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The Marks of True Discipleship

Guest Pastor Donn Dobberstein delivers a sermon entitled “The Marks of True Discipleship” based on John 13:31-34 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Synod Sunday, October 7, 2018

“The Marks of True Discipleship”

  • Love that glorifies God
  • Love that serves others

Dear disciples of Christ to whom Jesus instructed, “If you want to be my disciples, then deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me”,

Every year, Instagram releases its list of most followed people. For any person here NOT sure what this is all about (and I apologize to all social-media savvy retirees )… this is the way our young/younger people communicate with each.  They share their life story online by means of most-liked posts, top hashtags, and most-used filters from the past year. The top 3 most followed people are:

  • a singer named Ariana Grande (118 mil),
  • a Portuguese soccer stud named Renaldo (123 mil), and the most followed person in the world…
  • Selena Gomez – 135 million followers.

A disciple is a follower.  But when Jesus said, “Come, follow me”, I don’t think he was inviting millions to like his Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram accounts!  But he was inviting the likes of Peter, James, and John and others to “be with” him.  That’s what a follower does.  They follow.  The disciples were constantly together with Jesus.  They traveled together, shared meals, experienced mutual hardship.  They spent every waking, eating, teaching moment with him.  They witnessed his resurrection from the dead.  They believed and put their trust in him. If you went through the gospel accounts and compiled the amount of time Jesus spent with the crowds and the amount of time Jesus spent with his disciples, 17x we find Jesus with the crowds, 46x we see him with his disciples.  It’s been estimated Jesus spent up to 90% of his time with the Twelve.  To them Jesus said, “Now, go make more disciples of all nation.  With the Holy Spirit’s power and Christ’s presence in their hearts, they made other disciples of Jesus. Today, 2.3 billion people on the planet claim to be Christian.  According to a 2014 Pew Center survey, 71% of Americans identified as Christian.

But is there a difference between identifying as a follower and being a follower of Christ?    Believing in Jesus without having to really follow him in how we live … that’s the challenge of discipleship.  Discipleship is both believing AND following.  It’s about growing in faith.  For a church to be growing, it doesn’t just need more members.  It needs all her members to be spiritually growing and healthy.  Healthy followers of Jesus are those who are fed and exercised. Your body needs food and exercise.  Your faith needs food and it needs to be exercised.  Faith will be lacking if you aren’t in God’s Word.  The avg. person spends 20 minutes every day on Facebook- posting, liking/commenting other people’s posts.  If that is a mark of discipleship, evaluate the time you spend “following” others and your daily time following Jesus.

On this Sunday meant to encourage the discipleship of Peace, Hartford, what are the marks of true discipleship?   What do they look like in a healthy church?  In a healthy “you”?

To find out, we return to the Upper Room where Jesus is eating his last Passover meal with his 12 disciples.

  • Jesus washes his disciples’ feet … before he tells them, he first shows them what humble service looks as his followers.
  • Jesus is troubled in spirit.  “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”  They stared at each other in disbelief.  They can’t imagine anyone would betray him.  Peter motions to John who is closest to Jesus, “Ask him who he means?”  John leans back and asks, “Lord, who is it?”  Jesus dips a piece of bread and gives it to Judas.  Judas took the bread … and didn’t argue!  He left the room. Jesus knew exactly what he was about to do.
    • He knew he would meet the Jews, tell him where to find him later that night in the Garden Gethsemane where he would pray. He planned the kiss to betray him to know whom to arrest.
    • Jesus knew the pain of betrayal, the fists, the scorn the mocking.  The spit. The pain of the crown of thorns.  The pain of the whip that would shred his back. He heard the shouts of the people, “Crucify him!”  The nails pounded in just hours.
    • He knew the suffering and agony of hell as he took on the sins of the world.
    • He knew the abandonment of God himself.  He would see his own mother’s heart shattered.

Knowing all that would happen as Judas was leaving the room, you would think Jesus would yell, “Stop!!!”   Instead he quietly says, “Get to it quickly.”

After Judas’ shadow departed out the doorway, Jesus turns to his disciples, Now the Son of Man is glorified.”  Jesus has a different idea of glory than we do.

  • We glory when “I’m right and they were wrong.”
  • We glory when we receive credit for what we’ve done.
  • We’ve glory for the caring person people tells us we are.
  • We love to hear praise and good things sung about our name:  Kind.  Compassion.  Loving.  Giving.  Serving, sacrificing person we think we are.
  • We measure glory by followers and likes not by how many people follow us around every day because they want to be more like the kind of Christian person we are. But how many people will see a picture or message we share that shows more and more about ourselves?

The world is a hot mess, but is it going to be made better if people hear more about us?

  • Are you the example of Christian love that others will follow so they see more of Christ?
  • Are they going to see someone who listens when someone is talking to them and gives full attention with a full heart because “what you are saying is important to me”?  Or, “Whatever you had on your mind was more obviously more important than what I was saying to you.”
  • Are you the example of patience that others should copy?
  • Are you the example of a gentle response to a harsh word that prevents a heated argument, or do you help get the thing going?
  • Are you an example of accepting the bad that happens in life together with the good without complaining?
  • Are you the example of being content?  Are you the example of someone who knows this life and our time on earth is not to do as we please but it’s the Lord’s life for his purpose and for him alone and lived for his glory?

Are you an example?  Then I’m not either.

Our idea of glory has so often to do with who we think we are and what we want others to be convinced we are.  Not who we know Jesus is.  Our sinful nature is so resilient/reliable we can say, “I know, I don’t love others as Christ has loved me … this is true.”  AND IT DOESN’T CHANGE A THING WE DO.  Actions speak louder than words.  When we don’t show love in Christ in our daily lives in our words and actions, we HIDE the glory of Christ and miss the marks of discipleship.  That’s not a small “oops.”  It’s a shameful sin that grieves the Holy Spirit and hurts the ones we love, and it doesn’t show anyone how much Jesus loves us and how much Jesus loves them.

“A new command I give you” (v34).  New … not because they’ve never heard it but new because of the new motivation that Jesus would give his disciples to actually do itTo say love is one thing.  To show love is to show the mark of discipleship:  “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (34-35).

A man gets down on one knee, takes the hand of his sweetheart and says, “Sweetie, I love you and I want to marry you.  I’ll take good care of you and provide for you.  I’ll be a good father to our children.  All I ask is that you allow me one day a year for another woman.”  Is that an acceptable?  Is that true love?

How God must feel when we get down on our knees and fold our hands in prayer and pray, “Father, I love you and I want you to be part of my life.  I’ll try my best to be a good person, a good parent, a hard worker, and good spouse.  All I ask is that every once in a while, you give me some moments away from you so I can satisfy myself apart from you.”  Is that acceptable?   Is that true love?

Or is that the default mode of our human hearts that argues we are living moral enough lives and are loving others as ourselves just enough to satisfy God?  Is that true love or love that is only lip service to Jesus?  Ask yourself, “Why do I fail in my following of God?  Why am I living so selfishly?”  The problem we have keeping 9 commandments has everything to do when we keep breaking the first one.  Love. God. Above. All. Else. 

That’s love that glorifies God.  That’s love that serves others.  Paul gives concrete illustrations what it’s going to look like and sound like:  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails(1 Cor. 13)

But we do.

  • When the gas tank is empty, will love fill it?
  • You can love your country, but it didn’t stop Hurricane Florence from hitting the Carolinas,
  • You can love your kids like crazy, but it won’t stop tragedy from striking, will it?

It all testifies to the brokenness of the world we live in and the ripple effect of sin in our lives.  You can love all you want to, but love doesn’t seem to change anything.  Now do you understand why Jesus told his disciples, “My children I will be with you only a little while …. Where I’m going you cannot come.”  Jesus the only true God/true Man went where we could not go:

  • To give his life for every time we were impatient, unkind, rude!
  • For how many times we were self-seeking, for how often we were easily angered and kept a mental record of wrong for so long … .
  • Jesus went to where we could not go when he descended to hell to proclaim over the devil leaving the devil and all those with him behind conquered in the fight.
  • Jesus went where we could not go when he burst forth from the tomb alive and triumphant over the power of death and the grave.
  • Jesus went where we could not go when he ascended into heaven before the throne of God and said, “My Father, I’ve given my perfect life as a substitute for him and for her.  You’ve shown the world you’ve accepted my payment as full by resurrection to life now welcome them as redeemed sinners as my brothers and sisters to our home in heaven.

JESUS CALLS THAT GLORY!  The marks of true discipleship are his love and his life given to rescue sinners like you/me.  That’s love that glorifies God!  It’s just that Jesus wants all people to be saved.  That’s why he needs us to show less of ourselves to others and more of him and we do that by showing love to one another.  That’s the mark of true discipleship in us which glorifies God.

I’m convinced:

  • every congregation that senses a turnaround,
  • every person yearning for the will-power to change,
  • every family in desperate need of help,
  • every marriage in need of renewed motivation,
  • every breaking heart in need of a glimmer of hope,

… will find it in a room where a King wore an apron to wash feet and calls us to follow his example.  Why?  Because his love changes everything.  Because we know that God works through his Word to change human hearts … like he’s done in ours(!) and he can in others.  He changed hearts so husbands love their wives and wives love their husbands and display Christ to each other.   And parents love their children and children love their parent and display Christ to each other.  As we show the love of Christ to others they are going to see Christ and hear what he has done for us and what he’s done for them.  He wants us to live in the peace and harmony and the blessings of that love for others to see that glory.

Martin Luther commented: Although faith alone makes one righteous before God … where Christian love does NOT follow faith, that is conclusive evidence that such faith is dead or that love is lacking … ” (Sermons, epistles pg. 105).   Because love is the marker of saving faith.  And when a believer receives the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, they leave with the mark of his forgiving love and with the power to SHOW love.

A NEW COMMAND for a new day!  Behind Jesus’ command is a change of heart:  to show the love of Christ to others because you know how much Christ loves you and you know how much Christ loves them.  Healthy churches are filled with the marks of this love!  So is a healthy you!  Know this, God will help and God is able to teach old sinners new love.  I’m sure of this: “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).  God grant this!  Amen.




God is Delivering His People

Pastor Seminarian Martin Loescher delivers a sermon entitled “God is Delivering His People” based on Numbers 11, various verses at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, September 30, 2018

When we go to church, does our enjoyment of the service depend on how much we like the people involved? The Word of God gladdens our hearts, for sure, but our personal feelings for the preacher, musicians, or people we sit next to, taints our listening; we don’t appreciate the message as much if we don’t appreciate the people. But not so with the apostle Paul in our first lesson. Paul writes that certain men were actually trying to cause trouble for him, and elevate themselves over him, by preaching while he was stuck in prison. But do you remember Paul’s reaction? “What does it matter? The important things is, Christ is being preached! And for this I rejoice!” If only the apostle John, in our Gospel, could have kept the same attitude. Instead, John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” What was with John? Couldn’t he tell the man driving out demons was on his side? The reason why John made him stop, is that he lost sight of the big picture. God was delivering people through that man’s work! But jealousy blinded John; jealousy blinded Joshua in our sermon text too, and finally, jealousy blinds us. But God has a way of directing our eyes back to the big picture and we rejoice when we see it: God is among us, delivering his people.

Now how is it possible for us not see that? Well, think about how Joshua and Moses lost sight of this in our lesson. The people of Israel had just been complaining (again) about the hardships of traveling through the desert, and God rained down holy fire to teach them about complaining. But not long after, the Israelites found something else to complain about—manna. Manna was a sweet-tasting kind of bread that God had been giving them to eat.  But after years of eating manna, they were sick of it. Every family wailed at the entrance of their tents, “We have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna! We want meat!” And God burned with anger.

Moses could see, things were not looking good, and according to his prayer, he seemed to have convinced himself that Israel’s fate rested on his shoulders. Where am I going to get meat for them? I cannot carry all these people by myself. If this is how it’s going to be, why don’t you just kill me—so I don’t have to face my own ruin.”

Wow—Moses had the gall to say before God that he was carrying all these people by himself? And Moses despaired so much that he asked God to kill him?

But God answered Moses with surprising mercy. God told Moses to gather 70 elders around the tent of meeting, (the tabernacle), and then God placed his Holy Spirit on each elder and enabled them to prophesy (speak God’s words.) In effect God stamped his divine approval on these elders and equipped them to help Moses lead the wayward people. Even two elders who didn’t come to the tabernacle, Eldad and Medad, joined in. We’re not sure why they didn’t gather with the rest of the elders, either Moses didn’t choose them, or they just failed to show up. Either way, the Holy Spirit apparently didn’t care, and enabled them to prophesy inside the camp.

And what a reaction from Joshua! “Moses, stop Eldad and Medad!” The Bible says he was Moses’ loyal aide since he was a kid. He felt jealous on behalf of Moses’ because of the unauthorized prophesying of Eldad and Medad, and possibly for his own sake too. But then he tells Moses to stop them? What was Moses going to do, bind and gag Eldad and Medad, and tell the Holy Spirit to cut it out?  Joshua was too jealous to see the big picture. The Holy Spirit was with them, intervening and delivering his people.

But if we put ourselves in Joshua’s sandals, could we have seen any better? Jealousy blinds us too. When someone we know starts talking about their faith on social media, or in person, we get a little smug, “Really? Do we all need another personal testimonial from this lady? She thinks she’s so spiritual but her actions don’t show it. Not like mine. And as if this guy is expounding some deep truths I don’t already know! I could have said it better. He doesn’t deserve a voice, not until he knows his Bible as well as I do.” Other times we cast a jealous eye upon a church musician, or pastor, or another leader in the congregation: just look at him, walking around like he’s the best thing that ever happened to this church. Why should I listen to him? I don’t even like the guy. How come no one ever recognizes my gifts? No one ever thanks me, most of the people here don’t even know how much I do for this church.” This jealousy we feel is not just a little problem of ours, it’s an offence to God.

Moses of course is, the other extreme. Remember how he grew tired of the spotlight, and went so far as asking God to kill him? His prayer shocks us, but, ironically, we don’t sound different. God, I’m done! Do you expect me to carry this family, these school-children, these church members all by myself? How am I supposed to pay the bills this month? How do you expect me to keep my actions and my thoughts so clean, all the time? This isn’t fair, it’s too heavy for me. I’ve had enough. Again, this isn’t just a character flaw we’re talking about, it’s a sin against God. It’s a sin that blinds us, and makes us and lose sight of the big picture.

Thank God, for redirecting our vision to the bigger picture. If we take one more look at our sermon text, we’ll see how he did just that with Moses.

So Moses complains that his burden is too heavy for him, and asks the LORD to kill him, but God has a spectacular answer, full of grace. God has Moses gather 70 elders of the people, and he makes them stand around the tabernacle. Now picture these 70 aged men, facing outward towards every corner of the camp, waiting silently. Down comes God, shrouded in mist. You can’t quite make out what God is saying to Moses in the mist, but all of a sudden you see the 70 elders, one by one, just erupt! Their bearded mouths fly open, and out spews divine, heavenly words, comforting words, words spoken with a wisdom that is not of this world. And even old Eldad and Medad inside the camp begin to prophesy, thundering like the mouthpieces of God. Can you imagine the weight that has just been lifted from Moses’ shoulders? There Moses stands, beaming, while every wailing tent sits in astonished silence.

I wonder what he’s thinking. “I’m not really carrying these people, am I, LORD? You bore them out of Egypt on eagles’ wings, and these people had rejected you and were ready to turn back to Egypt (probably kill me too) but you spoke to them through the elders. You saw what we needed and you came to help.”

But then Joshua interrupts Moses’ thoughts–“Moses, stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying!” “Are you jealous for my sake?” Moses answers. “I wish all two million of the LORD’s people were prophets, this is exactly what we need!” Moses can’t help but rejoice, he finally sees the big picture—through the elders, including Eldad and Medad, God is delivering his people from their folly.

In fact, God is delivering us at that moment. Let’s say God let the Israelites turn back to Egypt. Let’s say they don’t make it to Canaan as planned. Abraham’s descendants die in the desert, or die in Egypt, and there never is a land of Israel. There would be no Bethlehem, no light to dawn on those living in the land of the shadow of death. There would be no Jesus, and no Roman cross to hang him on. There would be no payment for our sins.

But God would not let the Israelites turn back. He does not lead like Moses or like us. He did not grow tired of the Israelites’ stupid refusal to trust him. It was not a burden too heavy to bear.

When the Israelites shook their fists at God, and Moses begged for death, God loved Moses and the rest of his people. For no explicable reason, God at that moment in history so loved the world, that he could not let his plan of salvation die in the desert. God endured the Israelites, and gave them more leaders to bring them to the Promised Land, because all the while, he loved us. He knew about us, that we would come to church today carrying the burden of sins we can’t count, sins of jealousy, self-obsession, despair. He knew about us and he wanted us to meet his Son, so that he could wash all of those sins away. Everything that God did in our lesson, coming down in a pillar of cloud to speak with his weary servant Moses, placing his Holy Spirit on the 70 elders and causing them to prophesy, even enabling Eldad and Medad to prophesy, he did because he ordained that we would be saved by a descendant of Abraham, from Bethlehem in Judea. And he decreed that this man, Jesus, would take away the penalty for our sins of jealousy and despair.

Now we see the big picture, don’t we? God has delivered us! Nor did he leave it at that; he still delivers us, by giving each of us a share of the Holy Spirit. Just as God placed his Spirit on the 70 elders and enabled them to prophesy, and to lead, so God has given his Holy Spirit to our pastors, our teachers, our lay leaders, and to every person here who calls Jesus his Lord. Maybe we can’t prophesy like those 70 elders did, but the Holy Spirit has given us gifts of wisdom, knowledge, hospitality, kindness, gentleness, steadfastness—all these gifts God has given so that we might receive support and encouragement from one another in life’s harsh desert. Is this not a spectacular answer to our personal weaknesses and burdens? Does this not eliminate all reason to be jealous of someone else’s gifts?

Let’s not hold on to our burdens like Moses. God can carry them for us, and he often does so through the help of other believers.  Let’s not compete with others like John, or be jealous of someone else’s honor like Joshua. God has given gifts to help you, because he plans on you making it your home in heaven, with him. So, let’s be like Paul, and like Moses at the end of the lesson. Let’s rejoice every time Christ is preached, no matter whose mouth it comes out of, or who gets to look good. God has delivered us from sin, and that’s all that matters. And he continues to deliver us from this world by giving us his Holy Spirit so that we do not lose faith, and so that we have leaders and companions on our long road to heaven. Amen.