Day 2: “Disciples” 08.02.18
Matthew 5:1-2 (NIV) 1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them…
We need to say a little more about being a “disciple.” When I was an undergraduate at Rutgers, a lot of years ago, I sat under the teaching of a brilliant political science professor. The class met three times a week for two hours in a VERY large lecture hall. There we were. A couple of hundred guys. For those six hours we were his students. His “disciples.” Strictly speaking, that would be an accurate linguistic statement. It did not mean we knew him well or had dinner with him or anything else. We were his students…his disciples. And when the semester ended, we were free to disregard everything he had taught us. Or we were free to drop out at any time and forego the three credits. We might have said “I was a disciple for a time.”
Being a disciple starts out, in a sense, as an in-between status. A disciple can become a former disciple, or he can become a committed follower. (In these articles I will use the pronoun “he” instead of “he” or “she” or “he/she” …all of that is such clumsy talk. In any case, “he” means “mankind” or “people kind” …us…humans. Not just males.)
Back to the serious issue. Many of the disciples of Jesus fell away. They were not really converted. Here is a truism: “Every true Christian is a disciple but not every disciple is a true Christian!” Therefore, in my view, it is sensible to see the Sermon on the Mount as an orientation to the Christian life and a description of the Christian life. Almost as if Jesus is saying “Here’s what I will expect to see if you follow me. Count the cost!” The great theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die!” There is a real cost to being a genuine disciple of Jesus. Remember, he said:
Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV) “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
Picking up the cross meant you were on your way to die! To enter into the genuine Christian life spiritually…to become a real disciple of Christ, we must be willing to set aside even reasonable things to which we might be entitled. We are called to eagerly and agreeably follow him. Some people rejected this reality by dropping out. And consider this. Jesus gave his listeners a word picture that was difficult to grasp. Inability to understand Jesus also cratered the enthusiasm of some disciples. We read:
John 6:53-69 (NIV) 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”
His point was that they needed to understand that he would feed them spiritually just as Moses had supervised the literal food provided in the desert. But they were not getting it. In fact, many of them were totally overloaded by these words.
59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”
For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”
Now they were really puzzled! They said, “This is a hard teaching that cannot be accepted!” So, they dropped off the roster of “disciples.” And we read:
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Here is my point. Peter and the others “got it!” So…true and genuine disciples understand the words of Jesus and are fed by them and follow him and do not drop out!
Ok. So, tomorrow we will go up and sit down on the mountainside and listen very carefully. Jesus is calling us to quiet down and be taught. And he will begin by laying the foundation of all that we must hear by proclaiming what are commonly called “The Beatitudes.” I’ve read the words of liberal preachers and counsellors suggesting that these “principles” are easy to follow, and everyone can do so. Not true! Without the Holy Spirit at work in us, we don’t have a prayer of following them. But as true disciples, they will draw us and embrace us, and we will rejoice in God’s mercies. As my friend Rose says “Onward!”
Peace. Pastor Alberta