Growing Up Challenge: An Invitation With Eternal Implications
As I mentioned on Friday, we want you to “Get in the Game” in 2014. Learn how to get started by watching my sermon from Sunday.
Why are we looking at the calling of the disciples in a series about making disciples? Before you can make disciples, you must be a disciple. It’s fitting that we begin with the process and the participants of Jesus’ discipleship group.
My goal over the next 3 weeks is to build a case both Scripturally and experientially for you to get involved in a discipleship group. I believe the greatest resolution you can make this new year is to be involved in a discipleship group.
16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”[a] 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
1. The Participants.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fishermen. Fishing was their job. You may enjoy an afternoon of fishing, but these men were professionals. Every day they let down their nets, caught fish, cleaned fish, and sold them. Day after day, they repeated the same actions over and over again.
Peter, like many of us, had a foot shaped mouth. He spoke before he thought, always ready for confrontation at a moments notice.
Andrew, Peter’s brother was an evangelist, constantly bringing people to Jesus. He not only knew who Jesus was but what he was here to do.
James, the son of Zebedee, was the first of the 12 to die as a martyr. He was the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem at the time of his execution. He, along with Peter and his brother John were part of Jesus’ intimate discipleship group of 4.
John, James’ brother was called the disciple whom Jesus loved. John wrote more books of the New Testament than any of the 12. All of them were fisherman. This was no accident. It was by design.
I want you to see that if God can use these men to make disciples of all nations, he can use you.
Who were these 12 men?
They Were Blue Color Workers.
Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen. Simon the Zealot was a card carrying Tea Party participant, and Matthew was a government employee. They understood the importance of hard work.
They Possessed No Formal Religious Training.
What most amazed the religious Leades was the fact that the apostles had such power and authority, and yet had never been Formally trained in their schools of theology.
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
They Were Young Men.
What I am about to say will cause you to question the way you have always looked at the 12 Apostles. In 2006, I had the privilege of studying Ray VanDer Laan the founder of Follow the Rabbi Ministries. He makes a strong case for the disciples being between the ages of 12 and 20. Peter was probably the oldest disciple at 20.
Jesus chose 2 terms to describe his disciples: Mikros which means “Little Ones” in Matthew 10:42 and Teknion in John 13:33 which is translated “Little Children.”
In Avot 5 in the Mishnah, A Jewish Commentary on the Old Testament, the ancient Jewish traditions are outlined: scripture study begins at age 5; Mishnah study at 10; Torah obligations at 13; continued rabbinical study at 15 if chosen to be tutored by a formal teacher or apprenticed to a trade; marriage at 18; formal teaching at 30.
Most formal education was completed by 15 unless one sought out a Rabbi to study under. These small few were afforded an opportunity to study under a teacher until the age of 30. The rest entered the workforce. Most of the time they continued the family business.
Since the disciples were already working, it shows us that they were rejected by formal education of the Rabbi’s when Jesus called them. Furthermore, a teenager is more likely to engage in continuing education since a man over 30 leaving his trade would have been counter cultural and frowned upon. Most disciples studied and traveled with a Rabbi at the age of 16. We have no reason to believe Jesus’ disciples were the exception to the acceptable educational order.
It was custom for a Jewish boy’s marriage to be arranged by his parents before the age of 18. The only disciple we know of who was married was Peter (Matt. 8:14). We can assume the disciples were too young to be married since bachelors in the Jewish culture were frowned upon.
According to Exodus 30:13–14, The temple tax was required at Passover from every male 20 and over. We have record of only 2 People paying the Temple Tax: Peter and Jesus. Jesus instructs Peter in Matthew 17:27 to “Go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” We can rightly assume that the other disciples were underage and exempt from paying the tax.
Do we know for sure that the majority of the disciples were teenagers? No. Whether they are teenagers or not, doesn’t alter the gospel message at all. In fact, it enhances it. Why do I bring this up? The greatest disservice we have done to the Apostles through the ages is to glamorize and idolize them. Don’t get me wrong. These men should be respected for their faithfulness to God, but they were no different than you or me. These were ordinary, hard working men who answered an invitation from a Galilean Rabbi that would change the world.
Jesus bypassed the Theological Institutions of Jerusalem, the Wealthy Cities of Jericho and Sidon, the intellectual sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes, and called 12 ordinary men to follow Him. These men changed the world. These men were just like you and me.
2. The Process
A Disciple Follows Christ.
Jesus calls them to Himself. This summons, “Come Follow Me,” would have been uncharacteristic of the Jewish Culture. No other Rabbi sought out students to follow him. It was the Initiative of an aspiring student, not the invitation of a Rabbi that initiated the journey of discipleship.
A second point I want to make is that when a student followed a Rabbi, his allegiance was to the Torah, not the Rabbi. Old Testament saints followed the Torah. As a general rule, Moses, Kings, Prophets, and Priests DID NOT call people to follow them. They challenged people to walk according to the Statues of God. The only instance is Elijah and Elisha in 1 Kings 19, but even then there is a difference in that Elijah allows his disciple to return home to say farewell to Mom and Dad. Jesus did not.
Rather than being chosen by a Rabbi to study the law under a Rabbi, Jesus invited his disciples to join him in sharing his life and ministry. Think about this. He doesn’t say, “I want you to come learn systematic theology with me; Let’s discuss theories of creation and the fall; Let us examine ethical ways of living and working with others.” No. He simply said, “Follow Me!” His call was personal. It was more than study. It was a way of life. He invites the fisherman into a personal relationship with him.
Discipleship begins with an unshakable allegiance to Jesus, which is why I believe you can only disciple a believer. Sharing or studying the bible with an unbeliever is called evangelism. Discipleship has a goal: to be conformed into the image of Christ. To talk the way he talked, to walk the way he walked, to respond the way he responded.
Here is another overlooked aspect of the call: Jesus came looking for them. They didn’t pursue Him.
Jesus came looking for you. You weren’t looking for Him. In fact, you were incapable of looking for Him. You were dead in your trespasses and sins, You were a sinner who loved to sin, you were blinded by the god of this world from seeing the light of the gospel which is the Glory of Christ who is the image of God.
Even today, Jesus is pursuing you. Would you surrender to His call by putting your trust in Him and repenting of your sins?
In order to make disciples, you must be a disciple and a disciple follows Jesus.
A Disciple is Formed by Christ
“Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.”
Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. What a beautiful picture of the sanctification process. Jesus gives us a future tense promise. This is going to happen when you follow Him.
BECOME is the word for MAKE, but the word can be translated as birth. It’s the idea of something coming into existence and growing. Becoming is a long and slow process that Jesus brings forth in our lives. Become is not an instantaneous gift from Jesus, but the result of discipleship. We can’t grow ourselves. God brings forth maturity in our life. However, we can align ourselves for exponential growth. We can put ourselves in a position to experience the abundant victorious life that God envisioned for us.
How? Through discipleship and spiritual disciplines.
I wrote Growing Up to give you an outline for aligning yourself for exponential growth. The first three chapters build a case for the necessity of making disciples. Chapter 4 deals with training yourself to become godly. I developed an Acronym for Growing in Christ: C.L.O.S.E.R.
- Communicate with God through prayer.
- Learn to understand and apply God’s Word to your life.
- Obey God’s commands.
- Store God’s Word in your heart.
- Evangelize (share Christ with others).
- Renew yourself spiritually every day.
Regularly practicing even one of these disciplines will increase your spiritual fervor. The more of them you cultivate in your life, the closer you will grow to the Lord, and the more you will become like Christ. Incorporating them into a weekly discipleship group will change your life.
You can’t produce spiritual growth. Only God can do that. But you can put yourself in a position to experience growth. There is no other group that you can be involved in that can form you into the image of Christ faster than a discipleship group.
A Disciple Is Focused On Others
Jesus gave the disciples a task. Notice what Jesus doesn’t say, “Follow me, and I will make you.” “Wise,” or “Holy”
He said, “Follow me and I will make you to catch men.”
Some have reduced this command to soul winning or sharing one’s faith, but it’s more than that. Jesus clarifies his mission for them in Matt. 28:19, “Go Therefore and Make Disciples of All Nations.” He doesn’t say evangelize because evangelism is part of the process.
Evangelism and discipleship are two oars attached to one boat. With only one oar in the water, you will go in a circle. Both oars are necessary to reach your destination. Both are essential to carrying out the Great Commission.
The gospel is received through evangelism and lived out through discipleship. Evangelism without discipleship will end when the evangelist dies. Likewise, discipleship without evangelism will cease when the disciple-maker dies.
When I studied martial arts, I learned that anything could be used as a weapon, whether it’s a tree limb, a broom handle, or the stapler off the desk. In a similar way, Jesus uses whatever is at hand as a teaching tool to develop and disciple us. All of life becomes a classroom, and class is always in session.
Jesus uses the fishermen’s occupation to teach them. It’s no accident that they are in the middle of fishing when Jesus approached them.
1. Peter and Andrew were casting their nets in the sea.
Casting is another word for throwing. You did this continuously to catch fish. This circular net measured 20 feet in diameter with heavy bars of metal or rocks attached to the perimeter. You would throw it in a circular motion so it would land like a parachute in the water. Fish were trapped as it sunk to the bottom. Then came the fun part. The fisherman jumped out of the boat, swam to the bottom, gathered the weights, and drug the net to the boat or the Shore. The point is simple: You must continuously throw out your nets to catch fish. Sometimes you would catch something, sometimes you wouldn’t. Think of the similarities to ministry.
2. John and James were mending their nets.
Repairing or equipping the nets for another catch. The word can also mean “to make someone completely adequate or sufficient for something—‘to make adequate, to furnish completely, to cause to be fully qualified.” I did a quick study of the root word and found that the same word is found in Ephesians 4:12.
He gave the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.
They were catching fish and mending nets, but ONE day they will be evangelizing the lost and equipping the saints. From the start, Jesus implanted the seed of multiplication within the hearts of the disciples.
The Christian life is not just about you. Jesus never envisioned for you to come and sit, but to go and serve.
The Gospel came to you because it was heading to someone else.
A Disciple Forsakes Everything
When Jesus extended the Invitation to follow Him, they respond without HESITATION. They IMMEDIATELY followed Him.
Here is the point: OBEDIENCE PRECEEDS SERVICE. In these few lines, we see the greatest act of obedience in history.
The first act of obedience for a Christian after baptism is to make disciples. I believe the purpose of the church is the same. Joey Bonifacio author of the The Lego Principle described the reason we aren’t making disciples to a group of pastors. We are confused about our purpose as a Church.
He started his message by saying “I’m going to say a brand name or a popular trademark. I want you to answer, in only one word, the business the company represents.
“Are you ready?”
Let’s try it here:
Up to this point, everyone responded without hesitation. But the final trademark stumped the Audience of Pastor.
“What about the Church.” And the room was silent. Minds were whirling, “Hmm, what is the ‘business’ of the church? What is the church’s ‘one word’?”
I would say DISCIPLESHIP.
One of the greatest setbacks of modern Christianity is that we have relegated ourselves out of the role of making disciples and depended on a handful of “full-time” ministers to do the job that Jesus gave to Us. We will never carry out the Great Commission if only full time vocational ministers are making disciples.
So Why Aren’t You Making Disciples?
If I passed the mic out to you this morning to you, 2 excuses would rise to the top : Ignorance and Uncertainty.
Some, if not most, of you haven’t been discipled before, so you don’t know what to do. Since you haven’t seen a group lived out before you, you are confused about the discipleship process.
It could also be that you don’t understand the benefits of the group. A person who has never worked out for an extended period of time will never fully realize the benefits of training. It’s only when you purchase a membership, wake up early, and begin training that you are sold on the benefits of working out. If I go a week without working out, I can tell a difference in my life—I have worked out nearly ever week for 26 years!
Many would say, “I haven’t been there and done that before, so I can’t lead a discipleship group.” When you don’t know what to do, you don’t do anything at all. Ignorance of what to teach and how to lead has paralyzed believers for centuries. You know more than you think you know. If you are further along the journey than someone else, you can at least lead him or her to where you are. I believe you would lead a group if someone taught you how to do it.
The Growing Up Challenge will eliminate the excuses: “I don’t know how to lead a group because I’ve never seen a group!” or “I don’t know what to teach because I’ve never been discipled!”
For those using my Growing Up Book, I will be releasing a step-by step training video each week that you can watch from the comfort of your home. It will answer your questions and guide you as you lead others in your discipleship group.
Here is what you need to do:
Go to Growingupchallenge.com. Sign up for the weekly training videos and materials that will walk you through the process.
Start a group of 3 to 5 people. Men with men and women with women. Invite friends, neighbors, co-workers, church members to join you over the next 13 weeks for a discipleship group. If you’re already in a group, I’m asking you to pause for 13 weeks and do darticipate. If you are not in a group, I’m asking you to start one. Meet over lunch, over coffee, at night, or in the morning for breakfast.
Expect God to move in your life. You are embarking on a spiritual journey that will forever change your life.