Disciples - To Be or Not To Be That is the Question
Disciples – to be or not to be, that is the question
Introduction: Defining “Disciple”
It used to be that you could talk about being a Christian and people would know what you meant. But then just about everybody who was born in a “Christian” country regarded himself as a Christian. Most Christians realize that simply being born in a Christian country—if you can find one—wouldn’t make you Christian no more than being born in a hospital will make you a nurse.. They had to put distance between themselves—the real Christians—and those who just thought they were. Very confusing, don’t you think?
Back in the 70’s when Jimmy Carter was running for president of the United States, he said that he was a born-again Christian. At the time very few people knew what he was talking about except one reporter, Wesley Pippert, who had been to seminary. So he made a list of the terms Jimmy Carter was using and sent it out on the wire service. Soon every person on radio and television was talking about being born again. The problem then was that those people who were born-again Christians began to discover everybody who just called themselves a Christian was now calling themselves a born-again Christian.
Born again meant a new start. So if you had arthroscopic surgery, you were a born-again athlete. And if you were an alcoholic and got dried out, you were a born-again alcoholic. So the term born again got devalued.
The people who were the real Christians had to put some distance between themselves and all these “born agains” because frankly everybody and his auntie was getting born again. So they started to call themselves Spirit-filled born-again Christians. The problem with that was as soon as you said Spirit-filled, people would say, “Do you mean Reformed Spirit-filled or charismatic Spirit-filled?” If you’re Reformed, then of course you are separated from the charismatic, and so on. So real Christians, in order to clearly distinguish themselves from coat-tail Christians began to define themselves as a-mil, pre-mil, or postmillennial, Reformed, charismatic, Spirit-filled, born-again Christian. It became terribly important to get all your adjectives in a row like ducks. The trouble with this was that whilst it got everything clarified, it meant that you spent all your time clarifying!
So I started a movement. Nobody has joined it yet, but my wife may consider joining. The movement is that we stop talking about Christians, born-again Christians, Spirit-filled born-again Christians, charismatic Reformed Spirit-filled born-again Christians, and all that stuff—we don’t have time for all that—and that we go back to using a term that was in vogue long before the term Christian was ever invented. Do you know what people were called long before they were ever called Christians? This is what the Bible says: “The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” I suggest we stop all this adjectival Christianity and just decide whether we are disciples of Jesus Christ or not.
People can debate the adjectives at great length and with considerable heat. But ask them a simple question—”Would you call yourself a disciple of Jesus Christ?”—and then watch the reactions start. Sometimes they back off as if they were slapped.
Some people think a disciple a notch or two above them – a Billy Graham- a first-class Christian, a Christian with special status. Since they do not aspire to be put on a pedestal; they prefer to remain simply a lowly Christian. Other people have the idea that a disciple is somebody who has come through a seminary course where you get up at some unearthly hour in the morning and go one-on-one with somebody debating scriptural doctrine over interminable cups of coffee. Other people have got the idea that disciple is a term you don’t have to worry about if you just want to be a Christian as they think a disciple is an apostle – someone who was with Jesus. And since we can no longer join Jesus’ earthly band of followers, the term no longer applies. Regardless as to whether being a disciple is first century or 21st century, there is wrong-thinking going on. As you can see, this thinking about what a disciple is needs to be reevaluated. So what is a disciple?
I asked a young woman once, “What do you do?” She said, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ very skillfully disguised as a machine operator.” I liked that! Would you call yourself a disciple of Jesus Christ? Let me encourage you; ordinary folks make great disciples. All a disciple is, is somebody who has a relationship with a teacher. That is the simplest definition of a disciple. Do you have a relationship with a teacher? You should!
In New Testament times, all kinds of teachers had disciples. The Greeks had disciples. The Jews had disciples. The rabbis gathered a little group around them and taught them the law. They called those people disciples. A disciple is somebody who has a relationship with a teacher. They learn from him in order that they might pass their teaching on.
Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ? Are you passing on the teaching? Are you sitting at his feet, hearing his Word? Are you discovering his truth? Are you identifying with him personally? Are you applying his principles to your life? Are you gladly sharing these principles with your children? Your grandchildren? Your neighbors?
The Lord Jesus showed us how important discipleship was by doing two things. The first thing he did in his public ministry was go out and gather his disciples. And, the second thing he did was to say to His disciples, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations.” Started with discipling. Finished with discipling. Go into all the world and make disciples is called the Great Commission; as you may have heard me say before, it was The Great Commission, not the great suggestion! We are to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples! We are to replicate ourselves.
I. Disciples Confront the Issues Christ Raises
The Lord Jesus in Mark 8 outlines some basic things about being a disciple. I want to identify them for you. Here are the three things I want you to notice: First, the disciples had to be serious about the issues Jesus raised. Turn with me to Mark 8, verse 35: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” The issue is this: What on earth are you , doing with your life? It’s hard to imagine a bigger issue than that. Then he identifies your two choices: You can invest your life, or you can waste your life. What a horrid thought—that it is possible for a human being to live the whole of life and waste it! On the other hand, it is possible for you to invest your life. Jesus said, “What determines whether your life is wasted or invested is your attitude toward me. If you want to hang onto your life for yourself, you’ll waste it. But if you want to hand over your life to me, you will invest it for eternity.” In other words, Get serious about your faith! Confront the issues Christ raises here.
Stuart Brisco says “I met with a young business lady recently. I pointed out these Scriptures to her, and she said, “You mean to say that Jesus Christ wants me to confront the possibility that I might be wasting my life?” I said, “Right!” “And you are trying to tell me that if I hold onto my life, I will waste my life?” I said, “No, I’m not trying to tell you. He said it. And not only that, he said the only way to make sure you really invest your life for eternity in the divine economy is to hand it over to him.” She said, “No way.” That was last Tuesday morning.
Sunday night she came to me literally trembling and said, “I’ve not been able to get that thought out of my mind all week: I might be wasting my life.” I asked, “Are you the same Pat?” She said, “I’m the same one who rides her motorcycle at ninety-five miles an hour without a helmet and has never been afraid of anything, but now I’m utterly petrified.” Why? Because she was daring to do what disciples of Jesus Christ do: confront the issues. She quietly submitted her life to the Master last Sunday night. Do you call yourself a disciple of Jesus Christ? Disciples of Jesus Christ confront the issues he raises.”
Here’s another serious issue we must confront. After Jesus tells Peter and the other folks that he’s going to Jerusalem, Peter stands between Jesus and Jerusalem and says, “No Lord.” Now that’s a silly thing to say. You can say “Not ” or you can say “Lord,” but you are not allowed to say “Not Lord.” The Lord Jesus turned on Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.” Jesus is really saying: “If your life is governed by self-interest and self-preservation, that is all Satan wants out of you, because he has managed to get God out of the reckoning, and he is now running the show. He laughs all the way back to his hellish board room.” So Jesus nailed Peter. It is possible to have your life operating under devilish influence, and instead of doing God’s work, do the Devil’s work for him. A lot of people will trivialize Satan. They’ll laugh him off: “Oh, you believe in a little guy with red tights and horns?” No! I’m talking about a demonic entity that is capable of so fouling people’s thinking that they can come to the conclusion that they are the master of all they survey, the center of the universe. Satan is known as the great deceiver or the father of lies. It takes a devilish force to make people so stupid and self-destructive as to think there is no God. Do you call yourself a disciple of Jesus Christ? Disciples of Jesus Christ confront this issues – there is a devil who wishes to devour and destroy. Jesus knew all about him and so should you. Scripture calls him a roaring lion (1Peter 5:8) James 4:7 says “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Put on the full armor of God, described in Ephesians 6, so you can stop his fiery arrows.
II. Get serious about the issues Jesus took seriously! Confront them!
Second, disciples of Jesus Christ confirm the claims Christ made. When you talk to people about Christianity, one of the oldest tricks in the trade is for them to start talking about what Christians are doing to Muslims in Lebanon or what Christians are doing to Christians in the north of Ireland. These things are not insignificant, but Christianity does not stand or fall on whether the Spanish Inquisition was right, or the Reformation was right. Christianity stands or falls on whether Jesus Christ was who he said he was. And disciples of Jesus Christ are ready to carefully evaluate the claims he made and then confirm that those claims are true. If disciples of Jesus Christ can’t defend Him, if they cannot build their lives on the absolute bedrock certainty that Jesus Christ is Lord, then it’s only a matter of time until they’ve collapsed. Christianity stands or falls on the validity of Jesus Christ. We need to know what we believe! There is a solid foundation on which we stand.
Talking to his disciples in Mark 8:27 Jesus said, “Who do people say that I am?” They all had their answers ready. They’d been out polling the people at Jerusalem Airport. But what they didn’t expect was the next question: “Now who do you say I am?” That’s what disciples of Jesus Christ are ready for. They are ready to answer questions concerning who Jesus Christ is. Peter had the answer immediately. Peter didn’t necessarily understand the question, but he always had an answer. “Thou art the Christ.” He’s so thrilled. He was right, of course.
Can you imagine how discouraged he must have been to have Jesus respond in the next verse, “Don’t tell anyone”? Why not? Because immediately the Lord Jesus begins to talk about himself. He said, “I’m going to go up to Jerusalem. I’m going to suffer many things.” Peter starts to shake his head. “And I’ll be rejected by the chief priests, elders, and scribes.”
“And I’ll be killed.”
“Oh, no, no!”
“And on the third day I’ll rise again.”
“NO-O-O-O!” At this point Peter’s had all he can take, and he stands in front of Jesus and says, “No way!” It’s clear now why Jesus told him not to tell anybody. He got the answer right, but he’s all wrong. He knows that Jesus is the Christ, but he hasn’t the foggiest idea what kind of Christ he is. The Christ who came to die. Many times I come across people who love Easter but hate Good Friday. They love to celebrate the resurrection but hate to face the crucifixion. But it was the crucifixion He came for. Without the cross there is no atonement for our sins. Love the cross, people! Love the cross! Not just the symbol we wear around our necks, but the old rugged cross of Calvary where our salvation took root, where His blood washed us white as snow. When we celebrate communion, we are to remember the cross because Jesus told us to do this in remembrance of Him. He told us to remember the cross, not the cradle.
Just about everybody is capable of producing their own christ. That’s why messiahs and saviors are a dime a dozen. Everybody’s getting out there and deciding and manufacturing a christ who fits conveniently into their area of need. So the christ they produce is a christ not of reality but a christ of fantasy. Peter’s christ was not going to suffer or be rejected or be killed. Therefore it was not necessary for Peter’s Christ to rise again from the dead. On every point Peter’s christ and Jesus of Nazareth clashed. That’s why it would be most inappropriate for him to go around and tell people. He hadn’t even gotten to first base.
Here’s the problem today: If we’re not careful, we can produce christs who are figments of our imaginations rather than the Christ who is the result of divine incarnation. The real Christ is the crucified Christ, the rejected Christ. If we’re going to identify with the rejected Christ, that means a certain degree of rejection attaches to us. But if there’s one thing we don’t need it’s what? Rejection. If there’s one thing we crave, what is it? Acceptance. But we have a feeling that if we identify with a rejected Christ, then we might find ourselves outside the camp. And, funny enough, that’s exactly where disciples of Jesus Christ may eventually finish up. In most of the world, Christians are persecuted for their faith. There are more martyrs today than ever. Suffering is good for the church of Christ. Suffering strengthens the church. The underground church in China grew by leaps and bounds during the oppressive rule of Mao Tse Tung. The church thrives under repression and rejection.
It’s interesting to notice the three groups of people who are going to reject Christ: the political leaders, the moral leaders, and the religious leaders. Let me suggest to you that modern political systems, modern religious systems, and modern moral systems still reject Jesus Christ. The mistake a lot of people make is they want Jesus Christ to fit into their morals; they’d like him to fit into their religion; and many of them, would you believe, want him to be a card-carrying member of their political party. They haven’t understood that Jesus Christ always stands in judgment upon our religion, our morals, and our politics, and speaks so fervently and forcefully about them (and often against them) that we find our politics and our religion and our morals locking horns with Christ’s. Disciples of Jesus Christ know that. They don’t change their Christ. They change their politics, and their morals, and their religion. Would you say you’re a disciple of Jesus Christ—the rejected Christ?
Let’s go back to Mark 8. Look at the end of verse 31. “On the third day,” Jesus went on to say, “I’ll rise again from the dead.” That was certainly not on Peter’s agenda. How could he rise from the dead if he wasn’t even going to die? But what Peter didn’t understand was that it was only the death on the cross for our sin, and his glorious Resurrection from the dead, that would put under his feet everything that went over everybody else’s head. It was in the Resurrection that the reality of this Christ was going to be proved once and for all. If somebody came up to you and said, “Who, exactly, is your Christ?” would you be able to say “He’s the rejected redemptive, risen Christ who one day will be the reigning Christ, and he’s my Lord and Savior!”? The passage ends with a promise that he will come again in his Father’s glory with his holy angels to establish his eternal kingdom. We know from other areas of Scripture that at that moment “every eye will see him, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
III. Disciples Conform to Christ’s Pattern
A disciple confronts the issues Christ raises, confirms Christ’s claims, and there’s a third thing about disciples: they conform to the pattern Christ outlined. Let me read to you some challenging words. The Lord Jesus went on to explain to them, in Mark 8:34, “If any man will come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” There are four things there that will show that a person is conforming to the pattern of discipleship that Christ outlined: they come after him, they deny themselves, they take up their cross, and they keep on following him. Let’s look at them individually/ First, they came after Him.
This expression “to come after” is used of a lover coming after the beloved one. It is used of the learner coming after the teacher. It is used of servants gladly following the one whom they serve.
Charles Stanley relates this account: “I was in Edinburgh about a year ago speaking at Charlotte Chapel, and a delightful young lady gave her testimony. She had come back from Kabul, Afghanistan, where she was a missionary nurse. She said how she was really enjoying the work she was doing there, and then she’d met a young man and fallen in love. He’d asked her to marry him, but she had said, “I made a commitment to my church back home to serve on the mission field. If I were to marry you, that might change everything. So before I can give you an answer, I need to talk with the leaders of the church.” And so that was why she was home. She’d flown home all the way from Afghanistan to talk to the leaders of the church. As I was looking at the congregation, I noticed a fellow sitting in the front row who had the weirdest look on his face. So when she was through and sat down next to me, I said, “Who is that fellow? Do you know him?” She said, “That’s the young man.” I said, “I thought he was in Kabul.” She said, “He was. He heard I was flying back to Scotland to talk to the leaders of the church, so he said he wanted to talk to them as well. So he jumped on the next plane.” You can always tell lovers: they don’t give up. They “come after,” as a lover comes after the beloved. And that’s the picture that Jesus gives: “If you’re going to come after me, it’s because you love me because I first loved you, and there’s something about me that draws you irresistibly to me.” Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?”
“If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself.” Never confuse denying yourself with self-denial. You give up a lot of stuff so you can pick it up again at the end of Lent so you can give it up next Lent. That’s self-denial. That’s not what he’s talking about.
Denying yourself is recognizing there are two ways you can run your life: the self way or God’s way. It’s a matter of making a general decision—like getting married. I make a general decision no longer to be single, and to be married. Then it gets very specific—one event after another when I choose not to do it the single way I do it the married way. People get into problems in their marriages if they decide they want to behave like a single again. So you see, you deny yourself with a general decision and then you go on specifically reinforcing and endorsing that original decision. That’s what the disciple does. There comes a time when the disciple says, “I recognize that a decision needs to be made that will have to be constantly reaffirmed and endorsed: I will say no to myself and I will say yes to Jesus.”
Frank Sinatra, that well-known theologian, sings, “I did it my way.” We look at him and say, “Frank, thank you for letting us know how you got yourself into the mess you’re in. Now we know what to avoid.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all sing, “I did it God’s way”? Denying yourself, doing it his way—that’s a disciple.
The third requirement in verse 34 is to take up your cross. When Jesus Christ took up his cross, he wasn’t putting up with the inevitable. He didn’t have a chip on one shoulder and a cross on the other. When Jesus Christ took up his cross, he was identifying with the Father’s will, but not without a struggle. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” He knew that meant dying, and there are things to which a disciple of Jesus Christ willingly dies—things that he or she knows are wrong. For the sake of Jesus Christ, they are prepared to put those things on the cross where they belong. Are you constantly crucifying self? Putting your will on the cross, so His will can be done? If you are, then you can call yourself a disciple of Jesus. A disciple conforms to the pattern Christ outlined. A disciple comes after him, denying himself, takes up the cross, and keep on following.
Neil Anderson says: “I taught all my kids to enjoy running. Then they taught me how not to enjoy it. While I could keep a pace ahead of them, it was great. But when they began to haul me out of bed early in the morning on a frosty morning to run, or when my daughter had me running a 10,000-meter race, I started asking, “What in the world am I doing?” I asked the question even more when we got to the start. There were 24,998 others. Being Milwaukee, some of them were dressed as beer bottles. One guy dressed up as a banana, another as a bunch of grapes. The gun went off, and everybody was laughing and waving. The banana was shaking hands with the crowd. And then it got rather interesting after about a quarter of a mile. The banana and the beer bottle were hanging over a garden fence—didn’t look good at all. After about a mile there was no chattering or laughing. And after the second mile, the only sound was labored breathing. After the fourth mile, it was so quiet you could hear the birds singing. At 6.2 miles, people were dribbling in one at a time, and not many of them. The moral of the story is this: You get all kinds of people goofing off at the start, but that doesn’t count. To finish does, and disciples of Jesus Christ keep on going.” They finish the race. Like Paul in his second letter to Timothy, you want to be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race; and I have remained faithful.
Conclusion: Are You a Disciple?
So the question is, are you a disciple of Jesus Christ? You say, “I’m not sure about that. Why can’t I just be a good Christian?” The Lord Jesus came looking for disciples, and at the end of his ministry told the church to do one thing: make disciples. Some of you are going to go out tomorrow morning and say, “Look out! Here comes another disciple of Jesus Christ skillfully disguised as a farmer.” And somebody else is going to say, “Look out, neighborhood. Here’s a busy disciple of Jesus Christ disguised as a teacher.” If you’re disciples of Jesus Christ, that will be the predominant thought. What you’re disguised as is secondary. You’re going to be out there loving, following, serving, and leading others to him. Would you call yourself a disciple of Jesus Christ? I hope so!
Let me end this morning be repeating the Great Commission from Matthew 28:19-20:
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age."”