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Jesus made it clear what He expected His early followers to do. At the very end of Matthew's Gospel Jesus says: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, 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)
Whatever else can be taught from this passage, it is important that you see what was on Jesus' heart in these last words for His followers. Jesus presents one command here; it's not an option. Jesus is making it clear that He wants His followers to make disciples of all nations. Make disciples of all nations!
A disciple is literally a learner-one who listens and follows a teacher and his teachings. Jesus commands His disciples to go make disciples of all nations. "Nations" is best understood as cultures. We're realizing that no matter what culture is introduced to Jesus, the response is amazingly positive and transformational. And just as Jesus gave this command to His first disciples, it's clear that Jesus wants all of His disciples everywhere to continue to multiply more disciples.
Now, the term "disciple" is only used in the Gospels; it cannot be found in the rest of the New Testament. It's like the Gospels are filled with urging all to become disciples and the letters to the many fellowships of Jesus in the New Testament are filled with practicing what it means to be a disciple.
To me, a disciple is simply a follower of Jesus-one who hears His teachings and seeks to practice them. We are doing our best to be faithful disciples of Jesus and to obey Jesus by making disciples of Jesus everywhere we go. We see ourselves as followers of Jesus, not Christians or believers or Church members. We say it this way among our friends: "We're trying to do the most difficult thing we have ever done in our lives. We're trying to follow the teachings and principles of Jesus." This is discipleship-to know Jesus and to make Him known.
Over the next few weeks I want to open up what discipleship is all about. In order to get us started I want to make 8 observations on the elements of being a disciple. FIRST-Being a disciple is to have a teachable spirit and a heart for God. If you are a disciple, you will work hard on being a learner. You don't already have it all figured out. You are coming to Jesus as a little child.
SECOND-Being a disciple is to be holy-set apart unto God for His mission. When you are set apart in this way, you will be going against the grain-a contrarian, but you will be walking hand in hand with Jesus and that's the only way to get through the piles of life anyway.
THIRD-Being a disciple means to enhance your self-esteem. Knowing whose you are will determine who you are. When you understand clearly how centering and empowering it is to follow Jesus, He becomes the key to your self-esteem.
FOURTH-Being a disciple means to confirm your calling-your purpose in life. When you follow Jesus, you will know the reason why you are here on planet earth and have a great opportunity to act it out.
FIFTH-Being a disciple means to manage your conflicts. When following Jesus, your conflicts become opportunities for making a difference and learning more about yourself.
SIXTH-Being a disciple means to be able to express your personal faith. One of the great problems believers have is to be able to share their faith. All kinds of training materials and methodologies have been produced over the years, but there is nothing more effective in communicating your faith than being a follower of Jesus plus nothing. It's contagious!
SEVENTH-Being a disciple means to make disciples. If you are a disciple, then you will multiply yourself. You will make other disciples of Jesus as you live your life. You won't be able to stop it! Jesus will shine through!
EIGHTH-Being a disciple means to know Jesus better. Being a disciple is all about knowing Jesus. In fact, I'm convinced that this may be the only real goal for anything we ever do-in your home, in your vocation, on your vacation, as you parent your children and when you come together as a group of people in the name of Jesus.
Paul, who was apprehended by Jesus on the road to Damascus, expresses how important knowing Jesus better really is: "I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ-yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:8-11)
How can I know Jesus better? That's what I want to know! In the days ahead I want to encourage you to know Jesus better. Begin by being His disciple.