Discipleship (Part 2)

 

Marc Veyrat is a French chef whose restaurant obtained the highest ranking possible about 13 years ago.  He’s something of a culinary maverick.  He was kicked out of several culinary schools for his unorthodox ideas, and some hotels also denied him the opportunity to work as an apprentice.  He comes from the French Alps, and alpine herbs are some of the key ingredients in his recipes.  Once a week at dawn, he will venture into the mountains to pick the herbs.  He once said, “I know I’m not a traditional chef.  I’m a student of nature, because before you love cuisine, you have to love the ingredients.”  He’s now a master chef, but he still calls himself a student or a disciple of nature.

Last week we began a study on discipleship.  We saw that a disciple learning under a rabbi was much like an apprentice learning under a mechanic.  You “caught” the rabbi's interpretations, conduct, and character on a daily basis.  Gradually, the disciple got to the point where he was ready to launch out on his own.  Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 that they now were to be Christians rabbis who would help others to catch what they had caught from Him!  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.”  We asked if we have the stamina to work with others like that and then we probed a little deeper into what else was involved in helping others to become Jesus’ disciples.  We learned four actions in our last lesson; a disciple submits under Jesus, learns from Jesus, follows after Jesus, and stands for Jesus.  Today we want to look at four more actions.  If you are not Jesus' disciple today, then please give careful consideration to the passages that we’ll be examining.

First of all, we must feed on Jesus (or have His spiritual perspective).  Let’s look at an interesting passage in John 6:56ff: “'He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on me will live because of Me.  This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead.  He who eats this bread will live forever.'  These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.  Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, 'This is a hard saying; who can understand it?' When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, 'Does this offend you?  What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life.”  What is Jesus saying here?  Jesus is saying in essence: “Focus on the Holy Spirit and on the spiritual significance of Me and My ministry; a spiritual kingdom, not a physical kingdom, is what you should desire.”  Why did Jesus say these things and why did He have this emphasis?   Because the people to whom Jesus was talking were looking for free food and a political kingdom (they had tried the previous day to make Him their king 6:15).  Now when Jesus talks about feeding on Him, we know what He means because we can look back at the Lord’s Supper and its development after the cross.  But what would these Jews be hearing and how would His command to feed on Him and drink His blood hit them?  Yes, they took all this literally and physically didn’t they?  And as good Jews, they knew that God had said that any Jew who drank blood would be cut off from the nation (Lev. 17:10-12).  Now do we understand why the Jews were saying, “This is a hard saying, who can understand it?”  Now do we see why many were offended and quit following Jesus (v. 66)?  Jesus wasn’t out to provide daily fish sandwiches nor to set up an earthly political kingdom (He later told Pilate very clearly that His kingdom was not of this world).  Notice again what Jesus tells His disciples: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life.”  Jesus knows that the Holy Spirit can bring about transformation in a person’s life no matter what their political situation.  Seeking then to satisfy the physical appetite and trying to establish an earthly kingdom won’t solve mankind’s problem with sin.  So now do you see more clearly why Jesus was saying in essence: “Focus on the Holy Spirit and on the spiritual significance of Me and My ministry; a spiritual kingdom, not a physical kingdom, is what you should desire.”  Feeding on Jesus means keeping our focus on the spiritual realm, on eternal life, on the Holy Spirit, on the unseen, and on the ultimate goal of heaven.  Paul spells out this focus more clearly with these words in Ephesians 5:1-7: “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.  And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.  But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.  For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not be partakers with them.”  To feed on Jesus is to imitate God and to abandon the lusts of the flesh, the filthiness of the tongue, the attraction of the dollar.  Those who idolize these things have no inheritance in God’s kingdom!  They will face the wrath of God.  To be a disciple of Jesus is to make a clear choice and a firm decision to abandon worldliness and to embrace godliness.  The old hymn has it right: “Nearer, still nearer, Lord to be Thine.  Sin with its follies, I gladly resign [with] all of its pleasures, pomp, and its pride.  Give me but Jesus, my Lord crucified!”   “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh profits nothing.”  This is what Jesus means when He challenges: “Feed on Me (or have My spiritual perspective).”

Next, we must listen to Jesus.  Note His words in John 8:31ff: “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him: ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’  They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone.  How can you say, ‘You will be made free?’  Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.  And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.  Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”  This passage is so rich!  Let’s look closely at it.  “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him”  Now it’s interesting that John uses a wording in the original language which shows that these Jews did give some credence to Jesus’ teachings, but they really didn’t want to make a personal application to themselves.  Their belief was sort of on the fringes, and they weren’t devoted and obedient disciples but skeptical and nominal followers.  So Jesus challenges them to go deeper.  “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”  One commentator states: “'Abiding in Jesus’ Word' means welcoming it, being at home with it, and living with it so continuously that it becomes part of a [disciple’s] life, a permanent influence in every fresh advance of holiness” (Tasker).  Do you love to know and to live Jesus’ teachings like that?  Have His teachings taken up residence in your heart, and do you seek to apply what He teaches to your everyday living?  Remember how we said earlier that disciples were to memorize and apply the teachings of their rabbi.  Jesus says that we really are His authentic disciples if we  know His teachings and then strive to put them into practice.  “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  Why did Jesus come to this earth?: “To seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10),  “To give Himself as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), “To be that Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).  Those are great answers, but let’s not forget one other found in John 18:37: “Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am a king.  For this cause I was born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’”  Did you catch it?  Jesus says openly: “I came into the world to bear witness to the truth.  Falsehood and deception aren’t even on My radar.  I walked this earth to tell others what is God’s unvarnished view of reality, His truth!  If you want that perspective, you’ll listen to Me! And if you will get to know My teachings and live them out, they can liberate you, they can set you free!”  How did the Jews respond: “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone.”  “We’ve got Abraham in our corner, and we are riding on the coattails of his righteousness.”  On what are you relying this morning?  “You need freedom,” Jesus says.  “No, I don’t, Jesus.  My parents were good people.  I watch religious programming and give to charities.  I never have been malicious toward anyone.”  What did Jesus answer?  “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.”  Yes, He really does bear witness to the truth, doesn’t He?  If you are not a disciple of Jesus, you are a slave of sin.  You are like the people that Paul describes in 1 Tim. 2:24ff: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”  Someone has rightly observed: “Man's greatest need is to know what IS his greatest need.”  If you are not a disciple of Jesus, you are captive to the devil and to his will, and you’re greatest need is freedom, the freedom that Jesus’ truth can give you!  “You see,” Jesus continued with His Jewish friends, “the slave in the household can’t free himself; only the Son, who is eternal, can bring you real freedom!  Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”  Feed on Jesus and listen to Him!

Next, we must love like Jesus to be His disciple.  Look at John 13:34ff: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  One biblical scholar has observed: “Every Jewish teacher worth his salt had his circle of ‘disciples’ who ‘followed’ him” (France).  Did you catch that world “circle”?  As a disciple, you were always learning with a group.  There was a sense of community between the followers of a certain rabbi.  A disciple was never to be “a one man band,” but he was to see himself as part of a fellowship where each member was important.  Did the Old Testament command that one should love their neighbor?  It certainly did.  So how can Jesus call this a new commandment? It's new because we must love one another “as I have loved you.”  How did Christ love His disciples?  Well, let's take Peter for just a moment.  What did Peter do at Jesus' trial?  He denied that he even knew Jesus, didn't he?  How did Jesus love Him?  Let's look at three passages very quickly.  The first is found in Luke 22:31ff: “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 loved Peter prayerfully and expectantly.  Now look at Mark 16:7 where we find these words of an angel: “But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him as He said to you.”  Did you notice those two little words: “But go, tell his disciples—AND PETER”?  Why did the angel tell the women to be sure and tell Peter that Jesus was risen?  Jesus loved Peter personally and reassuringly. Now look at John 21:19: “And when Jesus had spoke this, He said to Him, “'Follow Me.'”  Yes, Jesus loved Peter forgivingly and hopefully.  Let's love each other prayerfully, expectantly, personally, reassuringly, forgivingly, and hopefully! That's a wonderful challenge, isn't it?  Maybe we can learn a lesson from Dr. Kurtzman.  Dr. Kurtzman, chief of surgery at Waterbury Hospital, was on his way to deliver an 8:00 a. m. lecture when he witnessed one of the worst crashes in Connecticut history.  A dump truck, whose driver had lost control, flipped on its side and skidded into oncoming traffic.  The resulting accident involved 20 vehicles.  Kurtzman immediately pulled over, got out, and shifted into trauma mode.  He worked his way through the mangled mess of people and metal, calling out, “Who needs help?”  After about 90 minutes, when all 16 victims had been assisted, prioritized in terms of their medical needs, and taken to area hospitals, Kurtzman climbed back into his car, drove to the medical school, and gave his lecture — two hours late.  Over the years, Kurtzman has stopped at a half dozen crashes and assisted at three. “A person with my skills simply can’t drive by someone who’s injured,” says Kurtzman. “I refuse to live my life that way.”  Dr. Kurzman doesn't just lecture about rescue and assistance, he gives it!  May we do the same.  Let's don't just talk about love, but let's show it like Jesus!  “By this will all men know that you are My disciples!”  Feed on Me, listen to Me, and love like Me.

Lastly, we must reproduce with Jesus.  In our reading this morning from John 15:1-8: “I am the vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the Vine, and you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me, you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and my Words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.  By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so will you be My disciples.”   Jesus compares Himself to a vine, and we are compared to branches being sustained by that vine. Notice that Jesus says in verse 5 that we can do nothing productive without Him.  That's partnership, isn't it?  Then notice in verse 7 that he says we can ask what we desire, and it will be granted.  That's prayer, isn't it?  Partnership and prayer precede productivity.  Now notice what Jesus says in verse 8: “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciple.”  Some commentators say that the fruit that Christians are to bear are virtues, like the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Others say that the fruit are those that we teach and convert to Lord.  Jesus is again underscoring, right before His death, that He passionately wants His disciples to train many more disciples over all the earth.  You know, bearing fruit, whether it be internally in our own lives or externally in the lives of others, “proves that we as disciples live in Christ, and Christ, as our Lord and Rabbi, lives in us!  Continuing to produce fruit shows loyalty to Him who is the True Vine, the source of our productivity!” (Pack).  Reproducing our Rabbi's conduct and character in our own lives and in those who are our disciples is the first, last, and great duty of every church member.  In about one month from now, we are going to have with us Bro. John Reese.  Bro. John is the director of the World Bible School program; he's like a modern day apostle Paul reaching thousands.  Christians involved in that program have converted thousands throughout the world using Correspondence and Internet courses. When John is here, I know that he will inform us, inspire us, and challenge us to reach out and to teach the lost and the captive using these effective methods.  You know, our Sister Emily Benton has been working with WBS for over 20 years!  Isn't that amazing!  She's the only one teaching in this program right now.  Don't you think that she would love some more help?  I want you to start praying today that what Bro. John has to share with us will impact and stir us mightily.  After you pray, I want to repeat what Jesus said about partnership: “With you, Lord, I can do all things.”  Do we want to bring glory to God?  Notice again what Jesus said, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciple.”  Reproduce with Me!

We have seen eight actions that Jesus desires of His disciples: submit under Me, learn from Me, follow after Me, stand for Me, feed on Me (or have My spiritual perspective), listen to Me, love like Me, and reproduce with Me.  What was that statement that our French chef friend made: “Before you love cuisine, you have to love the ingredients.”  Before you love and get excited about Christianity, you have to love and get excited about the Rabbi!  “I can hear my Savior calling, 'Take your cross, and follow Me.  I'll go with Him through the garden, I'll go with Him through the trial, I'll go with Him through the judgment.  I'll go with Him all the way.  Where He leads me, I will follow, He will give me grace and glory, I will live as His disciple.  He'll go with me, with me, all the way!”  His truth will make you free, His fellowship will make you loving, and His strength will make you productive.  Won't you confess Him as your Rabbi and be immersed into His name right now ...