in 2:41 and the 5,000 members in 4:4, we know for certain that the Church numbered in the thousands in a city of 100,000 residents.  That’s a lot for twelve guys to administrate!

The other part of the problem was complaining = THE GRECIAN JEWS COMPLAINED AGAINST THE HEBRAIC JEWS.  At this point the Church existed only in Jerusalem and was made up only of Jews.  It was considered to be a sect of Judaism.

At that time, there were two kinds of Jews.  Luke referred to one group as GRECIAN JEWS; they were people who converted to Judaism or were born Jews, but came from other parts of the world.  HEBRAIC JEWS, on the other hand, were people who were born in the region.  The primary difference was the fact they spoke different languages.

The out-of-town Jews believed that their widows were not getting their fair share of the daily soup kitchen.  This is not a small thing: Ministry to widows, orphans, aliens, and other down-and-out types was a big focus of the early church.  It was where a lot of their money was spent.  It is no coincidence that the first complaint in church life involved widows – the Old Testament commanded care for widows (i.e., Deuteronomy 10:18).  Jesus taught neglecting the care of widows was evidence of disobeying God (Luke 7:12-14).

The result was that the Apostles’ time was being spent waiting on tables when they should have been ministering the WORD.  The same Greek word translated here as DISTRIBUTION OF FOOD appears in 1:17+25 as the MINISTRY the Apostles received from Jesus.  This linguistic connection makes two things clear.  One, the TWELVE did the work of waiting on tables.  Two, waiting tables and proclaiming the Word were both considered ministry.  Both were important work.

Why were the Twelve doing all this themselves?  Sometimes it’s easier for leaders to do things themselves than it is to recruit people to do them.

What’s more important in this case, is that the Twelve demonstrated wisdom by recognizing taking care of this problem themselves was not a good idea.  When it came down to a choice between waiting tables or ministering the WORD, they knew which was part of their calling and which was not.

Again, both these were ministries were important to the church.  But the Twelve realized they were called to minister the word, not administrate a social program.  It was not RIGHT for them to WAIT ON TABLES because that would have required them neglecting their true ministry.  Somebody needed to do it, but it needed to be somebody else.  Here is an example of a situation where spirituality and practicality both need to be heard.

  1. The proposal. (vs. 2-6)

They proposed the congregation choose seven godly men to WAIT TABLES.  The Twelve created the proposal but they left it up to the members to decide who would administrate this program.

They proposed a group of SEVEN men because seven is seen as a symbol of completeness; that’s all that was needed.  Social scientists tell us seven is just about the ideal number for any working group.

The Twelve set forth the qualification the Seven were to be KNOWN to possess: FULL OF THE SPIRIT AND WISDOM.  True wisdom comes from God through the Holy Spirit.

The DISCIPLES (the members, the congregation) chose seven men from among their own number.  The fact that they all have Greek names does not prove that all Seven were GRECIAN JEWS, but if they were, that was an extraordinary accommodation by the HEBRAIC JEWS to the GRECIAN JEWS.

Luke describes only two of the Seven in any detail.  His mention of Stephen as A MAN FULL OF FAITH AND THE HOLY SPIRIT set up the account of Stephen, the first martyr, starting in verse eight.  The other mention is Nicolas, a CONVERT TO JUDAISM.  This proves that not all of the church members were born Jews.

Delegating authority was not a new idea: in Exodus 18:13-26; Numbers 11:1-25, and Deuteronomy 1:9-18, we read about 70 Israelite men who were selected to assist Moses in settling disputes among the people and to train them in faithfulness to God.

The phrase WAIT ON TABLES is the Greek word diakonein, from which we derive our word “deacon.”     Though Luke does not refer to the Seven as “deacons” in this passage, he will by chapter 21.  It’s ironic how the church has turned this word upside down.  The original deacons were table waiters; workers in a soup kitchen that delivered daily meals to the needy.  Their jobs were practical.  In the modern American church, deacons are responsible for spiritual ministry while the practical work is given to “trustees.”  Biblically, it ought to be the other way around.

If the proposal were accepted, the Apostles would have more time to pay ATTENTION TO PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD.  PRAYER is a separate ministry.  It includes public worship and private visitation.  MINISTRY OF THE WORD includes preaching and teaching; discipleship that occurs in public and private situations.

As we stated earlier, this division of labor does not imply any kind of elitism.  The Twelve and the Seven had two different kind of work but BOTH were considered ministry.  The fact that the Seven were commissioned for ministry by the laying on of hands (v. 6) is further evidence of this variety of callings without a hierarchy of callings.

  1. The product. (vs. 5+7)

For possibly the last time in recorded history, all the church folk were happy at the same time.  The Greek word for PLEASED denotes a kind of satisfaction with the actions of another.  Our objective is to aim to please God, not any individual or group in the church.  So if everyone’s happy, that’s gravy, not our goal.

Luke listed two signs of God’s approval of the way the problem had been resolved.  He wrote, THE WORD OF GOD SPREAD.  On a practical level, the Twelve had their time freed up by turning the food ministry over to the Seven.  On a spiritual level, God registered His approval by giving them more opportunities to speak the word to those outside the church.

He also wrote THE NUMBER OF DISCIPLES INCREASED.  This is the other bracket that frames this passage; the Church was growing in number before the complaint and it continued to grow after they faithfully resolved the complaint.

The text supplies two qualifiers of the growth the First Church experienced.  The word RAPIDLY implies the Church’s growth gained speed.  A LARGE NUMBER OF PRIESTS were added to the membership.  These were men who had a vested interest in the status quo and were trained in the Scriptures.  And they overcame all that to choose to follow Jesus!

Churches thrive when members do their jobs.

          That’s not important.  What is important is the example set for us by the early church. Every believer is given their individual set of spiritual Gifts and other resources they can contribute to the life of their local church.  When all the believers make their contributions, the church prospers.  We need a variety of contributions and a depth of contributors in order to be faithful to God and the mission He has given us.  Church is not a spectator sport.  Everyone’s contributions differ slightly, but everyone contributes.  With love, we assemble these offerings of various resources and expend them in ministry to our people and the people outside our walls.

Here’s their example for us to follow:

– When a problem is announced, the leaders are responsible to see if it is a problem and take reasonable steps to resolve it.

– The leadership formulates a proposal and presents it to the membership, requiring them to share responsibility for a solution.

– Working together, the leaders and followers enact the solution with prayer and good sense empowering a godly way forward.

– When we are faithful, God makes us fruitful.  It may not be immediate, but it is inevitable.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #1291

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Eckhard J. Schnabel

Walking in Jesus’ Footsteps

footprints

Please read Luke 9:51-62 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Followers follow Jesus’ example.

          Have you seen members of the Third United States Infantry Regiment of the United States Army guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery?  Every day since July 2, 1937, the Old Guard has stood guard.  Pastor Andy Cook wrote about them:

“When a sentinel comes on duty, he walks exactly 21 steps across the tomb, representing the 21-gun salute, the highest honor given to any soldier or foreign dignitary. When he turns, he faces the tomb, and remains in that position for 21 seconds. He turns again and walks 21 steps across the tomb. When he completes the short journey, he stops, turns toward the tomb, and pauses for 21 seconds. The sentinel repeats the process until his shift is over.

“With an average age of only 22, these enlisted men and women prepare for weeks to take a turn at the tomb.  Strict training ensures that the guard will be unwavering in duty.  The guard’s steps will remain perfect, even when no one is watching.

“If you want to join this group, you’ll have to learn a new way to walk.

https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/sermon-a-clearly-different-way-to-walk-ephesians-4

That statement really impressed me.  The same thing can be said for the Christian faith.  Anyone who wants to become one of the followers of Jesus can no longer walk in the way our culture approves.  We have to learn to walk in Jesus’ steps.

Peter said the same thing in 1 Peter 2:21; TO THIS YOU WERE CALLED, BECAUSE CHRIST SUFFERED FOR YOU, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, THAT YOU SHOULD FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS.  What an image!  These words were inspired and written by a man who had literally walked right behind Jesus, putting his feet in the same spots on which the Son of God had left His mark.

Now he turns that personal memory into a picture of discipleship, one that we will examine today.  Looking at a pivotal moment in Luke’s account of the life of Jesus, we will see one good & five bad examples of discipleship.

  1. Jesus set a good example.

I like the King James Version’s translation of v. 51; it says Jesus STEADFASTLY SET HIS FACE TO GO TO JERUSALEM.  This gives us a view of the courage Jesus displayed.  He was resolved to do the will of God, to obey His Father.

Courage is not the absence of fear.  It is not about the absence of doubt.  It is a resolution to do the right thing, period.

Jesus resolved to go to Jerusalem in spite of what He’d suffer before being raised from the dead and later, returning to heaven.  The phrase Luke used seems curious, knowing what awaits Jesus when He appeared in Jerusalem that final time.  Let’s explain what Luke meant by THE TIME APPROACHED FOR HIM TO BE TAKEN UP TO HEAVEN.  This verse puts a good face on it, leapfrogging over His death and Resurrection, going right to the Ascension.  In this statement, Jesus showed enormous faith: He looked beyond the trial to the reward.

This choice of words reminds me of Hebrews 12:2 where Jesus’ motive for obedience is explained in this way: FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM HE ENDURED THE CROSS, SCORNING ITS SHAME, AND SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF GOD.

  1. James and John set bad examples.

When their patience was tested, they got angry (52-56).  At the start of this narrative, Jesus and His disciples were in Bethsaida.  That city was north of the Sea of Galilee.  Jerusalem was 80 miles away, as the crow flies.

The province of Samaria lay between them.  God-fearing Jews would go the long way around to avoid Samaria.  It’s a long story, but Samaritans and Jews pretty well hated one another.  That’s why Jesus sent MESSENGERS ahead to GET THINGS READY.  Jesus’ caution was correct; the Samaritans in this village were not keen to have travelers going to JERUSALEM; they did not WELCOME Jesus and His people.   Maybe we can maybe see both sides, but James and John were provoked to anger.

Their reaction betrayed an immature faith.  Jesus nicknamed these brothers the SONS OF THUNDER (Mark 3:17), which may be a comment on their short tempers or bluster.  Based on personal experience and Jesus’ teaching, they had faith to expect that if Jesus said so, they really could “CALL DOWN FIRE FROM HEAVEN TO DESTROY THEM.”

Jesus did not get stressed or retaliate.  As v. 55 says, JESUS TURNED AND REBUKED THEM.  After that, they sought hospitality in ANOTHER VILLAGE.  James and John had faith, but they wanted to exercise it in an immature way.

One kind of experience that reveals a lot about our character is how we deal with rejection.  Sometimes, like James and John, we get mad and we want to “get even.”  It’s not right to be so hard-hearted.

Other times we take the opinions of others too seriously, allowing them to wound our tender hearts. In Galatians 1:10 Paul condemned this attitude as “people pleasing” when he wrote, IF I WERE STILL TRYING TO PLEASE MEN, I WOULD NOT BE A SERVANT OF CHRIST.

Followers of Jesus display His character by avoiding these extremes.  We’re not to overreact to every perceived slight; neither do we have to be a doormat.  Good character is manifest in middle; keep moving forward.

  1. Three “wannabe disciples” set bad examples.

Luke grouped these encounters together to show us how seriously Jesus took discipleship.  While only two of the three of them volunteered for service, all three wanted to join on their own terms.  It’s not that their reasons were bad, but Jesus knew their hearts were insincere, so He confronted them.

“Wannabe #1” I call “The Volunteer” (57-58).  This fellow came to Jesus making such a confident-sounding statement.  Jesus heard his heart, and discerned the Volunteer hadn’t really thought about what following Jesus would cost him.  While Jesus wants His followers to show zeal, have passion for the things of God, no good will come of commitments based on temporary enthusiasms and vain emotion.

“Wannabe #2” is “The Good Son” (59-60).  His request sounds very reasonable, which makes Jesus’ reply sound less reasonable, even harsh.  One of the teachings of Jesus that makes Evangelicals squirm a bit is when He says that the family of faith is more important than one’s family of origin (Matthew 10:37; 19:19; Luke 14:26).  Jesus’ response here is similar.  If this “Good Son” lived in our time, we might remind him the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror; it’s time to move forward.

“Wannabe #3” is “The Family Man” (61-62).  On the face of it, the Family Man doesn’t seem to be asking for much.  But Jesus recognized an excuse when he heard it and warned this would-be disciple that a divided heart ends in disaster.  In James 1:6-7 we read that prayer with a double mind is not going to be answered affirmatively; it is a sign of instability.

Following Jesus isn’t about pleasing yourself or other people; it’s about pleasing Jesus.  Following Jesus requires sacrifice. Getting our own way and always being right are among the first things to go. Following Jesus requires discipline: the world and your own human nature will keep getting in the way: don’t let them.  Following Jesus requires patience and persistence.  If it’s just a hobby, don’t expect God’s blessing.  Expect to fail.  Following Jesus is motivated by love, even love of self.  At its most basic level, we follow Jesus because we want to have life and every other way leads to death.

Followers follow Jesus’ example.

          In Hebrews 12:2 Jesus is identified as the AUTHOR of our faith (see also 2:10).  In an article entitled “Walking in the Footsteps of Christ,” I read, “The Greek word translated ‘author’ is archegos, and it means ‘the first one in line in a column or file.’”

It is one of those ancient words to which English does no justice.  The picture is that of a ruler who has founded a new kingdom.  If you President Thomas Jefferson personally lead the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase, you’d call him an archegos.

Hebrews 12:2 exhorts us to FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS, which is natural and necessary when you’re trying to step in the footprints someone else has left for you.  We can’t find life on our own; we have to walk in the footprints of Jesus.  He’s already walked past death into life and He alone knows the way.

RESOURCES:

Click to access 29-1-pp047-054_JETS.pdf

https://www.truthortradition.com/articles/walking-in-the-footsteps-of-christ-becoming-like-christ

Last Supper, Last Words (4 of 5)

God Wins 2

(Retrieved from http://gods411.blogspot.com/2013/11/god-always-wins.html on 3/13/18.)

Please read John 16:17-33 in your preferred Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare this message.

Don’t be discouraged by the world’s opposition.

I read a post by Jason Cole, pastor of Fellowship Christian/

Church of Christ in Knoxville, TN.  You need to understand the folks in that denomination take Communion at every worship service.  He wrote; “Baptists don’t take Lord’s Supper every Sunday so they can have room for there [sic] big meals Sunday afternoon.”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-jason-cole-humor-lordssupper-761?+ref=TextIllustrationDetails on 3/9/18.>

This post is several years old, but I feel I need to say, “Hey Jason.  Those are fightin’ words.  Come join us here at Emmanuel any Sunday.  We’ll have the Lord’s Supper AND a big meal afterward!  Every Baptist I know can do BOTH! We’ll show you how it’s DONE, son!”

I mention this in part because it’s funny and in part to say we don’t take the Lord’s Supper any less seriously because we observe it once a month.  In these Sundays of Lent we’ve focused our attention on the Last Supper, the occasion on which everybody’s celebration of Communion is based.

We’re learning a great deal about how Jesus used this final time with His disciples to prepare them for the next few days and for life and ministry beyond them.

  1. The disciples’ confusion. (16:17-18)

To put this in context, we need to go back and read v. 16.  <Read it.>  We can assume Jesus is predicting His death (“YOU WILL SEE ME NO MORE”) and His Resurrection (“THEN AFTER A LITTLE WHILE YOU WILL SEE ME”).  However, we have the benefit of history and Scripture.  The disciples had neither and this sentence on its own is rather obscure and difficult to understand.

They didn’t understand His timing.  THEY KEPT ASKING, “WHAT DOES HE MEAN BY ‘A LITTLE WHILE?’”  Verses 17+18 show that this supper was not a lecture by Jesus, but an evening’s worth of conversation.  I think the fact that the disciples kept on discussing this implies that they were more than a little puzzled, maybe even perturbed, by these mysterious statements.

They were pondering 14:28 & 16:5+10 where Jesus said He was GOING to the FATHER.  They must’ve wonder how and why this was going to happen, as well as when it would take place.

They didn’t comprehend His mission.  Though it seems to us Jesus spoke plainly, the disciples were involved in the moment and, typical to human nature, did not grasp the scope of Jesus’ mission. Their expectations also got in the way of seeing the whole truth.  They expected Jesus to inaugurate the worldly kind of kingdom for which they’d hoped.

  1. Jesus’ explanation. (16:19-28)

He promised their GRIEF would turn to JOY.  Their grief and joy would be the opposite of the world’s (v. 20) because the source of their JOY is Jesus, not the WORLD.  Jesus illustrated their change of heart by referring to the change in the way a new mother feels when giving birth (v. 21).  It can be a dramatic change from pain to joy. Similarly, the disciples would be filled with GRIEF at Jesus’ death and then filled with a greater JOY when He was resurrected.

He promised them power in prayer.  Part of the disciple’s JOY on THAT DAY would be the exercise of greater authority and power in prayer (vs. 23-24).  From His Resurrection forward, Jesus’ followers would be marked by “Yes” answers to prayer because they would pray in His NAME.  In the Bible a person’s NAME summarizes their character, purpose, nature, and power.  This means that praying in Jesus’ name is going to involve more than the rote addition of his name to a prayer.  The outcome of a Holy Spirit-powered prayer life is COMPLETE JOY.  Another augmentation of prayer is our direct connection to God via prayer (vs. 26-27).

It means to pray for the things Jesus would ask of the Father, to pray in the Holy Spirit as He did, to express in our prayers a complete dependence on God.  Jesus devoted Himself to private times of prayer and once prayed so intently that drops of blood rolled like sweat off His brow.

Powerful prayer is not a matter of words, gesture, or posture, but depends wholly on our relationship with Jesus Christ (v. 28).  The Bible describes Jesus as our Mediator (see 1 Timothy 2:5) and as being seated on the right hand of God the Father (see Luke 22:69), making intercession for us (see Romans 8:34).  Our relationship with God is based on LOVE.  God the Father loved us first and showed it by sending Jesus to us, to obtain salvation.  Having done that, Jesus went BACK TO THE FATHER to mediate for us.  Without His mediation, living a godly life would be completely impossible.

He promised to teach them PLAINLY (v. 25).  Much of Jesus’ teaching was in the form of parables.  These were stories with meaning was hidden to those who refused to have faith but apparent to those who did.  Superficially, they were stories about common enough events, but the particulars of the stories were “figurative;” they were symbols of other things.

Often enough, Jesus’ own disciples didn’t always understand the parables.  They sometimes asked for an explanation.  On one such occasion, Jesus said, “THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE SECRETS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS BEEN GIVEN TO YOU, BUT TO OTHERS I SPEAK IN PARABLES, SO THAT, ‘THOUGH SEEING, THEY MAY NOT SEE; THOUGH HEARING THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND.’” (Luke 8:10)

It may sound like Jesus was being evasive, but He taught in parables precisely because they had that quality of separating believers and unbelievers.  After His Resurrection, Jesus would not use figurative teaching like the parables, but He promised instead, to teach them PLAINLY ABOUT GOD THE FATHER.

  1. The disciples’ understanding. (16:29-30)

They praised His plain speaking: “NOW YOU ARE SPEAKING CLEARLY AND WITHOUT FIGURES OF SPEECH.”  We can appreciate how they might’ve gotten heartily sick of NOT understanding, of being unable to appreciate the symbolism Jesus used to present truth to them.  In any event, they seem pretty happy to hear things stated in obvious ways.  It worked, because they made a bold statement of faith.

Encouraged by Jesus’ promise, they declared a bold faith, making three statements in v. 30.  “YOU KNOW ALL THINGS” = That is something that is only true of God; this is evidence that the eleven believed Jesus to, in some sense, BE God.  “YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE TO ANYONE ASK YOU QUESTIONS” = They anticipated a time when Jesus’ divine nature

would be obvious to all; no one would need to ask if He was the Messiah or not.  “THIS MAKES US BELIEVE YOU CAME FROM GOD.”  That is, the He is the Messiah.

  1. Jesus’ prediction. (16:31-33)

Jesus rejoiced in their belief. There are two ways to translate v. 31, as the NIV relates in a footnote.  One is as a question; “Do you now believe?” or as a statement, “YOU BELIEVE AT LAST!”

I prefer the statement version because it applauds and affirms what the disciples have just declared by faith.  The faith they had was not highly developed but, to be fair, we all start at an elementary level and then develops as we learn about and experience God.

He warned of a scattering, but promised His presence (v. 32).  “A TIME IS COMING, AND HAS COME WHEN YOU WILL BE SCATTERED, EACH TO HIS OWN HOME.  YOU WILL LEAVE ME ALL ALONE” predicts their abandoning Jesus at His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.”  Interestingly, in John’s account of Jesus’ arrest there is no mention of the disciples running away.  In 21:1-2, after His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter, James, and John, who had returned to their homes in Galilee.

“YET I AM NOT ALONE, MY FATHER IS WITH ME.”  One of the repeated themes of this section is Jesus’ warning the disciples, another is Jesus’ close relationship to the Father.  It is a great comfort to know Jesus is our Advocate before the Father.  We have strength to endure trials and persecution.

He warned them of TROUBLE, but promised He overcame the WORLD.  As we saw Him do in 13:19, 14:29, and 16:1-4, in v. 33 Jesus explained that His purpose was to warn His disciples, preparing them for what was coming next.  Everybody desires PEACE but too few recognize where PEACE is found: in Jesus (“IN ME YOU MAY HAVE PEACE”).  This is one of the most comforting verses in all the Gospels, isn’t it?

Jesus acknowledged while we live IN THIS WORLD we will have TROUBLE.  BUT – we don’t need to be overcome by these troubles because Jesus has OVERCOME THE WORLD!

Don’t be discouraged by the world’s opposition.