The book of Matthew ends with Jesus issuing a dramatic challenge to his followers. Matthew 28:16-20 says “16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them 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.”
Jesus took his disciples up on a mountain to talk with them. In Biblical times, and especially in Matthew’s Gospel, experiences with God happened on mountains. People viewed mountaintops as being closer to the heavens so they were closer to God. There they worshipped Jesus and he gave them what we call the Great Commission. They were already disciples of Jesus and he commanded them to go out into the world and make even more disciples. The book of Acts tells us this is exactly what they did.
This command from Jesus wasn’t only for the original eleven disciples. It’s also relevant for us. We are also commanded to make disciples. How do we do this? How do we make disciples? While there isn’t an easy-to-follow formula, there is a place we have to start. Before we can make disciples, we first have to be disciples ourselves.
Wait a minute! We’re Christians who believe Jesus is the Messiah and that salvation is found in him alone. Doesn’t this automatically make us disciples. Not necessarily. The question isn’t “Am I a Christian?” The question is “Am I a disciple?” There is a difference. We can fool others and even ourselves into thinking we’re disciples with our outward appearances, such as attending church and quoting the Bible. The only way to tell if we really are disciples is to look at what we’re made of on the inside. This is revealed in what we say and how we act when other Christians aren’t watching us.
Acts 11:26b tells us “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” There is a debate among scholars as to whether or not this was a term of derision since it was likely coined by non-Christians. Either way, it eventually became an acceptable term for the followers of . So, a Christian is simply “a follower of Jesus Christ.” According to Harper’s Bible Dictionary, a disciple is “an apprentice or pupil attached to a teacher or movement; one whose allegiance is to the instruction and commitments of the teacher or movement.” A follower doesn’t have to be as dedicated to Jesus as a disciple does. It’s possible to be a follower who wants Jesus to be his or her Savior but doesn’t want Jesus to be his or her Lord. The term disciple implies a deep commitment to do ones best to live out the teachings of Jesus. This only happens when Jesus is Lord. Many Christians want Jesus to give them eternal fire insurance but they don’t want Jesus telling them how to live their lives. This means they aren’t true disciples.
For example, many Christians will skip Sunday morning worship when the regular pastor is away because they think they might not be “fed” by the guest speaker. Disciples won’t do this because they desire to meet Jesus not only through the sermon of the guest speaker, but also through prayer, music, meeting with other Christians and in Sunday school classes.
Christians may try to justify their sin when God or others confront them about it. Disciples won’t because they understand their sin grieves God. They want to overcome it through the power of Jesus which is inside of them. This doesn’t mean disciples are perfect because everyone struggles with sin. It does mean, however, that they don’t try to justify it so they can keep doing it.
Many Christians act one way at church but another way the rest of the week. True disciple won’t because they understand being a disciple of Jesus is a lifestyle. It isn’t just a Sunday morning event.
Many Christians post inappropriate materials on social media. Disciples won’t because they understand posting offensive or off-colored materials makes them a bad Christian witness to a world that is watching to see if their actions match what they say they believe.
Many Christians wake up on Sunday morning and ask, “Are we going to church today?” Disciples don’t ask this because they’ve made a commitment to worship unless circumstances prevent them from being there.
Parents, do your children see you act like a disciple of Jesus when you aren’t at church? Spouses, do you love your husband or wife the way Jesus says you should? Business professionals, do the people you deal with see Jesus in the way you interact with them? Neighbors, would those living around you say you’re a disciple of Jesus based on the way you treat them? Living the life of a disciple is difficult because it requires personal discipline and a deep commitment to Jesus.
It is also a lifestyle of adventure. Luke 14:25-35 says “25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
In this passage, Jesus is talking to a large crowd which was predominately Jewish. Jesus had a profound understanding regarding their difficulties, desires and culture. Family was very important to them. Jesus was saying, “If you want to be my disciple, I must be more important to you than your family is. As a matter of fact, I must be more important to you than life itself.” This isn’t a command to abandon or neglect our families but it is a command to make following Jesus more important than our family units.
In verses 28-30, Jesus discussed understanding the cost of completing a tower. Contemporary scholar N.T. Wright believes the tower refers to the temple in Jerusalem. Their temple was the pride and joy of the Jewish nation. It was where they celebrated their holy days, offered sacrifices and worshipped God. If N.T Wright is correct, Jesus is saying, “You’re so proud of your temple and what it represents. It is a grand structure and it’s impressive. The problem is you’re more concerned with the building than you are with serving the God you worship there.”
Then Jesus challenged them about understanding the cost of going to war. “Israel, you want to overthrow the Romans, but I’m not sure you realize how powerful they really are. Perhaps you should be concentrating on the peace I’m offering you instead of wanting to hold onto your land and possessions. If you don’t, you can’t be my disciple.”
Finally, he reminds them of their purpose. “Sisters and brothers of Israel, God chose you to be his people. You are to be the salt that flavors the earth with God’s kingdom. You’ve forgotten your purpose. You’re more concerned with your family and having a comfortable life than you are with doing God’s work. Quit bragging about your temple. It’s about to be destroyed. Seek God’s peace instead of desiring war with Rome so you can hold onto your possessions. If you don’t remember your purpose and start doing God’s work, God is going to throw you out.”
In many ways, we’re not so different from the Jews Jesus was talking with in this passage. Our families can become more important to us than Jesus. The church building where we worship can become more important to us than the God we worship in it. We can become more concerned with holding onto our lands and possessions than we are with following Jesus out into the world. We often forget our purpose and start focusing on other things.
When we make Jesus more important than our families, our possessions and even life itself, walking with Jesus becomes an adventure because he leads us into unexpected places so we can do his will. If we aren’t at this place in our walk with Jesus, we aren’t true disciples. We might be Christians, but we aren’t disciples.
After we become disciples ourselves, what is the next thing we need to do? We must follow Jesus commands to go, make, baptize and teach. We must be willing to put in the time and effort that is needed to make disciples. Its hard work to make disciples. This leads most people to either simply ignore Jesus’ command to make disciples or to try shortcuts. Shortcuts don’t work. There are no substitutes for putting in the time and effort that is needed.
Another obstacle we face is Satan. He likes to keep us so busy doing church work that we don’t have the time, energy, or desire to make disciples. We can convince ourselves this is OK since we’re doing all of these good things for God. The problem with this mindset is Jesus didn’t say, “Be busy with church work.” He said “Go and make disciples.” All of the work we do at Snake Spring Valley Church of the Brethren is great but in the eyes of Jesus it isn’t a substitute for making disciples.
We see a scary truth when we look closely at what Jesus said in Matthew 28:16-20. Jesus commissioned us to make disciples. Not angels. Not the Holy Spirit. Not Jesus himself. But us.
So, where do we go from here? There are three simple things we can do.
1) Ask God to show me if I’m really a disciple or just a follower. It’s fairly easy for us to look like a disciple on the outside but God knows what’s on the inside. If God shows you you’re just a follower, give yourself to him so he can make you a disciple. Going from simply being a Christian to being a disciple is a process that may take some time but it has to start somewhere.
2) Ask God who he wants me to disciple. God knows who has a heart for him. Allow him to lead you to them.
3) Go make disciples. Love sinners like God loves them. Share your faith with them. Help them in their time of need. Seek justice for the poor and for the aliens over personal wealth and comfort. Make sure people know Jesus is more important to you than the church building is. A great place to start is by using the principles we gave you last fall in the Friendship Evangelism paper.
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is the hardest thing we’ll ever do. It’s also the most rewarding thing that will happen to us this side of heaven.