Over the next few days I will share with you some of my thoughts regarding how we prepare young people to serve God. I believe that the most effective leaders are not the ones who are taught, but the ones who are discipled. Jesus knew what he was doing when he took twelve disciples to follow and serve with him for three years rather than opening a school offering classes on theology.
If you have been following this series on Jesus’ Discipleship then you know that the last stage of Jesus’ approach for preparing the twelve disciples is that he sends them out permanently. You may be familiar with the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus told his disciples to go make disciples. How do you think they would do that? Probably not a lot unlike the way Jesus made them disciples. A part of making disciples was to baptize them into Christ and teach them to obey Christ.
The book of Acts chronicles much of the early witness and ministry of these twelve men. And though they are not without problems (confusion about God’s mission, confusion about Jewish-Gentile relationships and issues, controversy about distribution of goods, persecution, etc.), they have certainly become emboldened in their faith. They have grown up. They have become men of God. Those who were once disciples have now become apostles.
What is an apostle? The word apostle originated from the Greek word apostolos. This word means “one sent.” It is the noun form of the verb “to send.” It is basically the same as the word “missionary,” which is derived from the Latin word “to send,” missio. Jesus said to them, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) Jesus sent them with a mission when he told them to “go and make disciples of all nations….”
However, it would be remiss not to mention some of the significant events that happened in the lives of the disciples between the time when they were sent out on their short-term mission and the time they’re sent out permanently. These very events both tested them and further prepared them. Although, I don’t think we can repeat many of these for our own discipleship programs.
Messianic Storm. There was an incredible amount of hope surrounding Jesus during the later stages of his ministry on earth. The masses finally had an amazing sort of guy who was a good candidate to fulfill their prophetic hopes of a Messiah to come and save/lead them. Some believed. Some doubted. Many hoped. There was a storm of political and spiritual opinions blowing around Jesus and his disciples as they entered Jerusalem. The disciples were not immune to this storm and they knew they were near the center of all the talk in the city. They could feel that big things were about to happen, but they did not know what. They still didn’t understand what the promised Messiah would be. In fact, they still tended to think like the majority of people in Israel that he would be a political figure. They had no idea he had to die.
Final Meal. This wasn’t just any meal. It was full of anticipation. Jesus said his appointed time was near. (Matthew 26:18) As they were eating Jesus takes off his clothes and goes around washing everyone’s feet. He predicts his betrayal. He instructs them to eat the bread and drink the wine, symbols of his body and blood. Then he teaches them saying that their grief would turn to joy. The disciples didn’t understand.
Prayer. We see in John 17 that Jesus prayed for his disciples. He prayed earnestly. He committed all of his disciples to the Father. He prayed they would be one.
Betrayal. One of their own betrayed Jesus and had him arrested. This was a part of the Messianic storm—some believed Jesus to be a false messiah and wanted him dead. Perhaps Judas thought he could speed things along by forcing Jesus hand. We don’t know. But his betrayal played a part in the incredible events to follow. Jesus knew the betrayal was going to happen and told his disciples as much. But they all affirmed their allegiance and swore they would never fall away. But Jesus knew they didn’t even know what they were talking about. They would be tested.
Arrest, Trial, Crucifixion. Jesus was then arrested, tried and condemned to die by crucifixion—the most grueling form of capital punishment. His death proved to all the naysayers (so they thought) that Jesus was in fact NOT the messiah. (He was dead—how could he possibly redeem Israel now?) And his death crushed all the hopes of those who had believed—even the disciples. We can see this clearly in Luke 24:13-24 as two disciples talked with the risen Jesus not knowing it was him. “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” They didn’t want to give up their faith, but their lack of understanding left them with no choice.
Resurrection. Seeing Jesus risen from the dead had a profound impact on the disciples. Well of course it did! How could it not have had an impact? Slowly, the disciples began to believe again, although their paradigms were not just being shifted—they were being torn out of place and moved to another hemisphere. Some still doubted and wondered why Jesus would be going up into heaven and not “redeeming Israel” as they still expected him to. But they would soon come to complete understanding that Jesus died to redeem people from sin and Satan’s kingdom.
Holy Spirit. Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit. We see in Acts 2 that they Holy Spirit caused the disciples to start speaking in all of the regional languages of the day. So they immediately started praising God in those languages and telling the native listeners (who were in town for the Pentecost festival) about Jesus. The mission was underway.
Though we can’t stage all of these events for each group of people we disciple, we can certainly help them understand what Jesus’ first disciples experienced. The same Jesus who died and rose again is still alive for us now. The same Holy Spirit who enabled and led the first disciples can enable and lead us now. The transformation those disciples experienced can be experienced by all of those who put their trust in Jesus and follow him as Lord in our days. The transformation is necessary. It motivates us to the point where we have to share the good news.
And so they were sent out. They were tried, tested, reaffirmed, ridiculed and persecuted. But they led thousands of people from many ethnicities to find forgiveness in Christ and reconciliation with God. The world would never be the same because of them. They were never the same because of Jesus. Many of them, if not all, were eventually put to death for their witness about Christ. And Jesus sent them ahead knowing this would be the case.
Like Jesus, we can pray for those we send out. Jesus prayed in John 17:11, “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.” Even though they were martyred God protected them from Satan’s influence. They never gave up their faith again and they accomplished the mission of making disciples that Jesus had given them. May we pray that those we disciple will do the same.
Eight post summary:
1. Jesus’ life was already an ongoing example of effective ministry, of which he later included them, before he called them and before he sent them out to do ministry on their own.
2. After spending time in prayer Jesus chose specific people to be his disciples, to live with him and follow him for about three years. He chose a limited number of people and poured himself into them rather than trying to get as many as he could.
3. Jesus didn’t simply make scheduled teaching appearances with his disciples but invited them to live with him 24/7. They did not only hear what he was about, they saw it every day.
4. Jesus spent time teaching his disciples important concepts and truths so they would have understanding. He taught them in ways that were not available for those in the general public who followed him.
5. Jesus responded to events, circumstances, questions and persecution in society and used these as a context to teach and train his disciples.
6. Jesus trained his disciples and gave them special abilities to minister to the felt needs of the people. In helping people with their physical problems they would have an audience for their spiritual message.
7. Jesus sent his disciples out to do ministry (preach and heal) on a temporary basis so they would have experience for when they would do so permanently. When they returned the disciples reported what they had done and Jesus debriefed them, teaching things they would not have learned except for their trial experience. Jesus didn’t send them cross-culturally but to those of the same culture so they could have an immediate impact.
8. Jesus sent out his disciples (now apostles) permanently after the series of incredible events that form the core of the gospel message that we have forgiveness of sins because of Jesus’ death and eternal life because of his resurrection. Jesus prayed earnestly for his disciples, enabled them by the Holy Spirit, and commissioned them to make disciples of all nations.