Growing as Disciples of Jesus
Lego is an amazing toy.
Many of us have spent hours as a child building things and letting our imagination run wild.
But Lego has two major draw backs, for something to really work well you have to follow the instructions, your creation may be wonderful in your mind but unless you are good enough to be on the Lego master show then what you create just doesn’t work the way it does on the box.
The second major draw back of Lego is that kids tend to leave it all over the floor and stepping on it in bare feet is really painful.
When you follow the instruction that come in the Lego box each step is laid out and as you click each of the bricks together step by step you will end up with what is on the front of the box.
There are other parts of life we wish came with instructions.
Babies don’t come with instructions, yes there are books to read and classes to go to but there is no actual instruction manual.
Wives is another!
But then the manual would need constantly updating.
Just when you think you have things figured out everything changes.
When it comes to sharing our faith – or making disciples of Jesus many of us wonder if there are any instructions.
We know what the finished product looks like, but how do we get there?
And that’s totally OK.
Because when Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 28 to go make disciples Jesus had already spent three years giving them instructions.
Three years training them in what disciple making looked liked.
Today we are going to go back to the beginning and start in Matthew chapter 5 where Jesus gave his first real instructions to his disciples.
To use the Lego illustration this is where the first few brick click together.
We are using the Crossover Australia series called PLAN A which is going to help us see that the Great Commission in Matthew 28 is for every Christian.
It has been called PLAN A because there is no PLAN B.
God’s plan has always been that disciples will make disciples and they do this best in the community known as the church
PLAN A has 5 principles: Growing, Knowing, Sowing, Rowing and Showing Up.
This morning we are focusing on the first principle “Growing as disciples of Jesus”.
We are going to find that our starting point isn’t what to say, but how to live it.
The way we live our lives will open doors for us to speak about Jesus.
This is actually a wonderful opportunity for us.
Because we don’t just have the truth, we also have a beautiful way of Living.
We have the Jesus way of doing life.
And research tells us that if we can live this out, if we can keep growing as disciples of Jesus that people will become attracted to the message of Jesus.
So let’s take a look at three ways we can grow to be more like Jesus so we can live out our faith.
This morning we are going to see from Matthew 5 that disciples of Jesus witness through their character, their conduct and their commitment.
Let’s start with our character.
When Jesus draws together his disciples to teach them in what we know as the Sermon on the Mount, he knows that a day is coming when he will return to be with the Father.
This sermon is to teach his disciples how they will represent him to the rest of the world.
And do you know what he starts with?
Verse 3 The poor in Spirit,
Verse 4 those who mourn,
Verse 5 the meek.
3 “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 4 God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
It’s not a very impressive list when you think about it is it?
But Jesus is saying these are the type of people who belong to him and who he is going to send out to represent him to the world.
Who do you think you’d want to represent you to the world?
Would you choose someone rich, famous, good looking, smart or entrepreneurial?
Advertisers spend millions of dollars trying to get this right.
Did you know there is whole industry based around getting good looking people on Instagram, you tube and other social media channels to mention your product.
They are called “influencers”
Some of the most famous influencers are people like Kim Kardashian and her sisters.
They can get paid tens of thousands of dollars to drop a brand name.
Because that’s the way the world works.
But what about Jesus?
Who did Jesus choose to represent him to the world?
The influencers, the important, the instagramers.
Jesus doesn’t need rock stars.
Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth.
He has the power to call and change people.
Jesus is the rock star.
Jesus doesn’t need us to be famous or funny to spread the gospel.
Jesus just wants us to show the world who he is.
Because if these beatitudes are a list of anything, they are a list of what Jesus is like.
The character of Jesus.
How Jesus lived and died.
Think about it.
As Jesus hung on the cross, was there anyone else in the whole world who was poorer in Spirit, anyone who mourned more, anyone more meek, anyone hungrier and thirstier for righteousness, anyone more pure in heart, anyone more committed to peacemaking or anyone more persecuted?
No, Jesus lived and died this way in order to bring about change in our world, in order to bring the blessing of the Kingdom.
And now that Jesus has done that, he wants his disciples to pick up our cross and grow more like him.
To develop a character like Jesus.
Sometimes we think of growth as growing more important, more influential, more powerful.
How can I move up in the world?
How can I move up in the Church?
But in Jesus’ kingdom, growing means to become more poor in Spirit, more meek, more pure in heart.
More willing to admit we don’t have it all together.
More longing to see the ways of Jesus lived out in our church and community.
One of the biggest realisations I have come to about character is that those who truly shine for Jesus have learnt what it is to be humble and not need the success.
Over several pastorates I had big dreams of what could be achieved and I set out to achieve it.
Now I have always seen growth in the ministries I have led.
In a number of cases that growth has been remarkable in the circumstances.
But I always wanted more and in each of those contexts more was simply not possible.
So here I am, having hopefully finally learnt that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, that God loves me anyway and I simply have to be obedient in whatever context I find myself.
Do you know how liberating that is!
Renew isn’t about proving anything, I am simply here because God told us to come.
It has only been because I have finally learnt that lesson that God put us in a community where there are 130 000 people coming.
If he had brought me to a place with this potential earlier then the drivenness to suceed would have been an issue.
Now I can confidently say that it is about obedience to preach the Gospel and not my own need to prove myself.
Growth is about relationship with God and others first and foremost.
Everything else flows from that.
When we do so we might have opportunities like one Christian university lecturer.
Our universities are not places where the teaching of Jesus is valued.
It can be a very tricky place to live for Jesus.
But this lecturer invited students to come to a gospel talk.
And they came!
One of them was significantly touched by the talk, and said he’d like to learn more.
A little while later that student put his trust in Jesus.
How do we get people to say yes to hearing more about Jesus.
Belinda Lakelin from Crossover Australia who put this series together shares that she was told that it was the character of the lecturer that made the difference.
This lecturer stands out as an authentic follower of Jesus who respects and serves others.
In return she is well respected and loved.
Her students came to the gospel talk because she meant so much to them.
Her Christ-Like Character opened doors to the gospel.
It’s tempting when we look at the changing culture around us to take a ghetto mentality.
To retreat into our own little communities and not to take our faith outside the walls of the home or the church.
To keep quiet and hope that nobody notices.
But that is not the answer – we need to take the teaching of Jesus more seriously.
The world doesn’t need half-hearted religious people who give up a few hours each Sunday.
The world needs authentic followers of Jesus.
Will you grow to be more like Jesus?
But of course, our character isn’t just something inside us.
Our character flows out from us into our conduct - our behaviour and actions.
The way we conduct ourselves must be in line with who Jesus is.
What’s the easiest way to tell what someone is like?
Don’t you watch the way they act?
How do you tell is someone is a peacemaker or meek or merciful?
You can tell it through the way they practice this - their good deeds.
So when Jesus gathers his disciples to teach them, he doesn’t stop with the character, the very next thing he speaks about is how they will conduct themselves.
He tells the disciples they are “salt” and “light” in verses 13 and 14.
Jesus calls us “salt” and “light” in verses 13 and 14.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. 14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.
We are like a city on hill that cannot be hidden.
Jesus expects that the way his disciples will live will bring comfort, life and flavour to the world.
That we will do good in the name of Jesus wherever we are.
Our culture has adopted a posture of “do no harm” in other words – when deciding how to live - the standard is just avoid hurting others.
Many people live like the most ethical way is to do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt others.
Now that certainly is important, but for a follower of Jesus that isn’t radical enough.
Our calling is higher than that. We are people who not only “do no harm” but also people who “do all the good”.
As the famous Christian pastor and evangelist John Wesley said
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
Now John Wesley said that hundreds of years ago.
This isn’t a new.
Jesus said it thousands of years ago.
Be salt and light to your community.
To your family.
To your neighbours.
This is where the world is really watching us.
The world knows that Jesus wants us to care for the poor and feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and love our enemy.
They are watching to see if we do it.
One pastor (Russell Moore) has said that
“The culture often does not reject us because they don’t believe our teaching, but because they have evidence that we don’t believe our own teaching”.
It’s like Jesus warns us here - is salt loses it’s saltiness, it’s no longer good for anything.
Good deeds are not an optional extra for the church, good deeds are an essential part of who we are, of the way we witness to the world.
Now some of you might be thinking “warning, warning.
This is social justice gospel.
Or the is just be nice to people preaching.
What is the result of these good deeds in verse 16 ?
That we let our light shine before others so that they may see our good deeds and glorify our father in heaven.
People can only glorify the Father if they know about him.
We live like Jesus people and let the world watch on.
The early church is one example - their care for the poor led to many people becoming Christians.
Mike Frost writes: “These ordinary believers devoted themselves to sacrificial acts of kindness. They loved their enemies and forgave their persecutors. They cared for the poor and fed the hungry. In the brutality of life under the Roman rule, they were the most stunningly different people anyone had ever seen. Indeed, their influence was so surprising that the fourth-century emperor Julian (AD 331-363) feared they might take over the empire.” (“Surprise The World” p7-8)
We also know from research that it’s Christians who are involved in doing good works that are more natural at sharing their faith and have more faith conversations.
Do you know why?
It’s because Christians who are living like salt and light are out there in the world.
They are meeting people who don’t yet know Jesus and they are being asked questions like “why are you different”, “what’s motivating you to do this?”
That is why things like the community BBQs and supporting P & C events is so important.
We are not there for us, we are there to serve and in serving we are seen to be different and in being different we have opportunity to share the Gospel.
Our Christ-like conduct will open doors to conversations about Jesus.
Will you grow in your christ-like conduct?
So we’ve spoken about our character and our conduct.
But there is one final way that our growth will witness for Jesus.
And that is by learning to stick with him Jesus matter what.
We will remain committed despite persecution.
It’s a bit difficult to talk of persecution in Australia when we know that our brothers and sisters overseas face extreme hardship and even death, but Jesus acknowledges the type of persecution we might experience here in Austrlia in verse 11 when he says
11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.
That sounds like something that could happen here doesn’t it?
But as we live and speak of Jesus we are going to get different responses.
Some people’s faces will light up as they see the truth of the message and receive God’s blessing and Spirit.
Others will bunker down and do whatever they can to stop people following Jesus.
But we see the message of Jesus spreading in spite of and sometimes because of the persecution.
One person in the early church who faced death under Roman rule was the Bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp.
Polycarp was arrested by the Romans and told to declare his allegiance to Caesar, but Polycarp refused.
His allegiance was to Christ. When he was pressed to reject Christ and accept Caesar or face death Polycarp responded “If you vainly suppose that I will swear by the Genius of Caesar, as you request and pretend not to know who I am, listen carefully: I am a Christian”.
How fierce is his witness in that moment. Christ is the King!
And even death cannot change that.
The willingness of Christians to embrace Christ no matter what the cost has proven to many that Jesus really is the King.
Are you prepared to declare “I am a Christian” no matter what you face?
Many of us say we don’t share our faith because we feel inadequate, but I think there is even a deeper fear.
We fear that God is not going to come through for us.
We fear that we are going to step out and share our faith and that we’ll be mocked or rejected.
Does that mean God hasn’t come through for us?
12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.
God’s prophets were insulted and rejected, and you are in the same company.
What an honour!
Don’t focus on what the world says - keep your eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and the great reward waiting for you.
God has got your back.
So take that next step to grow more like Jesus.
Let your light shine.
After all, what could be more convincing to the world that Jesus really is the one who hands out blessing than a people who refuse to give it up.
Friends, this isn’t a new plan, that we grow to be more like Jesus.
That our character becomes more like Jesus, that our conduct becomes more like Jesus or that our commitment to Jesus grows.
The good news is that this is the way the gospel has been spreading across the nations and through different cultures ever since the beginning.
Jesus has created a community of believers, a church, that takes the teaching of Jesus seriously.
And when we grow to be more like Jesus, then our community is ready to listen to what we have to say.