Matthew 28:16 – The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.
18 – Jesus came to them [there] and said, ?All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.
19 – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 – and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.?
Matthew 16:24 – Jesus said to His disciples,?If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.?
This is a picture from Wyoming?s Bridger Wilderness area. Isn?t it beautiful!? Can you imagine hiking those trails?! This week I came across the following suggestions made by people who DID exactly that. They hiked those trails and then they gave the following suggestions to the forest rangers who serve there. Here?s what some of their notes said:
- ?Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building any trails that go uphill.?
- ?There are too many bugs and leeches and spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the area of these pests.?
- ?Please pave the trails?and chair lifts need to be installed in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them.?
- ?The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals.?
- ?A small deer came into my camp and stole my jar of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed? Please call…?
- ?Escalators would help on steep uphill sections of the trails.?
- ?A McDonalds would be nice at the trail head.?
- ?There are too many rocks on the mountains.?
I think it?s obvious that the people who made these comments and complaints didn?t really understand what it means to stay in a ?wilderness area.? They were looking for something convenient and comfortable, but not a true wilderness experience.
I share all this because in a similar way many people do not understand what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus. They expect it to be convenient and comfortable. Don?t get me wrong. They CLAIM to follow Him?but they do so on their terms and not His. This morning I want us to try and correct any misconceptions we may have about this because growing authentic disciples is another one of our purposes as a church.
If you remember?in this year?s VISION SERMON I said that I believe one of the reasons we?ve been delayed so long in getting into the ROC is that God knew we were not ready yet. He has kept us waiting much as He kept the Israelites wandering in the wilderness because He knows there are truths we need to embrace before we can finally get that occupancy permit…and cross into that recreation ministry promised land. In that light I said that one of the things that will help get us ready is to review our purposes as a church and a few weeks ago I began a sermon series designed to do just that. I have called it ?LIVE TO GIVE? and in these messages we?ve been studying our purpose by looking at the things we live to give as a body of believers.
We put our study on the back burner to celebrate Holy Week and ordain our new deacons, so before I pick up where we left off let me ?back us up a bit? and review what we?ve said so far.
First we said that we exist?we LIVE?to give: GRACE. Years ago after a great deal of prayer we decided that our experience of the grace of God should motivate or empower everything we do as a church family. Grace is the ?why? behind all of our purposes?all the things we live to give. For example?we said that God?s grace prompts us to give Him our: WORSHIP. In that message I reminded you that worship is not just what we do in this room each Sunday. It?s giving God the best in everything: our families, our careers our friendships…which leads to a second purpose of our church: FELLOWSHIP. We live to give that kindred-spirit caliber of friendship to each other?the kind of deep friendships we all long for. And then third, we said that we live to give SERVICE or ministry. Remember? We said that ministering to others is something that will be ?on the test…?…that God calls us as a church to help people in tangible ways such as feeding the hungry like the Housers do with their work at the St. Martins soup kitchen. Fourth, we said that we live to give the HOPE that is found in Jesus?and Jesus alone. God keeps us here instead of bringing us home to Heaven so that we can tell everyone the good news of the Gospel in the hope that more people will choose to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord.
And today we come to the final reason we exist as a church?our final purpose?and here it is: We live to give OBEDIENCE?and when I say obedience…I?m talking about obeying Jesus? great commission by making DISCIPLES. But like I said a moment ago, there is a great deal of confusion these days when it comes to understanding what a DISCIPLE of Jesus is?so let?s start with a definition. A good synonym for the word ?disciple? would be ?follower? but the New Testament teaches that it is more than that. God?s Word tells us that a DISCIPLE of Jesus is someone who has a growing and deepening RELATIONSHIP with Him…and is also committed to becoming more and more LIKE Him in their thoughts and attitudes and actions. They don?t just FOLLOW Jesus?they pattern their lives after His. You could put it this way. A disciple is a CHRISTIAN who is committed to becoming more and more CHRISTLIKE. We see this definition reflected in verses like Romans 8:29 where it says: ?From the very beginning God decided that those who came to Him should become like His Son.? That?s discipleship?becoming more and more and more like Jesus.
But in order for us to FULLY comprehend this word?we need to go deeper and with that in mind I want to point out three things that Jesus says about discipleship in the last verse of our text for this morning?and here is the first. (I give John Hamby, pastor of FBC, Vilonia Arkansas credit for the outline of my message today.)
(1) A disciple of Jesus Christ LAYS something DOWN.
Genuine Christ followers lay down their rights…their desires…their plans. They commit to living every minute of every day not as they would want?but as Jesus would want. This is what our Lord was referring to when He said, ?If anyone would come after Me, he must DENY HIMSELF…?
But please understand?this is more than the kind of self-denial where we decide to give up something or other?like many Christians do during Lent when they say, ?I?m giving up chocolate.? or ?I?m giving up movies.? No?genuine disciples of Jesus are committed to learning how to renounce their right to rule EVERY single moment of their lives. This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 6:11 when he says,?Count your SELVES dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus…? and in Romans 13:14,?Clothe your SELVES with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.?
It is a radical commitment where you show your love for Jesus by committing your entire life to Him. I?m reminded of the old commercial that had a young man sitting in the chair at a tattoo parlor expressing his love to Donna by getting her name tattooed on his arm. Halfway through the procedure he asks how much it will cost and the guy says $50.00. The young man pulls out his wallet and says, ?Oh, I only have $41.? Then the commercial cuts to the couple on the sidewalk. Donna is storming off and the young man is yelling after her, ?I?ll get it fixed.? At that point the camera zooms in on the tattoo which reads, ?I love Don?
I?m saying that following Jesus is an all encompassing?total commitment. It?s making Him Lord of all. Now?if this sounds difficult?that?s because it is. On your own it is impossible. So how do we do this? How do we discipline ourselves to lay down our will and yield to Jesus in everything? How do we learn to truly make Him Lord? If you say, ?Well, by coming to Sunday School where we study the Bible together? or ?by being active in Ladies Bible study or Men?s Fraternity? well, you would be partially right. And I say PARTIALLY because if you just STUDY the Bible, well that would help make you a STUDENT of Jesus?but not necessarily His DISCIPLE. I mean, there are a lot of experts on the Bible?s teachings about the life of Christ who don?t follow Him day after day. You see being a DISCIPLE is more than knowing ABOUT Jesus and ABOUT how He wants us to live. Being a DISCIPLE is KNOWING Jesus?it?s enjoying a personal relationship with Him…through which He not only TELLS you how to be a good husband or wife or parent or child or employee…but He also empowers you to be that Christlike husband or wife or parent or child or employee. To be a DISCIPLE you need to KNOW Jesus so well, that you recognize His voice when He tells you what to do and what not to do.
And you and I?as Christians?get to know Jesus like this?we develop a deep relationship with Him?well we do it in the same way we get to KNOW anyone else?by spending time with Him….learning to rely on His friendship and guidance?learning to tap into His RESURRECTION power?as we said a couple weeks back. So hear me on this fellow disciples.
The only way to lay down your own will…the only way to die to self…and give the reins of your life to Jesus consistently is by spending time with Him consistently….using prayer to talk to Him and listen to Him every day. Call it your daily quiet time or personal devotions or whatever but to lay down your own sinful desires and learn to let Jesus lead you through life, you have to spend time with Him.
The truly amazing thing about all this is that Jesus WANTS to spend time with us! As He says in Revelation 3:20, ?Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.? Almighty God WANTS to build a relationship with you and me. He wants to talk with us and walk through life with us! He wants to guide us to understand His written Word. He WANTS to empower us to live Christlike lives.
You know, when Sue and the kids and I first came here to Redland, we were almost immediately impressed by the number of influential government people who attended here. We noticed Army Colonels, Navy Admirals, Secret Service agents, NSA employees?all kinds of people who worked for our government in one way or another. But I guess one of the most impressive people we met when we first got here back in 1990 was Boyd Robinson. Boyd told me shortly after we arrived that he had the honor of serving as the President?s dentist. When he told me that, my mouth just dropped open…luckily I closed it before Boyd tried to fill a tooth or something! I was so impressed! My dad was still alive back then and I remember calling him and saying, ?I go to church with the President?s dentist! I have shaken hands that have actually been inside the president?s mouth!? One Sunday, not long after we met, Boyd offered Sue and me an amazing invitation. He said that he would like to take us to the White House for a special tour on the following Monday morning during which we would actually meet President George H. W. Bush.
We quickly said, Great! Let?s do it! Boyd made it very clear to us that we should meet him at the West gate of the White House promptly at 7:30AM so that he could take us on this tour. One of the reasons we had to be in and out so early was because a cabinet meeting was scheduled for 8:15AM…and Boyd didn?t feel they would appreciate us walking through the room during the meeting. He advised us that if we were going to be in center-city D. C. by 7:30AM, we should leave our house by 6:00AM to avoid rush hour. This meant we would have to set our alarm clock for 5:00AM. Well, we called my parents in Delaware to come and spend the night with us so they could watch our kids. This was years ago of course?back when they were young enough to NEED someone to watch them. We loaded film into our camera. This was years ago of course?back when cameras NEEDED film. We set our alarm clock. We laid out our clothes. I picked out my navy blue suit and my newest white shirt and my most presidential tie. I polished my shoes…and we went to bed with our heads spinning. We couldn?t believe that we were going to be standing in the Oval Office within eight hours. We were so excited, it took us a while to settle down to sleep. We finally drifted off but during what seemed to be the middle of the night, the phone rang. I couldn?t figure who would be calling at that time of night, but I heard Dad answer the phone and then call out, Mark?get up?it?s the White House! Well, I guess I was feeling a little cocky because I leaned over to Sue and said, ?I hope they?re not calling to ask me to stick around for that cabinet meeting. I?ve got things to do today!? I stumbled to the phone, still half asleep, only to be greeted by an urgent voice, ?Mark, it?s Boyd. Where are you? I?m calling from the White House. It?s 7:45AM. Look, if you haven?t left by now there?s no way you?re going to get down here in time. We?re going to have to can the whole deal. I?m sorry.
Maybe we can try to work it out again for you to meet President Bush after he is re-elected in 1992.? By the time I hung up the phone, Sue knew something was up. She had only heard my end of the conversation but she could tell something wasn?t right. When I got back in bed she asked what the problem was and I told her, ?Sue, I don?t know how to tell you this, but you are married to one of the only guys in the world who has slept through a chance to meet the President of the United States!? She was not impressed and was probably thinking the same thing you are thinking, ?How could you be so dumb as to allow this to happen?! How could you pass up this opportunity??
Now, before we go any further, let me make two comments about this particular episode in my life.
COMMENT #1 ? it never really happened. I made it up by basing it on an old Duffy Robbins story. In fact, I?ve used this story before so if you?ve been here that long that?s why it sounds familiar. Now?Boyd really was the president?s dentist and he really did get me into the White house, including a tour of the oval office?but I?ve never been privileged to meet any of our presidents.
COMMENT #2 ? actually it DID happen. In a VERY real sense it has happened to me numerous times in my life….and it happens every day to thousands of people like you. I?m not saying that you and others are sleeping through a chance to go to the Oval Office and meet the president of the United States. What I am saying is that people just like you and me on days just like this one, give up a chance to go into the throne room of Almighty God and talk to the Creator and Redeemer of the Universe. Every new day greets us with the opportunity to get out of bed or set aside part of our lunch hour or part of our afternoon and spend a time in conversation with God Himself, but most of us pass up these conversations for a few extra minutes of sleep….or so we can watch our favorite TV show or shop or whatever. Over and over and over again we ignore the invitation of God Himself to spend time with Him in prayer or to study His Word with Him ?leaning over our shoulder? helping us to understand. We miss out on the loving guidance of the only omniscient Being in the universe?and because we do?we fail in our attempts to live our lives in ways that both please Him…and fulfill us.
Listen?do you want to be a genuine disciple of Jesus? Do you want to make progress in becoming more Christlike? Then you have to LAY DOWN your life such that you let Him make every decision. And the only way to do that is to spend time with Him regularly?time in which you say, ?Jesus, You call the shots today…You increase…I decrease. Help me to be like You.?
(2) But that?s not all you need to know to understand discipleship…because a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ also TAKES something UP.
Listen to Matthew 16:24 once again and note the second phrase. Jesus said, ?If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and…what? Right! ?…TAKE UP HIS CROSS.? These four familiar words warn us that it?s not easy to be a disciple of Jesus. In John 15 Jesus explained why crosses are inevitable. Do you remember His words? ?If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.?
The more we become like Christ, the less we are like the world around us. Going against the flow?embracing a Christian world view?is costly. We have to give up sinful habits that we developed before we became Jesus? followers. We may lose friends who cannot understand the way our RELATIONSHIP with God changes our lives. We may miss out on promotions because of our Christian ethics. Doing what Jesus would do will take your time. I?m saying that in a very real sense, following Jesus?being His disciple?means you have to take up your cross. In spite of what the health and wealth gospel advocates say, it can be HARD?even PAINFUL?to follow Jesus Christ.
You may think, ?Well, pastor, it isn?t hard for me. I?m a Christian and I haven?t had to bear a cross.? And if that describes your life, then you are not alone. As I inferred earlier, we live in a day of ?casual Christianity.? I read this week that the average church could drop one fourth of its members from the roll and neither the church nor the dropped members would notice any difference. Casual Christians want the forgiveness the cross of Christ brings…they want warm, fuzzy moments on Sunday mornings but they offer no commitment to Jesus on Monday mornings. In short, they want the crown without the cross.
Listen?if you?re feeling a little uncomfortable right now because you realize my words are hitting close to home. I mean, if your Christian walk is more casual than committed…then I would suggest you ask yourself this question, ?How close am I really following Jesus?? If you?re following Him closely it?s going to be hard. In fact I would go so far as to say you can?t have the crown without the cross. You can?t have a growing relationship with our Lord unless you are living out your faith in a way that it costs you something. I say this because in this verse Jesus didn?t say that TAKING UP YOUR CROSS was an optional thing. He said that following Him?includes cross bearing. So?if your faith isn?t costing you anything?if it hasn?t been hard for you to follow Jesus, could it be due to the fact that you aren?t going against the flow? Could it be because you aren?t really laying down your life and living as Jesus would want?
Now?I must add here that following Jesus?even though it means difficulty and hardship?paying the cost of being His disciple is WORTH it. There is no greater joy to be had in this life than walking with Jesus?even though doing this involves hardship. I say this because the trials that come just push us closer to Jesus. They deepen our relationship as we learn to trust Him to help us through ?cross-bearing? experiences.
In February 2001, John Oros spoke to an audience at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary about his experience as a church leader in Romania during the Communist era. He said, ?During communism, many of us preached and people came up at the end of a service, and they said, ?I have decided to become a Christian.? We told them, ?It is good that you want to become a Christian, but we would like to tell you that there is a price to be paid. Why don?t you reconsider what you want to do, because many things can happen to you. You can lose, and you can lose big.? A high percentage of these people chose to take part in a three-month catechism class. At the end of this period, many participants declared their desire to be baptized. Typically, I would respond, ?It is really nice that you want to become a Christian, but when you give your testimony there will be informers here who will jot down your name. Tomorrow the problems will start. Count the cost. Christianity is not easy. It?s not cheap. You can be demoted. You can lose your job. You can lose your friends. You can lose your neighbors. You can lose your kids who are climbing the social ladder. You can lose even your life.??
Then Oros said, ?Let me tell you my joy when we looked into their eyes, and their eyes were in tears as they told us, ?If I lose everything but my personal relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ, it is still worth it.??
Those were authentic Christ-followers! They knew Jesus well enough to understand that the value of knowing Him and following far outweighs the cost! They knew that the CROWN is worth the cross!
Okay?let?s review. Genuine disciples lay something down…they take something up…and then finally…
(3) A disciple of Jesus Christ LIVES something OUT.
Listen to Jesus? words one more time: ?If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross?AND FOLLOW ME.? Now, the literal translation of this last phrase would be this, ?let him follow Me day after day after day.? In other words being a disciple of Jesus is a process that takes a life-time. It?s more of a marathon than a sprint…a marathon we don?t complete until we cross the finish line and arrive in Heaven. Only then do we finally finish the race. Only then are we finally…FULLY like Jesus.
By the way, the word, ?disciple? means ?learner? and as a Christ-follower you are always learning. This is why there is no such thing as a ?know it all? disciple. This is why genuine disciples are humble. They know they don?t know it all!
Years ago there was a graduation ceremony at a small liberal arts college. The number of graduates was rather small, so as the student?s name was called and he or she crossed the platform to receive the diploma, each one was allowed to say a few words into the microphone about his or her future plans. Most mentioned the type of career they planned to pursue. The comment that got the best response was when a new graduate waived his diploma in the air and said, ?It?s time to stop learning and start living!?
This is the feeling many graduates have; they have worked hard for four (or more) years, and when they get that diploma they think they?re ready to reap the benefits of their hard work. Of course, most of them realize that learning doesn?t end when you get your degree. No matter what career track you pursue, you need to continue growing in knowledge of your field so you can stay sharp.
It is same way in the Christian life. We never reach a point where we can say, ?I have arrived and know all that I need to know.? Spiritual growth is a never-ending process of learning and applying God?s truth to our lives. To be a Christ-follower means to be a lifelong student. It?s something you live out day after day after day. Consider the Apostle Paul. He was, without a doubt, the most influential Christian in the history of the church. He wrote more than half of the New Testament. He started several churches and helped spread Christianity through out the known world. He was given the title of ?Apostle? which was the highest title authority in the early church. He used his authority to settle matters of doctrine and church policy. Yet, in spite of all of his influence and power, Paul never reached a point where he said, ?I have arrived. I know all that I need to know.? In fact, he said just the opposite. In verse 10 and 11 of Philippians 3 he said that he wanted to know Christ and be like Christ, then in verse 12 he writes, ?Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.? Paul was saying, ?I?m still learning. I?m still a student. I will be one all of my life.? That?s what following Christ is all about: being a lifelong student. I like how Colossians 2:6-7 puts it. It says,?As you receive Jesus Christ as Lord…so WALK in Him.?
When I was a kid, if you went to Sunday School without missing a Sunday all year long?well, at the end of that year they would give you a perfect attendance pin. Then every other year you had perfect attendance they would give you a little semi-circular wreath that would attach to the pin.
Some Sunday School attenders had a long chain of these perfect attendance wreaths dangling from their lapels. And?we used to make fun of that kind of thing. But you know, I kind of think we might ought to reinstate this award system…or something like it. Because being a disciple of Jesus is a life-long learning process. Christ followers SHOULD come to Sunday School every week AND things like Ladies Bible Study and men?s fraternity. They should have a daily quiet time. We need all the opportunities to learn about Jesus that we can get because being a disciple of Jesus is a life-long thing. We keep on learning. Discipleship is something you live out.
Let me put it this way. There is no such thing as INSTANT discipleship. Comedian Yakov Smirnoff said that when he first came to the United States from Russia, he wasn?t prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He said, ?On my first shopping trip, I saw POWDERED MILK?you just add water, and you get milk! Then I saw POWDERED ORANGE JUICE?you just add water and you get orange juice! And then I saw BABY POWDER and I thought to myself, WHAT A COUNTRY!? Many times we expect to become like Christ fast. But the radical reformation that turns a sinner into someone who thinks and feels and acts like Jesus takes a lifetime. As Hendricks says, ?Disciples are MADE not BORN.? And do you remember the way Eugene Peterson put it? He said, ?Christian discipleship is a long obedience in the same direction.?
Well, how are you doing when it comes to LIVING our your FAITH? Are you making progress on this marathon journey all Christ followers make? How are you doing on your studies? Are you involved in weekly Bible study? To be a disciple of Jesus you need this kind of thing every day of your life.
We close our service each week with a time of evaluation. And today I?d like all Christ followers present to prayerfully examine their walk with our Lord. As yourself, ?How am I doing when it comes to dying to self? Am I letting Jesus guide my every decision?? Maybe this morning you need to bow your head and say to God, ?I accept Your invitation to come into Your presence.
I?m committing to spending time every day talking to and listening to You God.? You may need to say, ?Forgive me Father for all the ways I ignore the crosses You call me to bear.
Forgive me for going with the flow of this fallen world because it?s easier to do that then to stand up for you and live out my faith.? You may need to say, ?Father, forgive me for in essence dropping out of school Forgive me for being so lax in learning how to be more and more like Jesus.?
Some of you may need to come forward and say, ?I have heard all this and I want to sign up.
I want to follow Jesus. I?m beginning the journey today. I?ve asked Jesus to forgive me of my sin and to lead me through life.? Some of you may feel God leading you to join this church family. Won?t you respond now as God leads?