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 it. To 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: “4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 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.
- 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.