Sunday Night Live Sermons
LEARNING TO BE FOLLOWERS
WHO HE REALLY IS
8th February 2004
The great problem of the Church in the Western World is that we have many nominal Christians - people who are Christian in name only without a real and dynamic faith. These believe that being Christian is a social and cultural condition, and their commitment to Christ is not obvious.
Rev John Stott of London, has written penetratingly about this, "Thousands of people still ignore Christ's warning and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so-called "nominal Christianity." In countries to which Christian civilisation has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved; enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism."
Jesus called disciples to follow Him. In Australia, many who call themselves Christians would have little knowledge of what being a disciple of Jesus really means. Early in His ministry, Jesus chose a band of men who would forever be known as the Disciples. John 1:35-45 "The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.
The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter). The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me." Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida." Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." There were many more disciples over the next three years. They became the first Christians. Some of them found the way of Jesus too demanding and followed no more. John 6:66-68 "Many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." But those who did follow closely His way were, then, as well as now, known as disciples.
1. THE DISCIPLES WHO FOLLOWED JESUS.
Whenever I asked children in religious education classes I taught in schools about the disciples, they were never sure. Asked to name any of the disciples, the children would always answer, "Matthew, Mark, Luke, John". I would explain that these four wrote the Gospel stories of Jesus but only Matthew and John were disciples. Mark was a young teenager who heard Jesus and later wrote down the memories of Peter. Luke never knew Jesus, but was a doctor who researched the life of Jesus from people who knew Jesus well, including His mother Mary. He wrote his story from his research. I would ask for the names of other disciples and would get a bunch of Biblical names including Moses, David, Goliath, Paul and Peter, in fact almost any boy's name. I asked one if he knew who Peter was. He replied, "He's a rabbit!"
We have heard of the disciples being fishermen, farmers and tax collectors, uneducated men. Recent sociological studies of the New Testament suggest that Jesus' band of followers, far from being ignorant peasants, were a group of capable merchants, entrepreneurs, organisers, and motivators, people recruited from the hustle of the business and political world at that time. It is sexist these days to talk about that strong bond between men, but men still like to think there is something in mateship. The fact is the some of the earliest followers of Jesus were women. Some of the best financial supporters and encouragers and believers mentioned in the Gospels were women. There may have been women at the Last Supper in John Mark's mother's home. Women were first at the cradle and last at the Cross; first at the resurrection and first to proclaim the Easter message, and prominent among the early believers.
But there is no woman among the band who were known as "The Disciples". Those men followed Jesus' command to Matthew 28:18-20 "go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." That command was to be their marching orders. With it He gave a promise: "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." The disciples were commanded to go... to baptise ... to teach, and the only command in the imperative case was "and make disciples of all nations." Making disciples was an imperative. They obeyed that imperative until their last breath. Each of the disciples died an terrible death in a foreign land where they had proceeded in obey this command. Their discipleship was never a matter of respectability and convenience.
In the beautiful St.Machar Cathedral, in Scotland's Aberdeen, high on the rear wall is an impressive stained-glass window. It consists of seven vertical panels. Each panel is divided into two rows, making fourteen different scenes. Each scene is twofold, showing a portrait of one of the Disciples of Christ, and immediately below it is a visualisation of how tradition tells he died. There is Simon Peter nailed upon a cross turned upside down. James, is shown and then a visualisation his beheading by Herod Agrippa 1. John, the brother of James, perished by being boiled in oil. Andrew was first stoned and then crucified arms and legs outstretched. Bartholomew was tied up in a sack and thrown into the sea. Matthew was burned at the stake in Rome. Thomas was impaled upon a spear. Philip suffered crucifixion under the Emperor Domitian. James, the son of Alphaeus, was stoned after being thrown down from a high wall. Thaddeus died by having his head slit open with an axe. Simon the Zealot was clubbed to death. Judas hanged himself. Paul was beheaded by an axe in Rome. The scenes of these thirteen disciples and their deaths are placed below the central panel of Christ and his death on the cross.
The famous English preacher of the early 20th Century, Dr Maltby wrote, "Jesus promised his disciples three things: they would be entirely fearless; absurdly happy; and always in trouble." Things have not changed at all. Those who follow Him today in complete commitment as His disciples, like those early disciples, know that absolute fearlessness for they know they walk with Him, that irrepressible inner joy that flows over everything, and that ever-present trouble that dogs the heels of those who obey Christ's will.
2. THE MEANING OF DISCIPLESHIP.
What does it mean then to be a twenty-first century disciple of Christ? "A Christian disciple is more than a believer. A disciple is more than a learner. A disciple is more than a follower and imitator of Christ, more than a holy enthusiast for Christ, even more than one who lives in full devotion to the Lord. A disciple is a believing person living a life of conscious and constant identification with the Lord Jesus." (George Peters) To be a modern disciple, is to turn from being a nominal Christian. It requires you come out of your comfortable culture, mindset and behaviour pattern to follow Christ. That is a vast change. It is not a decision for Christ that counts. It is your discipleship. That is why, every new Christian needs of small group of mature Christians to help the change process. John Wesley "refused to preach in any place where he could not follow it up by organised Societies with adequate leadership. He was out to make disciples who would renew the whole church." Snyder
3. DISCIPLESHIP TODAY.
Australians want Christians who are fair dinkum, who are not ashamed of their faith, who will stand up to defend it, and explain it simply and sincerely. But at the same time they don't want any show of religion or too much talk. The sad thing is that this demand is too much for nominal Christians with their thin veneer of respectability and they try to lose themselves in the mob, never letting their faith show, and never really belonging to the mob either. To respond to the call to discipleship is to change your life! People will notice, for you will be a different person: happy, purposeful, belonging and in trouble!
The early members of Wesley Mission, almost two hundred years ago, expressed their concerns for the seamen who spent months at sea bringing people to this penal colony, for the illegitimate boys and girls who roamed the streets, abandoned by their convict parents, the first "wild colonial boys." Over one hundred years ago our expanded work added the waifs and strays of the city, drunken men and women, prisoners, street prosti-tutes, poor and hungry people, then over the years, we added the unemployed, aged and infirm, sick and dying people, the gamblers, mentally ill, lonely, suicidal and many other categories of the community's needy. Our staff support these people on behalf of our members.
Many people see discipleship solely in spiritual terms. The American Church has been guilty of such myopia. But as I lecture in that great country every couple of years over the past thirty years, I have seen a great change, as the American evangelical church has caught up with the concept of social responsibility. Today we also have many corporations realising they too must have a holistic view of society and hold to corporate social responsibility. When people are homeless and hungry, diseased and lonely, the whole of society suffers. Stock-holder profits are not the only goal for a responsible corporation. Christians from different parts of the world ask how we keep in balance our ministry of word, deed and spirit. How we can hold our single minded and total commitment to the Gospel, and be involved in the practical ministries of meeting human need, and the political preventative work involved in changing legislation? Discipleship holds together all of life - social, economic, political, spiritual - under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Discipleship means that disciples find Jesus' answers for the homeless and hungry, the sick and suicidal, the unemployed and exploited and what we should do with problems of oppression while at the same time we preach the Gospel of hope, new life, and eternal salvation, and confront eyeball to eyeball, the spiritual powers in high places, seeking better laws, legislation and governmental regulations that now cripple so many. To hear the call of Jesus to follow Him as a disciple today, can be the most challenging of all experiences for it means so much more than just being a nominal Christian. That great Scots expositor, Dr William Barclay writes, "It's possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple; to be a camp-follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one's weight. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in the Church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples."
When a person comes forward at the close of a service they want to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. They may not know all they need to know and they may not have committed their lives as fully as they ought; but they are learning. When you respond to His invitation, and follow His way, you become a disciple. Once a disciple, you keep on growing until you become a committed Christian. Tonight you can become a disciple of Jesus, or else make a commitment to grow as a disciple. The primary mission of the church is to make disciples. That means a commitment to be like Jesus Christ, acting as He did, facing a hostile world fearlessly, confessing confidently before others that Jesus is Lord. That is being willing to be a follower and a disciple.
John R.W. Stott "BASIC CHRISTIANITY." IVF 1958 p108.
"A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF MISSIONS." George W. Peters. Moody p.187).
"THE RADICAL WESLEY" Howard Snyder p.64