Discipleship—According to Jesus (Part 1)

 In Italy, children take a series of tests at the end of Junior High.  If your grades are passing, you get to advance to the High School level.  But if your grades are not passing, you bow out of the academic world and begin training in the vocational world.  One friend of mine, for example, became an apprentice under an auto mechanic.  Today, he is a certified mechanic working at a dealership making good pay.

You see, the Italians have two methods for training—the academic and the vocational.  Which of those two methods is the older?  Yes, the vocational training.  The Jewish father in the Old Testament would teach his son a trade.  Some of the prophets had those who apprenticed under them as well; Elijah, Elisha, and Isaiah all had followers.  Those people in training were called disciples.  By the time of Jesus, there was another interesting apprentice program which took place between a rabbi and his disciples.  This training program was very interesting.  Why even have a rabbi?  Wasn’t the law of Moses a sufficient guide in and of itself?  The law was complete, but when the Jews were carried off into captivity, a problem developed.  We’ve been studying Deuteronomy in our Sunday morning class, and we’ve seen many covenant stipulations that were to be applied when the Jews had captured the Promised Land.  But what happens when you no longer live in the Promised Land?  How are you to apply the some of the law’s stipulations in that situation?  Out of this context is where the oral traditions of the Jews began to be formulated.  Rabbis knew the Law of Moses, but their real strength and their real service was in helping the average Jew to apply the Law to their daily living.  These rabbis were the ones who wrestled with questions like, “How far could one walk on the Sabbath, and it not be called work?”  Various rabbis might have different answers to such a question.  Some rabbis had very strict and limited interpretations while others had more lenient and broader interpretations.

In our lessons on Paul’s life, we saw that if you were a Jewish boy, you would be educated at the synagogue and you would memorize much of the Law of Moses before your thirteenth birthday.  If you were a promising student, you could seek to have an apprenticeship under a rabbi so that you too could learn to be an interpreter of the Law.  How exactly did this work?  Well, you would ask a rabbi if you could do your apprenticeship under him.  If you were accepted, you agreed to submit yourself to whatever the rabbi demanded.  He was the master, and you were the apprentice.  You began your training at the bottom of steps outdoors where he often taught, and as the years went by and you progressed, you would work your way up the steps getting to sit closer to the rabbi.  Little teaching, however, was done in that way.  More teaching was done while you were on the road traveling to help someone, or while you discussed a passage over a meal, or while you worked around the synagogue together.  You were expected to memorize the rabbi's proverbs and interpretations.  You were expected to imitate his behavior.  You were expected to take on his character.  You “caught” all of this on a daily basis.  Just like my friend earlier who worked as an apprentice under a mechanic.  He learned the tools, the problems, and the solutions by working day after day over several years with the mechanic.  There would comes those times when the mechanic would turn certain jobs over to this apprentice.  The rabbis also let their disciples tackle some problems of interpretation when people would ask for their advice.  Slowly, daily, methodically, and gradually, the apprentice got to the point where he was ready to launch out on his own.  The rabbi would let you know when that time had come, and then you were expected to be the rabbi and start training your disciples.

Now that’s a rather lengthy introduction, but some things are very important here.  You see, being a disciple meant not only learning the law, but it meant learning how to apply the law to life.  It meant there was a very close relationship between you and the rabbi.  It meant learning from him daily.  It meant learning thoroughly so that you one day could train others.  Now what did our reading say this morning in Mt. 28:18-20?  “And Jesus came and spoke to them saying, ‘All authority had been given Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Jesus is saying in essence: “My disciples, your time has come.  You must now be rabbis; your work is to train new disciples.  It’s time for others to watch, and to follow, and to learn from you.  Form close relationships with others, let others scrutinize you daily, let them see how you apply God’s teachings to your life, let them take on your character, help them to ‘catch’ what you’ve caught from Me!”  Brothers and sisters, this passage says that our primary focus should also be to train disciples, and I hope you see, this process involves more than just coming to services 3 times a week, it’s more than showing 5 film strips, it’s more than 2 gospel meetings and 6 potlucks per year!  Making disciples is like pouring your life into your family.  Do we have the stamina that it takes for us to become those Christian rabbis that Jesus wants to see us become?

Let’s probe deeper into discipleship this morning.  What else in involved in helping others to become disciples?  Jesus did not leave us in the dark.  If you are not a disciple of Jesus this morning, please listen carefully to the passages that we’ll consider.  Jesus was a noble rabbi who demands and expects much from us.  We’re going to look at four actions of those who would become His disciples in this lesson, and then we’ll consider four more in our next lesson.

First of all, we must submit under Jesus.  Let’s read Matthew 10:24-25: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.”  A disciple places himself under his teacher.  “This was a cultural given for all observant Jewish young men—it was something that each truly wanted to do” (Greenwold).  They were admitting that they were apprentices, and they needed to learn from someone wiser and more experienced.  They knew that the rabbi would be asking them often: “Why did you do that action?”  They knew that the rabbi had the right to say, “No, that interpretation is shallow.  Let me explain why.”  We don’t like the idea of the being questioned and reproved.  We like to make our own rules and do our own thing, but how can we ever learn to be a Christian rabbi if we don’t take the advice and instruction of Jesus?  Go back to my mechanic friend.  How many times might he have heard the mechanic say, “No, son, you we’re not to repair it that way.  You should have done it this way.”  Was the mechanic being sinister and trying to hurt my friend’s ego?  No, he was showing him the right way to get the job done.  When you submit to Jesus, He’ll teach you the right way to get through life.  He’ll expose your weaknesses, but only because He has our best interest at heart.  And did you know that Jesus also delegated this same type of instruction and reproof to those church leaders called elders?  Listen to Hebrews 13:17: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give an account.”  Our elders are here to help train us; their instructions and reproof are for our benefit.  Your elders realize that they must give an account before Christ for how they’ve worked with the flock here, and they don’t take that responsibility lightly.  Don’t try to live life without Jesus’ help!  Don’t keep singing like Sinatra, “I’ll do it my way!”  Don’t think: “I’m strong.  I don’t’ need anybody else.  I don’t need to share my life with our elders or others.”  If you think like that, you’re like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  That old building was developing too much lean and was destined to topple if some help wasn't forthcoming.  Architects came up with plans to help it get straightened up.  There are now cables attached to the tower so it won’t topple.  Ground on the north side was slowly taken out so the tower would lean towards being more upright on its own, and new concrete supports were poured at the foundation.  All this worked!  It doesn’t stand perfectly straight, but it will be safe for the future.  You see, by yourself, your life is destined to topple as well (Jesus compared it to a house falling in during a storm).  But Jesus wants to be your support cable, the elders want to help you move out the dirt, and other members want to help you have a stronger foundation.  None us as Christians here this morning stands perfectly straight, we all still lean some.  But with Jesus’ and each other’s help, we know that we are safe and can endure life’s storms.  “A disciple is not above his teacher.”  Let Jesus guide you.  That’s the first step.  He is the good Shepherd who wants to bless you, but will you be a good lamb and let Him work with you in any way that He sees fit?  Listen to His voice above all the other voices out there!  Submit under Jesus!

Secondly, learn from Jesus.  Notice what Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30.  “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  Jesus is inviting us into that rabbi-disciple relationship.  One commentator puts it this way: “The Law had become a burden, and a new yoke was needed to lighten the load.  Jesus' yoke is easy, not because it makes lighter demands, but because it represents entering into a disciple relationship (learn from Me) with one who is gentle and lowly in heart ... [this] is also the character [that] Jesus expects and creates in His disciples” (France).  Jesus says in essence: “The Law's 600+ stipulations and all the rabbi's traditions will weight you down, but My yoke is easy.”  His righteousness is more demanding, but He did make it much simpler for us.  Remember His Sermon on the Mount: interpret the Scriptures according to their original intention, give God the number one position, and put your neighbor in the number two position.  Now those three concepts are much easier to apply in daily living.  My gospel of grace will help you to become a person who is both sensitive and humble.  We who are Christians always realize this truth: compared to Jesus' life, we continually fall so short.  Compared to all the rules, ritualism, and legalism which the Pharisees preached, Jesus' close relationship as our daily Rabbi and Model helps us to go deeper into God's heart!  “Don't just learn about Me, but learn from Me: watch and imitate My actions, memorize and apply My teachings, take on My character, handle situations with My wisdom, see others with My grace—so many are spiritually sick, oppressed, and captive!”  Learn from Me.  A recent hymn states it this way: “Jesus, let us come to know You.  Let us see You face to face.  Touch us, hold us, use us, mold us.  Only let us live in You.  Jesus, draw us ever nearer; Hold us in Your loving arms.  Wrap us in Your gentle presence, When the end comes, bring us home” (Michael Card).  Learn from Me.  Listen to this disciple's prayer: “I am no longer my own, but Yours.  Put me to what You desire, and rank me with whomever You wish.  Put me to doing, or put me to suffering.  Let me be exalted for You or abased for You.  Let me be full or let me be empty.  I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal.  And now, O glorious blessed God—Father, Son, and Spirit—You are mine, and I am Yours.  So be it.  The covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen.”  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.  Submit under Me and learn from Me.

Thirdly, follow
after Jesus.  Look now at Luke 9:23-25: “Then, He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me [to be My disciple], let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?”  Let's notice a few ideas here.  The ultimate test for our lives as Christians is not what we know, but what we do with what we know.  Jesus doesn't tell us to rattle off a bunch of gospel truths (even the Pharisees could talk a good game), but Jesus wants us to do something daily.  What Jesus wants us to do is to practice a certain attitude and lifestyle, the same attitude and lifestyle that He Himself put into practice when He lived on this earth.  Why did Jesus have to suffer the cross?  It was God's will or purpose that He be the sacrificial Lamb to atone for mankind's sins.  As someone has well said, “The cross is God's Emancipation Proclamation signed in blood” (Sanny)  Listen to Jesus: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).  “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, this is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50).  “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34).  “I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30).  “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  For Jesus, God's will was supreme.  The disciple denies himself; he measures his success by asking himself at the end of the day: “How did I perform God's will today?  Did I put His desires above my own?”  “Deny himself, and take up his cross daily.”  Did the cross come from man or from God?  It was man's invention wasn't it?  It was ugly, brutal, cruel, and humiliating.  Jesus transformed it into an asset: “And as Moses lifted up  the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).  “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32).  “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law having become a curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13-14).  Our crosses are not our aches and pains that our bodies suffer, our crosses are the worst social abuses that others will cast upon us.  It might be their ridicule, it might be their isolation of us, it might be their attempts to discredit us, it might be their torture of us.  But despite what others may do to us, what do we pray each day, “Lord, may I do Your will this day, may I follow after Your Son.  When I am crucified by others, let me act as My Lord and say, 'Father, forgive them, because they don't understand what they are doing.'  When they attempt to discredit me, may Your truth set them free!  May my suffering for Christ ultimately bring about their salvation.”  Submit under Me, learn from Me, follow after Me!

Lastly, stand for Jesus.  Look at what Jesus says in the next verse in Luke 9:26: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels.”  Jesus says in essence: “If you are ashamed of Me, I will be ashamed of you.  Disciple, stand for Me!”  One commentator puts it this way: “The disciples were to know, when it became difficult to confess Jesus and His words, that their actions would have eternal consequences.  Whatever might happen to them, there would be a victorious culmination for those who persevered” (Ash).  Disciple, stand for Me!  Look back now at the passage we began with in Matthew at 10:26 where Jesus tells it straight: “If they called the master of the house, Beelzebub [or the prince of demons], how much more will they call those of His household!  Therefore, do not fear them.  For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.”  Disciple, if they call Me the prince of demons, then get ready—they will be attacking and insulting you as well!  Becoming a disciple will probably not win you any popularity contest from those in your world.  Jesus admonishes us, however, not to be afraid of them.  Disciple, stand for Me!  Committing yourself to follow Christ, especially in our secular culture, will take some backbone.  Becoming and being His disciple daily is not for the fainthearted or for those who give up easily.  Jesus warns us that we should carefully count the cost that may involved in becoming His disciple, lest we begin and not remain loyal to Him until death (Luke 14:25-33).  Jesus said that if we put our hand to the plow [if we become His disciple], but then look back [meaning to abandon His lordship and return to worldly living], then we are not fit to be in or to inherit the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62)!  Disciple, stand for Jesus!  At an open-air meeting in Liverpool, a skeptic gave a strong address against Christianity to a large audience and at the close said, “If any man here can say a word in favor of Jesus Christ, let him come out and say it.”  Not a man moved.  The silence became oppressive.  Then, two young girls arose, walked hand in hand, as if moved by the Holy Spirit, up to the speaker and said, “We can't speak, but we will sing for Christ,” and they sang with great power, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus.”  When the song ceased, every head was uncovered, all were deeply moved, some were sobbing, and the crowd quietly went away, apparently with no thought of following the skeptic's words.  Disciple, stand for Me!  This next story took place in the late 60s in China under the Red Guard (it's rather shocking): “A Chinese Christian knew God had strengthened him to endure the unbearable.  His [communist] captors had tied his hands behind his back and emptied a bucket of human waste on his head.  They left him like that for days, never giving him a chance to clean himself.  He was given food, but with his hands tied behind his back, he had to lie on the floor and lick it up like an animal.  The food had to pass through soiled lips.  He still did not deny his faith. ... The authorities eventually gave up, and he was released” (Jesus Freaks). “If you are ashamed of Me, I will be ashamed of you.  Disciple, stand for Me!”  There is a cost, but there is a strength as well.

Won’t you become Christ’s apprentice today?  Won’t you submit under Him?  Won’t you learn from Him?  Won’t you follow after Him?  Won’t you stand for Him?  May your confession be that of another disciple: “I’m a part of the following of the unashamed.  I have Holy Spirit power.  The dye has been cast.  I have stepped over the line.  The decision has been made.  I’m a disciple of His.  I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.  My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure.  I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, ordinary talking, leftover giving, and dwarfed goals.  I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotion, praises, or popularity.  I don’t have to be … recognized, regarded, or rewarded.  I now live by presence, learn by faith, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power” (Jerry Jones quoting Bob Moorhead).  “Come unto me, submit under Me, learn from Me, follow after Me, stand for Me!”  His invitation to be your Rabbi is clear!  He greatly desires for you to be His apprentice.  Slowly, daily, methodically, gradually, He wants you to catch His lifestyle.  Will you become His disciple right now as …