An enormous flaw exists in a common concept of discipleship. This flaw exists because of a failure to distinguish between universal need and personal desire. We often fail to make a distinction between two realities. Because everyone needs to be Jesus' disciple does not mean that everyone wants to be Jesus' disciple. This can be a result of that failure: we convince people that they need to be immersed before they desire to be a disciple.
When this situation occurs, it is too easy to convert the person to the church rather than converting him or her to Jesus Christ. If his or her concept of the church is that the church is a "religious organization," the immersion often results in one of two situations. (1) Either he or she quickly becomes disillusioned with his or her commitment to the "religious organization" and withdraws, or (2) he or she becomes obsessed with the organization while having little understanding of Jesus. Too many members of the church have a fierce loyalty to the church's positions, but little loyalty to Jesus.
No one's understanding of the universal need for forgiveness surpasses Jesus' understanding. Examined from a strictly human perspective, this Jewish peasant [from the a tiny former nation that existed through forced necessity as a Roman colony] had ridiculous aspirations. How could Jesus aspire to change the world when he had his background? How could Jesus aspire to change the world when his powerless nation was confined to a small territory and could not maintain its own independence? How could Jesus expect eleven disciples to go into the world and make more disciples? How could Jesus send such a small group of Jewish disciples into a world that was [in places] anti-Semitic, into an empire that would soon increase in its hatred of Jewish people, and expect the Roman world to be interested in following him?
Many of us quickly would answer this could happen because (1) Jesus was God's son and (2) discipling the world was God's objective. However, those answers assume a mature, correct understanding of God's purposes in Jesus and in the world. Those are the answers disciples should understand and give. But we disciples must understand that those who reject a discipleship dedicated to Jesus consider it a ridiculous, undesirable pursuit. People who reject the concept of discipleship to Jesus reject a disciple's perspective.
(1) Jesus lived his childhood as a Jewish peasant in an insignificant rural village in an insignificant area. (2) As an adult, he had the wrong background to be a Jewish rabbi in the Israel of his day. (3) He was not among the "who's who" of the Jewish religious aristocrats of his day. With that set of circumstances, we easily might conclude that Jesus enthusiastically welcomed anyone who expressed interest in being his disciple. He did not. In fact, he often emphasized that discipleship must be accepted as a serious, life-governing commitment.
In Matthew 8:18-22 Jesus emphasized conditions that discouraged discipleship to persons who expressed their interest in discipleship. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus urged the weary and heavy laden to follow him, but he urged them to assume his yoke and load. In Matthew 16:23-28 Jesus declared "cross carrying" to be the cost of discipleship. Crucifixion had powerful, emotional implications to them it does not have to us. He also made a clear distinction between physical existence and life, a distinction his disciples must make and understand. In Matthew 18:1-20 he linked discipleship with humble concern for the "little ones," with the sacrificial elimination of personal considerations that oppose discipleship, and with extending personal forgiveness to those who do evil. Mark 10:17-22 tells of an impressive wealthy man whom Jesus' loved but rejected as a disciple. Luke 14:25-35 states Jesus' emphasis on people (1) regarding discipleship as more important than family ties, (2) carrying one's cross to be a disciple, and (3) determining one's willingness to meet discipleship's cost. John 6:31-71 records a declaration from Jesus that caused disciples to leave him.
Jesus was a compassionate man, but he also was an honest man. He discussed the water of life with a Samaritan woman who was five times divorced. Yet, with some, he straightforwardly affirmed the challenges and difficulties of discipleship.
Does that mean Jesus' disciples should use human judgment and human intuition to decide what people should and should not be Jesus' disciples? No. At no time did Jesus appoint his disciples as judges who determined those who can or cannot be Jesus' disciples. Quite the opposite [see Mark 9:38-40]! God knows all hearts. People easily deceive themselves about their own hearts. God understands when a struggling person has a penitent heart. Often we do not. While God can easily forgive 70 times 7 [and far beyond! See Matthew 18:21, 22], we humans often struggle to forgive someone who has hurt us three times.
The point: Jesus knew some would be his disciples, but not everyone would be his disciples. To Jesus, discipleship was not a matter of "need." It was a matter of "desire." Jesus' purposes are served by disciples. Jesus' purposes are not and cannot be served by men or women who have no desire to be his disciples. Immersing people who do not wish to follow Jesus does not effectively destroy their sins. Immersion without the conviction that Jesus is God's Christ and without repentance [the resolve to redirect life] cannot produce (1) redemption from evil and (2) a newly created relationship with God.
The point is not about humans deciding which other humans have a right to enter discipleship. Nor is it about humans deciding which other humans "measure up" to discipleship expectations. God uses His grace and mercy abundantly in the life of the disciple who tries. Only God knows who is and is not trying. "Trying" has appearances that radically differ. "Trying " looks quite different in these two situations: (1) a woman who spent childhood as an incest victim and turned to prostitution to escape her abuse prior to discipleship and (2) a man who spent his childhood in a loving, godly family and always received encouragement as a disciple.
Our objectives in convincing people to be immersed and Jesus' discipleship objectives often are not identical objectives. Too often we seek to convince people to escape eternal danger by allowing themselves be immersed. To Jesus, immersion is an appropriate expression of commitment by those who want to be disciples.
Discuss the importance of a person's desire to be Jesus' disciple.
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 2
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