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Faith Bible Church, NY
October 8, 1995
How To Make Disciples of Jesus Christ, Part 2
We concluded our verse by verse examination of the book of Matthew two weeks ago, but this morning I want to continue where we left off last week in discussing how we can carry out in practical terms the Great Commission that has been given to us. Matthew concludes his gospel account Matthew 28:18-20 with Jesus saying to his followers, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Again, let me remind you that Jesus is giving those who believe in Him a command, not a suggestion. In addition, this is a command that can be carried out because of who Jesus is, not because of who we are. Our availability is much more important than our ability. It is because Jesus has all authority that he has both the right to issue this command and the power to work through us to accomplish it.
The command itself is to make disciples, and that is done by going to all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe/obey all things whatsoever He has commanded. Last week we really only began to scratch the surface of how to do this in practical terms. The ideas here are simple enough, but there is a great difference between being told to do something and the actual doing of it.
Last week I pointed out that for the most part the American church has failed in evangelism because its message has become distorted. Evangelism in American has been understood and practiced as the means to save people from hell rather than the starting point of making a disciple of Christ. American pragmatism and desire for quick success has resulted in Four spiritual laws and one easy prayer as the way of salvation. Evangelists who have a greater concern about getting another spiritual scalp on their belt than truly introducing a person to the Lord Jesus Christ have inoculated many people against the true gospel. That is why we run into so many people that claim to be Christians but their lives continue to be an utter mess because they have no personal relationship with Christ Jesus as Lord of their lives.
Lets be clear: walking an aisle, raising your hand, or even praying a prayer does not save you. Salvation comes when you are regenerated by the Holy Spirit. When you who were dead in your transgressions were made alive with Christ by the Spirit (Eph. 2:5). Salvation is not an emotional feeling to give you positive self-esteem and introduce you to a cosmic grandpa who will give you whatever your heart desires. Salvation is from sin and its consequences. It is being delivered from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). Your masters are no longer sin, Satan, and self, but the Lord Jesus Christ and righteousness (Rom. 6, etc.).
The starting point of making a disciple is evangelism and evangelism is simply introducing people to Jesus Christ. Evangelism leads to salvation, but it itself is not saving people. I cannot save anyone, and neither can you. God does the saving. Evangelism is proclaiming who Jesus is and what He has done in providing a way to be reconciled to God. We tell people the good news of Jesus Christ, but it is God that does the work of salvation.
Last week we examined invitations Jesus gave in John 1 to those who would become his first followers. John, Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael were all disciples of John the Baptist. They were looking for the coming of Messiah. They were perfect prospects, yet even here we find that Jesus did not try to gain from them any sort of permanent commitment. He simply used the interest they already had to attract them to come and learn more of Him. It was Andrew that told Peter and they together must have talked to Philip who then went and told Nathanael, each of them asking the others to come and see for themselves who they had found. That was evangelism; they told others the good news about what they had found and invited others to come and find out for themselves. That is what we are to do. To tell others what we have found in Jesus Christ and invite others to learn about Him too.
Jesus’ pattern stays the same all through His ministry. In the case of Nicodemus in John 3 Jesus simply explains to Nicodemus should he have already known as a ruler in Israel (vs 1). There is no emotional appeal, but a simple declaration of the truth with both its positive and negative aspects. Jesus used an Old Testament story that Nicodemus would understand to explain. Verse 14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. 20 “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 “But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
Nicodemus understood the main point of all of this. Numbers 21 records that God had sent poisonous snakes among the Israelites in the wilderness as punishment for their rebellion. If you got bit by one of these fiery serpents, you would die. The only cure was to believe what God had told Moses. God had Moses make a statue of a bronze serpent and set it on a standard outside the camp. God then said that anyone who was bit by a snake that would go look at that bronze serpent would live.
Eternal life would be given to those that would come and believe on Jesus. Belief is not intellectual assenting, but a life changing understanding of what is true. Belief encompasses knowledge, faith, and trust. Notice how Jesus correlates belief, coming to the light, and practicing the truth. All three are elements that exist in a person who is given eternal life. Those who manifest the opposite: disbelief, loving the darkness and practicing evil, are condemned.
We do not find anywhere that Jesus tried to push Nicodemus into any decision. Jesus laid out the truth and let Nicodemus wrestle with the ramifications in his own life. There is no coercion, no intimidation, no forcing Nicodemus into a decision he is not ready to make. From the beginning of their conversation in verse 2, Jesus simply brings Nicodemus to an ever greater understanding of the truth. We do not find out until the end of the book that Nicodemus did indeed become of one of Jesus’ followers.
This same sort of approach can be seen in John 4 and Jesus’ dealings with the woman at the well. Jesus gains this woman’s interest by bre aking the prejudicial social norms and asking her for a drink. He then turned the conversation to spiritual things to both expose here heart and declare to her the truth. She eventually reveals her own expectation for the coming Messiah and Jesus tells her that He is the Messiah. She then goes and invites the rest of the town to come and check Jesus out for themselves. At their request Jesus stayed two days and many came to believe because of His word (4:41). Again, no coercion, no intimidation, no forcing anyone into decisions they were not ready to make. He gained their interest and responded to their desire to know more.
Jesus does not try to sell Himself. There are no emotional appeals made to sway large numbers of people to follow Him. His many miracles would attract people to follow Him and have an initial belief in Him, but invariably Jesus would teach something that would result in many of those people leaving. Jesus not only made it easy for someone to say no to Him, He continued to make it more difficult to say yes.
In John 2:23-25 we find “many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man.” Jesus knew that their “belief” was shallow and would soon dry up.
In John 6 there were many that followed Jesus because He had just feed the 5,000 plus with 5 loaves and two fish. In verse 29 He responded to the people’s request to know what work they should do for God that “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He has sent.” A great start for an evangelistic message to get them all “saved,” but as Jesus continued the people found His teaching difficult (vs 60). Jesus responded to their grumbling in verse 64 by stating directly that He knew there were some there that did not believe, and in vs 65 Jesus adds, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.” That was the last straw for many. Verse 66 says, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore.” Was Jesus a lousy evangelist or is “making disciples” something different than the American evangelical concept of getting people “saved”?
In John 8:30 we find that many came to “believe in Him” as He spoke about being the light of the world. Yet in the next verse we find that Jesus is saying to “those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'” These same Jews took this as a challenge. In the course of the dialogue Jesus declares that they were seeking to kill Him (vs. 37,40) and that they were doing the deeds of their father the devil (44). They in turn lied (33), insinuated that Jesus was illegitimate (41,48), of being demon possessed (48), and then picked up stones to stone Him for blasphemy (59). Obviously from this incident we must conclude that there must be some more substance to belief that brings salvation than the kind of belief these people had.
In John 10 we see Jesus go another round with the Pharisees. They wanted to know if Jesus was or was not the Christ (vs. 24). By the time their conversation was ended they had again picked up rocks to stone Jesus (31). Jesus told them that even if they did not believe what He said, they should believe the works He did (38), yet they were still seeking to seize him (39). Jesus then left and went beyond the Jordan where John had been baptizing. Some of those who had been in Jerusalem went there to hear more from Jesus and “many believed in Him there” (42).
The first step of making a disciple is evangelism, and evangelism is not getting the person saved, it is introducing them to Jesus and telling them the truth about Him. That does not necessarily mean we tell them everything at once. Jesus caught the interest of people and invited them to learn more. He revealed the more difficult doctrines as his disciples were ready for them, but Jesus did not hide things either. I am greatly bothered by the trend in American evangelism to purposefully withhold information from people so it will be easier for them to make a “decision for Christ.” What kind of commitment can people make if they are not told the truth about the depravity of man, the necessity of confession and repentance (turning from sin to God), the Lordship of Christ, and the consequences of being a Christian, including being hated and persecuted by this sinful world?
Jesus invited people to come to Him, to learn of Him, and to believe in Him. At the same time, Jesus allowed people the room to say no. And to those who would begin to follow, Jesus would make it harder to continue in following Him. In some cases, Jesus made it very difficult to follow Him. The example of the rich young ruler in Mark 10 is a case in point.
Outwardly this man looked ready. What an opening question! Verse 17, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” You almost want to jump into the text and say, “quick Jesus, get this man saved before he gets away. Tell Him to believe in you and have him pray saying that he does so that he is in!” But does Jesus do? He challenges him and makes it very difficult for him to say yes.
18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” 20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” 21 And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property. 23 And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”
The problem with this man was not his wealth, but his heart. Like many rich people, he heart was attached to his wealth. Jesus was not being mean. The text says that Jesus felt a love for the man, but salvation is a matter of the heart and this man’s heart was not really on God. Jesus gave him an invitation to come and follow Him, but his wealth was more important to him than a relationship with the living God. He wanted salvation, but only on his terms, not on God’s.
I believe that this is the truth behind so many that profess to be Christians but have no evidence of it being a reality. They wanted salvation on their own terms and someone told them they could have it that way. The reality is that their hearts are still far from God and they do not know Jesus as Lord or savior.
The apostles did not “market salvation” or “sell Jesus.” They boldly proclaimed the truth about Jesus and salvation. Peter’s first two sermons in Acts 2 and Acts 3 would not qualify as good evangelistic messages by today’s standards, but the first sermon resulted in 3,000 being saved and the second about 5,000. The second also resulted in him and John being thrown in prison where they gave another sermon.
What did Peter do? He boldly proclaimed Jesus as Lord and Christ showing that he fulfilled God’s prophecies. He boldly laid the guilt of sin upon his audience including Jesus death. They cried out to know how to be saved and he said, “Repent.” The same thing Jesus had preached at the beginning of His ministry. Then Peter called on them to identify themselves with Christ by being baptized in Jesus name for the forgiveness of sins.
Stephen preached the same way in Acts 7. It brought such conviction on the rulers that they were “cut to the quick” and ended up stoning him. Philip, called the evangelist (21:8) went to Samaria and was “proclaiming Christ to them” (8:5) with the result that many believe and were baptized. When Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch later in the chapter Philip “preached Jesus to him” (8:35), with the result that the man believed and was baptized.
Paul’s messages are no different than these. In Pisidian, Antioch (Acts 13), Paul’s sermon sounds like Peter’s and Stephen’s given earlier. He gives an account of God’s dealings with Israel throughout history. He shows by the Old Testament and by what Jesus taught and did that Jesus is the Christ. He warns them about neglecting what he was preaching. After his sermon he spent the rest of the time “urging them to continue in the grace of God” (13:43). The result: some believed and some did not and fought against him and his message. The same thing occurs throughout the rest of his missionary travels.
I don’t believe Paul ever had a short message. He preached so late at Troas that a fellow named Eutychus who had been sitting on a window sill on the third fell asleep and then fell out the window and died. Paul had to go down and raise him from the dead before he could continue preaching until daybreak. Even in Acts 16, where one of Paul’s shortest responses is recorded, Paul makes a full presentation of Christ. The Philippian jailer came to him fearful and desperate and cried out, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” But Paul did not stop there. “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.“
Look through all the scriptures and see if you can find some short cut to salvation. You can’t because salvation has to do with a relationship with God that has been broken by sin. The sinner must be reconciled to God by the savior. That is why we must proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ and not market salvation. One leads to the bondage of sin being broken while the other leads to people feeling good but still bound for hell. And don’t think the deception of a false gospel cannot go deep. Those Jesus refers to in Matthew 7 thought they were serving Christ and doing miracles in His name, but Jesus said to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
So the first step in making a disciple is evangelism, but we must be careful not to bring people into a false profession of faith or give them false assurance. We need to tell people the gospel. We need to be resourceful in evangelism and find the point of interest that we can use to invite people to learn more of Jesus. We do need to entreat them to respond and be reconciled with God (2 Cor. 5:20), but we also need to make sure that they understand who Jesus is, what it means to believe in Him, and the consequences of that. We need to give them room to say no. They do not have to pray with us to get saved.
Many of you here this morning prayed to receive Christ while by yourself. You had been searching into the Scriptures and learning about Jesus and His claims. Finally, it all came together. You knew you were a sinner justly under God’s condemnation and you wanted that guilt removed. You did not want to continue to live in your current sinful manner. You knew that Jesus, God in human flesh, paid the death penalty for in your place on the cross. You understood that because He rose from the dead His promise of forgiveness and eternal life was true, so you cried out to God to forgive you because of Jesus and you asked Him to break the bondage sin had on you and to take control and lead you in a new life.
Others of you did the same thing but did have someone with you and guide you as you pleaded for God’s mercy. In either case, salvation came as the Holy Spirit regenerated your heart and you became alive in Him in order to walk in His fellowship (Eph 2; 1Jn 1).
The first step of making a disciple is for every Christian to be involved in. No true Christian is excused from this endeavor. You do not need to be an accomplished theologian able to answer everyone’s objections. You just need to have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. You simply tell people what you do know and invite them to come learn more about Jesus and seek the Lord themselves. That is all Andrew did with Peter. That is all that Philip did with Nathanael. That is really all that Peter, John, Paul and the other apostles did when you get down to it.
I am not saying that this will be easy for you. It might scare you. People might even make fun of you. The neighborhood kids were doing that to Jonathan this past week because he tells them about the Lord a lot. He was a bit hurt and did not understand why anyone would not want to know the Lord. Would to God that each of us had a relationship with God that was so close we would feel the same way: why would anyone not want a relationship with Him?
May each of us become bold as we step out in obedient faith to fulfill this first aspect of going and making disciples and introducing people to our Jesus. Inviting them to come and learn more of Him.
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