The Making of a Disciple - Part I

by David H. Roper

Matthew 28:16-20

While I was on my vacation this past summer, I read an account of the messages that were given at Inter-Varsity's Urbana Conference. In those series of messages there was one given by Warren Webster, who was a missionary to Pakistan for some 15 years. In reviewing his ministry, he had this to say: "In had my life to live over again, I would live it to change the lives of men, because you haven't changed anything until you've changed the lives of men."

That really struck me and caused me to reaffirm again in my heart my own desire to change the lives of men. I do not think we are in any disagreement that the world is in wretched shape, and it is that way because there is something desperately wrong with men. The only answer to the world in which we find ourselves is to change the hearts of men. And I know of only one Person who can change the heart of a man, and that is Jesus Christ.

For the next three Sundays I would like to talk to you about what Jesus Christ intends to do through us to change men, to disciple all nations for him. I want to survey some of the factors that go into the making of a disciple. (We will pick these up in more detail in following messages.)

The events in Matthew 28 took place at the end of our Lord's 40-day post-resurrection ministry to his disciples. In this 40-day period, five times it is recorded-in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts-that the Lord commissioned the disciples to disciple the nations. This passage in Matthew 28:16-20 records one of these incidents:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountains to which Jesus had directed then. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

The disciples all died by the close of the first century, so these words were not addressed to the disciples alone, but have validity for all time. They are addressed as well to us. I would like to talk about three things in this passage: the men who are found in this passage; the mandate that was given to them to disciple all nations: and the method by which this mandate was to be carried out.

These men intrigue me. They are set in contrast to the Jewish rulers mentioned in the preceding paragraph who were attempting to discredit the fact of Jesus' resurrection. The reaction of the disciples is set over against their attempts to dismiss the resurrection. The disciples, out of obedience to Jesus Christ, went to northern Galilee to meet the Lord there. The leading Jews resisted him, but the disciples obeyed him. Prior to the cross, Jesus had told the disciples that after the resurrection they were to meet him on a mountain in northern Galilee, and they went out of obedience to him, knowing that they would meet him there.

The passage does say, "some doubted," but it does not in any way indicate that these men were lacking in faith. The word used here is not suggestive of loss of faith but rather, of hesitancy. They were uneasy, and who would not be? They still did not quite understand what the Lord intended to do. Their hopes of establishing a kingdom on earth had been dashed: the Lord had been taken from them and crucified. They had seen him in his resurrection body and knew him to be the victor, but still they were hesitant and disturbed, not quite understanding what the Lord yet intended to do. But they went anyway to the appointed meeting place. Remember also, the Lord had told them that the Jews were going to take his life, and that they would be next. They had confidence in his ability as a prophet. They believed him. They knew their lives were on the line, and that any association with this man would jeopardize their safety from this point on. So they were uneasy, they were anxious, they were fearful, but they went anyway, because they trusted him.

I think one of the amazing facts of this passage is the contrast between the extent of the commission that the Lord gave, and the relative insignificance of this little band of men. Here were eleven men who were told to go out and conquer the world and lay it at the Lord's feet. Eleven insignificant men. That would make anyone uneasy. These were men who had never been more than 50 miles from home. They had probably never been outside the country of Palestine. They had ranged as far with the Lord in his ministry as they had ever traveled. Jesus had no funds to carry out this assignment. He had no basis of political power. He had already been rejected by his own nation. And yet he tells them, "Go, and make disciples of all nations."

We realize now that the secret of his success was not the size, or the power, or the material qualifications of the group, but rather, the divine authorization given to them by the Lord. In verse 18 Jesus says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given tome. You go therefore. . . " The Father had given to the Son the authority, and the Son, by means of the Holy Spirit, gave to the disciples the authority to go out and, for all time, bring men into a relationship with him. They had a promise that all the resources, all the power of the Father, the authority of a Sovereign Lord who created men and by whom lives again could be recreated, was available to them if they would simply act upon it.

That was their authorization, and they needed no other. Historically, we know that within a period of a few weeks they saw 5,000 come into a relationship with their Lord. Within 35 years they had planted churches in every major center in the Roman Empire. Recently I heard Dr. David Hubbard say that there is today not one place in the occupied world that is more than 50 miles from an assembly of believers. They went out believing that it could be accomplished, and in the name and the authority of Jesus Christ they conquered the world. A little, in significant group, but with all the power of a sovereign God available to them they accomplished and are still accomplishing what they set out to do.

This leads me to some strong conclusions. The first is that God is not preoccupied with numbers; we are. We count noses; we measure success in terms of numbers and other estimates of strength and power. Hut the Lord never does. In his program numbers are totally inconsequential. We might as well weigh people as count them. Either measure would be equally inconsequential. God is never concerned about the size of a group. Size has nothing to do with success. Success is always based on relationship.

For instance, God was not at all embarrassed to send Elijah and his servant against the whole nation of Israel. That did not bother God, because he knew that his servants could accomplish what he sent them to do; they had available to them his power. Jonah was sent to evangelize the whole city of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire; Paul and Barnabas were sent into Asia Minor to plant churches; two men sent into a pagan area that had never heard the gospel. We would organize great armies to go, but the Lord sent Paul and Barnabas. Later, he sent Paul and Timothy into Europe to plant churches there. The Lord himself spent three-and-a-half years ministering first to the masses, then drawing together twelve men and eventually, eleven men, and it was through these eleven men that he was able to accomplish his program.He spent all of his time training them. We would be terribly discouraged if we had spent three-and-a-half years and we only had eleven people to accomplish a work. And yet the Lord said, "I have finished the work that the Father gave me to do." He did not measure his success in terms of size. Size is never equated with success.

There is an interesting passage in the book of Haggai in the account of the effort to rebuild the temple that had been destroyed during the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. The work went slowly at first but finally the temple was completed. In contrast to Solomon's temple, it just a tiny thing, and the people were terribly discouraged. Haggai encourages the nation not to despise the day of small things because the Lord says, "I am with you, and my Spirit will he with you. I will fill this house with glory, and the desire of all nations [literally, the One desired of all nations] will come into it, and its latter splendor shall be greater than its former splendor." He was looking prophetically down through the years to the time when the Messiah would stand in the midst of that very temple, the temple that Zerubbabel and Joshua built-expanded by Herod, but the same temple-and fill it with his glory. And the latter splendor of it was far greater than anything Solomon's temple possessed, with its gold, jewels, and ornate furniture.

Haggai says the same to us today. Do not despise the small things, because God's splendor will fill them. The glory of Jesus Christ will control it and use it for his honor.

We can really get bothered at this point. We look at our office, and here we are, two or three men, maybe only one man. What can we do to accomplish his program of making disciples here? Or we are on a campus, and maybe we're the only Christian in a dorm. What can we accomplish? And so we get discouraged, and we want to quit, because we just do not feel that God can accomplish all that he has promised to do.

I think this last year at Stanford was one of the most difficult years of my life. I have shared this with some of you. It was one of those periods when God taught me so much about what he is like, and what he will do. Some of you remember last year we gathered 100 people together to pray for that campus, and for the Foothill campus. We began to send out prayer letters, and we claimed this promise from Jeremiah, "Call unto me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which ye know not.' We believed that and we still do.

But in my mind I assumed the great thing he was going to do was evangelize the entire student community. He did not do it. We had meetings, we confronted many men with the gospel, we saw men come to know Christ, but he did not do what I thought he was going to do. It was the most discouraging thing that ever hit me. I thought God had failed, that he had lied, that he could not do the great things he had promised to do. But then the Lord began to show me what the great thing was: that there were a few men in whom Jesus Christ lived, and that they were going on, growing, maturing in Christ. And they were winning their friends to Christ. In a quiet, underground way, the Lord was accomplishing the great things he had promised.

I believe it is going to goon. It can go on in your neighborhood, in your office, in your home, in your school, wherever God has put you, God will use you, not to reach the masses necessarily, but to touch lives significantly for Christ's sake. We may be out manned and outgunned in terms of numbers and influence, but it is totally inconsequential in terms of God's reckoning because he will use you to change lives.

There is a second strong conclusion that I have reached as a result of looking at the lives of these men: God is not concerned about the quantity of men, but he is concerned about the quality of their lives, God's method is men, men who are controlled by the Spirit of God; not programs, not machinery, but men, women, students, boys, girls, anyone who is available to him. And I believe that these disciples would qualify as that kind of person. I think quite often that we do not think very highly of these men. But I cannot accept the thought that Jesus totally misjudged these men. He had God's insight into lives. He knew men, He knew the quality of their lives. He scrutinized the lives of these men, He spent a night in prayer before he made his decision. I do not think he chose wrongly, even in the case of Judas. He knew from the beginning what Judas was to be. This man was chosen deliberately to accomplish the purposes of God, in terms of the prophetic scripture.

Jesus knew these men, and he chose them out of all the men that he contacted in Palestine because he saw them not in terms of what they were, but what they were to become as he spent time with them. He sensed that they were men with open hearts and minds. They were hungry, perhaps. for the wrong things, but he took that hunger and turned it into a hunger for him. He never dealt with men who played games but only with those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness. He said, ''Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

God will put anyone to~use who has the real thing, who has a quality of life that only a follower of Jesus Christ can have. I am convinced that people are looking for those who have the real thing. It is the only way we will ever reach this disillusioned generation today. They are fed up with programs, they are fed up with the institutional church, they see nothing but phoniness. They are looking for real people.

Now if you are real. to use the contemporary term, you will be where the action is. People are looking for the real, people are looking for quality, and if we have it they are going to want it and they are going to seek us out. We do not have to be religious (please save us from religion), but we have to be real people who are possessed by God and whose obsession is to serve Jesus Christ. That kind of person God will use.

Now let us look at the mandate. These are the men; now the mandate. In verse 19, Jesus says,

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

There is one imperative here, to "make disciples." The other action verbs are all subordinate to this main idea to make disciples. Literally, he says, "Having gone, make disciples by baptizing and by teaching." He tells us what is involved in making disciples. The main idea in this passage is to make disciples, not friends for Jesus, not fans, not to develop a large following, because Jesus says there will never be many who will follow. To follow involves a cross, and a cross means cutting off our own goals and purposes, the things for which we live, and settling once and for all the issue in our life that Jesus Christ is going to be Lord, and we are going to serve him.

There will never be many who will make that kind of decision. The Lord always drew the lines hard and fast and he said that there would be very few that would step over. And when they did, he would hit them immediately with his claim as Lord, "Are you willing to follow me, and yield everything?''

We are going to spend quite a bit of time talking about this. I just want to mention it in general now, because we are going to come back to it next week. lam convinced that the great commission is not to go out and get decisions for Christ, or just talk to people about Christ. It is to present Christ, and then to stay with people to train them and prepare them until they themselves are independently dependent on the Lord and able to go on, on their own. Jesus said there are three characteristics of a disciple. We will look at these in more detail later on, but in John 8:31, he said, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciple (Obedience); John 13:35, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another " (Love); and John 15:8, "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciple.'' (Fruit). A disciple is a loving, obedient, fruitful person. We will talk more about that later.

We have looked at the men, the mandate, and third is the method by which they were to accomplish his commission: (1) going This assumes that we will go. The command is not to go; command is to make disciples, but it is preceded by the idea of going. And what he means is that as we go about seeking our livelihood, wherever we may be found, we are to use that place as a platform for making disciples. Historically, these men were fishermen, merchants, seamen, laborers. Everywhere they went they saw as their prime task to make disciples. Their occupations were simply the means of making a livelihood. Their mission was to make disciples and they were told to go to the whole world. God sent persecution, and where there is heat, there is always expansion-they scattered all over the world. Wherever they went, making tents, repairing sails, making shoes, as lawyers, merchants, whatever their task might be, they made disciples.

What a challenging view of our occupations that is! Our job, whether it is as a housewife, or out in the world as a business person, whatever it might be, our job, essentially, is to make disciples. That gives great dignity and meaning to our jobs. Yes, we are to do our jobs well, as unto the Lord. We are to give it the time and energy necessary to do it right. And yes, our job is a means of bringing all of nature into submission. as the Word says we must do, But it is first and foremost a platform for making disciples. We have a whole lifetime to work out the exciting implications of that idea.

Note the Lord said we are to disciple all nations. That means that some will go, must go, to other lands. Some will be cleared to live and minister in the land of their birth, and to engage in the worldwide program of making disciples through sacrificial giving, or intercessory prayer, or through an ongoing concern for what God is doing around the world. But again, what an exciting thing to know that we are engaged in an enterprise that is global in its scale; that God is at work in every corner of the world, to bring men into relationship with him. We are simply one segment, one part of what God is doing.

The Lord said we are to make disciples not only by going, but by (2) baptizing, and (3) teaching. These Jews, these 11 men. would have understood what the Lord meant by baptizing. Jews understood the rite of baptism to mean a symbol of repentance, of moving out of the great mass of Judaism and identifying themselves with Messiah. Baptism was simply the symbol declaring to the community that they were identified with believers of Israel. When the Lord said to these disciples, "disciple by baptizing," they knew what he meant. Not to indiscriminately baptize people, but to present Christ. And then as a mark of that identification with him as Lord and as Messiah, they were to be baptized. They did this in obedience to his command.

And they were to teach. They were to stay until these men learned how to walk. There is both an extensive and intensive aspect of the mandate: they were to go to all nations. Jesus said, "and to teach all things that I have commanded you." Now this is an enormous task, and I do not think there is a one of us who can say that we are adequate for anything of this magnitude.

I think we have two reactions. One is to get hardened by failure, and adopt an uninvolved Spirit: "We can't do the job; it's impossible. so why even try?" " Every attempt I've made I've fumbled. " "I'm shy." "I'm ignorant, so I'm a watcher.''

The other reaction is to see the great need and get frustrated. But remember God is the Savior of the world. Jesus said my responsibility is my neighbor, the person in need God brings into my life and gives tome the opportunity to share my life with. And my neighbor may not necessarily be my next-door neighbor, because we have six-foot fences in our backyard, and I hardly ever see my next-door neighbor. He can be the man at the office. the shop, the campus. He is the man (or the woman) in need. the student in need, or whoever it might be that God puts us next to.

The most difficult thing about going is the last 18 inches, getting over that little barrier of sharing with someone else what our Lord has done with us. But Jesus said, "I am with you always, to the close of the age." There is an adequate resource for the task that God has outlined for us.

Catalog Number: 177
David H. Roper
August, 1968