Disciple School

Delivered September 24, 2000 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Sermon Text:
Matthew 9:35-10:4
9:35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues,
preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed
and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
10:1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out
evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called
Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;
4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Listen to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ taken from Matthew 9:35-10:4. Let us pray as we begin. Lord we understand that we are blinder than moles when it comes to discerning your word unless your Spirit opens our hearts. And as you opened the minds of your disciples on the road to Emmaus, help us to see things that we are not seeing right now, so that we might know that you are indeed present to us, calling us, caring for us and commissioning us. In your name we pray, Amen.

Matthew 9:35. “Jesus went through all the towns and villages teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.” He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James, son of Zebedee and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.” Amen.

This sermon is based on the end of Matthew Chapter 9 and the beginning of Matthew Chapter 10. Up to this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew has been taking a lot of time to explain what he encapsulates in one verse everything that’s gone on before this moment. He says in 9:35, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” If you look at Matthew Chapter 1 to this point in Chapter 9, you’ll see that’s exactly what Jesus is doing. Three fold ministry of Jesus: preaching the kingdom, (repent and believe the kingdom of God is among you,) teaching in the synagogues. (Jesus was not a street corner preacher. He went into the mainline religious system of the day and he taught.) And then he healed every disease and every sickness.

In the midst of all of this ministry, it is not just about Jesus. It is a training school that is going on for the men that followed him. At least they were just men at this point in the text. And you notice that he calls twelve and authorizes them. It is as though there was a disciple school in progress. This text is not just talking about what Jesus did. It’s talking about what Jesus continues to do through his church. The three fold ministry of the church, the Body of Christ, is to proclaim the good news of the kingdom, to teach what it means to follow Christ and to heal, to be a healing presence in this world. If Jesus drove a car, the sign on the back would say “CAUTION-DISCIPLE DRIVERS”. Jesus was training people, no different from you or me, in taking up the ministry that he was doing. He had called disciples to a mission and it had impossible written all over it. We look at what Jesus is doing and say, “How could we do these things?” Yet, His explicit command in verse 38 is to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more laborers into the harvest. He is working so that they, too, can do the things that he is doing. In verse 10:1, he directly commands and gives authority to his disciples to do those very things. He gave them authority “to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”

Why do you think this is in here? Why do you think this text made it into the Bible? Because anybody who claims to be a Christian needs to understand themselves as also enrolled in disciple school. And an interesting aspect of disciple school is, you can enroll at any age and you never graduate, until you take your last breath. Are you enjoying disciple school? Maybe you come in here thinking you are not in disciple school. I tell you that you are if you say you believe in Jesus. If report cards were handed out, what would your marks look like today? Maybe some of us are like that one imaginary classroom response. Maybe you’ve heard it before. After Jesus got finished talking to the disciples and teaching about the Beatitudes: Blessed are the meek, blessed are the mournful, blessed are the merciful and he goes on to teach. Listen to this imaginary response and maybe you can identify when you think about being enrolled in a school.

Then Simon Peter said, “Do we have to write this down?” And Andrew said, “Are we supposed to know this?” And James says, “Will we have a test on this?” And Bartholomew said, “Do we have to turn this in?” John said, “The other disciples don’t have to learn this” And Matthew said, “When do we get out of here?” And Judas said, “What does this have to do with real life?” And one of the Pharisees present asked to see Jesus’ lesson plans and inquired of Jesus’ terminal objectives in the cognitive domain. And Jesus wept.

Disciple school is about learning but it’s not just about learning knowledge wise. Discipling, in fact, if you look at the word for disciple it means “learner”. That’s the exact literal meaning of the word disciple. Somebody who is learning. But in a biblical sense, we are only learning if we work what we learn into our behavior. We haven’t learned a thing according to the scriptures if we know something, but we don’t do it. That’s what the goal of the school is about – becoming like the Lord who did things. You know the crazy part about this? It is right in the text about the Pharisees. The Pharisees thought that they were “A” students, didn’t they? As a matter of fact, they thought they were A++ students, but they were flunking big time. And not because they weren’t doing things. There is something critical about disciple school. And so you sit here and you say well, what does an A+ disciple really look like? What should I be thinking about? What should I be doing? What should my attitudes be?

There are 3 points to this sermon; a classic 3 point sermon. And these 3 points are as simple as ABC. In fact, if you can remember ABC, you will remember the 3 points of the sermon. Three points like course titles if you would, that are taught in this text that demonstrate the attitudes, the mind-set and the behaviors of a person who is an A+ disciple. Lets look at the first one. If a disciple is a learner that behaves in a certain way, then the first behavior is to demonstrate what we believe about Jesus. And we believe according to this text, and scripture certainly teaches, that he is the Lord of everything.

Course 101 A – Accountability and Authority. The authority of Jesus to which we are all accountable. That’s where the Pharisees missed the boat. They were accountable only to their own sense of what was authority. And Jesus, God in their midst, they did not recognize or honor as God. A true disciple in the year 2000 is somebody who acknowledges that Jesus is the Lord. Our Lord calls himself the Lord of the harvest. He says, “ask the Lord of the harvest, (that’s me,) to send out workers into his harvest field.” And he also goes on to give authority to his disciples. So the first thing the disciples are learning is that they have authority because they acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. The rest of Chapter 10 if you look a little further on, Jesus says, “I have given you this authority.” If you go out and tell people about myself and they don’t listen to you, you shake the dust off your feet. Then he says, “It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorra in the day of judgement than for the people that I commissioned you to tell.” You have great authority as a disciple of Jesus. We shouldn’t go around thinking, “Well, nobody wants to hear what I have to say.” We have the message of the good news of the Kingdom of God. The message of the universe and so the disciples say to themselves, Jesus is Lord and Master and Ruler and he has commissioned me to be a person that communicates his love to others.

Now, how does this all play out in practical living in the church? Contrary to popular opinion, the church is not just some voluntary association. In one sense, of course it is. A person is free to join any congregation and they are free to leave any congregation whenever they want to. But if in fact Jesus is the authority, the Lord, the Master, the Ruler of all the universe and he has called you and me to be commissioned through our baptism and through his grace, then he has brought us into a kingdom of believers. And as a kingdom of believers, we make a voluntary commitment to one another in the church. Even going so far as to say, and I think the scriptures are very clear on this, that we are to be accountable to other people in authority and we are to be accountable to one another. That’s one of the beauties of small groups, that you can be in a group in which you are held more accountable than if you weren’t in that group.

You know, we live in a day and age when people don’t join anything anymore. Compared to past generations, fewer people join political parties, civic clubs or other organizations, including churches. We are conditioned by our consumer culture “If I join this church and I don’t like what’s happening here, I’ll just move on down the road and join this one”. Now please understand what I am saying and I am not in any way trying to urge people to join this congregation. I am trying to give my understanding of what I believe a disciple who understands the authority of Jesus does. One who makes himself or herself accountable to that authority has to have a place to somehow work it out at a horizontal level, and that’s the church of Jesus Christ. Nancy Moppet wrote an article called “Membership, Why Bother?” She talks about some deeper reasons that people sometimes don’t wish to join, and I would say members who have joined but maybe don’t wish to go deeper. Maybe we want to have involvements on our own terms. Maybe we don’t want to make commitments that would tie us down or require something of us. Maybe we want to walk away easily if our circumstances change or our interest wanes.

The beautiful thing about the authority of Jesus is that even when things get tough, it is like a marriage. Sure, nobody is forcing anybody to stay in a marriage, but the idea is that you take the covenant commitment to stick with one person. And even when things get difficult, that covenant keeps you together. That’s the goal that Jesus has for the church. Now again, we are human, we fail, we blow it, we are weak and we can’t always resolve our differences; so there are different denominations or different congregations. Fine. But God is calling an A+ disciple to at least get rooted somewhere in a local community that they might grow in Jesus Christ with others. That’s the A.

B: Course 102 B. Building Community. If you’ll notice, Jesus called a group. He called individuals, but even as the individuals are listed, they are listed in pairs. And in Matthew’s gospel, it doesn’t say that Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs, but he lists them in pairs. Simon Peter & Andrew, James & John. Again, I think the idea here is building community, being connected.

Dr. Bilezikian, who was here back in the Spring, said more than I could ever think about saying about the importance of building community. But again, let me just say that Jesus didn’t call superstars. He called regular people. How many of you, before you walked in here today, could name the 12 disciples? Raise your hand. Well, maybe 1, 2. I mean, anybody remember Thaddeus? I mean, sure, you remember hearing the name. But the point is, he didn’t call superstars. He called ordinary people to be committed not only to him, but to one another. And so we are diverse, but called to be one in Christ. One of the things I’ve heard since I’ve been here for the last 2 months is that for whatever reason, sometimes it is hard to get from the membership circle into the fellowship circle. That’s hard in any congregation. Now some of you who are extroverts, you know, you are going to get in any congregation you go to. You are just going to make your way in. Nobody’s going to keep you out. Because that’s your personality. Others are not like that and they need more entrance ramps. Where have I heard that before? Entrance ramps into the life of the congregation and you know what, that’s what the session is trying to do in this congregation. I am so incredibly pleased with the spirit that exists in the leadership of this church. You know, a lot of churches that grow to this size could say, “Hey, we have enough people.” We are doing fine, but I want to share with you that the elders of this congregation agonize over the fact that more people are not in the fellowship circle and connected in community. We are praying and thinking, how can we make this happen? That’s the spirit of what is going on here and if you feel somehow on the outside, that is not the intent. And God through this congregation and through this session wants to connect you somewhere and I think that’s what being a disciple of Jesus is all about. You have to be building yourself up in community with others.

Psychologist Barbara DeAngelis says that just as there are 4 basic food groups in nutrition, there are 3 basic emotional food groups. One is attention, as in we need attention paid to us. Two is affection, as in we need affection shown to us. And three is appreciation. We need appreciation expressed to us. If you are not getting those 3 basics at an emotional level, then Christ wants you to be enrolled in a deeper way. If you come to church and you don’t feel that someone is paying attention, somebody is showing affection or expressing appreciation, and if you don’t feel that in your family, then something is drastically wrong because Christ wants us to be building community. Those are the building blocks upon which community is built. It is more than just coming to church superficially. That’s what I see in this text. Deep relationships must form if we are going to be able to be A+ disciples. And so, an A+ disciple has a sense of authority and accountability to Christ and to the church, but seeks to build community within that. It is not a cult. It is not like just authority to one figure. There is a community that has been built. Commitment to one another.

Then the C: Compassionate ministry. It says of Jesus when he saw the crowds, “He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” Disciples of Jesus recognize that they are called to involvement in this world. Arthur Godfrey once said, “Even if you are on the right track, if you just sit there you will get run over.” Even if you say, “Ah, yes, Jesus is Lord; yes I am building community,” but then you are not squeezing the sponge, then you are missing something in disciple school. It says of Jesus that he had compassion. Only 9 times in the New Testament does the Bible speak of having compassion or “Splanka.” It literally means that his bowels turned over inside of him when he saw the people who needed his guidance and his love. The 9 times in the New Testament that it said that someone had compassion only refers to God or Jesus. In other words, without God and Jesus, you and I cannot do compassionate ministry. We can do work. We can do things for people. But it will not be the empowered compassion of Jesus Christ unless we are close to him in prayer. That’s why he says pray, pray so that the Lord might send to the harvest workers. Our call as compassionate disciples first and foremost is to come close to God in prayer because Jesus is the only one that can have compassion through you and through me. If you are in ministry and you are tired and you are weary, then it’s a call to come back to sit at the feet of Jesus so that he can again, have his mercy and his compassion move through you. An A+ disciple takes compassionate ministry very seriously. We are each called to discover what this means for us.

G. Steven Sally, is the pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in Chattanooga Tennessee. Maybe you have heard this, maybe you read this story on the Internet, I don’t know. But it is a story about caring. Karen was an active member of the Panther Springs United Methodist Church in Morristown, TN. When Karen was pregnant with her second child, a seemingly normal pregnancy, her 3 year old son Michael began a relationship with his unborn sister by singing to her every night. Every evening, he would sing his new sister a song while she was still in his mother’s womb. When it came time for Karen to give birth to the baby, there was trouble during the delivery. Michael’s baby sister was rushed in serious condition to the hospital. She had just been born. She was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital in Knoxville, TN. And as the days went by, she grew weaker and weaker. The doctors in the hospital started to prepare the parents. They said, “This is not looking good for your daughter.” During her stay in the intensive care unit, Michael kept saying to his mother and father, “I want to sing to my sister. I want to go in there and sing to my sister.” They wouldn’t let him of course, at first. And finally, when things got very desperate, they dressed him in an oversized scrub suit and they let him into the intensive care unit. Some of the hospital staff were very aggravated that this little guy was in there and they said, “Really, this is not the place for him.” The mother looked at them and said “He is not leaving here until he sings to his sister.” So he came up alongside the bassinet and he started to sing this song “You are my sunshine,” you know the song? “My only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.” Woman’s Day magazine called it “The miracle of a brother’s song.” The doctors just called it a miracle. Mother called it the miracle of God’s love. On the day that they were planning a funeral, they took that little baby out and had a party. She had responded to the familiar voice of her brother.

Here is the point, will you let God today by his Holy Spirit sing to your heart again? If you feel weak and you feel tired and you just feel like you want to give it up, will you listen to the familiar voice of the spirit calling to you saying, “Listen, I called you, I want you. I want you to be serving a compassionate ministry. I don’t want you burning out, but I want you to hear my voice and I want you to follow me.” There is a world out there that is dying that needs the song that we have to share. And if you will be accountable to Jesus, and proclaim him Lord in your heart, and if you will make a commitment to build community with just a few other believers, and if you will hear his voice again calling you to compassionate ministry, on your diploma, it will say “Well done my good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord which has been prepared for foundation of the world”. Amen.