Down the Path on The Way of Discipleship

When you are a kid in a Sunday school class, there are certain things you learn.  Maybe you once sat on a little kid chair in a dingy church basement and stared at a flannelgraph. I did.  I can still almost smell the mold and bask in the warm, moist asbestos-laden environment.  One of the things you would have been taught there is that Jesus had disciples – twelve of them.  I can see flannel Jesus calling flannel Peter and Andrew, James and John, from their fishing boats. “Follow me!

So a Bible trivia question might ask – how many disciples were there?  The back of the card would likely say “twelve” – and that is partially correct.  Of course, it is also wrong.  While we learn about the Twelve, we are also told about the Seventy – many more than just twelve disciples were following Jesus.  We are told that in the Upper Room at Pentecost there were about 120.  In Acts 2, following Peter’s great sermon, 3,000 were added to their number.  2,000 more in Acts 3!  So…5,120?  How many disciples are there?

The Great Commission and Our central Purpose

Matthew 28 is justifiably one of the best known texts in the Bible; it is one you should have memorized.  It is known as the Great Commission.  Why is this text so important?  It is one of the last things that Jesus said to us after his resurrection and before he ascended into heaven.  It is a commission – a solemn charge to fulfill a particular function.  What would Jesus have us to be about?  That’s an important question for a Christian.  Not “What do I think or feel about X?”  But, instead, “What would my Lord have me to do?  What does he consider to be most important?

Jesus says,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20

There is a lot to say about this great text, but we’ll zero in on one aspect of it: what is the central thing that Jesus would have us, his church, be about?  What does he solemnly commission us to do above all else?

On first glance, emphasis could land on “Go!”  Many great missions sermons have been preached based on this text, and rightly so.  It is necessary for us to send missionaries to those people groups throughout the world who haven’t yet heard the gospel.  But in Greek the “Go!” isn’t an imperative at all, it is actually a participle (“in the manner of one going”).  The real imperative here is “Make disciples!

Make disciples!

The thing Jesus wants us to concern ourselves with is disciple-making.  This is fascinating because most of us don’t even think of ourselves as disciples.  We think of Peter as a disciple, but not me.  But aren’t we followers of our Teacher, our Master, our Lord?  I hope so!  Haven’t we committed to following him?  Learning his Way?  Obeying him?  We better!  If we trust in Christ, then we are on the path of discipleship.  We are to be growing to maturity as disciples – which means making progress toward Christ-likeness.  We are to be disciples.  And we are to make disciples.

Not just make converts, but disciples.  Sometimes we emphasize evangelism (a necessary thing) and ignore discipleship.  However, we are not only to declare the good news to see conversion, but are to help those who have committed to Christ to be growing in maturity in Christ.  We are to be helping one another make progress toward Christ-likeness.

A great metaphor of the life of discipleship is the image of a path.  This is one of Jesus’ favorite images – a path, a road, a way.  In fact, he says about himself that he is The Way (John 14:6).  We are to follow the Way, follow our Master, down the path before us.  We are to be conformed to his likeness.  This is the dominant self-concept of the early church who considered themselves “followers of the Way.”  The was the church’s first self-designation.

Time to get up and get moving!

One problem with the loss of discipleship as a key metaphor in our self-image as Christians is that we often fall into complacency.  “I got saved in 1984; I’m all set!”  A fire insurance faith isn’t what Jesus wants for us though.  He wants us to continue down the path in a daily walk, making progress in the Way.  We will, of course, all stumble and slip over rocks and roots in the path.  Some of us will get stuck in the mud, or grow weary on the Way.  Sometimes it will seem like we got turned around and went in the wrong direction.  This leads some to plop down and surrender even the notion of active pursuit of the goal.

Some of us have spent too long sitting on a log at the side of the trail.  We desperately need to ask ourselves the question, “Where am I on the path?  What progress am I making down the Way?  As a disciple?  And as a disciple-maker?

Returning to that last question – who am I mentoring?  Who am I teaching?  Who am I leading toward a deeper walk with Christ?  Am I even conscious of the sacred commission that Christ has entrusted to me?  Or am I simply going through the motions of religious participation (or non-participation!)?  What would God have me to be about, both as a disciple and a disciple-maker?  What should our church be about to make progress in the work of making disciple?

Let’s not be content to rest along the life’s way, but let us by pursue the Way of discipleship with zeal and vigor!  By the power of the Holy Spirit and conscious of the grace of God, may you make your way along the path of discipleship.