Today, on Day 22 of these 40 Days of Purpose, we start looking at the third of God's purposes for our lives, which is discipleship – you were created to become like Christ. God wants us to grow up. Jesus doesn't just want decisions – he wants disciples. In Matthew 28 Jesus commands us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded. Discipleship and obedience to Christ go together. Following Jesus can be costly but there are also rewards. Romans 8:28-29 says this:
'And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…'
Sadly though, as the chapter for today in The Purpose Driven Life book states, 'many believers appear to have abandoned living for God's great purposes and settled for personal fulfilment and emotional stability. But that is narcissism, not discipleship. Jesus did not die on the cross just so that we could live comfortable, well-adjusted lives. His purpose is far deeper: he wants to make us like himself…'
Now if you've got a copy of the book for the 40 Days and you've managed to keep up with a chapter a day then this week you'll be reading this very challenging section on discipleship. I'm finding the book very helpful but there's so much to take in and apply that at the end of the 40 Days I'm going to have to start reading it again! And I also hope it's driving you to be in God's Word each day. As many of you will hear in a very challenging video at Home Group this week, if we're serious about being a disciple and becoming more like Christ then we need to be reading and applying God's Word each day. Rick Warren says often people say to him 'I'm struggling to have faith'. He then always asks them this question: 'Are you reading the Bible each day?' They almost always reply 'No'. Faith, says Romans 10, comes by hearing the Word of God. Are we in God's Word each day? Have we all been learning the weekly memory verses so far as part of 40 Days of Purpose? Memorising and meditating on Scripture impacts our lives in the way we think and act and helps us to grow in our relationship with God. The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Colossians: 'Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly'. It's an important aspect of our discipleship, of becoming more like Jesus Christ.
This week's memory verse is from Paul's letter to the Philippians 2:5 and says that as a disciple of Jesus Christ
'Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…'
What was Jesus' attitude? Paul tells us as he continues in Philippians 2:
'[Jesus] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name…'
What is our attitude? As Jesus' disciples we are to have his attitude of self- sacrificing humility and obedience being willing to give up everything for him and for the gospel. Earlier in Matthew's Gospel Jesus said to his disciples:
'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.' (Mt 16:24-27)
And we learn more about this attitude and about the cost and rewards of discipleship from chapter 19 of Matthew's Gospel to which we now turn.
So first what do we learn from verses 13-30 about becoming a disciple of Jesus and the characteristics of a true disciple?
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF TRUE DISCIPLES
Look at v13-15:
'Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.'
'The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these', says Jesus. Now Jesus is not here declaring the automatic salvation of all children but he does want them to come to him and they can enter the kingdom through a simple trust in him. To Jesus children are not to be despised or kept away, we are to bring them to him, we are to help them become disciples, they are important and they are also the indicators of the way into the kingdom. You see little children can and do model the conditions of entry into the kingdom of God. Their unselfconscious trust is a paradigm for us all. Look back at v3 of chapter 18 for a moment. Jesus says there:
"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
In other words, unless you humble yourselves, repent and believe and trust in Jesus as a little helpless child trusts their parents then you will never enter the kingdom of heaven, you will never become a disciple. Who this morning needs to do that for the first time? You're full of pride. You think you can get into heaven on your own, by your own effort. Well Jesus says that you need to humble yourself before God, admit that you're a sinner in need of a Saviour and simply and completely trust in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord. The Bible teaches that 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' (1 Peter 5:5)
The little children, in their lowly status, are also a model for how we are to continue to follow Jesus. Their attitudes of trust, simplicity, humility and dependence all characterise true disciples of Jesus Christ. What characterises our discipleship? Trust in Christ and dependence on the Holy Spirit? If we want to grow up to be mature disciples we need to become like little children. The disciples in Matthew 19:13 had still not understood this. They had not yet absorbed Jesus' revolutionary scale of values, in which the 'little ones' were the greatest from chapter 18. Here in v13 they rebuked those who brought the little children to Jesus. Their attitude and action was typical of their day but that is not the attitude Jesus wants to see in the kingdom. We are not to have the attitude of the world – no - our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Which brings me to my second heading and the rich young man's encounter with Jesus.
THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP
The rich young man in v16-22 was not willing to humble himself and put his trust in Jesus. His trust was in himself and in his wealth. He was not willing when it came to the crunch to surrender everything to King Jesus, put him first and follow him. To the disciples, who were astonished at Jesus saying in v23&24 that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, this rich young man may have seemed an ideal recruit to Jesus' band of followers. He was rich, which to the Jews was a sign of God's blessing, he was outwardly moral and he was seeking eternal life. Yet, although his initial question is genuine as in the end he does go away very sad, he was also self confident. The question he asks shows that he is sure that eternal life is something which lies within his own power to attain by doing the right things, which is still a commonly held belief today. Look at v16-22:
'Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." "Which ones?" the man enquired. Jesus replied, "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father, and 'love your neighbour as yourself.'" "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.'
Now let's be clear we cannot get eternal life by doing good things. Yes as Jesus' disciples we are to obey the commandments and do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. That is evidence of true faith. But we cannot earn eternal life. You cannot earn a free gift. The Bible says we've all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 states that:
'The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.'
We receive eternal life only by faith in Christ, who died in our place on the cross to take the punishment we deserve for our sins and who rose from the dead to bring us new and eternal life. In John's Gospel the crowd ask Jesus:
"What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent [Jesus]." (Jn 6:28-9)
To go back to v16-22 of Matthew 19, in answering the rich man Jesus in v17 emphasised the goodness of God and so questioned the man's idea of goodness. For goodness is found in relation to God, not by good deeds of our own devising. Only God is good. Yes, to keep God's commandments is to reflect his goodness, and this the young man had tried to do but as Jesus proves here by calling the rich man's bluff, he had actually failed to love his neighbour as he was not willing to give to them and so fell short on that commandment.
Look again at 20-22. The man says all these I have kept – what do I still lack? He's aware something is missing but he's not willing to humble himself in every sense. Jesus knew this man's heart and where his treasure lay – and it wasn't in heaven. So Jesus said to him:
"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me. But when the young man heard this he went away very sad because he had great wealth."
The rich young man counted the cost of being a disciple but he was not willing to pay it. Are we? V 23-26:
'Then, Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."'
As the disciples realised it is not just hard for a rich man to enter heaven it's impossible. Indeed it's easier, Jesus says, for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. And just to prove that it's impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle – let me show you that it's impossible even for a small toy camel to go through the eye of a needle!
Attempts have been made to reduce the toughness of this passage. Some have suggested that 'the eye of a needle' means a little narrow gate that a camel laden with riches would have difficulty fitting through. But that is not the literal meaning of Jesus' words. It's impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle and it's impossible (v26) for a rich man to enter heaven. It can't be done.
Why not? Well we've just seen why in the person of the rich young man. Wealth tends to make a person selfish, materialistic, independent of God, distracted, focused on retaining their wealth. Being rich can lead to an overconfidence which is the very opposite of the childlike spirit of trusting dependence on the goodness and mercy of God. The rich young man could not give up his wealth. He didn't just have money he had the love of money. He would not share it. He would not love Jesus more than his wealth. Jesus said in Mt 6:24:
"No-one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."
Yes the Bible teaches in Deuteronomy 8 that it is God who gives us the ability to create wealth. But we forget that and so wealth can be dangerous. One preacher wrote:
'For every verse in the Bible that tells us the benefits of wealth, there are ten that tell us the danger of wealth, for money has a way of binding us to what is physical and temporal, and blinding us to what is spiritual and eternal. It's a bit like the fly and the flypaper. The fly lands on the flypaper and says, "My flypaper." When the flypaper says, "My fly," the fly is dead. It is one thing to have money, another for money to have you. When it does, it will kill you.'
Paul writes this further warning to all of us here this morning who are rich, which compared to the whole world is the vast majority of us, in 1Timothy 6:
'The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs…Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God…Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.'
One of the things that can damage and distract us from our discipleship is materialism. An important part of our discipleship is our giving. How generous and sacrificial is ours? You were created to become like Christ. Jesus gave everything. The rich young man was not willing – are we?
Yes Jesus has not required all his followers to give away all their possessions. His demands vary for different individuals and situations. He may for example be asking someone here to give up a wrong relationship because that's getting in the way of our relationship with him. But we should beware of using the fact that he hasn't required all his followers to give away all their possessions as a convenient escape route. As one commentator put it:
'That Jesus did not command all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command!'
The disciples were astonished at Jesus' words. If it's impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom then who can be saved? Jesus' answer is that humanly speaking it is impossible for anyone to enter. But with God all things are possible. You see salvation is not earned either by wealth or by poverty. We don't earn it by giving away all our possessions. It is God's gift. Only by grace can we enter – only by God's riches at Christ's expense can we enter. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ and not by works, says Eph 2:8&9. He knows how to bring people into his kingdom. It cost him everything he's got to come and seek us. Are we willing to follow him whatever the cost and put him first in our lives? How much more can Christ shine through a fully surrendered life to impact others for his glory.
Thirdly and finally…
THE REWARDS OF DISCIPLESHIP (v27-30)
In v27 Peter then asks a rather self-centred question of Jesus and gets an encouraging reply. Look at v27-30:
'Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first."'
Jesus gave them a marvellous promise of rewards in this life and the next. Christians who have given up all for him will share his victory (v28). They will also find that they gain far more than they lose (v29). Christ is no-one's debtor, and those who sacrifice to follow him will find it abundantly worthwhile. At the renewal of all things, Jesus says in v28, at the new heavens and new earth, when the Son of Man [Jesus] sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging or ruling the twelve tribes of Israel. They will share his kingly glory and authority when he fulfils the vision of Daniel 7:13-14. In Rev. 3:21 Jesus says, "To him who overcomes I will give the right to sit with me on my throne." And, v29, everyone who has left houses, family or work for Jesus' sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
Believers will find enhanced relationships and profit from the generosity and hospitality of fellow Christians. We will be compensated a hundred times both in this life as we share in the resources of the Christian family and in eternal life. However Jesus detected the possibility of a wrong motive for service in Peter's question. So he gives a warning in v30 that some who are first in their own eyes will be last in the judgement, and some who are last will end up first.
We should therefore beware of assuming that our sacrifice has earned us a place of special honour. But more on that next week,, when we'll be looking at the parable of the workers in the vineyard from Matthew 20. Let's pray together. John Wesley wrote this prayer of commitment to Christ and I encourage you to make it your own.
Lord, I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low by you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. Amen.