DO DISCIPLESHIP

DO DISCIPLESHIP

Matthew 28:16-20 CSB

16 The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted. 18 Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So far, in our study of discipleship and discipling, we discovered from the tassel text (Numbers 15) that discipleship is designed to pass from generation to generation, that it begins with repentance and devotion and specific obedience, and that it is a response to who God is.

Then we stopped of at the doorpost text (Deuteronomy 6), where we learned that becoming a disciple is a one-time decision, but being a disciple is a life-long process where we internalize God’s word, personalize and normalize it by making it part of your everyday life. You also publicize God’s word by spreading it to everyone who visits your home and everyone who lives in your city.

Last week, we looked at the rich young ruler in Mark 10, who seemed to be perfect, but he had just one area of his life that he was not willing to surrender to Christ. The kingdom of God is an all-or-nothing proposition.

Now that we have looked at those foundational texts, we are going to take a closer look at the great commission passage, because there are still some questions that need to be answered about the process of discipling.

First of all, I think it’s important to clear up some possible confusion. Last week we looked at the almost perfect son and discovered that we was not perfect enough to inherit eternal life. That might cause some of us to worry that we are not good enough to be a disciple, much less make disciples.

We do not have to be perfect to make disciples (17).

  • “When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted”

These were the eleven apostles who had been with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry. But even at this point, after his resurrection, there were some who were not 100% ready.

To me, that is wonderful news. I personally spend a lot more time in Romans 7 than I do in Romans 8. In Romans 7, Paul confesses that he struggles with living an obedient life, and in Romans 8, Paul praises God for the Holy Spirit who gives him victory.

Like Paul, we are going to continue to struggle to live the lives of faith that we began when we became disciples. The good news of today’s text is that those struggles will not prevent us from making disciples. They all worshiped, but some doubted. They had doubts, but they still obeyed. Their doubts did not disqualify them from the task of making disciples.

Our struggles are not going to keep us from leading other people to Christ. In fact, those very struggles may open the door for us to reach people who would never be reached by anyone else.

Jesus knew the potential in those eleven apostles. He knew they had what it takes to begin making disciples. He knows the same thing about us.

Second, we need to understand something about this present age, and how it is put together politically. Some people are turned off when they think about evangelism because they do not want to interfere with anyone’s right to choose their own destiny.

We do not need anyone else’s permission to make disciples (18).

  • “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.”

Jesus told the eleven that he has all authority in the universe. There is no human being who has the right to say “no” to Jesus Christ. He is our king. In fact, he is everybody’s king. There is not an angel in heaven, nor a human being here on earth who has the right to disobey Jesus Christ.

There are some early rulers who will choose to disobey Christ. There will be some of your friends who will refuse to acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ. But there will not be one person who has the right to say no to him.

We do not need anyone else’s permission to lead our friends and family to Christ. We do not need anyone else’s permission to go overseas and lead people to Christ. By giving us the command, he has given us the permission, and there is no authority above him that can rescind it.

And, at the end, when we all stand before our Savior and king, there will not be one person there who will object to the fact that you and I shared the gospel with them. In fact, given the fact that we who follow Christ today will inherit permanent life on that day, all those with whom we have shared the gospel will be grateful that we invited them to join us.

Third, we have to understand that from the very beginning, the discipling process was designed to happen as people went about their daily lives.

We should not expect potential disciples to come to us (19).

  • “Go, therefore”

This translation follows a certain tradition that understands the word “go” as being practically the same thing as “make disciples.” It sees the word as having practically the same force as the imperative “make disciples.”

I don’t think that is correct. I personally translate the word “after you go.” Remember, the context. The apostles are in Galilee, and they are heading to Jerusalem. I think what Jesus is telling them is that from now on, wherever they go, making disciples is going to be their primary occupation.

But however you read the word, there is no way it can imply that our job is to stay where we are and disciples will come to us. All eleven of the apostles became missionaries, leading people to Christ and making disciples wherever they went.

In the same way, we need to keep looking for ways to reach the unreached. That often means getting out of our comfort zone and going where we are not familiar, and doing what we are not comfortable with. There is a time to stay, and pray, and pay for others to go. But we need to be sensitive to the Lord’s leading, and be ready to go. It is about 80 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem. Ask yourself: am I willing to travel 80 miles to reach someone with the gospel? Now – think of it this way. It probably took the apostles four days to go to Jerusalem. There is not a point on the globe that you and I cannot reach within four days.

In the book of Acts, when God’s people were not going as they should, the Lord allowed persecution to scatter them. One way or another, the gospel is going to get out there to the masses that do not know the truth. We receive the greater blessing when we go voluntarily.

Fourth, when Jesus gave the great commission, he told his apostles how to initiate the process. He said they were to disciple people by baptizing them. You have to understand what that meant in the first century. Baptism had been made popular by John the Baptist. John lead people to commit themselves to becoming part of God’s coming kingdom which the messiah would lead.

So, in today’s lingo, John the Baptist was an evangelist. What John did was lead people to repent of their sins and join Christ’s kingdom. The baptism was the evidence of repentance and faith.

We cannot make disciples without actually sharing the gospel (19).

  • “baptizing them”

We are not discipling if we simply call on people to join the church. Discipling happens when people understand the gospel and commit themselves to obeying Christ and living according to his kingdom principles.

But that commitment is not the end of the process. It is the middle. The process of discipling begins by hearing the gospel. It reaches its crucial point when the hearer has chosen to be baptized, identifying both with the coming kingdom and the local congregation. But there is more.

Fifth, Jesus commanded the eleven to teach those who are baptized to obey their new king!

We cannot make disciples without change (20).

  • “teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you”

Discipling is only half done once you have led people to the altar. The other half of the process is teaching them how to live their daily lives in obedience to their new king.

It should not surprise us that this is our role. Jesus himself made disciples this way. He first recruited the twelve. Then he spent time with them, teaching them how to live. Then, when it was time for them to go on without him, he told them to do what he did: make disciples.

Sixth, there is one more bit of very helpful instruction about discipling in this text. Jesus told the eleven that even though he was going away, he would still be with them. That is very good news.

We do not have to make disciples by ourselves (20).

  • “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”

If we were left alone, without the abiding presence of the Savior himself, we would certainly fail. But with his presence there is power.

We do not have to make disciples by ourselves. He has placed us in churches where we can work together to obey this great commission. Perhaps that is why Jesus assembled the eleven to give them this charge.

And he has promised to be with us throughout the whole process – from the proclamation of the gospel, to the joy of baptismal commitment, to the ongoing process of learning to live according to the principles of our king.

He will be with us wherever we go. Wherever we go, we will find him, and his Holy Spirit – there too. We might go to some strange places. But his presence will help us to adjust, and to find just the right words to turn those strange places into strongholds of his kingdom.

He will be with us always. He is not going to be with us for launching and then abandon us in mid-flight. No, If he’s there at the launching, he will be there at the landing.

THE ALMOST PERFECT SON

THE ALMOST PERFECT SON - 1THE ALMOST PERFECT SON

Mark 10:17-22 CSB

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.” 21 Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 But he was dismayed by this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Happy Father’s Day.

I am a very very proud father. My three daughters – Liz and Connie and Naomi – have given me much joy, and they continue to show me the grace of God. Fatherhood comes with its own blessing.

Today’s passage came to mind because I had been planning it for the June series on discipleship. But I also wanted to look at this incident from the standpoint of the father of the young man who came to Jesus.

Any father would have been proud to have this man as a son. In fact, any pastor would have salivated at the chance of inviting this young man into his church. He was the profile of the perfect parishioner. He had so much to contribute as a minister, and he had the means to sponsor his ministry and that of others. He also appears to have dealt with any nasty habits or unconfessed sins that would detract him from ministry. Yes, looking at his list, anyone would have seen him as a qualified candidate. Anyone would have been proud to claim this man as his son.

He was respectful (17).

Fathers are blessed when their children respect them and their mothers. Jesus had actually quoted the commandment to honor father and mother, and this man said that he kept that commandment. If he had actually been disrespectful to his parents, Jesus would have known.

Mark tells us that the man ran up to Jesus, knelt down before him, and addressed him with the respectful title “good teacher.” We live in an age when people have pretty much lost their respect, particularly for religious figures. People have become overly informal and have lost the sense of decorum that was so evident in past generations.

Whatever failures this young man had, he had not lost his respect for Jesus. If I had a son, I would want him to be respectful like that.

The New Testament was written in a culture that allowed slavery. Paul told Timothy to instruct Christian slaves not to be disrespectful to their Christian masters (1 Timothy 6:2).

Peter told Christian slaves to be respectful to their masters, even if they treated them unreasonably (1 Peter 2:18). Showing respect is a sign of our citizenship in the kingdom of God.

The author of Hebrews took it for granted that earthly fathers should be respected, despite the fact that one of the roles of a father is to discipline his children. (Hebrews 12:9).

Paul warned that in the last days difficult times will come and one of the sign of those times is disobedience to parents (2 Timothy 3:2).

Whatever failures this young man had, he had not lost his respect for his parents. If I had a son, I would want him to be respectful like that.

He was as obedient as he knew how to be (18-20).

Jesus started rattling off the ten commandments, and the man pointed out that he had been careful to follow them. This was not a hypocrite. He was what we might call a conscientious person. He wasn’t trying to hide a life of blatant rebellion.

We have been learning that obedience to Christ’s commands is essential to living a life of faith in him.

When our Lord gave his great commission, he told us that we would make disciples by teaching people to obey what he commanded (Matthew 28:20).

The New Testament teaches that “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36 ESV).

Grace and obedience work together in the discipleship process. Without grace there can be no obedience. Without obedience, there is no proof of grace. So, we say “salvation by grace alone” but we must be careful when we say that because true grace never stays alone. It produces obedience.

This is why James taught that faith without works is dead, being by itself (James 2:17). True biblical faith is never by itself. It is accompanied by God’s power and produces a life of discipleship focused on obeying Christ.

This is what God wanted for his children in the promised land. This is what he wants for his disciples today. He wants us to come to him for salvation, and then commit to living lives that draw others to his saving grace.

Whatever failures this young man had, he had not lost his integrity. If I had a son, I would want him to be conscientious like that.

He was loved by Jesus (21a).

Mark says “Looking at him, Jesus loved him.” The Bible only mentions that Jesus specifically loved four other people: Martha and her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus, and the apostle John. That’s a short list.

I know, we sing “Jesus Loves Me this I know for the Bible tells me so” and it’s true. But I think it very interesting that this young man is one of only a handful that the Bible declares whom Jesus specifically demonstrated a concern for and care about.

Whatever failures this young man had, he had not lost his amiability. If I had a son, I would want him to be lovable like that.

But Jesus noticed a flaw in his almost perfect character (21b).

Jesus looked down at his list and he saw one qualification that was missing. He had not dealt with the one strength that would have kept him from serving Christ as his LORD. Jesus challenged him to give up control of that one area in which he prided himself – his wealth.

Wealth is not bad, or wrong. But for many, it is keeping them from serving Christ. Wealth has to be managed, and ministry requires servants, not managers.

Am I safe from this problem since I have little money? Not necessarily. I may be missing one thing too. There may be another strength I have that I am holding back, refusing to relinquish control over. Even if I have nothing to sell, there may be something that he wants me to surrender.

His possessions were keeping him from possessing permanent life (22)

Mark says “But he was dismayed by this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.”

Imagine getting that close to permanent life, and then choosing to walk away from it. That is what happened to the almost perfect son.

Discipleship is an all-or-nothing choice. When God told Noah to build the ark, he and his family had to make the choice to accept God’s plan for rescuing humanity. They could not stay outside the ark with the rest of the world. If they did, they would die.

When God called Abraham and Sarah to become a new nation, they had to make that choice as well. If they had decided to stay where they were, they would have lost everything. They couldn’t stay tied to the old world and still inherit the promise of the new one.

When God rescued the Israelites from Egypt, they had to decide to reject the only life they ever knew. They all were slaves, but some of them might have had good masters. Some of them might have had a chance of becoming well-to-do slaves. It didn’t matter. God’s plan to rescue his people required an all-or-nothing attitude.

Daniel had become a highly respected official – a commissioner in the government of king Darius. But Darius signed a new law saying that for thirty days, no one was allowed to pray to anyone but him, or else that person who prayed would be thrown into the lion’s den. Daniel’s enemies knew that they could find no grounds to accuse him except with regard to his relationship with God and his obedience to God’s law.

As soon as Darius’ new law came into affect, Daniel was arrested. He would not compromise – not even for a short time, and not even on one point. For Daniel, it was all or nothing.

My question for myself and those of you hearing this message today is “Am I an almost perfect son or daughter?” Have I said yes to Jesus and come to him, but is there some part of me I have refused to let Jesus be master of? For Jesus, it’s all or nothing. If we have anything – even a good thing – that is off limits to his lordship, then we have not surrendered all.

We do not have to go away grieving like the almost perfect son did. But it is possible. There is nothing that we possess today that is comparable to the glorious possession of permanent life in Christ’s coming kingdom. But it only takes one possession that can keep us from that inheritance.

DECORATE YOUR DOORPOST

DECORATE YOUR DOORPOSTDECORATE YOUR DOORPOST

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 CSB

4 “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. 7 Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.

We have been looking at what the Bible says about discipleship, and we stopped off last week at a station rarely visited by those who study this topic. This week we are staying in the Old Testament as well. Today’s text in Deuteronomy 6 is famous because it is part of a confession of faith for Judaism called the shema. Verse 4 in Hebrew is recited as part of this confession of faith. It sounds like this: “SHEMA YISRAEL, ADONAY ELOHENU, ADONAY ECHAD.”

Jesus also pointed out the significance of today’s text when he quoted it in response to someone who asked what the greatest commandment in the Law is. Jesus recited verses 4 and 5. Loving the Lord with all that we think and feel (all our heart) and all that we say (all our throat) and all that we do (all our strength) is the greatest commandment because it is the very foundation of what it means to be a disciple.

Every born again believer in Jesus Christ wants to be a disciple in that sense. We want to be more than merely church members. We want to be more than merely professing Christians. We want to love God with everything we are, and declare that love by everything we say and do. Today’s text gives us some specific instructions as to how to become that kind of disciple.

Becoming a disciple is a one-time decision. But being a disciple is not. Once we jump the hurdle of confessing Christ as savior, our battle in life will be reduced to this one thing. Being a Deuteronomy 6 disciple is a decision that we will have to make every second of every day of the rest of your life. Fortunately, here in this text we have some guidelines that will help us in that battle.

The disciple internalizes God’s word (6).

These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart.”

When God’s word is treasured in our hearts, it protects us from failing him (Psalm 119:11). When we just know the words with our heads, they may not protect us from sin. But when we have those words in our hearts, they can keep us from stumbling.

We have to learn God’s word as it applies to us. We cannot stop after we learn the Bible as history. That’s a good start, but it is not enough. God’s word has to be internalized.

The book of Acts tells us the story of seven sons of a Jewish chief priest, named Sceva. They were not believers in Jesus, but they knew that Paul was performing miracles in Jesus’ name, so they decided to cast out some evil spirits by invoking the name of Jesus and Paul. But it didn’t work. The evil spirit responded to their command by saying “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15).

The problem with the sons of Sceva is that they wanted the power of the gospel without believing the gospel. They wanted the power of the Holy Spirit without internalizing the word of God. You cannot do that.

You internalize the gospel by believing it. You internalize a command by obeying it. Jesus said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21). He asked those people who were not internalizing his words “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

One of my goals for this congregation is that we become more familiar with exactly what Jesus commanded, and how we can obey his commands. This series on discipleship is the first of several, where I plan to take each command of Jesus, and teach how to obey it personally, and as a congregation.

The disciple normalizes God’s word (7).

Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

There are a great many religious people who are quite good at compartmentalizing the faith. We used to call those people “Sunday Christians” but today they are more like “Sunday morning between 11 and noon Christians.” They come for the show, and go back home with no appreciable difference. They have placed all their religious experience in a small box, and are careful not to let any of it out into the air to expose it to the rest of their weekly schedule.

Today’s text prescribes the exact opposite of that attitude. It encourages Israelites to make learning and trusting and obeying God’s word the main item on their agenda for every hour of the day. They are to wake up with God’s word, eat it for breakfast, work at it at work, work at it at home after work, and go to bed with it at night. They are to make God’s word the topic of every conversation, the focus of every thought, the therapy for every problem, and the center of every relationship.

Making God’s word the main item on our agenda every hour of the day is how we live up to our promise to be his disciples.

The disciple also personalizes God’s word (8).

Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead.”

You personalize the word of God when it is God’s word to you as an indication of a personal relationship. Jesus told about people who will be standing before him on judgment day, and he will reject them. They will say ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then he will announce to them, ‘I never knew you.’ (Matthew 7:22-23). They thought that doing great things in Jesus’ name is a substitute for a personal relationship with him. It is not.

The Lord wanted the Israelites to symbolize their personal relationship with him by how they treated his word. He told them to strap his word to their hands and to their heads. That way, nothing they ever did, and nothing they ever thought would be outside of the boundaries of his word.

For example, the Israelite goes about his daily walk, and he walks upon a Canaanite practicing his pagan religion and worshiping a pagan god. Should he be tempted to think like this pagan? He reaches up to touch his forehead. He feels that portion of God’s word bound onto his head like a hat. He remembers that he is supposed to Love the Lord his God with all his heart. No room for idolatry there.

Another example, the Israelite goes about his daily walk, and notices a coin left out in the open. His hand reaches for the coin, but stops. His hand has the word of God bound to it. God’s word says do not steal. He remembers that God has already provided for all his needs. He can walk away from that “free” money because he knows that it would not be free. It would come at the cost of betraying his relationship with God. That is too high a price.

The disciple also publicizes God’s word (9).

Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.”

The title of today’s message comes from this verse. It reminds us that our Lord is not the author of a private religion. If you cannot advertise your faith, you might want to reconsider that faith. Jesus said “everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

The Israelite who wanted to show his relationship to the God of his ancestors had to begin by showing that relationship to those who entered his home. He was to write God’s words on the doorposts of his house. Everyone who looked at his house would see clear evidence of his commitment. It was a decoration, but it was also discipleship. It established the boundaries of that person’s family life. It defined the husband and wife. It set the children apart as belonging not just to that couple, but to their God.

But notice that it was not just the house door that was to be decorated. It was also the city gate. “This house belongs to the Lord” is not enough. This city also belongs to the Lord. God’s word is not just the foundation of our families, it is to be the law that rules over our governments.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world. That light was never intended to be a pen light, showing on our personal lives and families alone. It was intended be a floodlight – to shed God’s truth to the world. In fact, it was in the very context of Jesus’ teaching that we are the light of the world that he told us “a city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).

God’s word was intended to be publicized. He wants us to believe it and trust it as individuals, but that is only the beginning. He designed discipleship to happen when we share his word with others.

God has provided us with numerous opportunities for sharing his word in this generation. In fact, at no time in history have we ever been in a place where we can communicate to more people faster and more efficiently.

But I have to warn you about something. We Americans (and a lot of other people in the world too) have learned to be quite lazy about this aspect of discipleship. We have learned to be very efficient Sunday morning Christians. People observing us at church see something altogether different than the person they see at work, at our homes, at the football game, or on the internet. That is precisely why we need to come back to Deuteronomy 6. God’s kind of disciple is not someone who compartmentalizes. A disciple of Jesus Christ is someone who internalizes, normalizes, personalizes and publicizes God’s word 24/7.

TIME TO TASSEL

TIME TO TASSEL - 01

TIME TO TASSEL

Numbers 15:37-41 CSB

37 The Lord said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them that throughout their generations they are to make tassels for the corners of their garments, and put a blue cord on the tassel at each corner. 39 These will serve as tassels for you to look at, so that you may remember all the Lord’s commands and obey them and not prostitute yourselves by following your own heart and your own eyes. 40 This way you will remember and obey all my commands and be holy to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord your God.”

Before he ascended, Jesus gave his great commission to his followers telling them to make disciples of all nations. But that is not the first instance where believers are commanded to make disciples. I want us to spend a few weeks examining what the Bible says about the act of discipling. I think there are some passages of scripture that are not so well known, and these can help us get a tighter grip on what it means to be a disciple, and to make disciples. I also think that once we have that foundation, we will be better able to see the significance of the passages we normally go to on discipleship and discipling.

It would be helpful for me to define some terms that I plan on using in this series of sermons. I will try to use these words consistently so there is no confusion.

Disciple – A disciple is a student of someone. In its richer religious use, the term indicates that disciples desire not just to learn from the teacher, but to become like their teacher. Jesus said that it is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher – and that is enough for us as well. We can never become like Jesus in some ways, but we can become like him in other ways. We should always strive to become disciples in that sense.

Discipleship – I’m using this word to indicate everything the Bible teaches on becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is a major theme of the New Testament, even though the noun disciple and the verb to be or make a disciple are not found after the book of Acts. Other terms take their place, but the theme of discipleship runs all the way to Revelation. It is also the theme of today’s message from the Old Testament.

Discipling – This word describes the process of making someone a disciple. This is something we want to study in this series as well.

Today’s text from the book of Numbers gives us some foundational thoughts about discipleship. Follow along with me as we trace these thoughts.

The passage describes the tassels that the Israelites were commanded to wear on the corners of their robes. When anyone saw the tassels, they would identify the wearer as an Israelite, a follower of the God of the Bible. The tassels had no purpose other than identification. But identification is a major aspect of discipleship. Identifying as a member of God’s kingdom is testifying to the authority of God’s king. Identifying as a member of God’s family is testifying to your relationship with your heavenly father. Identifying as God’s servant is testifying to your intention to obey him and follow his instructions, not to do your own thing.

God told Moses that it was time for his people to put on tassels. What can we learn about discipleship from this text?

Discipleship is generational (38).

God told Moses that the Israelites were to make tassels, not just for a select few adults now living, but it was to become a practice “throughout their generations.” Timothy picked up his faith from watching and listening to Lois and Eunice. Faith is designed to be passed on from generation to generation. We learn how to be a disciple of Christ at the same time we are learning how to brush our teeth, make our beds, read and write. And we can learn discipleship in the same context as we learn these other things.

This is how God intended discipleship to happen among the Israelites. Every boy and girl would be identified as a member of God’s kingdom from the very beginning. Being a follower of the God of the Bible was to be as natural as breathing. If you had asked that boy who he was, he would say “a follower of the LORD, just like daddy.” If you asked that girl who she was, she would say “a follower of the LORD, just like momma.” If you had asked that young couple what they were doing, they would say “we’re raising a family of followers of the LORD, just like our parents did.

One of the absolute joys of being a parent is seeing your child confess faith in Jesus Christ, and demonstrate that faith with the sign of water baptism. One of the absolute heartaches as a parent is to see your child hesitate or reject that faith. This is only natural. Discipleship is designed to be generational.

Discipleship begins with repentance (39).

The tassels were to prevent the Israelites from prostituting themselves by following their own hearts and their own eyes. This shows that even though God wanted their discipleship to be generational, that did not mean that it was going to be automatic. No, the natural inclination of these Israelites was going to be rebellion and independence from God.

Jeremiah (17:9) tells us that the human heart is more deceitful that anything else, and desperately sick. We do not naturally seek God. We do not naturally want to do what God wants. That is why each one of us has to go to the cross. Discipleship has to begin with repentance. We have to admit that there is nothing good in us before we can hope for anything good to become of us.

The Bible proclaims that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We begin at that point. We do not begin as a blank slate with nothing written on it. We begin as a defiled slate, with nothing good on our hearts to commend us to a holy and righteous God. So, the first thing we must do is come to God and confess that we are unworthy of him.

If we do not begin here – in repentance – there can be no progress in our discipleship. If we don’t confess “LORD, my heart wants to love the wrong thing, and my eyes want to see the wrong thing” – then we will never find grace.

Discipleship is a response to who God is (41).

Verse 41 begins and ends with the same statement: “I am the Lord your God.” True disciples come to God not because of who they are, but because of who he is. Knowing who we are without God only brings shame and despair. But knowing who God is enables us to lift up our eyes and hope for a better day.

When God told Moses to go to Egypt and rescue the Israelites from bondage, Moses told God that they were going to ask him what God’s name is. God told Moses to tell them “I AM WHO I AM.” He then went on to tell Moses to identify him as “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

He is the God who created all things. He is the God who calls people to himself. He is the God who intercedes in people’s lives, and rescues them. He is the God who calls one person to build an ark, and another person to become a father of a multitude.

Our discipleship may lead us to do many things that we do not have the power to do. But we take up the challenge to do these things because of who God is, not because of who we are.

Discipleship requires devotion (40).

Our walk in the way of righteousness begins with out confession that we are anything but holy. But after being plunged into the cleansing fountain we are ready to be holy to our God. We have devoted ourselves to becoming a living sacrifice that pleases God.

As we saw when we looked at Romans 12, this devotion cannot begin with us. Our minds are not formatted for renewal. But if we make the choice to present our bodies as living sacrifices, he will transform us by renewing our minds.

Discipleship requires specific obedience (39-40).

The tassels were visual reminders of the things that God had commanded the Israelites to do or avoid doing as God worked out the process of discipleship in their lives.

Note how Moses said this in verses 39-40:

  • These will serve as tassels for you to look at, so that you may remember all the Lord’s commands and obey them…

  • This way you will remember and obey all my commands…

If the Israelites merely wore the tassels, without allowing those tassels to remind them to obey the Lord’s commands – wearing the tassels would just be another meaningless ritual.

Rituals become meaningless when we refuse to attach to them the meaning originally intended. This is what happened to the tassels. They became a sign identifying an Israelite, but they lost their connection to the commands. That was not what God wanted to happen.

Because there were so many rituals in the Old Testament that became empty like this, Jesus did not give his church many rituals. He did not want his church to follow rituals without purpose.

He did make two exceptions. He gave us the ritual of baptism, and the ritual of the Lord’s supper. Both of these rituals highlight what Christ did for us.

The tassels were to remind the Israelites that God had commanded them to do some things for him. To be a disciple of the God of the Bible is to obey him in some very specific ways.

Now, you might say “Well, that was the Old Testament, and the New Testament does not command us to obey, it just asks us to believe.” No, that is not correct. When our Lord gave his great commission, he told us that we would make disciples by teaching people to obey what he commanded.

The New Testament teaches that “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36 ESV).

Grace and obedience work together in the discipleship process. Without grace there can be no obedience. Without obedience, there is no proof of grace. So, we say “salvation by grace alone” but we must be careful when we say that because true grace never stays alone. It produces obedience.

This is why James taught that faith without works is dead, being by itself (James 2:17). True biblical faith is never by itself. It is accompanied by God’s power and produces a life of discipleship focused on obeying Christ.

This is what God wanted for his children in the promised land. This is what he wants for his disciples today. He wants us to come to him for salvation, and then commit to living lives that draw others to his saving grace.

Jesus did not command us to put tassels on our clothing. But he did command us to be his disciples, and to make disciples of all nations.

GETTING RID OF FOREIGN GODS

GETTING RID OF FOREIGN GODS

Joshua 24:14-24 CSB

Therefore, fear the Lord and worship him in sincerity and truth. Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and worship the Lord. 15 But if it doesn’t please you to worship the Lord, choose for yourselves today: Which will you worship—the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living? As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord.” 16 The people replied, “We will certainly not abandon the Lord to worship other gods! 17 For the Lord our God brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery, and performed these great signs before our eyes. He also protected us all along the way we went and among all the peoples whose lands we traveled through. 18 The Lord drove out before us all the peoples, including the Amorites who lived in the land. We too will worship the Lord, because he is our God.” 19 But Joshua told the people, “You will not be able to worship the Lord, because he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions and sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you, harm you, and completely destroy you, after he has been good to you.” 21 “No!” the people answered Joshua. “We will worship the Lord.” 22 Joshua then told the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you yourselves have chosen to worship the Lord.” “We are witnesses,” they said. 23 “Then get rid of the foreign gods that are among you and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 So the people said to Joshua, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him.”

Over the past few weeks, we have been looking at some of the good habits of the victorious Christian. We can find those habits described in the New Testament – like the habit of letting God renew your mind, or passing on your faith. But there are also some good habits described in the Old Testament – like returning to the LORD.

Today’s habit is described in the Old Testament book of Joshua. Joshua 24 records a crucial moment in the history of the Jewish people. They had entered into the promised land, and had settled there. But their fighting was not over. No, Joshua told his people that they had a choice to make – and a choice to keep on making.

Like those Israelites, you and I have the same choice to make. We can delude ourselves into thinking that idolatry is an ancient temptation, and that we are beyond it. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, we are living in a generation profoundly polytheistic. You only have to look at the news headlines and social media posts to see that people are following numerous paths, and all those paths compete for our attention and allegiance. The gods of this generation may not overtly name themselves, or demand sacrifices or ritual ceremonies, but those gods are very much alive. They are reflected in the number of their adherents.

It is precisely for that reason that this text can speak to us this morning. We face the same choice that these Old Testament Israelites faced. We would do well to look at the choice they had to make, and see what choice they made, and why it was important that they make it. The habit they needed to develop is the habit of getting rid of foreign Gods and staying true to the one true God.

Joshua encouraged his people to get rid of all the foreign gods and serve the Lord exclusively (14-15).

Moses had instructed the Israelites not to “worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14 NIV). He told them to “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name” (Deuteronomy 6:13 NIV). A few chapters later, Moses repeated himself, saying “Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is the one you praise; he is your God” (Deuteronomy 10:20-21a NIV).

Jesus had the very same attitude. Some people today talk about Jesus as if he would accept anybody’s religion as long as they were devout. But the Jesus we read about in the New Testament quotes Moses when he says “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matthew 4:10 NIV).

Joshua encouraged his people to serve the LORD exclusively, but it was not a simple choice for them to make. Opposition gods are everywhere. Here is a short list of Egyptian gods and goddesses.

  • AMUN-RA: the King of gods

  • MUT: the Mother Goddess

  • OSIRIS: The King of the Living

  • ANUBIS: Protector of the Dead 

  • RA: God of the Sun and Radiance

  • HORUS: God of Vengeance

  • THOTH: God of Knowledge and Wisdom

  • HATHOR: Goddess of love and beauty 

These are just a few of the major deities of the Egyptian pantheon. These gods and goddesses had been part of everyday life for the Israelites when they were slaves. They had been born into a culture that venerated these multiple gods.

Joshua’s instruction for his people was to “Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt” (14). Now, why did he have to say that? I mean, didn’t the Israelites leave Egypt? Didn’t they cross the Red Sea on dry land? Didn’t they wander in the open country for forty years, and then cross the Jordan into the promised land? Yes, they left Egypt. But the problem with getting out of Egypt is that Egypt does not automatically leave you.

The Israelites had lived in Egypt for over four centuries. They had learned to walk like an Egyptian, talk like an Egyptian, think like an Egyptian, worship like an Egyptian. They needed to present their bodies to God as living sacrifices and allow God to transform them by renewing their minds. But as long as they held on to those Egyptian gods and goddesses, their worship of the one true God would be unacceptable.

It is one thing to destroy an idol. You can do that quite easily. It is another thing to stop trusting in the god that inhabits that idol. You see, if you don’t dump the god or goddess that that idol represents, you are liable to get sentimental and remake the idol. All it takes is a bit of wood or stone. In my travels, I’ve seen the poor make idols out of cement, or use a plastic baby doll. So Joshua challenges his people to get rid of – not just the idols, but the foreign gods.

Now, let’s look at the “gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living” (15). Some of the Israelites were probably not tempted to worship the gods associated with their slavery in Egypt. But they would be tempted to worship the shiny new gods of the land of Canaan.

Here are some of the gods and goddesses who opposed him in the promised land.

  • Ashtoreth (Canaanites)

  • Baal (Canaanites)

  • Baal Peor (Moabites)

  • Baal Zebub (Philistines)

  • Chemosh (Moabites)

  • Dagon (Philistines)

  • Milcom (Ammonites)

  • Molech (Ammonites)

Joshua encouraged his people to get rid of all the foreign gods – old and new – and serve the Lord exclusively

The Israelites know that only the Lord has shown himself powerful enough to save them (16-18).

Notice how the Israelites respond to Joshua’s challenge. They said “We will certainly not abandon the Lord to worship other gods!” (16). They knew that to follow any of the other gods would be to abandon the one true God. He is owed exclusive allegiance.

But they go further than that. They know that following God exclusively is necessary because he has shown himself powerful enough to save them.

First, he miraculously saved them from slavery in Egypt. They said “ the Lord our God brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” (17).

Second, he showed his power by undeniable miracles while leading them.

Third, he miraculously protected them through the entire generation of wandering and the next generation of conquest.

Fourth, he drove out before them “all the peoples, including the Amorites who lived in the land” (18).

So, the Israelites were convinced that their God alone was worthy of worship and was powerful enough to eliminate the need for any “plan b.” They didn’t need any other gods to fall back on.

They had made an important declaration. Now it was Joshua’s turn to warn them that following the one true God in a polytheistic environment was not going to be easy.

Joshua reminds the Israelites that serving the Lord requires firm commitment (19-22).

Joshua warned them that they “will not be able to worship the Lord, because he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions and sins” (19).

If you transgressed under the other gods, there were ceremonies and rituals and sacrifices that would automatically set things right. You could pay a priest or shaman and they would get you forgiveness. But Joshua warns the Israelites that they have to dump that whole process because the true God is jealous and would not forgive someone who stayed connected to those other gods.

Not only would such a person not be forgiven, he would invoke the wrath of God. God would harm him – even destroy him (20). Serving the Lord requires firm commitment. He will not tolerate hypocrisy.

Joshua and the Israelites agree to get rid of all their foreign gods (23-24).

So, Joshua tells the Israelites to “get rid of the foreign gods that are among you and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel” (23). They agreed to do so. They said “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him” (24).

That was not the end of the story. Idolatry continued to plague the Israelites throughout their history – eventually leading to their exile and captivity among the Gentile nations.

What I see in today’s text is a general principle from Scripture which is just as true today as it always has been. God’s people will always be tempted to add other gods to our pantheon. We will always be tempted to take on some priority other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we need to habitually fight that temptation.

Our advertisements reveal that we are enamored with the pagan god SELF. We are commanded to take care of SELF, to treat SELF well because SELF deserves a break, to respect SELF, to pamper SELF, to make SELF first priority.

Meanwhile, our Lord told us that if we want come after him, we will have to deny SELF, and take up our cross, and follow him (Matthew 16:24).

The apostle Paul taught that we should be bearing the weaknesses of those without strength, not concentrating on how to please SELF (Romans 15:1).

James taught that we should be humbling SELF in the presence of the Lord (James 4:10).

Peter taught that we should submit SELF to human authorities because it is God’s will (1 Peter 2:13-15).

When our LORD left us to return to heaven, he gave us one great commission – to make disciples for him. There are a whole lot of others things that will compete for our time and energy, but we need to seek first his kingdom and righteousness. When something else jockeys for the top position, we need to put that god back in its place, because he told us “Do not have other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:3 CSB).

Folks, we have to dump those idols. We have to keep dumping, demolishing, burning, and getting rid of those gods. If we want to live in victory today, and be a part of his coming kingdom, we have to remove every commitment that challenges our Lord’s primacy.