The highlighted themes of this blog were presented by Dr. Walt Stuenkel at the Synod's first Great Commission Convocation, with much of the commentary coming from Martin Franzmann's commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. We were all blessed that day when Walt shared these major themes on "discipleship" and I hope that they will be a blessing to you this Easter season and beyond.
4: A disciple is an active student of God’s Word and builds one’s life on the person and Word of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, in John’s Gospel, identified two marks of a disciple: (1) “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…he who belongs to God hears what God says” (John 8:31-32, 47); and (2) “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35)
Jesus, toward the end of His teaching on a mountain one day, talked about people who are wise and people who are foolish. A wise person is someone who hears the words of Jesus and puts them into practice so that when the storms of life came (and these storms come to every person during this lifetime, especially the great storm of death), they are able to stand because they are built on the Rock Jesus Christ. “But everyone who hears these words and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who build his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27).
The disciple of Jesus knows that there are many important things that are part of life such as food and clothing, work and relationships with others, but that there is ONE THING that is above all others: to seek FIRST HIS KINGDOM AND HIS RIGHTEOUSENESS (Matthew 6:33). Because Jesus alone has the words of eternal life, they study His words, build their lives on Him and His Word (John 6:60-69), and obey all that He has commanded.
5: A disciple does more than just master the Word, a disciple is stamped and fashioned in the mold of Jesus Christ and is a living witness to Him.
When Jesus said, “follow Me,” He was confiscating the hearer for Himself. Jesus was laying claim to people in Messianic authority and with Messianic grace. The message and life of the Kingdom was to determine THE WHOLE EXISTENCE OF THE DISCIPLE. When Jesus opened His mouth and TAUGHT, He was more than a master teacher enunciating a higher system of ethics; He was the Messianic Master molding the wills of those whom He had claimed by His call.
Those who receive His mercy, He makes them to be merciful; those who know and experience His peace, He makes them to be peacemakers. They are salt and light and, as salt and light, they are to have a salutary effect upon their surroundings: salt seasons and preserves and light dispels darkness.
As they live out their new existence in Christ, their lives are to reflect the implications of their new existence: they can no longer veil their lovelessness with cultic performances such as animal sacrifice for, in Jesus, they are confronted with the God who desires MERCY and not sacrifice. The religious scribe haggled with the question “who is my neighbor?” and sought to find areas in one’s life where a man did not have to love but Jesus removed every limitation from love by teaching His disciples to “love your enemies” and to “do good to those who hate you.”
As Paul reflected on the life that he had received from the Lord, he described this way of life of being fashioned and molded in the image of Jesus in this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
6: Disciples are members of Christ’s body, each with just the right spiritual gift(s) to serve the others. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
The basic reality is that the church is a living organism, with Jesus Christ Himself functioning as the Head. A living organism can have only one head and the function of the head can never be delegated to another part of the body.
A church in which one person preaches, a few teach, and a few others work in an administrative ministry, but the vast majority simply listen, learn and follow without becoming functioning members of the body, is not an integrated organism. Instead it is God’s design for His people, gathered around Word and Sacrament, that each believer use his or her gifts for the common good.
These gifts are gifts freely bestowed and graciously given by the Holy Spirit to every believer. No Christian is left unregarded or without at least one gift. These gifts are different in each Christian according to the grace given to each. There is diversity dependent upon God’s will and wisdom, but there is unity of purpose since every believer is to use his or her gift(s) for the good of all. Finally no one believer is self-sufficient and each person needs to receive as well as give to others.
7: The Great Commission lays the double obligation upon us: the strengthening of present disciples in their already existing discipleship AND reaching out to those who are not yet disciples with the hope that they will become His disciples.
Christianity is a simple yet complex process: conversion, as unbelievers are brought to faith in Christ Jesus as their Savior; maturation in the Christian faith, as believers are incorporated into the community of believers and become mature as they grow up into Christ who is the Head; and incarnation as His living letters, believers who are equipped and sent for witness and service in the world so that they can minister His mind and word and demonstrate His love and compassion for humankind.
Fundamental to the strengthening of disciples in their life of discipleship was their devotion to four things: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. Throughout the New Testament, this ministry of strengthening each other is described in additional, but complementary, ways: honor one another; live in harmony with one another, accept one another, have an equal concern for one another, serve one another in love; carry the burdens of one another; be patient, bearing with one another in love; be kind and compassionate to one another; forgive one another, just as in Christ God forgave you; and since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Fundamental to reaching out to those who are not yet disciples is the sending by Jesus of His disciples into the world to be His witnesses. Mission begins in the heart of God and the Bible, in its totality, ascribes only one intention to God: to save humankind. Therefore, every task of the church makes sense and has a purpose only as it leads to His mission of making disciples of all nations. In order to bring people to salvation, God woos them through His revelation, through His Word. Through this sending, and the message proclaimed by His witnesses, unbelievers are placed before the living God. Their formers gods and their false ways of salvation are declared false for He alone is salvation and He along brings salvation. For those who believe, the Gospel becomes a proclamation of RESCUE; for those who refuse the Gospel, it becomes a proclamation of DAMNATION.
8: The entire mission and ministry of a Christian congregation must be geared toward fostering discipleship and discipling.
May you be a "wise disciple" -- someone who has built his or her life on the words of Jesus and who puts them into practice.