We’ve come to the end. Jesus has risen from the dead. He has gone before his disciples to Galilee. And here on the mountain he appears to them and gives them what has become known as the, “Great Commission”. As Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus’ command to us is not to come to church. Instead the church was and has always been a vehicle to make disciples. So today I want to answer three questions.
- What are unsure signs of a disciple?
- What are true signs of a disciple?
- How do we make disciples?
One of the hard things about the Gospel of Matthew is that Jesus puts a cost to discipleship. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out grace is free but it is not cheap. The grace we receive from Jesus Christ was paid for with his own blood. It is a costly grace. And many of the things that we associate with being saved are simply not certain signs of salvation according to the Gospel of Matthew they are not signs that we are true disciples. In Matthew Jesus tells us that there are three things that are not sure signs that we are his disciples.
First, Jesus points out the outward unsure sign of religious devotion. What does Jesus say about prayer and fasting? Don’t do it to impress people. It doesn’t matter whether or prayers are eloquent or simple. It doesn’t matter whether we fast once a week, once a month, or not at all. Attending church, giving our tithe, volunteering for church events, all these things while good and essential to the church life, are not sure signs of salvation.
A second unsure sign of being a disciple is a verbal confession. What does Jesus say in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Now Jesus warns us to be careful not to judge both in our everyday life and especially in issues of eternal judgment. But protestant Christianity has so reacted against works in favor of belief that we don’t talk about when there is little relation to what we say as Christians and what we do as Christians.
Another unsure sign of being a disciple of Christ is being powerful, effective, and successful, may that be in ministry or in life. Jesus tells this story about the final judgment where people claim to know him but don’t. These folks are surprised and they respond, “ Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” Again it is not that these things are bad. Indeed, as we learned from our studies after Jesus says this he teaches his disciples to do many of the things in this passage. It is good to have effective ministry. But such ministry can be easily compromised if we have power but no character. Our lives can be compromised if we exercise power, even the power of God, without God changing our hearts. Effectiveness, success, is neither something that condemns us nor something that affirms that we are disciples. It is simply a tool that God can use for his purposes.
These are signs that we simply cannot depend on to tell if we are others are disciples, if we are Christians, if we are saved. They are not bad in themselves. God can use them for good. But they give no certainty that we are truly following Jesus.
If these are not reliable signs then what are? Are not these normally the things we use to judge whether people are Christian or not Christian. What does Jesus in Matthew tell us that he judges us by?
Well first Jesus says that a disciple has an inward knowing, a revelation, that changes a person from the inside out. Maybe this revelation happens in an instant. Maybe it happens gradually till one day we realize we don’t see things the way we used to. What does Jesus say in Matthew 11:25, “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son expect the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all 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.” To be a disciple of Jesus is to know that we cannot approach the Father without him. It is to know his presence as he teaches us and humbles us through the yoke of His Holy Spirit and his Holy Word.
Second, Jesus tells us that a defining trait of his disciples is love. What does Jesus tell us the two greatest commandments are? “You shall love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment and the second is like it you shall love your neighbor as yourself. As 1 Corinthians 13 tells us this love is not self interested but is other focused, this love rejoices in the truth, this love rejoices in the dignity of others as creatures made in the image of God. This love reveals our brokenness and our need for the Lord and calls us home.
Third, true disciples show a new attitude. An attitude defined by the beatitudes. What does Jesus tell us in Matthew Chapter 5, “ Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “ What does Paul tell us the fruit of the Spirit are in Galatians 5, “ the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control; against such things there is no law.” None of us have progressed in all of these. But if we look at ourselves and find that we have none of these characteristics, than that should honestly cause us to reevaluate our relationship to the Lord. All of these characteristics can be summed up as humility. The ability to live close to the truth. The ability to admit when we are wrong and the ability to stand up for the courage of our convictions. Folks who have these attitudes are transparent. They live in the light as Jesus is in the light. You can see their faults and their strengths. And in their weakness you see the strength of Jesus Christ.
Finally, Jesus tells us that a true disciple endures in suffering. In Matthew 13 Jesus likens the God as one who sows the seed of the Kingdom, throwing the seed on different types of soil. In the words of Jesus, “ When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. AS for what was sown on rocky ground this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
So those are the unreliable and reliable signs of a disciple. How then do we make disciples? Well Jesus tells us. We baptize them. We remind them of God’s promises, his faithfulness, his grace. And we teach them everything that Jesus taught us. What did Jesus teach us? Well we have talked about how Jesus taught us about his grace and how he shapes our hearts in response to that grace. This is the most important thing. In terms of ministry he taught us to show mercy, to help to help the wounded. He taught us to pray for healing, to pray for what we need, believing that our Father who is in heaven will provide. And he taught us to be weary of the Devil and to ask deliverance from Him. Let us now be shaped into disciples. Let us now go out and make disciples.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.