Friday, April 24, 2015

“The Call to Discipleship”

Second Quarter 2015 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"The Call to Discipleship"
For the week of April 25, 2015

Jesus' call to discipleship flowed from His very life. We see the elements of this in the Luke 5 story when His passion to share "the word of God" (Luke 5:1) led Him to ask a favor of a fisherman--to use Simon's boat as a floating vantage point from which He could teach the people (verse 3). He must have exuded great joy in the process of casting the word and of succeeding in catching people's hearts for an eternal kingdom (Luke 1:33; 4:43; compare Dan. 2:44). And He must have thought of the parallel between catching fish with a net and catching men with the word. For next He cast His word to the fisherman in two simple steps.

First, He hinted loudly at the genuine success awaiting those who enter that unselfish joy, by sending Simon out to fish in a way that the fisherman questioned. But Simon had apparently heard enough of the power of "the word of God" from this humble man from Nazareth to submissively say, "At Thy word I will" (verse 5). The miraculous results convinced him that Jesus' word had a power that somehow embraced him while convincing him, by contrast, what "a sinful man" he was (verse 8). Apparently the obvious miracle of "Thy word" awed Simon and his partners, James and John (verse 10), to the point of fear. So Jesus took the second step, and further embraced Simon with the words, "Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men." This simple prediction, flowing from a heart of faith and love rather than shear foreknowledge, resulted not only in Simon abandoning his occupation of seeking fish to follow the Fisher of men, but also in drawing James and John with him. "They forsook all, and followed Him" (verse 11).

Do not miss the simplicity of what happened. Jesus was sharing "the word of God." The power of the word consists in the fact that it contains the faith of God (Rom. 10:17; 3:2-4), an expression of the unselfish love that God is (1 Cor. 13:7; 1 John 4:8, 16), that defines His kingdom. This actually draws people because they feel valued in a new and deeper way than they have experienced. They see a future for themselves that many had been unable even to dream of. Those who respond positively to this drawing power are said to have faith, to believe. They accept the vision God casts to them in His word. They are caught in His net of love.

But this net is not an enwrapping of bondage. It is in fact the opposite. The story of Jesus in John 8 makes this very plain. As He engaged in a dialog concerning who He was (verses 12, 24, 25), apparently initiated by His words, both spoken and written, freeing an accused woman (verses 1-11), He touched on the essence of this love at the core of the eternal kingdom. "I am not alone" (verse 16). This is so much more than the absence of loneliness. It speaks volumes about who He was in the context of the unselfish nature of His love. "I do nothing of Myself" (verse 28). Jesus described this unselfishness in this way: "He that sent me is with Me: the Father hath not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him" (verse 29).

This was so appealing, that the next verse recorded a miracle--the miracle of faith. "As He spake these words, many believed on Him" (verse 30). Again note the simplicity of what happened. He described the dynamic of unselfish love that drove His unselfishness. His words cast a net of beauty that captivated "many"! They caught this vision of faith working by love. Their hearts responded positively. They desired to join that circuit of beneficence, and their faith responses completed the circuit apparently for the first time. But would it continue to flow? That is the question of discipleship.

The faith of Jesus was also looking for faith, just as love is always looking for love. When He saw the faith response here, His desire was to nurture and protect it. So His immediate advice was, "If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed" (verse 31). Life would continue, and the faith response to His word of faith would be tested by contrary circumstances and feelings that would tempt to a selfish response of no faith and no love. These negative choices would break the circuit, severing the need to "continue in My word." But only in the continuity of responding unselfishly to His unselfish love could one be among that privileged group--"My disciples indeed"! Submitting to this discipline is, in contrast to the bondage selfishness sees in it, the only way to actual freedom. Because, Jesus told the new believers, "ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"--free "of sin", "free indeed" (verses 32, 34, 36).

This "disciples indeed" reality is what the twelve represented in an intimate way. We see in Luke 6 how Jesus chose "twelve" from among "His disciples." It was as if He said, I will call them into the inner circle of My love, so they can learn its life lessons. So He named them "apostles"--ones He would in turn send out to represent and demonstrate this love to an ever-widening circle of hearers and disciples. But did they realize the practicality of it? What of their selfishness that needed still to be removed by this path of discipline into which the net of His love had drawn them? It is hinted at in the setting of His choosing them, and naming them "apostles." Luke recorded the two events that led to this special choosing and naming.

His healing of the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath resulted in a crisis over the principle of unselfish love in contrast to its opposite. Jesus described them in His question before the healing, "to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?" (verse 9). The response of the scribes and Pharisees was "madness" in which they "communed one with another what they might do to Jesus" (verse 11). Mark is more explicit. Reaching out to create a confederacy, they "straightway took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him" (Mark 3:6; compare John 8:37, 40, 44). Unselfishness gives; it gives life, ultimately one's own life. Selfishness takes; it takes life, ultimately another's life--murder. So being Jesus' disciple meant being trained to give to the point of martyr. It was the reality of that principle working out in the story that led Jesus "out into a mountain to pray, and [He] continued all night in prayer to God" (Luke 6:9). It was time to call twelve into this type of school, and He could not do it "of Myself!"

Luke 9 pictures this "disciple school" with Jesus' calling, giving, and sending. Jesus called the twelve He had chosen, to give them "power and authority" (verse 1). Being allied with, and representatives of, the King of love would enable them the motive power and the position authority to deliver those in bondage to "devils" and "diseases." Using the verb form of "apostle," Luke recorded that Jesus sent them "to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick" (verse 2). In Matthew, Jesus' words embodied the dynamic heart of this circuit of reaching out to others from Jesus' circuit with them--"freely ye have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:10; compare "their work" in Ezek. 1:16).

This preaching and healing the twelve did "everywhere" (verse 6). How did they know how to do this? The discipline of their Teacher in modeling for them these very activities empowered their beginning steps of "so doing" (Luke 12:43). Luke's record up to this point of the verb form of "gospel"--translated variously as "preach," "preach the gospel," "gospel is preached," "bring good tidings," "show glad tidings" (Luke 1:19; 2:10; 3:18; 4:18,43; 7:22; 8:1)--stretched from the actions of the angel at Jesus' birth, to those of John the Baptist, and finally to Jesus Himself. Luke 8:1 plainly says as Jesus was "preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God" that "the twelve were with Him." It is from that background the twelve knew what to say, and how to say it, to cast that net of love.

Later in Luke 9 Jesus introduced the graduate course in this school of discipleship. He was headed to the ultimate demonstration of unselfishness. "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day" (verse 22). Matthew interjects Peter's response, likely representing the other eleven. A literal translation reveals the lesson yet to be learned. "Be kind to Thyself, Sir; this shall not be to Thee" (Matt. 16:22, Young's Literal Translation). The contrast was stark--"nothing of Myself" versus "be kind to Thyself"! They were slow to see and embrace where this school was going. They were blinded by some selfish plans they brought along when they "forsook all."

And so Jesus became very explicit about what "continue in My word" really meant. "And He said to them all [not just Peter], If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). His path was clear. If one wished to "come after Me," to "follow Me," "nothing of Myself" means to "deny himself, and take up his cross daily." From this statement we can strongly affirm that the daily cross of Jesus led to Calvary's cross. We can't preach or heal like Jesus unless we give up self like Jesus.This is the heart of discipleship.

During their time with Jesus, He entrusted two duties to them, to preach and to heal. Before the cross there was no command to "teach." They were still under the tutelage of Jesus. Maturity is required for teaching. One babe can't teach another. (See John 16:12; compare with 1 Cor. 3:1-3; Heb. 5:11-14). And so they finally entered this graduate course by encountering Jesus' literal cross, which was death to all their selfish plans. In their immaturity (read "selfishness"), these who had forsaken all to follow Him, "all forsook Him, and fled" (Mark 14:50). One of the twelve dropped out of school at that point. But through the faith of Jesus (Matt. 26:31, 32), the eleven went on with the course. Jesus' resurrection brought them a "living hope," anchored in the Bible study Jesus gave them (1 Pet. 1:3; Luke 24:27, 44, 45). They matured with this, and thus Jesus was able for the first time to give the surviving eleven the challenge of teaching (Matt. 28:16, 19, 20). Their maturity (read "unselfishness") was manifest in the unity that resulted from their embracing the cross in all its dimensions (Acts 1:14). And when the humility of their unselfish Teacher was exalted to the right hand of God, as our High Priest, He imparted His promised Replacement, "the Spirit of the truth" that would guide them "into all the truth" (Phil. 2:9; Acts 2:33; John 16:13). This is the seal of discipleship.

The gospel net of love cast in the book of Acts captured a murderer named Saul (Acts 8:1; 9:1). Immediately he became a target of murder plots (9:29). Through a series of intense discipleship courses he was transformed into Paul an apostle of love (14:4; compare 1 Cor. 1:9; 15:8, 9; 2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11, 12), as well as a teacher of love (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). It was the reality of the accomplishments of Jesus' unselfish love on the cross that captured and changed this man (Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 5:14). This is the goal of discipleship. Do you hear the calling?
-Fred Bischoff