In Matthew 28:18-20, when Jesus handed over the Great Commission to His disciples and by extension to you and I, He set out the fundamentals; the main things we should know about discipleship. What are the basic things we need to understand about discipleship as seen in Matthew 28:18-20?
1. Disciples Are Made Not Born
Jesus said go and ‘make’ disciples. No one is born a disciple. If you are born with something or born into something, the element of choice is taken away. For example, when we were born, we weren’t given a choice as to the type of family, tribe or country we were born into. We had no say, we weren’t given a choice about our genetic make-up, our physical features whether we would be tall or short. If these things were by choice, who wouldn’t choose to be born into a family of a millionaire or billionaire? Who wouldn’t choose to be a citizen of a developed, flourishing and established nation?
Being a disciple on the other hand is by choice. You have to choose to be a disciple. You can’t be forced into being a disciple. When Jesus saw Peter and Andrew fishing and said to them follow me and I will make you fishers of men, they on their own volition immediately left everything they were doing and followed Jesus. The same applied to all the other men that made up Jesus’ first twelve disciples (Matthew 4:18-22). Even Judas that betrayed Jesus wasn’t forced into becoming a disciple.
The choice to be a disciple of Jesus, isn’t a decision that is taken blindly or half-heartedly, you make the decision fully aware of what it entails to be a disciple, what you are getting into. You make the decision by counting the cost (Luke 14:25-33). We see from Luke 14:26 and 33 that:
• Discipleship is a choice to make Jesus your Number 1 priority in life. Discipleship is a decision to place Jesus above everything else and everyone else. If other things and people, if our family, business, pleasure, desires and personal ambitions are more important to us than Jesus, then we can’t be said to be disciples of Christ. If we treat lightly time with God, doing the work, but give more importance to our family, business and social engagements, then we aren’t ready to be disciples (Matthew 8:21-22, Matthew 22:1-5). This is not to say God doesn’t want us to love and care for our family, business, career and other responsibilities. What He wants from disciples; from His ardent followers is to make being with Jesus, living for Jesus, doing the work Jesus handed over to us our prime concern, the most important thing to us in this life. The message version of Luke 14:33 says ‘Simply put, if you are not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it goodbye, you can’t be my disciples.’
• Discipleship is a choice you make saying it and meaning it that you are ready to suffer for Christ and the gospel (Luke 14:27). This verse tells us that as a disciple, you must be ready to bear your cross, take up your cross and come after Jesus. It means you are ready to face and endure whatever comes your way as you follow Jesus. The cross where Jesus shed His blood that gives us victory (Revelation 12:11) is the place we triumph over sin, sicknesses, problems of life, principalities and powers of darkness, and all the enemy brings our way. The cross is also symbolic of the pain, suffering, trials, afflictions, persecutions and hardship that comes with walking with the Lord and working for the Lord. If there is a cross for the disciple to carry, it means there is a pain, a suffering, a trial, a hardship to face, endure and overcome.
2. You Make Disciples, You Don’t Churn Out Disciples
To churn out something is to produce something in large quantities automatically and very quickly. If you go to a factory or manufacturing company, you will see how they churn out thousands of shoes, bottles or nylon bags in a week. Jesus was very intentional in the choice of words He used when giving us the Great Commission. He deliberately used the word ‘make’ disciples because making something involves preparation and process.
If you want to make vegetable soup for instance, you have to first go to the market, buy the correct ingredients you need for the soup, come back home clean and cut the vegetables. All this is the preparation. The process is how do you cook the vegetable soup? Do you first add the oil or is it the vegetable you add first? What is the next ingredient to add after you put the oil?
When Jesus called His disciples, He spent time teaching them, explaining parables to them, giving them insight into the mysteries of the kingdom. He made them spend time with Him to watch Him closely, to observe how He does things. It was because of this they could ask Him after careful observation of His prayer life, teach us how to pray (Luke 11:1). The teachings and instructions they received from Jesus, the time they spent observing Him closely, made up the preparation phase for the disciples.
The personal experiences they had in their walk with God made up the process. The experiences they had when Jesus sent them out to preach (Luke 10:1-20) was part of their development process. The experience they had when they were with Jesus on a boat and they were caught in a boisterous storm, added to the process; to their hands-on learning experience, to their training stage. They had experiences that taught them that you could be a disciple of Christ, you could be a close companion of Jesus, but still face storms in life. They also learnt that if Jesus is with you in the boat of your life, you won’t sink or drown when the storms and trials of life come (Matthew 8:23-37). Peter for one knew what it felt like to some days have your faith so strong that you can step out and do the extraordinary; you can walk on water, you can step into the miraculous. He also experienced what it is like to some days have your faith weak and shaking that all you see are the waves; the problems you are going through in life. The disciples experienced what it is like to be timid and fearful believers who deny your Lord because of fear of persecution (Mark 14:50). The disciples also grew beyond that level. They became bold and fervent disciples who were ready and willing to stand and speak out for Jesus before anyone irrespective of the person’s position in life (Acts 2:14, 18-20). They learnt, they grew, they developed, they got stronger, they matured spiritually through the personal experiences they had, through the trials they went through. They didn’t become disciples overnight or automatically, they went through a process. They were made disciples. Jesus didn’t churn out disciples.
The preparation and the process can’t be done quickly and automatically like when you churn out thousands of bottles. It takes time. It places a high demand on your time. In Mark 3:14, we are told that Jesus appointed His disciple to be with Him that He might send them out. They were chosen to be with Him so He could send them out to be a blessing, to pour their life and time into other people. Abiding in Christ takes time (John 15:4). Abiding in His Word takes time (John 8:28-31, John 15:7). Pouring out your life into others which is a hallmark of a true disciple, takes time (Acts 9:36-39). Going through the process; through personal experiences where you fail several times and have to try again, make you aware of the strength and power you have in God (Luke 5:5). Going through personal trials that draw you closer to God, that develop your faith, all takes time. Discipleship doesn’t happen quickly in a factory or manufacturing room. Discipleship happens in everyday life and experiences that make you grow in your relationship with God, that give you a better understanding of the will and ways of God.
But what do we have today? We want to be disciples, but we want to skip the preparation and the process. So, we have today the kind of believers Jesus spoke about in Matthew 13:20-21. Believers who fall away and turn away from God when trials and persecutions come. Jesus explained that the reason for this is that they have no root. They haven’t undergone any preparation. They haven’t spent time to root themselves in the Word, in the presence of God, in Christ Jesus. They haven’t understood and gone through the process. They don’t understand that Christianity isn’t a bed of roses. There is a cross to bear and if there’s a cross to carry, there is certainly a pain, a trial, a hardship, a suffering to endure.
So we are now churning out microwaved Christians. Believers who want a shortcut approach to discipleship. They want all the benefits, all the blessings that come with being a disciple but they don’t want to spend time to know Christ and grow in their faith, grow in the knowledge and grace of God. They don’t want to have to go through any preparation, any process. What this does is to produce weak Christians who faint, give up, turn away from God in the day of adversity (Proverbs 24:10).
3. Discipleship is Pulling Down The Walls of Racism, Tribalism, Prejudice and Discrimination
Jesus said make disciples of ‘all nations’. It means the gospel is for all. No nation, no tribe, no social status, no background, no character type, no gender is excluded from the gospel. The gospel is all inclusive. It is for the rich, it is also for the poor. It is for the wayward, it is also for those with high morals. It is for the black, it is for the white. The old, as well as the young. The gospel is for all nations; the gospel is for everyone.
We see from Galatians 3:28 that in real and true Christianity, there is nether Jew nor Greek. No nation, no tribe, no colour is superior to the other, is more important than the other. All tribes are included in those God wants to reach out to; save, use and bless. There is neither slave nor free. Irrespective of your social status, you are loved, accepted and of great value to God. There is neither male nor female. Every gender is important to God and has a significant role to play in God’s agenda.
But today we seem to have taken the neither from this verse. We say and act like there is Jew, there is Greek. There is free, there is slave. There is male, there is female. There is a world of difference between ‘there is neither Jew and Greek’, and ‘there is Jew, there is Greek’. One is saying there are no barriers, no restrictions, no superiority, no looking down on anyone because of class, gender or colour. The other gives room for tribalism, racism, discrimination and prejudice in how we see ourselves, how we relate with one another.
Matthew 10:24 says a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. But many of us behave like we are above Jesus. We can’t relate, accept and tolerate many of the people Jesus was seen with like the tax collectors and prostitutes. We have an unfair opinion, a harsh dislike for certain people, certain tribes, certain people who belong to a particular social status or background. This makes it hard to preach to and reach out to all nations. In John 13:35 Jesus said by this all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another. If we can love all nations; all kinds of people, we are true disciples of Christ.
May the Lord help us who are believers, who are disciples to live outside the wall of racism, tribalism, favouritism, prejudice and discrimination. May we be seen free from these walls not living inside these walls, so we can better reach out and impact all nations; all peoples for Christ.
4. The Tool for Raising, Instructing, Training and Developing Disciples Are All The Teachings of Christ
Jesus said ‘teaching them to observe ALL THINGS that I have commanded’ (Matthew 28:20). All that Jesus taught is the training manual of the disciple. Jesus in essence was saying give them the whole gospel truth. Teach them the whole gospel not half of it, part of it, or some of it. This is particularly important today when people have itching ears and just want to hear things that will make them feel happy about themselves. Jesus wants us to teach even those things most people don’t want to hear about; things that challenge and expose the things they are doing which God isn’t pleased with.
By telling us to teach all things He has commanded, Jesus was saying feed them with milk (1 Peter 2:20), but don’t let them live on milk for the rest of their lives. It won’t help them, it would make them baby Christians for the rest of their lives (Hebrews 5:13). Let them also eat solid food so they can become mature, well-grounded believers, so they can develop into disciples (Hebrews 5:14).
Jesus telling us to teach all things He has commanded is saying give people the fullness of the blessings that are in the gospel and the Word of God (Romans 15:29). There are good tidings (Luke 2:10), encouragement for those who are suffering, messages that give hope (Colossians 1:23), bring peace (Ephesians 6:15) in the gospel. At the same time, the Word of the Lord addresses sin (Matthew 4:17) and the coming judgement (Romans 2:16). Jesus was saying let them hear it ALL. Don’t tilt too much to any side of the gospel. Don’t just dwell on blessings, breakthroughs and miracles, and forget that there is a place for honouring God and living to please Him. Don’t just talk about demons all day and year long. It will make people see demons in everything and everyone. Teach about heaven and rapture, but don’t forget there is an earth to teach people to live as the salt of the earth. Use ALL scripture which is God breathed, which is inspired by God to reproof, correct, instruct, train and develop people in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Give people a wholesome, healthy, balanced spiritual diet of the Word of God which will help them grow in every area of their lives, which will grow them to become disciples, which will grow them to the measure of the fullness of Christ.
Not everyone in church is seeking God. Not all those that call themselves Christians are after God. Some are just seeking business opportunities and a platform to network. Many that followed Jesus were just after miracles and the situation hasn’t changed today. Desiring a miracle in itself is not a bad thing, but you can’t live for only miracles, you can’t sustain your Christian life on just receiving miracles. As you teach all things that Jesus has commanded, there will be a separation. A separation of the chaff from the wheat. Those who are truly and genuinely seeking God, the true disciples will manifest and remain as the whole truth is preached, while those that are after other things will go their separate way in search of nice, self-pleasing messages that stroke their ego and suppress the truth (John 6:67-69).
5. The Disciple Receives Hope, Strength and Assurance From the Presence of God
Jesus said in Matthew 28:20 ‘I am with you always even to the end of the age.’ Meaning that as you follow Me, live for Me, go out and make disciples, go out and do the work I have committed into your hands, always remember that I am with you. You are not alone, the presence of God is with you.
Discipleship is coming to the realisation that God will never leave you, God will never forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). The greatest asset, the greatest treasure of the disciple is the presence of God. It is the presence of God that gives the disciple hope and strength to keep believing in God, keep trusting in God, keep serving God, keep pressing on in the faith despite the challenges that comes your way (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). The confidence the disciple has that all will be well despite the troubles and trials that come his way, comes from no other place but from the presence of God. The disciple finds and receives peace and joy in the presence of God.
It is the presence of God that assures the disciple of victory when there are enemies and problems all around, when people come against you from all angles and corners, when you come under attack as you do the work of the Master (Romans 8:31, Acts 18:10, Isaiah 8:10, Isaiah 43:2).
It is the presence of God that makes the disciple turn away from sin and live to please God (Luke 5:8). It is the presence of God that makes the disciple appear before people not empty, not in the flesh, but carrying the glory and power of God to those that are hurting, lost and confused.
Making disciples can be discouraging. Sometimes people may scorn you, mock you, misunderstand you, not encourage you, and not even want to listen to you. Sometimes the people you are pouring out your time and life into to train, instruct and help, may not seem to be listening and changing their ways, or be appreciative of all you do for them. But as the disciple remembers and reflects on the words of His Master ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age’, strength and power from above comes upon you and you are empowered to keep pressing on!
So where do we fall in today?
In conclusion, let’s ask ourselves a vital question. Am I a disciple? You can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t go out and make disciples, if you are not a disciple. You can’t be a disciple if you are not even saved, if you are not born again, if you haven’t accepted Jesus into your life as your Lord and Saviour.
If you are saved, if Jesus lives in your heart, are you a disciple or are you a mere churchgoer? The good news is right now and here, you can be saved by opening your heart to Jesus and receiving Him in as your personal Lord and Saviour. If you are saved but have just been a churchgoer, you can pick up your cross today; you can decide that today I am ready to make Jesus my number 1 priority, I am ready to die for Christ and the gospel. I am ready to go all the way with Christ, I am ready to go the extra mile for Christ and not just warm church seats. If you are a disciple, if you have been involved in the work of discipleship, you can receive fresh grace and strength today to do much more. To commit to faithful men all that you have learnt, so that they in turn will teach others (2 Timothy 2:2), and the work of discipleship will continue to grow and expand all over the nations of the world in Jesus mighty name. Amen!
PHOTO CREDIT: Shane Rounce on Unsplash