Disciples' Practices (3)
Various Passages
By Paul Robison

Sally took a seminary class taught by Professor Smith, who was known for his object lessons.  One day, Sally walked into class to find a large target placed on the wall and several darts on a nearby table.  Professor Smith told the students to draw a picture of someone they disliked or who had made them angry — then they could throw darts at the person’s picture. 

Sally drew a detailed picture of Professor Smith and was quite pleased with her effort.  The class lined up and began throwing darts.  Some students threw with such force that they ripped apart their targets.  But before Sally had a turn, Professor Smith asked the students to return to their seats so he could begin his lecture.  As Sally fumed, the professor began removing the target from the wall.  Underneath it was a picture of Jesus.  A hush fell over the room as students saw the mangled image of their Savior with holes and jagged marks covering His face.  His eyes were virtually pierced out.  Professor Smith said only these words: “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me” (Rhodes in Larson/Elshof).  Why is it so hard to look at others through "grace-healed" eyes?  Christ's grace in our lives should be making a difference on how we look at our world.  It made a difference in the first and second centuries.  Who took care of the widows and orphans?  The Christians did.  Who loved the sick, the hungry, and the imprisoned?  The Christians did.  Who would pool their money to give a poor member who had died a decent burial?  The Christians did.  One Christian wrote the Emperor Hadrian in the second century to explain that the Christians called themselves brothers and sister because their souls were united (Aristides).  Another ancient writer said that the people in the world often made this comment about Christians: "My how they love one another!" (Turtullian).  You see, "For the first few centuries, at least, the [Christians] took literally Christ's commands to host strangers, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit those in prison" (Yancey).  An unloving spirit is eventually going to poison those who keep practicing it, while a loving spirit will eventually brings the sweet taste of God's favor to those who keep practicing it. 

We are into a series on discipleship, and we're reflecting on a simple principle concerning discipleship:
“To be a genuine disciple, we need to rearrange our lives around the practices of Jesus' life.”  Somehow we've gotten the mistaken notion that the church revolves around us, and we come to church kind of like we go to a cafeteria, thinking we can just sort of pick and choice our own menu of what we think is good for ourselves.  We think the church ought to conform to us rather than remembering that disciples are to conform to all that their teacher has taught and demonstrated before them.  Isn't this what the apostle John taught?  “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk as He walked” (1 John 2:6).  “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).   “He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7).   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?  We've already seen how Jesus can transform our minds when we listen as He listened, think as He thought, and believe as He believed.  We've saw last week how He can transform our character if we live as He lived, prayed as He prayed, and obeyed as He obeyed.  Today we want to look at three more practices that we can strive to imitate as well: caring as Jesus cared, loving as Jesus loved, and forgiving as Jesus forgave.

That first practice again is caring as Jesus cared.  This could be developed in many ways, but let's focus on three tangible manifestations of care that we see in Jesus' life: His tears, His prayers, and His promises. 

Our tears become the telltale signs of how deeply we feel about something.  There are two passages that make reference to Jesus' weeping.  One is found in Luke 19:41: "Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make your peace!'”  And then Jesus goes on to affirm how the city of Jerusalem will be destroyed in the future.  The word "Jerusalem" means "foundation for peace," but those dwelling in this city did not recognize the Prince of Peace!  Because they had failed to know Him and would experience great suffering, Jesus weeps, and that word actually means "to wail" or "to cry aloud".  There's something movingly paradoxical about the Creator of the universe crying aloud! 

Have we shed any tears lately for the failure of our nation to keep God as her guide?  Have we imagined what the future of the children in this city will be and cried aloud about it?  Let's care as Jesus cared!  The next passage is in John 11.  You recall, that's when Jesus tells Martha that He is the resurrection and the life, and then Mary and the other Jews show up manifesting their grief through their tears.  Seeing them, Jesus becomes troubled Himself and verse 35 tells us that Jesus wept.  Other Jews noticed this and said, "See how He loved him!"  The word used here for weeping is not the same one used in the previous passage.  The word here means "a quiet weeping" (Morris).  Aren't we thankful that the One who conquered death also understands our pain at death?  Jesus knows how we feel when our hearts are heavy with grief.  Let's care as He cared! 

Not only His tears but also Jesus' prayers reveal His care.  Let's notice what Jesus says to Peter in Luke 21:31: "Simon, Simon!  Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."  Jesus had been praying that Peter would not give up when the time of failure came.  This prayer shows Jesus' care for Peter.  Let's show our care for others through our prayers.  A great prayer of Jesus before His death is found in John 17, and did you know that Jesus prays for Himself, for His disciples, and for us too?  For His disciples, He prays that they will be protected from the evil one by God and that they will be made holy by the truth (vv. 15-18).  And for us, He prays that we will live in perfect unity, that we will be with Him in heaven, and that we will see His glory!  Isn't it amazing and uplifting that He cared about His disciples and followers that much?   How many people know that you care through the prayers you are offering for them?  Let's care as He cared! 

Jesus' promises are another manifestation of His care.  Look at one promise in Mark 10:29 after Peter told Jesus that they had left all to follow Him: "So Jesus answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My  sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life."  To be a disciple may bring some losses concerning your relationships and your possessions.  But notice that Jesus promises those losses will be turned into gains, and that's going to happen right here in this life in which we live!  There will be blessings along with the persecutions.  Isn't this exactly what happened to the disciples in their lives?  Yes, they had losses, but they also had the blessings that the church and other Christians provided in this life!  It's not all about “pie in the sky” later, but it's about “blessings that are grand in the land” right now!  Yes, it's a sacrificial life, but Jesus also calls it an abundant life (John 10:10)!  Jesus also made another wonderful promise in the closing words of Matthew's gospel: "And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age!"  What can be more comforting and encouraging than knowing that in any circumstance in which we find ourselves, our Master is ever near us!  As long as we are His disciples, doing God's will in the world, Jesus promises that His presence is right there beside us!  This certainly shows how He even cares for His followers right up to this very moment!  Jesus' tears, His prayers, and His promises show us that He profoundly cares!  Let's care as Jesus cared!

Another practice of Jesus is loving as Jesus' loved!  However this idea is developed, it will always fall short of reaching the mark for Jesus' love is go great!  The apostle Paul said that Jesus' love surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:19)!  Jesus loved in three ways: He loved impartially; He loved deeply; and He loved intimately.

First of all, He loved impartially.  Race, gender, and nationality were not barriers for Jesus; He loved everyone.  Think of the diversity of lives that He touched: a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Zealot among His apostles, a Samaritan woman, tax-collectors, synagogue rulers, women of the street, demon-possessed people, the high priests and scribes, the blind and the lepers!  Economic status made no difference to Him in His love for others; He sought to save both the rich and the poor.  He not only loved the Jews, but was complimentary towards the Gentiles that crossed His path! 

Someone made this good observation: "Jesus moved the emphasis ... to God's inclusive mercy.  Instead of the message: 'No undesirables allowed,' He proclaimed, 'In God's kingdom, there are no undesirables.'  By going our of His way to meet with Gentiles, eat with sinners, and touch the sick, He extended the realm of God's mercy" (Yancey).  Can we love as He loved?  Jesus loved impartially. 

He also loved deeply.  "Jesus [loved deeply] by revealing the essential dignity and loveableness of others.  [Jesus' love went deeper than things on the surface; He] showed that every soul was a potential son or daughter of [the living God].  Of a scorned renegade tax collector, He said, 'He also is a son of Abraham' (Luke 19:9).  [A woman caught in the very act of adultery] was treated with the propriety and courtesy that might have been given to a queen, 'Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more' (John 8:11). ... Jesus saw on every face ... something of the image of God.  Oh, how deeply He loved!  He [loved deeply] by dying for all people.  [I John 3:16 affirms:
“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.  And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”]  Every day of His life, His disciples saw their Master squandering His strength for the sick and the sinful; and when Calvary came, they knew that it was for sheer love of others that He died, [exhausting His blood as well].  Can you continue to be unloving towards any person, even the most unlovable, when you remind yourself--'It was for that person too that Jesus laid down His life'” (Stewart)?   Oh, how deeply Jesus loved!  Can we love as He loved?

Jesus also loved intimately (and intimately does not mean sexually, contrary to what Hollywood depicts).  John 13:1 says that Jesus loved His twelve disciples unto the very end.  He had lived with them day in and day out for three years.  Despite their faults, He loved them all.  He even washed Judas' feet, knowing full well that He would betray Him in just a few hours!  But of that twelve, there was a trio that was especially dear to His heart: Peter, James, and John.  Those three got to see and to hear some things that the others did not.  And of those three, John was His best friend, the beloved disciple.  John must have been very close to Jesus because it is only John alone that shows up at the foot of Jesus' cross.  Once the Roman soldier pierced Jesus with his spear, John' life “would never be same. ... He had just seen an astonishing display of love, a willingness to suffer unbelievable anguish on behalf of those He loved.  John knew too that Jesus might have avoided this suffering at any time.  But He did not avoid it.  Indeed, He invited it [and conquered it]! ... What John remembered more than anything else were the words Jesus had spoken just before this horrible ordeal.  He had said to His followers: 'This is My commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has not one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends' (John 15:12-13).  It was not a soft love story.  It was a terribly hard, terribly costly, terribly substantial love which Jesus had demonstrated.  It was love which challenged John to put away forever his rigid harsh spirit and love even those who disagreed with him, even those who contended with him, even those who persecuted him.  It was a love which challenged John to put away his religious pride and his dreams of authority, prestige, and power to become a servant to every person whom the Lord would set in his pathway” (Smith).  Jesus loved impartially, He loved deeply, and He loved intimately.  Let's love as Jesus loved!

Another practice is forgiving as Jesus forgave.  We can look at three groups that Jesus forgave.  He forgave sinners, and His oppressors, and His disciples. 

Jesus' oppressors called Him a friend of sinners, and Jesus said that He came as a doctor seeking those who were spiritually sick.  There is an unnamed sinful woman in Luke 7 who could serve as a good representative for all the sinners that Jesus forgave.  A Pharisee named Simon was hosting a meal for Jesus, and this women makes her way to Jesus and offers Him a gift.  Well, the Pharisee thinks to himself, "Well if Jesus is a prophet, surely He ought to know what kind of scum has touched him!"  Jesus then gives a searing response in verse 44 that must have burned in Simon's ear for a long time: "Do you see this woman?  I entered your house, you gave me no water for My feet, but she has washed my feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head [you see, that's strike one, Simon].  You gave me no kiss [which was a customary greeting], but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in [Uh, Simon, that's strike two].  You did not anoint my head with oil [another courteous thing to do], but this woman has anointed my feet with fragrant oil [you just struck out, Simon].  Therefore, I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.  But to whom little is forgiven [like a good pompous Pharisee thinks of himself], the same loves little.  Then He said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven. ... Your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.'"

That woman's life would never be same again, and so it was with the lives of many other sinful people whom Jesus forgave.  Let's keep striving to see others with grace-healed eyes and to offer them the same forgiveness that Jesus gave to this unnamed woman.  Let's forgive as Jesus forgave! 

Next, Jesus also forgave His oppressors.  After Jesus had been beaten to pulp, after the spikes had secured Him to the cross, and after the cross itself had been brutally put into it's position, after all that excruciating pain and anguish, we hear those most sublime words in Luke 23:34: "Father, forgiven them, for they do not know what they do."  Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors, and now we see Him practicing exactly what He had preached!  He was asking God to forgive the very people who had crushed, rejected, and mocked Him!

That's a truly amazing forgiveness!  A fellow Christian admonishes us with these words: "When all is said and done, I think of my Hero Jesus, who asked for the forgiveness of His enemies through teeth clinched in the excruciating pain of death.  The next time you are tempted to pick up a rock and strike back, remember our Hero, won't you please remember our Hero" (Durham)!  Let's forgive as Jesus forgave! 

Next, Jesus forgave His disciples.  Is it easier to forgive your enemies or to forgive those friends who don't stand beside you?  At His arrest, all the disciples forsook Jesus.  Peter and John were somewhat loyal enough to make it to Jesus' trial.  But there, we soon see that Peter, feeling entrapped himself, denies and swears that he has never known Jesus.  

Someone imagined what it might be like to interview Peter after Jesus talked with him for the final time in John 21.  "Yes, I learned something then about rebuke and correction.  It can make a relationship good again. 

He told me three times to take care of His sheep.  Then, I realized that He still trusted me.  From that moment on, it all came together.  I saw it as I had never seen it before.  He'd chosen me.  Prayed for me.  Died for me.  And now He was forgiving and trusting me.  Now He wanted me to take care of His people.  It's not being the one in control so you can do what you want.  It's being the one who gives up control, the final control, to God, just as Jesus did.  He didn't call me to man His army, to control His empire, or to juggle His programs.  All He wanted me to do was follow Him, love Him, accept His forgiveness and trust, and nurture His people" (Ford).  And what could be said of Peter was true of the other disciples as well.  Jesus didn't scold them for abandoning Him, He scolded them for not believing that He'd come back to life!  In John 20:19-23, we find a fascinating passage.  Jesus gives His peace twice to His disciples and then verse 21 says: "As the Father has sent me, so also I send you [that sure doesn't sound like any grudges against them, does it?].  And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit [He not only forgives, but also gives all of them a great gift.]  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'"  After this encounter, Jesus showed them time and time again that He was no ghost and that they were going to be His ambassadors who were going to carry His good news of forgiveness and salvation to all the nations!  Jesus forgave sinners, His oppressors, and His disciples!  Let's forgive as Jesus forgave!

“A traveler was making his way with a guide through the jungles of Burma.  They came to a shallow, wide river and waded through it to the other side.  When the traveler came out of the river, numerous leeches were on his torso and legs.  His first instinct was to grab them and pull them off.  This guide stopped him, warning that doing so would leave tiny pieces of the leeches under the skin.  Eventually, infection would set in. 

The best way to rid the body of the leeches, the guide advised, was to bathe in a warm balsam bath for several minutes.  This would calm the leeches, and soon they would release their hold on the man’s body.

Likewise, when we’ve been hurt by another person, we cannot simply yank the injury from ourselves and expect that all bitterness, malice, and emotion will be gone.  Resentment still hides under the surface.  The only way to become truly free of the offense and to forgive others is to bathe in the soothing bath of Jesus' love.  When we finally fathom the extent of His love, then forgiveness will follow” (Peterson in Larson/Elshof).  Are you ready to throw away your darts?  Are you ready to start looking at others through grace-healed eyes?  Are you ready to serve others?  Do you want to care as He cared?  Do you want to love impartially, deeply, and intimately?  Do you want to forgive as He forgave?  Let Jesus transform your mind, your character, and all your relationships!  Have your sins washed away in the waters of baptism where you contact Jesus' cleaning blood!  Come back from the far country, and let Jesus help you remove all the leeches of resentment that you've been carrying!  Get serious about your discipleship!  Jesus is waiting to accept you, forgive you, and transform you!