I have never served in the United States Armed Forces, but I have the utmost admiration for those who do and those who have. In case you didn’t know it, we have men and women right here at Shema who have served our country, and with distinction, and I couldn’t be more proud to be associated with them! They are people of proven character, who are strong, yet gentle and kind, disciplined and follow through on their commitments.
So how does the military turn out such quality people? Simple. As soon as recruits arrive, they are welcomed with hugs, and each recruit is given a can of play dough, crayons and a coloring book to help them cope with the demands of basic training.
Of course, I’m joking. The purpose of basic training isn’t to make you feel comfortable and give you a greater sense of self-worth. It’s designed to break you down physically and emotionally. It’s brutal. During those weeks, you are put through relentless exercise, yelled at, rushed to do every task, rushed to get from point A to point B, and given very little sleep. And why is it done that way? Three reasons come to mind: 1) to quickly weed out those who won’t cut it, 2) to strengthen those who are determined to making it through successfully, and, 3) to instill respect for discipline, teamwork and authority.
Even after people make it through basic, their ongoing training continues to be extremely demanding, exhausting and challenging. Why? Because they are being trained for war! If you have to go to war, do you think your mortal enemy cares whether you’re hungry or sleep-deprived? You are trained by means of adversity, because adversity makes you stronger! The military is about building victors, not victims.
God has instilled even in nature the evidence that adversity produces strength and beauty. Before the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, it has to endure a transforming process and a life-and-death struggle to break out of its cocoon. A fragile lump of coal becomes a diamond through intense heat and enormous geological pressure over a protracted period of time; and even then, it still must endure many cuts in order to produce that brilliant and costly stone. And you don’t get washboard abs and strong quads from sitting in the jacuzzi. “No pain, no gain”.
And yet when it comes to living out our faith in Messiah Yeshua, too many people are content to do the least amount necessary, as if their goal was to ‘squeak by’. It seems to me, and we’ll be talking about it this morning, that there are just way too many believers… and too few disciples.
So, let me welcome you to the ‘Kingdom of Yeshua Recruiting Station, Central Oakland County Division’. I am not here to promise you an easy go of it, nor even that you’ll get the assignment of your choice after you complete basic training. But you are being invited to the harder work of becoming Yeshua’s disciple. This isn’t for everyone. If doing as little as possible is your default mode; if you’re looking for the path of least resistance, then you’re not cut out to be a disciple of Messiah Yeshua.
I may ruffle some feathers this morning. I don’t expect everyone to like this message. I’m no drill sergeant, but it isn’t an easy word. So please take it in the way I mean it – as the “faithful wounds” of a friend. We need to hear these things. From time to time we need to be reminded of the higher calling to which we’ve been called. And following Yeshua as a disciple isn’t a spectator sport.
Not long ago we went through the Sermon on the Mount, and the thing that has remained in my memory is the high cost of discipleship. In Yeshua’s time it was a lot more than praying a prayer of salvation and going to church on Sunday.
I’m going to ask a question or two here, and they’re not meant to be rhetorical. I am looking for answers. This is the interactive portion of this morning’s d’rasha.
“What do you think would be the first thing required of a prospective disciple? (This is assuming the person already believes)
Here are a few answers that come to mind:
- The immediate and complete transfer of loyalty
(the would-be disciple must jettison any competing religious causes or ideologies)
- Public affirmation of faith/baptism
(because there’s no such thing as a disciple who’s ashamed of their rabbi)
- Enter into a program of training and memorization of the rabbi’s teachings
(this involves a complete reordering of priorities – to follow the rabbi as much as possible and to learn His teachings)
In First-century Judea, if you were going to be a disciple of a rabbi, you might very well shut down your shop and leave everything behind to follow him 24/7, if your rabbi was itinerant (though not all rabbis were itinerant). The point is, that you reorder your priorities so that the rabbi’s agenda became your own. If this was true of some of Israel’s preeminent rabbis like Shammai or Hillel or Gamliel, how much more should this be the case for a disciple of Yeshua, the King Messiah?
So then, what is actually required of a disciple of Yeshua?
(this discussion naturally includes the spiritual disciplines)
I. To read and study the Scriptures with the goal of teaching others
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food (Hebrews 5:11-12)!
Now if you’re a relatively new believer, and by that I mean five years or fewer; then of course there’s a lot you’re still learning; and the Bible is a big book and it’s deep. It takes time and guidance and serious intent to master it. But it’s that last one that’s the issue: intent. Too many believers, too few disciples. A disciple makes a priority of studying God’s Word. If, for example, I were to ask you to tell me where in Scripture you would find the prophecy of the birthplace of the Messiah, and you can’t answer that, and you’ve been a believer for 10 or 20 years, then it should embarrass you. We are expected to know the Scriptures. Our righteousness is supposed to exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, and I would remind us that the Scribes and Pharisees knew the answer to that question.
If you haven’t yet committed to memory the very significant messianic prophecies found in Scripture, how can you possibly persuade others? We need to know these things! Let me recommend something: if you don’t yet know these things, and you aim to be a disciple, then do something about it. Seek out a mature brother or sister, and ask them to help you learn where they are found. And as you become more mature yourself, make yourself available to guide that younger brother or sister in the study of God’s Word. This is the biblical pattern of disciple-making. Where we got it in our heads that the pastor/messianic rabbi is supposed to do the discipling I don’t know, but according to the Scriptures, disciples are supposed to make disciples.
Perhaps it goes back to the ‘success’ of the big evangelistic stadium rallies in the 1950’s and 60’s where hundreds of people at a time, even thousands, came down to commit their lives to Yeshua. It’s exciting to be able to say that so many people made decisions for the Lord, but something unintended happened, too. We got it into our heads that maybe the way to do evangelism was to get people to come to the church building, and that’s where they would hear the Gospel. We off-loaded our own responsibility of one-to-one evangelism and put it on the shoulders of the guy behind the pulpit. Instead of fulfilling our calling to win souls to Yeshua and disciple them, we decided the goal was to get them to come to a church service. And so, to entice people to come to church we put on glitzy, gimmicky shows. And then we expect the pastor to go over the ABC’s of how to become a believer every week. As a result, the pastor can never go very deep in the Word or in theology, because we’re afraid all the visitors won’t get it. Consequently, the Body of Messiah today is a mile wide, and about half an inch deep. And I fear that many will not endure when persecution comes; and it is coming!
II. To pray daily, consistently, in private
To be a disciple of Yeshua, obviously, you need to have a relationship with Him; and I don’t mean a dysfunctional relationship. If you’re not on speaking terms with someone, there’s no relationship. You need to cultivate that relationship so that your love for Him grows and you learn to listen for that gentle nudge, that thought that is so obviously from Him; that conviction in your conscience to do the thing you know you’re supposed to do, or to turn away from the thing you know you’re not supposed to be doing. You should be talking to Adonai throughout the day, and it should become a very natural thing. And the good news is that nowadays, with people walking around with blue tooth audio devices, seemingly talking to themselves, you won’t even look weird doing it.
III. To gather with the assembly
There are a number of people who I would describe as ‘lone ponies’ or even ‘loose cannons’ who go from church to church, but refuse to commit themselves to serve in one congregation. Some of them are prideful self-appointed critics of churches. They’re afraid of accountability, so they never plug in anywhere. But Scripture tells us that we are supposed to gather and uphold one another in community.
I’ve been following Yeshua for 35 years now, and in all that time I have yet to meet even one person who says they’re a believer but who doesn’t go to church anywhere, or who flits around from place to place, who has a vibrant faith or is growing in the Lord. You don’t flourish in isolation. It just doesn’t happen. We need accountability and the strength that comes from community.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).
IV. To give financially to further the Good News and to meet needs
To be a disciple is to sacrifice in the area of your finances. “Oh, great… Rabbi Loren goes away for one Shabbat and Rabbi Glenn decides to talk about money.” Well, I suppose I could just let that part of it go… and ignore the elephant in the living room! What a person gives or doesn’t give marks the difference between what is academic and what is real; the difference between talk and action. It is a fact: you know what a man really values by where he spends his time and money.
A disciple of Yeshua pays more than lip service to the work of the Lord. An interesting example of the principle of valuing God by giving what is valuable is found in 2 Samuel 24. When Araunah, who lived in Jerusalem, offered to give his threshing floor to King David for the building of an altar after a plague on Israel was stopped at that very place, David refused to be given that parcel of land for free. He said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord that which cost me nothing.”
When it comes to your finances, there’s a saying, “Give to the Lord what’s right… not what’s left.”
However little or much it is, your giving should be proportional and – this is really important – it should be intentional, not haphazard. I won’t go on about finances. You know what the right thing is to do. And as Forrest Gump said, “Well, that’s all I have to say about that.
V. To give of their time to help with the needs of the faith community
Discipleship involves sacrifice; the setting aside of self-interest. Perhaps the biggest sacrifice of all is time and energy, because there are and always will be brothers and sisters around you with needs. This person is in the hospital. That person is having troubles at home. This one just lost his job to downsizing. That one is mourning the loss of a parent.
Now no one person alone is expected to tend to everybody’s needs; that would lead to burnout real quick (and let me say that there are some people expect their pastors to do everything and there are a lot of burnt-out ex-pastors); but we dare not ignore those needs, either. Are you aware of the needs in our community here? If I asked you, for example, who among us is sick, could you answer? Knowing and acting on these things is part of what separates a disciple from a church-goer. I’m not suggesting you don’t take time for yourself or for your family; but true disciples care for one another’s needs. It takes intention.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look, not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).
VI. To evangelize: if you’re proud of Him, you persuade others to follow Him
Maybe it’s bashert (Yiddish: “meant to be”) that this message comes the week before Thanksgiving, where you have an opportunity to go out with us and do some evangelism on Thursday at the Thanksgiving Day Parade!
If you’re proud of Yeshua; if you love Him and you think He’s wonderful, wouldn’t you want to tell other people about that? We guys love to talk about our new golf clubs and we get excited talking to people about that new car or motorcycle, and we go on and on about all the specs. We love to talk about the things we love. Shouldn’t we love to talk about the ONE we love?
Evangelism is the natural outworking of somebody who loves the Lord, and who is amazed at how gracious and kind God has been to them. You should want to tell other people about Him! Look, I get it – we all have a fear of rejection. None of us likes to be ridiculed. But trust, me – you get over it!
In John chapter 19 we read about a guy named Joseph of Arimathea. Not very much is said about him. He is described in Scripture as a disciple of Yeshua, but a ‘secret’ one for fear of the Jewish leaders. Is that how you want to be remembered? “Oh, I didn’t want to say too much about my faith. I didn’t want to rock the boat. I don’t want people to think I’m weird.” And we’re told about Nicodemus, who came to Yeshua under cover of night because he was afraid to be seen coming to Him in broad daylight. Is that how you want to be remembered? I hope not. A disciple isn’t ashamed of his rabbi; He’s proud of him! If you’re proud of Yeshua, you persuade other people to follow Him, too.
VII. To patiently endure opposition
If you thought being a disciple of Yeshua meant you were going to receive lots of affirmation, admiration and accolades, you have another thing coming. To be a disciple of Yeshua, by definition, is to experience ridicule, opposition, hostility and rejection. I wish more pastors would preach that. We need to be honest with people and let them know that it isn’t an easy path. Discipleship involves sacrifice and hard work, inconvenience and the rearrangement of your priorities. And it also involves opposition and ridicule.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!” (Matthew 10:24-25)
Therefore Jesus… suffered outside the gate. So let us go out to Him, outside the camp, bearing the same reproach He bore. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come (Hebrews 13:12-14).
In this world, men try to build a large following for themselves. But Yeshua did the opposite; often making His teaching harder in order to pare down the size of His following. He didn’t care about large numbers. He was looking for the few who were truly committed. At one point He gave a very difficult teaching, and Scripture says, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” And do you know where that is found? In John 6:66. Yikes!
Let me conclude with these three passages of Scriptures as the basis for taking discipleship to heart. This is a call for us to aim high.
James 1:22 says, But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
Hebrews 12:11 tell us, No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Nobody likes to be corrected; nobody likes to have to be chastised. But if we’ll accept correction with humility, we will grow in character, and become that much stronger in the faith. If we’ll receive correction, we will experience shalom. A disciple is someone who submits themselves to training and to correction.
In Philippians 1:6, Rabbi Paul assures us: For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
One additional thought:
You don’t need to “pray about it” when it comes to the things Scripture already tells you to do. You don’t need to pray about whether to evangelize. You don’t need to pray about whether to come to the assembly. You don’t need to pray about whether to give to God from your finances. A disciple no more picks and chooses what Scripture to obey than a soldier picks and chooses what orders to follow.