Bound for Mercy (Romans 11:1,2a,29-32)

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The hot topic of conversation in the various groups I met with last week was the coming postal plebiscite on redefining marriage in Australian law. For some people, this is as issue with a clear-cut, right and wrong answer. For others, though, the question of how to respond as Christians is more complicated for a range of reasons. As I wrestled with Paul’s words in Romans 11, it seems to me that they can help us in our struggle with the question of same sex marriage.

As followers of Jesus, we need to begin any discussion on marriage with what God word. When I perform a wedding on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, the approved service order uses three Bible texts as the Foundation and Purpose of Christian Marriage:

The first is Genesis 1:27 which states that, in the beginning, God created people male and female. Genesis then goes on to state that ‘this explains why a man leave his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one’ (2:24).

The second text used is from Matthew 19. When Jesus was asked about divorce, he referred back to Genesis 1 and 2, and added that ‘since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together’ (Matt 19:6). There can be a strong argument made, then, that God’s intention for marriage is that it is for life.

The third text is Ephesians 5:21-33 where Paul again refers back to the Genesis texts (v31) but describes Christian marriage as a relationship based on mutual submission (v21) and self-sacrificing, Christ-like love (vv 25-30).

I believe that before we start asking if same-sex marriage fulfils God’s purpose for marriage, we need to ask ourselves if our own marriages fulfil God’s purpose for marriage. From these Bible texts, we could argue that God intends marriage to be a reflection of his relationship with humanity as we live in unity through self-sacrificing love for each other. If we are honest with ourselves, how well do we do that?

This is where Romans 11 can help us. Paul has just spent the last 3 chapters of Romans struggling with the question of whether his own people, the Jewish nation, are still included in God’s plan of salvation. In this last section, he writes that God showed mercy to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people) because the Jewish people had rejected his grace to them in Jesus (v30). However, he also states that the Jewish people will share in God’s mercy through the mercy he has shown to the Gentile Christians (v31). His conclusion to the whole discussion of the last three chapters is that ‘God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all’ (v32 NIV).

These words can sound offensive to us because we like to think we are free to make our own choices (see John 8:31-36). However, if we take Jesus’ words at face value, there are a couple of things that can help us as we think through the question of same-sex marriage.

The first is that we shouldn’t be surprised when we or others fail to live up to God’s purpose for marriage. If we are bound to disobedience, the we won’t get it right. In any of our relationships, our natural tendency is to think more about what we can get from the other person than showing the self-giving love of Christ. We can’t just focus on one aspect of marriage and forget about God’s bigger plan for marriage to be a life-long commitment through which we model Jesus’ sacrificial love. If we want to fulfil God’s whole intention for marriage, then we will all fail because of our natural, human condition.

It is really easy for us to focus on Paul’s words that we are ‘imprisoned in disobedience’ but that misses the main point of the verse. Paul argues that God does that so he can have mercy on all of us. God’s plan is not to criticise or condemn, to politicize or judge people. Throughout the story of Scripture, God’s intention is always to show mercy to people so that they can know him as the God of mercy. Mercy can be understood as undeserved kindness, treating people better that they deserve, especially those who need it the most but deserve it the least. Paul is saying that this is God’s plan for all people. We see God’s mercy in the way Jesus treated people in the gospel stories and especially in the cross. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the fullest extent of God’s mercy as he takes our rebellion and disobedience on himself, and sets us free from our prisons by dying as a slave in our place. Paul tells us that God’s plan is that every person encounters this mercy so we can know and trust God as the One who is merciful to all.

God has given us government who are called to make good laws and who are responsible to him for the way they govern. As God’s people living in the world, he calls us to play our part in our governing processes. We need to take that responsibility seriously in the faith that God gives us. However, we always need to remember that the fundamental purpose of Christ’s Church is not to impose a rule of law on society, but to bring the message of God’s liberating mercy to our families, our communities, and our nation. If we’re not doing that, then who will?

So I commit the coming plebiscite on the definition of marriage to you, trusting that God’s will be done. Whether the question is clear for you, one way or the other, or if it is a muddy mess and you are finding it hard to discern the best way forward for our nation, I want to ask you to remember one thing: none of us really God’s intentions for our relationships with each other, so, as people who have received mercy for Christ’s sake, how can we best extend God’s mercy to others?

More to think about:

  • What does ‘mercy’ mean to you? Can you give an example of a time when you received mercy from someone?
  • Paul says that ‘God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone’ (Romans 11:32 NLT). In this verse, do you tend to focus more on God imprisoning people? Or is your focus more on God having mercy on everyone? Why do you think you do that? What might it say about how you see God?
  • Would you agree that the main purpose of the Christian Church is to extend God’s mercy to people? How does showing mercy to others become an act of faith?
  • How might Paul’s words help us as we prepare for the postal plebiscite on redefining the legal understanding of marriage in Australia?
  • Who is someone you can show mercy to today? This week?

In Jesus’ Hand (Matthew 14:22-33)

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There are at least two ways we can understand the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water.

The first is by asking what this story tells us about what Jesus wants us to do. This is the main way I have heard people talk or preach on this story over the years. It centres on Peter and asks what we need to learn from him. It usually ends up encouraging us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, to have stronger faith, to not get distracted by the storms going on in our lives, or similar ideas to these. The assumption is that, if only we could focus more on Jesus and have a stronger faith, we would be capable of doing miraculous things, even walk on water.

It is important for us to hear this side of the story. It is easy for us to be like the disciples who sat in the safety and security of the boat, too afraid or cautious to step out when Jesus came to them and called them to himself. There are times in most of our lives when Jesus calls us to something new, either personally or as a community. It’s natural for us to remain where we are and resist moving out from what we know. This story tells us that sometimes Jesus calls us to step out in faith as his followers, and to keep our eyes fixed on him as we step into the unknown.

It will be important to keep this in mind as we continue our Simple Church and Growing Young conversations in our congregation. These discussions are about discerning if Jesus might be calling us to think differently about church and how we go about his work in the world. It would be easy for us as a congregation to keep doing what we are doing and not step out in a different direction. However, our congregation is facing some challenges and so maybe it is time for us to see Jesus coming to us in the storms around us, and listen to where he might be calling us. We will then need to follow Peter and step out in faith.

This brings us to the second way in which we can understand what Jesus might be saying to us in this story. Often, our experience can be very similar to Peter’s. We can step out in faith, but the realities of life around us and the storms we experience can make us take our eyes off Jesus as we lose our focus and start to sink. It doesn’t matter if the storms are challenges we face as a congregation or more personal struggles. In the end we can all fail to focus on Jesus and start to sink.

The real power in this story is not just in what Jesus wants us to do, but what Jesus wants to do for us. In this story we see Jesus reach out to Peter when he was sinking under the waves. Jesus holds Peter up, keeps him safe, and brings him to a place where he was sheltered from the storm. The good news for us in this story is that Jesus can and will do exactly the same for us.

The cultures in which the Bible were written saw storms and seas as things that they weren’t able to control. They became symbolic of those things that happen in life that are out of our control, that threaten our lives, and can overwhelm us. Most of us will face things like this at one point of our lives or another – things that are out of our control, can threaten us, and can overwhelm us. They can take various forms, but in the end they are those things that can rob us of life and cause us to wonder where God might be.

When we face storms in our lives, this story tells me that Jesus comes to us to meet us in the middle of them, and the storms can’t’ touch him. Just like Peter, Jesus reaches out his hand and holds us up so the storms can’t overwhelm us and it can’t take our life from us. The hand he reaches out to us is the same hand that extended grace to people who needed it. It healed people, made them whole, forgave their sins, made them clean, and even raised the dead to new life. This hand was there are the beginning of creation, placing stars into the most distant corners of space, and putting the smallest sub-atomic particle into motion. This is the same hand that was nailed to a cross for the redemption of all people, and was extended in peace to the witnesses of the resurrection. This hand held Peter about the waves, just as it will hold you above whatever threatens to overwhelm you in your life.

So where are you in this story? If you are with the disciples in the boat, finding a degree of security and stability in the uncertainty in life, then maybe Jesus is calling you to listen to him and step out in faith. If you’re in the middle of a storm, maybe Jesus is coming to you to meet you in that storm, to hold you above the waves and bring you to a place of safety. Either way, whether our lives are plain sailing or one storm after another, Jesus is the one who holds us in his hands and will never let us go.

More to think about:

  • Are you a person who likes to take risks or play it safe? If you were in the boat on the lake with the disciples in this story, do you think you would have stayed in the boat or walked out to Jesus like Peter did? Explain why you think you would have done that…
  • Why did Peter start to sink? Is that similar to your experiences in life? Can you give an example?
  • In what ways might Jesus be calling you to step out of the boat to follow him in your life?
  • We all face ‘storms’ in life – things that are out of our control, which make us afraid & can overwhelm us. What ‘storms’ are you facing in your life?
  • Instead of trying to keep his head above water, Peter called out to Jesus to save him. In what ways are you trying to keep your head above water in the storms of your life? What might happen if you called out to Jesus & relied on him holding you instead?

Wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-31)

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This story ranks among my top ten favourite Old Testament stories. It is also pretty high on my list of more difficult Old Testament stories to understand…

To give a bit of background: Jacob was the younger twin born to Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 25:19-26). The last time Jacob saw his older brother, Esau, he had cheated Esau out of his rights as the first-born son and Esau was trying to kill him for it (Gen 27). Jacob escaped and went to work for his Uncle Laban where he married two of his daughters and had eleven sons by them and two of their serving girls. After growing very rich serving Laban, Jacob decided to return to his homeland. This story happened just as Jacob was about to enter into Esau’s territory, where he would come face to face with his brother again after running for his life years earlier.

What intrigues me about this story is that it is cloaked in mystery. The stranger who wrestles with Jacob in the middle of the night is finally revealed to be God himself, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and raises more questions: Why was God wrestling with Jacob in the first place? Why didn’t God just overpower Jacob when God is all-powerful and could squash him like a bug? And what does the new name that God gave to Jacob mean when he says that Jacob ‘fought with God and with men and have won’ (v28 NLT)? Jacob didn’t actually win his fight with God – God won by cheating when he threw out Jacob’s hip (v25).

For a number of years, I have thought of this story as an illustration of faith – it doesn’t seem to make much sense but it draws us into a wrestling match with God.

Throughout the Bible, God says things and makes us promises that are difficult for us to understand or seem a long way from what we experience in life. For example, as we have followed the lectionary readings in worship over the last few weeks, we have been hearing promises like these in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

  • there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus (v1)
  • God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. (v28)
  • since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? (v32)
  • nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (v39b)

Often in life these words can seem like they are a long way from what we experience day to day. What the story of Jacob wrestling with God says to me is that faith can be like wrestling with God when his promises seem either disconnected or even contradictory to what is happening in our lives. We can suffer from condemnation, both from ourselves and other people; it doesn’t seem like God can bring good out of illness, tragedy, grief or suffering we might be experiencing; we can think that we need to look after ourselves as our first priority because we doubt God’s providing goodness; and there are times when we can wonder where God’s love is because we’re just not feeling it for one reason or another.

We read in Hebrews 11:1 that ‘faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’ (NIV). That definition points to the reality that there will be a degree of uncertainty or even doubt in faith. Paul says that ‘hope that is seen is no hope at all’ (Romans 8:24b NIV), and so there will be something hidden about what God promises us. In a culture that relies so much on evidence to support what we understand as ‘truth’, anything that is asking us to have faith or hope in what we can’t see will be difficult. That’s why faith is like wrestling with God. We can struggle with his promises when our experiences go against what God is promising.

We need to remember that wrestling with God is a sign of faith, not a lack of faith. By wrestling with God, we get closer to God, not further away. If you have ever seen wrestlers, or people playing Australian Rules, Rugby or other codes of football, you will know that when people are wrestling with each other, they are very close to each other. We might even say that they are intimate with each other. We get closer to God when we struggle with his promises and how they connect with the realities of our lives.

When it seems like what God is saying is contrary to what we experience, it is important that we don’t ignore, withdraw or run away from what God is saying, but that we embrace God’s promises to us in Jesus, and we wrestle with them. That is when we get closer to God. That is often how God makes us stronger in faith. That is how, like Jacob, as members of the New Testament people of Israel, we also will struggle with God and with people and will overcome (32:28 NIV).

More to think about:

  • When you read through my list of God’s promises from Romans 8, do you find them easy to believe or hard to believe? Which is the hardest for you to believe? What makes it hard to believe God’s promise to you?
  • What do you think about the idea of ‘faith’ as ‘wrestling with God’? Do you tend to find it easy to live like God’s promises are true? Or do you sometimes struggle with God over what he says and promises?
  • Wrestlers or other athletes like footballers are physically very close (maybe even ‘intimate’?) when they wrestle with each other. How might wrestling with God help you get closer to him?
  • Jacob came out of his wrestling with a new name: Israel, which means ‘you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome’ (Genesis 32:28 NIV). That name promises us that we will also ‘overcome’ when we dare to wrestle with God in faith. How can this promise give you strength or courage in your wrestling with God?
  • Sometimes we need help of a brother or sister in our struggles of faith, to wrestle with us. Who can you go to to help you in your wrestling?

New & Old Treasures (Matthew 13:52)

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I’ve known people over the years who are always looking for something new. Whether it’s clothes, technology, music or motorcycles, but they pretty much live by the motto, ‘Out with the old; in with the new.’

There have also been people I’ve known who reject anything new and hang on to what’s old as much as they can. The old is familiar, safe and comfortable, so they don’t see any reason to change from the old ways they know and love.

If we think about a spectrum with a desire for the new at the one end and hanging on to the old at the other, where do you think Jesus would be?

I’ve heard people argue that Jesus was all about the new. He came to teach us a new way of relating to God and living as God’s people that was very different from the religious people of his time and place. Where the old ways were about the rule of law and threats of punishment, people like to point to Jesus teaching a new way of grace, love and peace. They can argue that the parables of Matthew 13 are an example of Jesus rejecting the old, law-based ways of religion, and initiating a new relational way of knowing God.

When we get to the end of this series of Jesus’ parable, though, we find that Jesus was not in favour of rejecting the old in pursuing the new, but neither was he ignoring the new in order to hang on to the old. Instead, in verse 52 we hear Jesus say that people who have been schooled in the old ways who are then discipled in Jesus’ new teachings about the Kingdom of God have both new and old treasures.

For Jesus, what’s important is not whether it is old or new. What’s important to Jesus is the treasure itself.

The treasure he is talking about is the Kingdom of God. Jesus has already described the Kingdom as a treasure that a person would sell everything they have to possess in verse 44. This Kingdom is so valuable to us because it gifts us with ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17 NIV). We receive this Kingdom through the presence of Jesus, because he brings the Kingdom to us through the gospel (see Matthew 4:17).

We can find this good news in the Old Testament when we read it through the lens of the gospel of Jesus, and so he doesn’t get rid of the old. Instead we can re-interpret the old ways in the light of Christ to find the ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ there as well. Ultimately, whether the ways are old or new, what matters is Jesus and the coming of his Kingdom through the gospel, because he is the one that gives us life and brings us into a new relationship with God as his children.

This is really important for us to hear as a congregation. We are currently talking about simplifying what we do around a strong discipling focus, as well as re-thinking our ministry to young people by working through the material contained in Growing Young. Some people might see these conversations as an opportunity to discard some of the ‘old ways’ of doing church to embrace new approaches or practices. Others might be afraid that we intend to discard the old ways, and so hang on to them more tightly.

It is critical that we hear what Jesus is saying: what’s important is not whether our treasure is old or new. What’s important is the treasure itself – Jesus and the coming of God’s Kingdom through the gospel.

This treasure is what will gift all people, both old and young, with the grace and love of God. This treasure is what will give us purpose and direction as we seek to communicate God’s goodness to our young and older people alike. This treasure is what will create faith, hope and love in people’s hearts and transform us into the people God is calling us to be. This treasure will grow us as Jesus’ disciples and equip us to participate in his mission in the world. This treasure – the good news of Jesus and the coming of his Kingdom – will give us everything we need for our future in this world and in the next.

Whether we prefer old or new ways of thinking or practice, what matters is the Treasure himself – Jesus Christ and the Kingdom he brings through the gospel. When we treasure him, we find the riches of God’s righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. As we grow with these riches in our life, God’s Treasure spills out from us into the lives of the people around us.

More to think about:

  • Generally, do you tend to prefer things that are new or old? Why is that?
  • What about in your church – do you prefer old traditions or new innovations? Can you explain why they are important to you?
  • Where do you imagine Jesus sitting in the spectrum between the old & new? Closer to one end or the other? In the middle? Can you explain why you think that way
  • What might be the ‘new’ treasures Jesus says the homeowner (NLT) in his parable brings out of the storeroom? What might the ‘new’ treasures might be?
  • If you were to focus on the ‘Treasure’ of Christ & the coming of his Kingdom in your congregation, instead of whether the ‘treasure’ is old or new, how might things be different?

‘Welcoming God’ (Matthew 10:40-42)

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It’s always good to feel welcome. I’m really thankful whenever I am visiting people that, firstly, I have the right address, but also that people are generally welcoming to me. It’s a real blessing to be invited into a people’s homes, to spend time with them over a coffee, and to talk with them about life and the journey of faith that we’re all on. That is why it is important for us as a congregation to be a welcoming community, so that people can feel at ease when they connect with us, and they can find a sense of belonging with us through the welcome we offer.

This text from Matthew 10 comes at the end of Jesus’ instructions to his Twelve Disciples before he sent them out on their first missionary journey. Jesus warned them that not everyone would welcome them and receive the message they brought (vv13b,14). However, Jesus said that those households that did receive them would also receive the peace of God (v13a). Then, at the end of his instructions, Jesus went even further by saying that those who welcomed his disciples also welcomed him, and by receiving him, they even welcomed the presence of God among them.

Stop and think about that for a moment…

On the one hand, these were Jesus’ specific instructions to a certain group of people at a particular time and place. However, as followers of Jesus whom he also sends out into our time and place, Jesus is also saying that when people welcome us, they welcome him and the presence of God with us.

This becomes really important because so often I have heard people ask where God is in the world. When people are hurting, confused, struggling or broken by life’s circumstances, God can often seem to be absent and uncaring. Jesus is saying here that God is present in the struggles, pain, uncertainty and joys of life in the presence of his people. As we live in the good news of God’s present and coming Kingdom, and as we participate in God’s mission to bring his peace into the world, God is present in the living, breathing body of his Son in the world. God makes himself known and extends his healing, life, cleansing and freedom through our words and actions.

This leads me to ask: do our words and actions reflect the grace and love of Jesus and our heavenly Father? As people welcome us into their homes and lives, is the presence of our forgiving and peace-giving God made real in their lives through us?

This becomes our goal as Jesus’ disciples: to grow in the peace of God as members of his Kingdom so that we can be bringing his peace, grace and love to everyone that we meet. The aim of being Jesus’ disciples is less about getting to heaven, and more about making the Kingdom of God real in our world by extending God’s gracious and life-giving presence to everyone who welcomes us. This might be in our homes, our work places, our schools or universities, anywhere we are welcomed and received by other people. The promise of Jesus is that as they welcome him as they welcome us, and by welcoming him they also receive the presence of God who is the source of all life. This is the same God who forgives sinners, who shows grace to those who need it the most but deserve it the least, who brings the light of new life out of the darkness of death, who washes the feet of his followers, and who gives us his all in his self-sacrificing love of the cross.

As we begin a new week, spend some time thinking about who will be welcoming you this week. How can you be the peace-filled and grace-giving presence of God in their lives? Ask the Spirit of God to keep you close with Jesus through faith so that, as people welcome you this week, they might also welcome Jesus in you, and through you they might find peace in the presence of our gracious and loving God.

An Attitude of Thanks (Luke 17:11-19)

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Our congregation celebrated Thanksgiving Sunday later than usual this year. With its origins in a more rural culture, there are a lot of churches that have a Harvest Thanksgiving Sunday early in the year before Lent to thank God for produce of the land. We held our Thanksgiving service later this year for two reasons. Firstly, the readings before Lent followed the Sermon on the Mount, and, with our discipleship focus this year, I wanted to focus on Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5. Secondly, our church is more suburban than rural, so we’re not tied to the rural rhythm of the harvest.

I believe that it is still good to set aside a special Sunday each year to give thanks to God for the good things he gives to us each and every day. We live in a culture that makes being thankful for what we have very hard. We face unrealistic expectations from the media about our identity, appearance, relationships, possessions, probably just about every aspect of our lives. The consumer culture in which we live aims to make us dissatisfied and unhappy with ourselves and our lives so we will buy more to make ourselves feel better. The problem is that this constant search for new or better products, experiences or relationships doesn’t actually make us happy. Instead, because of the dissatisfaction that our consumer culture generates, we end up feeling discontent and unhappy.

Jesus teaches a very counter-cultural way of living. It begins with giving thanks for what we already have and recognising that every good thing we have is a gift from a God who loves us and wants the best for us. This is a theme that runs right through the Bible. We find it in the refrain of the psalms which call us to give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and whose love endures forever (see Psalms 106, 107, 118, 136). We have the story from Luke 17 in which the healed leper who returns to thank Jesus for his grace receives deeper healing and wholeness. Paul’s letters talk about being satisfied with what we have and giving thanks to God in all circumstances of life (see Philippians 4:12,13; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; 1 Timothy 6:6-8). As followers of Jesus, we are called to have thankful hearts for the good things God gives us each and every day, rather than focusing on what we don’t have and pursuing whatever appears to be new or better.

I know from my own experiences that when we start thanking God for the good things he is already giving us each day, our attitude towards the challenges we face in life change. This attitude grows from the faith that is God providing us with everything we need for life in this world and the next as an act of pure grace. This grace is seen most clearly when we look at the cross of Christ and see the love of God there as he gives us his all and holds nothing back so that we can live in a new relationship with him as his children. As we grow in this relationship with God through Jesus, trusting that he is our loving Father in heaven who ‘provides me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all I need from day to day’ (from Martin Luther’s explanation to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed in his Small Catechism), we can see the little blessings and the small graces he extends to us each and every day of our lives. When we recognise God’s love for us in the relationships, possessions and other good things we already have which he gives to us for the sake of Jesus, then his Holy Spirit grows thankful hearts and we can find contentment and joy in all the circumstances of life.

This isn’t natural for us and it doesn’t always come easy. That is why we need to be part of communities of faith which will embody the goodness of God for us and in which we can give thanks to God for all of his acts of loving grace to us. So we continue to celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday, not just for the harvest the farmers reap each year, but for all the good things God continues to give to each of us every day of our lives for the sake of Jesus.

More to think about:

  • Do you generally find yourself focusing on good things you already have or things you don’t have? Why do you think that is?
  • Do you think having more or better or newer possessions, relationships or experiences will make you happier or more content? Explain why you think that is…
  • Do you think it is possible to find something good from God in every circumstance of your life, like Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18? Explain your reasons.
  • If God loves you enough to give you his Son, how might that faith help you to see other good things your loving heavenly Father gives you every day?
  • What are some things that God has already given to you that maybe you have forgotten or can take for granted? Make a list & then read through your list, thanking God for each of them.

Disciples Making Disciples (Matthew 28:16-20)

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For the last six months I’ve been talking a lot about discipleship. We have followed the journey of Jesus’ disciples as he called them to follow him, as he taught and equipped them, and as he led them to the cross and empty grave to witness his grace and life-giving love. Now, at the end of Matthew’s gospel, the disciples’ journey culminates with what is often known as Jesus’ Great Commission.

It’s important to realise that the emphasis in Jesus’ words is not on ‘Go’ as a lot of translations suggest. Instead, the main point of Jesus’ instruction is for his disciples to make disciples. He assumes that they will be ‘going’ as a natural part of their lives. Wherever they might be going, Jesus wants them to make disciples. He then explains that the two main elements in making disciples is by receiving people into Christian community through baptism, and then teaching them ‘to obey all the commands’ he has given us (v20).

We are generally pretty good at the baptising part of the Great Commission. However, I get a little uneasy whenever we use this text in our baptism order because I wonder how well we really do in teaching others to obey Jesus’ commands, especially when Jesus’ commands look like this:

  • Repent & turn to God (Matthew 4:17)
  • Love your enemies (5:44)
  • Don’t worry … seek the Kingdom of God above all else (6:25-34)
  • Come to me … & I will give you rest (11:28-30)
  • Turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me (16:24-27)
  • Love God with all your heart, soul & mind … love your neighbour (22:37-40)

How well do these teachings of Jesus reflect your experience of Christian community? Are we living according to Jesus’ teachings? Are we equipping each other to teach others to live in the same way?

Jesus doesn’t give us a set of rules to live by. Instead, he is leading us in a new way of living that leads to life to the full (John 10:10). This is the narrow gate and the difficult road that he describes in Matthew 7:14. It is the solid rock he talks about in Matthew 7:24-27 on which we can build our lives so that, when the storms come, we can remain secure and upright instead of our lives crashing down around us. Learning to live in the way of Jesus is about learning ‘the unforced rhythms of grace’ (Matthew 11:29 MSG) that give us rest and flow into the lives of others through us.

What might our congregation be like if we took Jesus’ instruction to make disciples seriously? What might it look like if all we did was focus on learning to live the way of Jesus teaches? What might it be like if everything we did was focused on learning to live the way Jesus teaches and to help others live in the same way? This is what lies at the heart of our conversation about becoming a Simple Church. This is the challenge I would like to continue to keep in front of us as we plan for the future God has for us. If the one instruction Jesus gave to his disciples before he left them in Matthew’s gospel, if the one thing he wants us to do, is to make disciples who live in the way Jesus teaches, how do that faithfully?

There are a number of short video clips on YouTube which explain what discipleship can look like in a congregation like ours. You can look at one of them by following this link.

There is a lot more to talk about as we think about how we faithfully follow Jesus’ instructions to disciple others in the way Jesus teaches. For now, it’s worth asking the question: are we willing to live in the way Jesus teaches as his disciples, even if it means giving up some of the ways we think about church? How can we help others learn ‘the unforced rhythm of grace’ so together we can find faith, hope and love as Jesus’ disciples?

The conversation will continue…

More to think about:

  • There’s a lot of talk about discipleship in the church at the moment. If someone who wasn’t a Christian asked you what it means to be a follower of Jesus, how would you explain it to them (in 25 words or less)?
  • When you have heard the Great Commission in the past, have you focused on the ‘go’ or the ‘make disciples’ part? How might focusing on the ‘making disciples’ rather than the ‘go’ change the way you apply Jesus’ instruction in your life?
  • How is the way you have understood Jesus’ teaching similar or different to the 6 examples I included above? What might your life be like if you lived in the way these 6 examples teach us?
  • Discuss why living Jesus’ way is important, especially when you read Matthew 7:13-14 and 24-27? What is Jesus’ promise to us when we live in the way he teaches?
  • How well have you been taught to live in the way Jesus’ teaches? How can we do a better job at helping you to live in the way Jesus’ teaches? How can we help you disciple others to live in the way of Jesus?