Disciples' Practices (1)
Various Passages
By Paul Robison

One man reflected back to his days before entering seventh grade (Norvell).  Another friend asked him, “Who are you?”  He said his name, but the friend said, “No, who are you?  Are you a skateboarder?  Are you a computer geek?  Are you a sports nut?  Are you a 4-H-er?”  When he arrived at Jr. High, he was amazed to discover all the clubs and cliques that were there.  He thought: “The game of 'life' had begun, and the world quickly squeezed me into its mold.  My significance was based on what others thought of me.”  He thought then how he used to play the board game called “Life,” where you have a car and spin to go from one part of the board beginning with very little goods and travel to the other end where you try to gain much.  You'd go to college, get married, buy a house, hit a bonus, get in debt, have children, etc.  Then he noted: “The philosophy of the game is in harmony with what we naturally think constitutes life.  Yet Jesus reveals that regardless of what you attain, the end of all life related to self leads to loss.”  Despite the fact that we see ruin and loss all around us, we still pursue this great American dream to be financially successful and to give all our attention to the externals.  Such externals include: person (which means being attractive and smart), personality (which means being witty and charming), place (which means being part of a good-sized clean community), position (which means being middle class or above and powerful), productivity (which comes from our great talents and supplies our ever-increasing wealth), people (which means lots of relatives and friends), possessions (which means having the most toys and storage sheds), and pleasure (which means no pain and many indulgences).  Christ enters our lives and calls us to be His disciples: “Deny your family, deny your self, deny your control, deny your comfort, deny your possessions, and replace your American dream with Me.”  Someone gets more specific about our discipleship and puts it this way: “When we experience the kind of change [Jesus demands], we see that everything related to life is not found in self, but in Christ.  In relationship to our person, it's not 'who we are,' but it's 'Who Christ is in us' (Galatians 2:20).  Regarding our personality, it's not 'my being,' but [my imitating] His being'!  Concerning our place, it's not 'where I'm from,' but 'Whom I'm from' and 'with Whom I'm going to be for all eternity' (1 Thessalonians 4:17).  Our position no longer is 'what we are,' but 'who we are in Christ' (Ephesians 2:6).  Our productivity is not about 'what I do for Christ,' but 'what is He doing through me' (Philippians 2:13).  When it comes to relationships, it's not ['who is related to me,' it's 'His relationship takes priority' (Luke 14:26)].  As far as possesses are concerned, it's not 'what I own,' it's 'Who owns me and them' (1 Corinthians 3:23).  Pleasure is no longer based on our activity, but on our identity in Christ (Philippians 3:19).  The abundant life is an exchanged life—where all of self is replaced with Christ (Colossians 3:3)” (Norvell).  Isn't that a challenge for all of us?  Another one of our members here has recently called it “the struggle.” 

Yes, exchanging our all for His all is not easy, but that's what discipleship is all about!  We are going to look at discipleship some more over the next few weeks.  How many times is the word “Christian” found in the New Testament?  That's right: “Three!” How many times is “disciple” found in the New Testament?  It's around 260!  Could it be possible that in trying to convert others we've talked about becoming a Christian to the total neglect of asking them to become disciples?  Could this by why so many have fallen away?  Have we failed to become authentic followers of Christ and continued to hold on to our positions, possessions, and pleasures?  Have we sort of bartered with the Lord with a tone of negotiation: “Jesus, I'll let you take control on Sunday, but I'm still in control the other six days of the week”?  Faith requires some robust actions on our part.  James tells us that faith without works is dead (James 2:17)!  Now before looking further into those actions, here's a simple principle that you can think about: “To be a genuine disciple, we need to rearrange our lives around the practices of Jesus' life” (Hull).  Isn't that what the original twelve disciples did?  They were with Jesus' daily, and they rearranged their lives around the practices that they saw in Jesus' life.  So well did they learn their Master's ways, others could Him in them.  Look at Acts 4:13ff where we find Peter and John standing before the rulers, elder, scribes, and high priests: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled.”  These leaders saw that Peter and John were just common individuals, and they really had no outstanding credentials.  But then, what did they notice?  “And they realized that they had been with Jesus.”  From where did their boldness come?  It came from the Master Himself, and Jesus' practices were living once again through them, and these Jewish leaders could clearly see it!

So the principle again is: “To be a genuine disciple, we need to rearrange our lives around the practices of Jesus' life.”  Well, what all does that entail?  It entails probably more than what can be covered in five lessons, but let's at least try to learn some practices, even if we can't cover them all.  As you reflect on these actions, see if you come up with others that you think would be worthy actions, then please share your suggestions.

Today, we want to look at three practices.

The first practice is this: Discipleship involves listening as Jesus listened.  First of all, we see that Jesus listened to the Word of God.  How do we know this?  We know this from the customs of Jesus' day.  During a Jewish boys' schooling in Jesus' day, they would begin learning the book of Leviticus at age five and continue reading and memorizing Scriptures until they were ten, and then they would begin learning the religious traditions (Punton).  When Jesus astounded the teachers at the temple in Jerusalem at age 12 with His knowledge, we see that He had listened carefully and learned the Scriptures well (Luke 2:46-47).  Luke 4:16 tells us that it was Jesus' custom to attend the synagogue services.  The word “synagogue” was used about 40 times with Jesus.  In the synagogue in Jesus' day, there was a cupboard with a curtain over it, and this was called “the ark”.  In the ark, there were the scrolls.  The people would listen to God's Word facing the ark.  An official called the hazzan would handle the scrolls and was in charge of the order of the services.  He would find the selected passages and give the scroll to a reader.  We see this in Luke 4:17 where Jesus was handed a scroll by the hazzan.  Every synagogue service, there would be a reading not only from the Law but also from the prophets.  When Jesus was tempted in the desert and while on the cross, we see that Jesus' knowledge of God's Word was His key in His overcoming Satan's temptations!  Just as Jesus listened to God's Word, so we should do the same!  “Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).  “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God man be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  “These [the Bereans] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they searched the Scriptures daily to find our whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  Let's listen to God's Word, just as Jesus listened to the Scriptures!

Jesus also listened to the cries of others.  A blind man named Bartimaeus cried out to the Lord, “Jesus, have mercy on me” (Mark 10:46-52).  Despite the noise of the great multitude and His disciples, Jesus heard Bartimaeus' cry for help, called him to meet Him, and then gave him his sight!  In Matthew 14:28-32, we find Peter actually stepping out of a boat and walking toward Jesus on the water.  But the wind becomes boisterous, and Peter begins to fear, so he begins to sink, and cries out, “Lord, save me!”  That's one of the shortest prayers you'll find in the Bible, but it was an effective one, and Jesus heard it and responded to it immediately by reaching out and grabbing Peter!  Another incident is found in Luke 23:42 where a penitent thief begs Jesus: “Lord, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus assures him that he will be with Him in paradise.  Have mercy on me, save me, remember me!  Jesus listens to the cries of others and responds.  Are we listening like Jesus?  Do we hear the suffering of others?  Someone has observed: “He who cannot listen to this brother will soon no longer be listening to God, either” (Bonhoeffer in Rowell).  James encourages us to be swift to hear (James 1:19)!  The first practice or action: Discipleship involves listening as Jesus listened.

Another practice is this: Discipleship involves thinking as Jesus thought.  Now there are many things that Jesus thought, but time we only permit us to look quickly at six concepts.  First of all, Jesus was always thinking of God's will.  Jesus taught His disciples to pray that God's will would be done on earth, as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).  On one occasion, the disciples urged Jesus to eat, but Jesus replied that He had food that they did not know about.  The disciples were puzzled and wondered if anybody had given Him something to eat.  Then Jesus replied in John 4:34: “My  food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”  Then Jesus tells His disciples that the harvest of souls is ripe and ready, as the Samaritans are making their way to come to Him.  At another time, Jesus told a crowd: “For I have come down from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).  Of course, the One who sent Him was God.  And we find that wonderful prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane in Luke 22:42 that climaxes His struggle: “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”  Is God's will continually on our minds?  Is making God's will a reality in our world a priority in our lives?  Are we praying often that God will help us to know and to do His will, both as an individual and as a congregation?  Let's follow Jesus' thinking on God's will!

Secondly, Jesus thought of heaven's mentality.  What does this mean?  Recall the Scripture reading from this morning in Philippians 2:5-8: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”  Did you see the word “mind” here?  This should be our mindset, our mentality.  “Who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”  He gave up His divine glory and left heaven to take on flesh and to dwell among us as a human being.  “Ok, Son, it's time for you to go.”  “But Father, must I leave?  It's so unholy, fleshly, degrading, and painful down there.”  “Son, You are their only hope.”  “Yes, Father, I know.  I'll go.”  Wow, talk about submission!  “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”  And here are three more traits we can add to submission: humility, obedience, and sacrifice.  See, when we put those traits together: submission, humility, obedience, and sacrifice, they form heaven's mentality.  Most earthly kings and conquerors don't think in these terms do they?  But here's the King of Kings, and He takes on heaven's mentality for all His mission.  He's submissive, humble, obedient; He's the Lamb of God Who gains victory through sacrifice and pouring out His own blood!  Let's follow Jesus' thinking and adopt heaven's very unusual mentality! 

Thirdly, Jesus thought of others' benefit.  He did this throughout His ministry, but two examples are outstanding.  The first is in Matthew 14:12-17.  The first verse tells us that Jesus gets the news of His cousin's death.  He wants to be alone and tries to get away, but the multitudes catch up with Him.  And verse 14 says: “And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and He healed their sick.”  He was sick at heart, yet He put Himself in the background and put others' benefit before His own.  Not only did He heal their sick, but also He ended up feeding the thousands as well that evening, before He can finally get away to grieve.  Now let's look at another example in Luke 23:27-28 where Jesus, having been beaten to a pulp and too weary to carry His own cross, is heading towards the place of His crucifixion.  Some women are mourning His death to come, and He pauses and turns to them and offers them comfort and warning while indicting Israel: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”  Isn't that amazing?  As He's dragging Himself to the cross, He's still ministering, still thinking of others' benefit!  Even on the cross, He asks for others' forgiveness and provides for His mother's future (Luke 23:34; John 26)!  Is thinking of others' benefit part of our mentality?  The apostle Paul reminds us that we are to do good to all people (Galatians 6:10).  Someone else puts it this way: “Being unselfish in attitude strikes at the very core of our being.  It means we are willing to forgo our own comfort, our own preferences, our own schedule, our own desires for another's benefit.  And that brings us back to Christ” (Swindoll in Rowell).  Let's follow Jesus' thinking on others' benefit!

Next, Jesus thought of His follower's spiritual welfare.  Jesus knew that His arrest and death were going to severely test His disciples.  He told Peter that He was going to pray specifically for Him (Luke 22:31-32).  But the Passover is when Jesus truly ministers to all His disciples in the last hours that He will have with them.  In John 13-14, we see how He stresses service, eternal reward, and peace, and then in chapters 15-16, He stresses steadfastness, spiritual strength, and enduring joy.  After His resurrection, Jesus continues to minister to His disciples through His appearances, His teaching sessions, through His work with them personally, and through His continued instructions to them (Luke 24 and John 21).  Isn't this a comforting thought: Jesus works for others' benefit, but He is especially interested in His followers' spiritual welfare?  Remember how Jesus Himself exhorted each of the seven churches in Asia Minor, and how He provided John with a vision of victory to encourage them (Revelation)!  The apostle Paul admonishes us in Philippians 2:3-4: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind [there's our thinking again] let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Let's follow Jesus' thinking about other members' spiritual welfare! 

Next, Jesus thought often about Satan's defeat.  Jesus makes an interesting statement in John 12:31: “Now is the judgment of this world; now, the ruler of this world will be cast out.”  Notice here how Jesus says that Satan is going to be cast out or forced to leave a territory.

When will this overpowering of Satan happen?  Look at the very next verse: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.  This He said, signifying by what death He would die.”  In other words, the crucifixion would be the time when Satan would be defeated. 

We don't often think much about how the cross was God's victory over Satan and the forces of evil, but it's an idea that permeates the New Testament.  Turn now to Hebrews 2:14-15 where the writer explains how the cross was Satan's defeat and our hope:  “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself [Jesus] likewise shared the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Jesus' death is where the ultimate bruising of Satan's head took place!  We are the beneficiaries of Jesus' thinking that the cross would be Satan's undoing and casting out!  Let's follow Jesus' thinking about Satan's defeat! 

Next, Jesus thought and taught about mankind's ultimate destinies—heaven and hell.  In Matthew 25:44-46, we find a graphic scene of judgment where Jesus will be the Judge and separates the believers or the righteous from the unbelievers or the wicked.  In verse 46, Jesus says: “And these [the wicked] will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  Is Jesus talking science fiction or history here?  Yes, it's history; Jesus affirms more than anyone else in the Bible that mankind will face two ultimate eternal destinies!  Notice one more statement of His in John 5:28-29: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those  who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”  According to Jesus, and remember that He has all authority in religious matters, there will be a final judgment, and we will either spend eternity in heaven, called here “the resurrection of life,” or in hell, called here “the resurrection of condemnation.”  God will ultimately balance all the books, and evil and its instigators will be defeated forever!  Let's follow Jesus' thinking about mankind's ultimate eternal destinies!  Discipleship involves thinking as Jesus thought about God's will, heaven's mentality (submission, humility, obedience, and sacrifice), others' benefit, members' spiritual welfare, Satan's defeat, and mankind's destinies.  We must think as Jesus thought to be His disciples!

A third practice is this: Discipleship involves believing as Jesus believed.  Of course, time permits only to touch the hem of the garment here.  One of the most important passages about Jesus' beliefs is called the Sermon on the Mount, and it is found in Matthew 5-7.  In that passage, we see how Jesus puts the emphasis on three beliefs: properly interpreting the law, making love for God our supreme priority, and making love for our neighbor another emphasis in our lives.

Another way to see Jesus' beliefs quickly are to notice His statements that He makes about Himself found in John's gospel.  Jesus calls Himself the Bread of Life and the Light of the world in John 6:35 and 9:5.  This means that we must feed on His teachings and look to Him for His illumination in all areas concerning religious matters.  He is the final authority Who reveals divine truth or God's will.  Another “I am” statement is found in John 8:58 where Jesus boldly affirmed: “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”  You recall how “I am” was the name that God told Moses to use when telling the Israelites Who had sent him as their liberator.  In other words, we see here that Jesus is claiming to be divine and eternal—He bears the name of God Himself, and He has been in existence before Abraham was born!  Now as other defenders of the faith have noted, such an affirmation as this leaves only four options: Jesus is a liar telling a falsehood, or He is a lunatic speaking absurdities, or this statement is a legend invented by Jesus' followers and put on Jesus' lips (but such skeptics never really explain what motivated such a conspiracy on the followers' part), or Jesus is exactly Who He says He is—He is the divine Son of God, the Lord of all!  Next, Jesus affirms that He is the door to the sheepfold in John 10:1, and this means that He is the only way that a person can enter into His saved group of followers known as the church.  Verse 16 confirms this idea because Jesus Himself explains that there will be only one shepherd—Himself, one flock—all His disciples, and one fold—which would be His church.  In this chapter at verses 11 and 14, Jesus claims to the Good Shepherd.  As the Good Shepherd, He serves as the sheep's Provider, Protector, and Promissory; He provides for all our spiritual needs, He protects Christians from the forces of evil, and He promises resurrection since He Himself had the power to lay down His life and take it up again!  Such a statement again, with its fantastic beliefs, shows that Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, a legend, or the Lord!  Then we hear Jesus' claim in John 11:25 that He is the resurrection and the life, but Jesus not only makes this claim, He proves it by bringing His good friend back to life again!  Someone has observed that Jesus said specifically, “Lazarus, come forth” and not just “Come forth!” because had He done so, all the dead would have come to life (Keeble)!  Jesus shares another marvelous belief in 14:6 where He affirms: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  He is THE way to overcome sin, He is the embodiment of truth and only speaks truth, He is the only Source of abundant and eternal life, and He is the only Mediator between man and God!  These tremendous beliefs show once again that Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, a legend, or the Lord!  Jesus' belief in John 15:1 that He is the true vine shows us that He is the Source of all good in His followers' lives.  In fact, notice verses 5-6: “I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me, you can do nothing.”  Did you hear that belief?  Jesus claims that we cannot live productive lives without Him being in our lives.  He goes on: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”  Did you catch that?  Why does your life feel withered and run down?  Because Jesus is not abiding in you since you are not allowing Him to do so.  And did you catch that if you continue to remain an unbeliever, your ultimate destiny will be the fires of hell?  Now if Jesus is the truth and if this statement is true, then you should seriously consider letting Jesus become your Lord, your Source of goodness and productivity, so that you can avoid eternal punishment!  Look at verse 8: “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”  What fantastics beliefs we see Jesus claiming in these passages!  What is your judgment concerning these affirmations?  Do they come from a liar, or from a lunatic, or from a legend, or from He who is the Lord?  Discipleship involves believing as Jesus believed.

Do you recognize what this is?  It is a map of “the island of California.”  Yes, for over a century, California was thought to be an island, and according to the California Map Society, there are around 250 maps like this one made in the 1600s-1700s!  “Big deal, so 250 mapmakers were mistaken.  What's the point?”  The mapmakers had a WRONG idea about California since it was NOT an island and that wrong idea in their minds continued to be displayed in their works.  Now here's the comparison. 

Could it be that we have had a wrong idea about discipleship?  Maybe we have thought that Christ and the church were to revolve around us.

Maybe we've seen ourselves the players, with God sitting on the sideline, and we go to church to get our needs met.  And if the church I go to and the Jesus I claim to follow doesn't benefit me much, then I'd better just ditch both of them.  No, you see, Christ and the church does NOT revolve around us; we are to conform to Him!  Let's rearrange our lives around the practices of Jesus' life!  Call it a challenge or call is a struggle, it's a very real battle to follow heaven's mentality: to submit, to be an humble learner, to obey, and to sacrifice for Christ's sake.  Let's learn to listen as Christ listened, to think as Christ thought, and to believe as Christ believed!  Have you really been with Jesus so that others see Him in you? 

Let's don't get to the end of the game of life and discover we are only losers!  Let's trade our American dream for Christ!  His abundant and eternal life is an exchanged life.  Who are you?  No, really the question is: Whose are you?  Are you an authentic follower of Jesus?  Won't you trade in all your externals, and let Jesus remake you from the inside out?