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10th March 2002
THE PROMISE OF PUBLIC DISCIPLESHIP
Jason Stevens is one of the biggest and fittest men playing National Rugby League. He plays for the Cronulla Sharks. He is also extremely good looking, and for years was always the centre of attention from girls who flung themselves at him. Like most Rugby League stars, he enjoyed the off-field life as much as the on field play. Alcohol, sex and the wild life became central to him. But then Jason became a Christian - the only Christian in his team. Now every eye was on him to see how he would behave.
Jason Stevens made a clean break with his past behaviour and publicly followed the way of Jesus. Gone was the wild life, the sex and the booze. After a time a ridicule, the other players respected Jason and looked to him for leadership. Jason decided that until he found the woman he wanted to be his wife, he would not have sex with anyone until after their marriage. He has just published a book encouraging others to follow his example. He says to young people, "True Love Waits."
Jason has made his stand for Christ and for Christian standards very open. He knows all eyes are on him. You cannot be a Christian secretly. Jesus made it clear that if you follow Him, you do it publicly. Christianity is no secret society, no mysterious membership. There has to be an open declaration. One of His promises is: "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven." Matthew 10:32 The early church accepted this way of dynamic discipleship and called on the people to follow publicly the way of Jesus. The church still does this today with extraordinary results.
In Africa the church is growing at a fantastic rate. Last year there were 6.4 million new Christians. 16,600 per day declared Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. In South East Asia last year there were 34.5 million new disciples. About 94,700 per day publicly declared their faith. Jesus used the strong, imperative tense when He said, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:19,20 Two hundred and seventy times in the New Testament we are taught to make disciples, those who follow the way of Jesus. A disciple is more than a believer, more than a learner, more than one who has been influenced by Jesus Christ. A disciple is one who gives his life, his motives, his calling, his commitment, and his attitudes to the way of Jesus. What does Jesus say about becoming a disciple?
1. HIS PROMISE.
The first word of His promise is significant: "Whoever.." It is one of the great words of the gospel: "whoever".. That means anyone at all! "For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes…" John 3:16 It does not matter who we are or what our background may be, none is too simple to come and none too good to come. There is no racial barrier, no sexual differentiation, no social clique, no economic class, no national performance, no cultural circle, no denominational affiliation - anyone can come! Throughout the Scriptures we have this concept that whosoever will, may come. Jesus accepts anyone and everyone. That is why He accepted me and why He accepts you. Anyone is welcome in His kingdom.
He went to Peter, James, John and Andrew and called them, "Come follow me." He stopped Matthew and said, "Come, follow me." To those who love Him and would serve Him, He gives a divine invitation to come, to leave whatever there is that might be an obstacle, and follow Him. There is an open invitation. It is not because of any merit of ours that He chooses us. He does not call us because we are worthy but, because He calls us, we are worthy. He does not call us because we are valuable but, because He calls us, we are valuable. It is all the work of God's grace, and His invitation is simple, ""Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven."
Paul reminded the church at Corinth, "Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." 1 Corinthians 1:26 Jesus calls but we must acknowledge Him before others. That gives us the option. We do not have to acknowledge Him. We can turn our backs on Him if we will, and like the rich young ruler, go away. It is possible to reject Christ and to have nothing to do with Him. Discipleship is not obligatory. It is not something you have to do.
"Whoever acknowledges me …." That is how you become one of His disciples! Jesus calls us, He does not command. He does not make us, He invites us to come and follow Him. Jesus simply says, "Whoever acknowledges Me…" Time and time again He makes it clear that it is up to us. When He calls you, all you need to do is to acknowledge Him. But that response is to be public.
That is part of the following. There is no secret discipleship. Nicodemus tried to be a secret disciple, but failed. Jesus told us that we cannot serve two masters. You cannot secretly serve Him and openly serve the world. Just as Zacchaeus was called to make public his own interest in Jesus, so every time someone is called to follow Jesus, he or she is expected to do so in an act of public discipleship. You can believe privately but you cannot obey unless you do it publicly. There must be that inner, private response, and there must be that outer public response. Paul said, "If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." Romans 10:9-10
There is need to openly acknowledge commitment to Jesus. ""Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven," said Jesus. The essence of Christianity is in acknowledging Him and being acknowledged by Him. Being a Christian is not ticking off a list of beliefs. It is not in joining a certain denomination. We are never baptised into a denomination. We are baptised into Christ. To be a Christian is to be in Him and with Him. Jesus called His disciples to be with Him. That is at the heart of being a Christian.
I was in Wheaton College USA. As I looked at a fine group of 3,200 young men and women in missionary training and would soon be graduating and going to every continent to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, I remembered five young men who sat together in that same auditorium forty years ago.
They were men whose lives moved my life. They were murdered by the Auca Indians in an Ecuadoran jungle; murdered when they took the gospel of Christ in love. One of them was Jim Elliott. He wrote in his diary, "Jesus called us to follow Him and He said, 'Take up your cross and follow me.' No man is a fool who gives up what he cannot keep, in order to gain that which he cannot lose." Jesus Christ calls us to come and follow him, publicly. To give up that we cannot possibly keep, to gain what we can never lose - forgiveness of sins and life eternal.
2. HIS WARNING
There is a warning that goes with that promise. "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven." There is the warning. He promises acknowledgement, but He warns of the penalty of disowning Him. Jesus actually offers us five things in our life. He offers us the choice: v32 "Whoever" chooses to acknowledges Him: it is our choice. Then He offers us conflict, v34 He knows that if we follow Him, it may mean difficulty at home, it may bring conflict with others. He said, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Jesus did not promise you a pillow. He promised you a cross. You may come into conflict with others, including those closest and dearest to you in your own family. The result of His coming, He tells us, v35, is "a man is against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household."
Conflict will come, not because He desires it, but because when you acknowledge Him, others will not understand. You may have already have experienced that conflict within your family. The third thing He offers is challenge, v37 "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." He offers the challenge, to leave behind what you cannot keep, in order to gain what you cannot lose. The fourth is a cross. v38 "Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." He did not promise that life would be easy. He never promised a bed of roses, but He did promise this: if you take up your cross and follow Him (and there is nothing more public than cross-bearing) then He will be with you to strengthen and encourage you.
The fifth and final thing is a crown. v39 : "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." That means that we shall find life that is abundant, free and eternal. We shall find fulfilment in a meaningful existence, and a future with those we love and with Him who has redeemed us.
Here is a definition of hell - to be lost from God. If we are lost it is because we have brought it upon ourselves. Here is also a definition of heaven. "I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven." Heaven is where God is. There can be no greater moment than to stand before Him and hear the words of our Saviour: "Come you that are blessed by My Father. Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you." "Well done, good and faithful servant." That is His promise.
For five generations my family has barracked for Essendon Football Club. Essendon has been the outstanding team in the Australian Football League. They won the premiership in 2000 and I was expecting them to win in 2001. One hundred thousand people were in the MCG and hundreds of millions of people were watching on TV. Their opponents were the Brisbane Lions. They had not won a premiership. Essendon had won sixteen. It was a monumental clash with Brisbane Lions roaring.
Some said the Essendon team was arrogant. Others said it was Shaun Hart who kept getting the ball in the centre and sent it on its way to the Brisbane Lion's forwards. But the Lions won. Before the massive crowd, Shaun Hart was given the Norm Smith Medal for the best player on the ground. Shaun accepted the medal saying "I want to thank first of all my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Everyone knows I am a Christian and what I stand for." Then he thanked his wife Linda and two young sons, his coach and his team mates. That was all. That was enough. Every newspaper in the country and every football show referred to Shaun Hart's testimony of faith in Jesus Christ. His coach, Leigh Matthews said, "Shaun is just an excellent human being."
Since that time, Shaun works with Wesley Mission's Street Smart ministry among homeless youth. He joined with me recently in laying the foundations for two new Homes for Hope we are building at North Lakes in Queensland to fund our work. But his witness had been made. He acknowledged Jesus Christ before men and Jesus has acknowledged him before His Father in heaven. That was the promise that Jesus made.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes - firstname.lastname@example.org
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