Jesus doesn’t mess around. He’s very serious, even businesslike if not calculated in how he engages and challenges his inner circle of followers and the masses. ◊
I was speaking to a pastor friend this week about the whims of culture and the masses and how church leaders can succumb to the pressure to satisfy, attract, and engage the people in the name of evangelism. While there’s nothing wrong with efforts to fulfill the Great Commission with cool music, trendy sermons, videos, even smoke machines, the challenge is to move the people, both seekers and the converted, to deeper levels of discipleship.
Think about the time that Jesus fed 5,000 people on the hillside near the Sea of Galilee. (John 6) The people were attracted to Jesus because they saw and heard of His miraculous healings in Capernaum and in Jerusalem. On that day in Galilee He amazed and satisfied the hungry masses in the countryside with his supernatural multiplication and distribution of five barley loaves and two fish. One could almost imagine some followers of Jesus seeing this event and thinking of the possibilities of “taking this show on the road.” Yes, Jesus could go from town to town and could easily command an army of loyal followers who could be such a force for good, or whatever one wanted.
But that wasn’t the plan, then nor now. It’s more than just bringing them in. It’s about developing obedient followers.
It’s About Making Disciples
In fact, on this matter of the Great Commission that so motivates the expansion of the Church, the actual words of Christ are as follows:
“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.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
The emphasis is on disciple-making which goes beyond making converts in large numbers. True disciples are consciously, symbolically identified with Christ’s death and resurrection in baptism; they have developed deep roots in good soil (Parable of the Sower); they strongly abide or are connected to the vine (Jesus is the Vine); they read and study the Word of God; they really are obedient to the teachings and commandments of Christ; and they produce good fruit or impact multiplied many-fold through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s a high calling, potentially available to everyone. But not everyone dives “all in.”
Why not? Because it’s difficult as it involves giving up full control. The transformation is not always clean and easy. Practical application and stumbling toward a fully devoted life should be shared in community, not necessarily just from a pulpit. It can be experienced with family, friends and neighbors in safe and real ways without high-brow judgment and pressure. It can be encouraged with effective training but really only in the form of humble facilitation in the exploration of prayer and the reading of the Word of God.
A commitment to a radical new way of life does not come overnight. It does come with the power of the Spirit of God.
Jesus Gets Right to It
In His day, Jesus is pretty serious about it. And interestingly enough, He doesn’t wait around for the fickle masses to get on board. He had a mission to accomplish (to die a sacrificial death for all mankind – read the Book of John), and doesn’t stray from the objective.
When the crowd of 5,000 is enthralled after their feeding, Jesus retreats into the hills, even away from his own 12 disciples.
Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:15)
Jesus reconnects with the disciples while they were 3 or 4 miles across the Sea of Galilee in a boat on their way back to Capernaum. This is the time that He walks to them on the water. (John 6:16-20) The next day the crowd follows them there and confronts Jesus with questions about how he got there. Here’s His answer:
“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:26-29)
Then He goes further and speaks of the true bread from heaven given by the Father:
“For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”…Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.
The Jews there began to grumble about Him because of these bold words. Jesus calls them out: “Stop grumbling among yourselves.” (John 6:43) He continues with strange words that confuse the people and even turns some of them off:
I am the bread of life….I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you….For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them….
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:51-60)
The Ultimate Goal
Jesus and Christianity is serious business. It’s not a popularity contest that is focused on catering to the whims of a populace or culture that can love you one day and crucify you the next day. Yet that world is loved by God who comes to us, His creation, with the ultimate goal: Wholeheartedly know, believe and obey the One True God who loves and saves us, so that we will love one another, produce multiplied fruit, and make other fully devoted disciples around the world.
Are you a true disciple/follower of Jesus?
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.- John 6:66