I’m following on in the series of sermons Peter has been preaching on disciple making. He has asked me to preach on the topic ‘How Jesus Grew the Disciples.’ Let us look at this very interesting and important topic this morning.
Let us pray.
Speak your truth to us today, O God;
your word is truth.
Guide our minds by your Spirit,
that we may understand your word,
learn your will,
and follow you more closely
in the steps of Christ our Lord.
Let us take as an example the process of learning to drive a car from a driving instructor. Who remembers learning to drive a car? (Share some experiences then mine as Mum learnt to drive!) If you have had interesting experiences of learning to drive you might be better to imagine having a professional Driving Instructor teaching you for the purposes of this illustration! The Driving Instructor will teach you in two main ways. You will:
– receive instruction or teaching of the theory about how to drive a car and
– watch your teacher model how to drive a car which is the practice of how to drive a car.
You need to be taught or instructed on understanding the NZ Road Code or the theory of driving and you need to observe your teacher modelling how to drive correctly so you can see what to do in practice.
As a result of the Driving Instructor teaching you the theory and practice of driving a car by instruction and modelling, it’s now your turn as the learner driver. Just as the Driving Instructor taught you in two main ways so you learn in two main ways:
– you reflect on the theory you have been taught and try to understand the Road Code and how you will drive a car as a result of what you have learnt and
– you experiment by actually having a go at driving a car yourself by putting into practice what you have learnt from the instruction and modelling of the Driving Instructor and your own reflection on the Road Code.
In diagrammatic form it might look like this:.
Surrounding this circle is another circle with four words in it.
- Affirmation. The Driving Instructor should give you encouragement and affirmation when you are doing well! As a learner driver you need affirmation!
- Accountability. When you need help or correction in your driving the Driving Instructor is there to give you that help. The learner driver is accountable to the Driving Instructor and to obey the NZ Road Code. You are accountable as a car driver for how you drive.
These two, affirmation and accountability go together. You need both to help you become a competent car driver.
- Safety. While you are in the care of the Driving Instructor he or she keeps an eye on your safety as you learn to drive. If the Driving Instructor thinks there are safety issues for you to address, he or she will tell you and help you to be a safer driver. You as the learner driver might want to discuss safety issues with your instructor.
- Expectation. The expectation once you have learnt to drive and received your full licence is that you will not need such frequent or close help from your Driving Instructor. While you might want a revision lesson or check up on some points from time to time, the expectation is you will be a competent driver that can drive well for the rest of your life. You may even teach others to learn to drive too.
These two, safety and expectation go together too. While the expectation is for you to become a competent car driver, you need the safety of the Driving Instructor to keep an eye on you particularly while you are attaining your competence.
In looking at the Bible it seems that Jesus grew the disciples in much the same way as we learn to drive a car with Jesus as the driving instructor. Jesus gave instruction to the disciples when he preached in the synagogue in Luke 4:14-21 where he quoted from Isaiah ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Luke goes on to say, ‘Then he (Jesus) rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” This gave the disciples (and others) a clear view of the big picture of what Jesus was sent to earth to do. Jesus also gave instruction when he spoke to crowds out in the open like when he spoke about divorce and riches in Mark chapter 10. He also gave instruction to the disciples in small groups like when they went on a boat on the lake and a furious storm blew up and he calmed the storm. The disciples learnt a lot from that! (Mark 4:35-41). Also when the disciples were alone with Jesus they asked for further clarification of what he had said in public like with the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:10 onwards). So, Jesus gave instruction to his disciples as part of growing them as his disciples. This was how Jesus taught the disciples the theory of discipleship.
There was no shortage of modelling of the theory in practice by Jesus! It started with the call to the disciples to ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.’ (Mark 1:17) It is probably fair to say this was a call to both theory & practice. After Jesus had preached in the synagogue, he and the disciples went to Simon & Andrew’s home where Simon’s mother-in-law was sick. Jesus healed her immediately. This was modelling the theory of his preaching in the synagogue of healing people. (Mark 1:29-31). Jesus healed many other people in the presence of the disciples, drove out demons, healed lepers, forgave sins, etc. Jesus also modelled the lifestyle he expected his disciples to follow – like eating with sinners (tax collectors like Matthew) (Mark 2:13-17), making time to be with God in prayer on his own (Mark 1:35-37). This instruction & modelling went on at the same time so that the disciples were both learning from Jesus and seeing him model the lifestyle he wanted his disciples to follow.
While Jesus was giving instruction and modelling to the disciples he was also encouraging them to reflect on what they were learning in theory and practice. In Mark chapter 9 the disciples are asked to drive out an evil spirit, but they find they can’t. Later when the disciples are alone with Jesus they ask him why they couldn’t do that. That was a good reflection opportunity.
Jesus gave the disciples plenty of opportunities to experiment and put into practice what he had taught them. In Mark chapter 6 he sent them out two by two to preach that people should repent of their sins, to drive out demons and heal the sick. This was after they had received teaching from Jesus and seen how Jesus did this in practice.
So after a while the instructing, modelling, reflecting and experimenting were almost happening simultaneously, certainly all mixed in together if you read through any of the gospels. All this is a great model for us as we grow ourselves as disciples and grow other disciples. For new Christians or disciples there needs to be a period of learning/teaching/instruction and during that period the modelling of that instruction by the teacher. Like learning to drive a car the learner needs to experiment and reflect on what they have learnt. In our everyday discipleship, our walk with the Lord or whatever you might call it, we all need to constantly be learning from Jesus through reading his word to us from the Bible, observing his and other disciples modelling so we might improve our discipleship, reflecting on what we have learnt and putting it into practice in our lives. The Christian faith or the life of every disciple of Jesus is or should be a healthy balance of instruction and modelling from Jesus and reflection and experimenting based on our learning from Jesus.
Just the same as the Driving instructor model, surrounding this circle is another circle with the same four words in it.
- Affirmation. The Driving Instructor is Jesus. He will give you encouragement and affirmation when you are doing well! As a disciple you need affirmation from Jesus! Examples include Jesus responding to Thomas in John 21:24-29 where Jesus invites Thomas to put his finger in the wound on his side to prove it really is the crucified Jesus that has risen from the dead. Thomas is affirmed as a disciple.
- Accountability. When you need help or correction in your discipleship Jesus is there to give you that help. The disciple is accountable to Jesus and the Bible. You are accountable to Jesus for how you live your life. The best advice I can give you is to pray for Jesus’s guidance as a disciple and ask that he will guide you in what you should do with your life. Like the disciples debriefing with Jesus as mentioned earlier in Mark 6:30-32 we need to be prayerfully talking with Jesus about where he wants us to go with our life. We are also accountable to the church on earth, primarily our local church. Jesus had a team and sent people out at least two by two, not as individuals. We are a small part of God’s mission (not our own mission), and we need to remember we are called to be part of a team to do that. Therefore, we are accountable to our Church Leadership and to one another for our discipleship. These two, affirmation and accountability go together. You need both to help you become a mature disciple.
- Safety. Jesus is concerned for your safety for the whole of your life when you are his disciple. He is with you all the time. I have a wonderful Bedside Prayer Reminder both beside my bed and on my desk that shows a young man holding onto a ship’s wheel with Jesus right behind him with one hand on the young man’s shoulder and the other pointing the way through the stormy sea. The faces of both the young man and Jesus are calm as together they negotiate the stormy sea. This reminds me of the passage in Matthew 11:28-30, ‘Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ This is a powerful and loving image of Jesus. I think Jesus has one of his hands on every disciple’s shoulder all the time and his other hand is constantly pointing the way ahead. It is our choice to follow where Jesus leads us or not.
- Expectation. Jesus’s expectation for us is to be his disciples, growing in our discipleship and making other disciples. I’ve quoted from Isaiah and Luke earlier. To that we can add the Great Commission from Matthew 28:16-20 and even Mark 1:15, where Jesus says, ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News!’
Like the Driving Instructor you will know what Jesus wants you to do in living your life as a disciple as you mature in your life so you can get on with that, but unlike the Driving Instructor you must never get rid of him/her because you need Jesus’ guidance all the time and in fact you should draw closer to God as you grow and mature as a disciple.
These two, safety and expectation also go together. While the expectation is for you to become a mature disciple, you need the safety of Jesus to keep an eye on you and guide you, not only while attaining your maturity but for the whole of your life.
We have considered how Jesus grew the disciples during his earthly life.
Jesus instructed them in the theory of discipleship and modelled how to be a disciple by what he practiced and did when here on earth. The disciples reflected on the instruction they received and experimented by putting into practice all they had learnt and observed from Jesus. They did this surrounded by receiving affirmation from Jesus, being accountable and open to correction from him, appreciating the safety he offered them and keeping the big picture of Jesus’ mission before them as they grew and matured as disciples. In all this they had faith in Jesus and his word. They prayed for Jesus to guide them. We can do all this too by reading our Bible and learning from it on our own and with others. We have the help and support of other disciples (in particular our Minister, Elders and other church people) to help us on our journey as disciples of Jesus. We can also make disciples of others by sharing what we know and have learnt and modelling good discipleship. It is an on-going and constant process growing as disciples. There is always room to improve yourself as a disciple of Jesus Christ. May we remember this Christmas that the little baby born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago grew up and gave us the best model of growing disciples and discipling others the world will ever see.
Let us pray.
Lord we thank you that we have heard from you through your word today.
May we take what we have heard and apply it to our lives so that we may be better disciples and disciple makers for you.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.