Salvation is Free; Discipleship Costs Everything

We are often misled by people trying to win us for their cause. They want us as long as we can be of benefit to them; then they drop us. An engineer in middle age tells a sad story: he had graduated from the university with a high grade point average. Several corporations were recruiting him for their organization. He had a great personality and a strong work ethic. His talents had every indication they would be of great value to any organization that hired him. The engineer had not been with a corporation long before realizing he had been misled by the recruiters; working conditions were very unpleasant. Finally, he was given a pink slip. His comment was, “Had I been given the full picture of what would be demanded of me, I would not have taken the job.”

Jesus could never have been accused of misleading the twelve men He trained to be fishers of men. When He had completed teaching the disciples, Jesus returned to His Heavenly home. However, He left behind the textbook, which has become the inspired word for all those who want to be His followers. In this book, our Lord makes it clear that, while our salvation is free by grace through faith in Him, being His disciple can be very costly.

It was unbelievable news when one day Jesus said to His disciples, “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elder, chief priests, and teachers of the law. Then I must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21).

“What kind of talk is this?” Peter asked the Lord. The disciples were entertaining thoughts of a different kind of future than Jesus was outlining to them. Hadn’t the angel told Mary her Son would establish a kingdom that would have no end? James and John dreamed of a glorious day when they would occupy positions of great prestige. They requested that when this Kingdom was fully established they would have the two most important chairs. One would sit on the right, and the other on the left of the King. Judas, on the other hand, was more interested in the money that would be a part of the Kingdom.

Now Peter asks Jesus, “Has something changed? Have we been misled?”

Then Jesus makes this announcement: The future is not only going to be difficult for me, but also for you. He had no intentions of misleading them by letting them think that being His disciple would assure them of a carefree life. Hear His words: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

The Kingdom is not described as one of ease, wealth, and popularity. “My Kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus said. A life committed to Christ could be described as one that included difficulties, poverty, and hatred. This was descriptive of Jesus’ life, and a disciple could not be above his teacher.

This remains a basic teaching as Jesus continues to train his disciples to be fishers of men. Over the centuries Christianity has not seen discipleship get any easier. Martyrdom is with us today as it was when Jesus walked on earth. If this is true, we must ask ourselves why it is that our version of the Christian faith has become so acceptable and respected? The answer is clear: we have become masters at adjusting Biblical teachings to coincide with our culture. Let’s use one illustration as it applies to our day.

The Church today wrestles with the practice of homosexuality. Should we ordain practicing homosexuals to be ministers in the Church? Should we bless same-sex marriages? Now many of us have friends and relatives who practice the gay lifestyle. We love these people and do not want anything to destroy our relationship. What shall we do? These people not only want us to accept them, which we do, but they also want us to condone their behavior as an alternate lifestyle.

Here is an answer coming from some theologians: Once we said our only authority in matters of faith and life is the Word of God. Now there are those who will teach us that culture must also be considered. In other words, we interpret scripture in the light of culture. If culture is changing its position and becoming more acceptable to the homosexual lifestyle, should the church not also make this adjustment? Will culture reject Christianity if it does not make this adjustment? It would be a crushing blow for us to experience if some of our dearest friends and relatives would reject us.

It is in this setting that Jesus’ words apply: “Take us your cross and follow me. You must remain true to my word if you want to be my disciples.” In our society we are not dying physically for the cause of Christ. However, there is plenty of social dying if we are faithful to our Lord’s commands. The Bible makes it clear that such adjustments of God’s Word will not be acceptable to the faithful follower of Christ. It is better for us to understand this now than to be deluded by a false theology that tries to teach in error that Christianity can be adjusted to meet the whims of culture.

“Well,” the person seeking to know more about the Christian faith says, “if all of this is true, I guess the Christian faith is not for me. Life is tough, and there is no need to make it tougher.” What a temptation it is to water down faith in the hopes of keeping a person open to an adjusted version of Biblical teaching. While compromising Biblical truths might be the easy way out at the present time, such a presentation of the Christian faith will not long endure. Soon we will have nothing distinct to offer our culture when it is completely destitute.

This is only one side of true discipleship. While Jesus talks about taking up your cross and following Him, he also taught this great truth: “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). You must wonder if this not a contradiction. The answer of every committed Christian I have ever met is, no.

While the Christian faith can be difficult, it is always full, abundant, and brings with it an inner peace and joy. However, our Lord tells us what the full life is. Here are some of these eternal truths that are a part of the abundant life.

The Bible teaches that we can live without the fear of complete rejection. God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Think what joy and peace this can bring to a human heart. No longer do we need to fear being ostracized by those who cannot accept us if we are, in their minds, “religious radicals.” It is not easy to experience the hostility of these people, but underneath all of the hurts, we are assured that God has not rejected us. This is a part of the abundant life.

Think of the comfort in these words: “The Lord is my keeper. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Let me share with you an experience I had a month ago.

Eight years ago my wife had a major stroke, and from that day on, I have always been concerned she would have another stroke. All has gone well, but on Friday evening a few weeks ago, just as we were preparing our dinner, Eunice was unable to speak to me. This spell lasted for only a couple of minutes, but it was repeated again and again. Finally, we went to the hospital. Over the next few hours I was very frightened. At 5:00 a.m., after being with her in the longest and hardest spells, I threw myself on the cot provided for me in the room and poured out my heart to God in prayer. I turned over my wife to God completely. “Lord, I ask that you spare her from more disabilities. Do not send her home unable to talk, swallow, or see. Please, Lord, if she can’t be spared these difficulties, take her home to be with you. She trusts you. We know there is a heavenly home awaiting her. I don’t want her to leave, but if that be your will, take her home.”

Suddenly there was peace. I fell asleep for a couple of hours and from that time on, she did not have one spell. The doctors continued their work, and on Tuesday afternoon we received the good news that she had not had strokes, but silent seizures, which can be controlled by medication. However, even before any medicine entered her system, Eunice had been seizure-free for 84 hours. The doctors have now prescribed the medicine, which she is taking faithfully.

This is the abundant life. We can have peace even in some of our most torturous moments, because God is our helper. He will sustain us. This is part of being a disciple of Christ. Such peace far surpasses any suffering we might endure.

It is He who tells us “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all of our sins.” Guilt can drive us wild. We have our ways of trying to explain why we sin. We go so far as to think up a few excuses for acting as we do, but it brings no peace. God does not condone sin, but he will forgive it. That’s a part of the abundant life.

That is a summary of life with Jesus.

No, I have never heard anyone say they have not been happy since Jesus became a part of their life. The going will have its rough days, but life will always be abundant.

A Love for People

Jesus made a broad statement when He told Peter and Andrew to leave their nets and he would make the fishers of men. However, there was no question about what He meant by asking them to become fishers of men. The disciples were given a three-year course on the subject giving them basic truths. Jesus also demonstrated these teachings as he worked with the disciples and other people they met along the way. This same course was left behind for us; it is found in the New Testament. As we study the teachings of our Lord, the Holy Spirit opens our minds to their meaning often letting us experience their dynamic effects on our lives.

Here is a basic truth taught and demonstrated by Jesus for us: A fisher of men must love people!

I have learned from experience that, if you are going to enjoy being a pastor, you must first love the Lord. Secondly, you must love people. I have met some well-trained ministers who were having a tough time in the ministry because there was no love for people in their heart.

It is important, however, to distinguish between loving and liking people. I recall a friend from seminary. He was a quiet person whom they could have labeled a loner. He did not need to have a group of people around him when he ate his meals in the boarding club. After graduation from seminary, I did not see him for years. Then, one day while preaching in another part of the country, I met him after the service. It was an enjoyable visit as he told me about his life. He served two small rural churches and loved his work. “I love my people,” he said. “It is so gratifying to teach them God’s Word and watch these blessed truths come alive in their lives.”

This man did not care to be around many people. To serve a large congregation was not an attraction for him. He did not like crowds, but he loved individual people. I believe this is what Jesus teaches those who want to be fishers of men. We must love people.

In the closing hours of Jesus’ three-year journey with the men he had been training to fishers of men, our Lord said, “A new command I give you; love one another. As I have loved you, so you must also love one another.” —John 13:34

You might ask what was new about loving one another? The Old Testament admonishes us to love one another. The Greek philosophers (Plato and Socrates) wrote long dissertations about loving one another. How could Jesus call this a new commandment?

Jesus’ statement contains a qualifying clause that answers our question. He says, “As I have loved you . . .” This is love – Jesus style. Christian love is defined by certain qualities. Here are three of these qualities:

Sensitivity When a husband tells his wife he loves her, he should also be sensitive to her feelings. The New Testament shows the need of including sensitivity in loving people.

Mothers brought their children to Jesus that He might bless them, and the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. Yes, he was angry and told them to bring the children to Him. Why was He angry? I am convinced Jesus was sensitive to the feelings of those mothers. Perhaps one child was ill, and the mother was praying Jesus would heal the little one. Others just might have wanted their sons and daughters to receive the blessing of God that they might walk together through life. The disciples had no feelings for these hurting people. They could not minister to people like those mothers if they were not sensitive to the hurts, concerns, moods, and frustrations of those who came.

This rule is as true today as it was when Jesus was teaching these twelve men how to be his servants. The Christian must ask these questions before ministering to others: What did the new day bring my friend? What are her problems? How can I identify with her needs? What does she need to hear from God through me?

Sacrifice True love carries an element of sacrifice. We have great examples of this kind of love, especially in parents’ love for their children. A father and mother will do anything for the welfare of their son and daughter. But for the supreme sacrifice we turn to God who showed His love for us in a sacrificial way. We read, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” —I John 4:9

Do we understand that Christ calls His witnesses to love people with a sacrificial love? If we do, why are there money problems in some congregations, and why do we hear announcements pleading with members of the congregation to teach our children the glorious stories of the Bible. Read the church bulletins and listen to the announcements when churches are planning for the beginning of Sunday school on rally day. “We are short seven teachers. Please tell us you will teach.” It is a terrible announcement in the first place. What if someone who was not spiritually qualified to teach volunteered? What if the volunteer was not a Christian? Do we simply assume all people in the congregation are qualified to teach in our Sunday schools?

I have asked people, who have a great talent to teach, why they are not doing so. Their answer is heart breaking: “Well, we like to be free on Sunday to go and do things we want to do. We don’t want to be tied down.” Or another person says, “I took my turn at teaching years ago. Now it is someone else’s turn.” It is as though teaching these children that God loves them is such a burden.

Well, our Lord is making it clear: if you want to be a fisher of people, you have to love people. A part of loving people is to be willing to make sacrifices for them.

Forgiveness When you love people, you carry no ill will toward them. Remember those immortal words of Jesus: “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.” This was Jesus’ prayer for his enemies as he was breathing his last breath. Those who stood beneath his cross railed at him. The disciples, who witnessed those final moments of Jesus’ life, learned well that love calls for forgiving even those who are your enemies. How these disciples must have remembered this lesson when they were the recipients of people’s hatred. The natural reaction was to hate those enemies and vow to one day get even with them. However, as they continued in Jesus’ class on how to be fishers of people, they observed how they were learning to love even the unlovable.

This kind of love is learned not only in a classroom, but also through experience. Peter had often heard Jesus talk about love, but he experienced God’s love one day in a series of conversations with Jesus by the Sea of Galilee. Many days had gone by since Jesus had been raised from the dead. I believe Peter dreaded that first meeting with the risen Lord. How would he talk his way out of denying Jesus? He was the disciple who had assured the Lord that, although all the rest would leave him, Jesus could count on him. Jesus himself named Peter “the rock.” Then, when Christ most needed Peter, he denied him three times. Certainly Jesus could not use such a person to be a fisher of men. Wouldn’t this denial be repeated each time his life was endangered?

Then came the frightening, but glorious, morning when Jesus met His disciples by the sea. After breakfast he took Peter aside and had an in-depth conversation with him.

“Peter, do you truly love me? . . . Peter, do you love me more than these?”

Each time Peter replied, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”

Then came Jesus’ words of forgiveness: “Feed my lambs. . . . Take care of my sheep. . . . Feed my sheep.” Jesus was saying to Peter, “I forgive you. Now serve me by serving people.”

With this absolution Peter came to know through experience what forgiveness really meant. This was a part of his training to become a fisher of men. From that day on, this disciple could talk personally about God’s forgiveness. And so he wrote in his letter to the early Christians: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” —I Peter 2:24-25

In conclusion, let me relate my experience of being a student in Jesus’ course on becoming a fisher of people. It took eight years to complete my collegiate and theological training to become a pastor in the Lutheran Church. However, it will take a lifetime to learn how to be a fisher of people. That is all right, because our Lord can still use His servants as we continue to grow in our own relationship with him and learn better how to reach others with the Gospel. Amen.

Remember Your Role

A referee blew his whistle, pointed his finger at a basketball player, and signaled a technical foul. This gave the opposing team two free throws and the ball out of bounds. This was a stiff penalty when the score was close and only seconds left in the game. The player was out of control. He felt the referee had made a poor call and expressed his feelings using some unacceptable language.

The coach was livid with his player. Shouting at the young man so many spectators could hear, he said, “You play ball and leave the referee to me!” In other words, he told his player to remember his role.

It is a good reminder for Christians. Sometimes we become involved in matters that belong only to God. In trying to unravel the mysteries of His Word, I can go far beyond what God called me to do. The more people question my interpretation of Bible passages, the more dogmatic and ridiculous I can become in my insistence that I am right and they are wrong. It is then that God speaks to me through His Word. Remember your role. You are to teach God’s Word, and leave the rest to me. This is the topic of the today’s message: Remember your role!

Jesus, the Master Teacher, taught by using parables from real life. On this occasion, He brings the sower to our attention. Jesus tells us that the seed fell on four different kinds of soil.

1. “Some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.” Jesus explains. “When anyone hears this message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.”

These are the hearers who are indifferent to God’s Word. The teachings of Jesus never affected their lives much. They learned some Bible stories in Sunday school and confirmation class, but they soon forgot them.

2. “Some seed fell on rocky places.” Jesus explains, “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, it lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.”

These hearers start well, but their faith is shallow. They have a faith rooted in emotionalism. They want a religion that makes them feel good and speaks only to their emotions.

3. “Some fell among the thorns. He is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”

You might say this is the cluttered life. These hearers become busy with their materialistic possessions, and there is no time for God. Their social calendar is full. What is best for the business directs many of the week’s activities, for therein lies the profit that makes their treasured lifestyle possible.

4. “Other seed fell on good soil.” Jesus says, “He is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

These are the people whose lives are committed to Jesus Christ. The seed has gone to work in their lives and they are the people who never tire of telling others what Christ can do for them and their families.

From this parable we learn our role is to keep on sowing the seed believing the harvest will come. We also realize the hearer has the right to resist the work of the Holy Spirit. They can turn their backs on the grace of God. Myron Augsburger reminds us, “No one turns his back on the light, but what he increases the darkness of his own soul.”

It is a powerful lesson for disciples of all ages to understand that we are not the Holy Spirit. We cannot open blind eyes, deaf ears, resisting hearts, or indifferent minds. This is God’s work. We are only to sow the seed faithfully. Remember how Paul put it, “I planted, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”

Understanding clearly that we cannot bring anyone to Christ is crucial. If we think this is possible, Satan will destroy us with discouragement. We are to plant the seed and leave the converting of a person to the Holy Spirit.

This should be an encouraging word to many of us who often forget this basic principle in evangelism. Parents, if you have taught your son and daughter the Gospel and they have chosen to walk away from Christ, remember this: God is not done with them yet. Let this Biblical truth be your comfort. If they are grown and you have not shared Christ with them, it still is not too late. When the opportunity presents itself, share with them what Christ is doing for you and what He can do for them.

Teachers and pastors in the church must continually be reminded that our role is to teach God’s Word faithfully. It is so easy to get discouraged and adopt the attitude: What’s the use? We see empty pews on Sunday morning as we settle for an attendance figure amounting to 25% of the congregation’s membership. We acknowledge that most of the young people we confirm will not worship regularly after their confirmation day. We are disappointed when those new converts, excited about their Christian faith, gradually become indifferent and walk away. “Wow! Where am I failing?” you ask. You enroll in another seminar to see if a new program will increase people’s interest in the teachings of God’s Word. But when all is said and done it comes to this basic principle: we plant and God gives the increase.

Experience teaches us that, when sowing the seed, some special days seem more effective than others. Christmas and Easter are great times to share Christ with unbelieving relatives and friends. It seems the whole public atmosphere makes all of us more open to the Christian Gospel.

When death takes a loved one, people are more receptive to hear about life after death. After all, the corpse reminds us of what faces every individual. We have to deal with the hard questions: Is it all over when we breathe our last breath? Is there some truth to the lesson I learned at the age of nine in Sunday school about heaven? Funerals are always a tremendous opportunity to share Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live.”

One morning the phone rang. It was Bill calling from a nursing home asking for a visit. Bill and I had been friends, but he would not attend church. His mother and grandmother pleaded with him, but his answer was always no. It was strange, because there was nothing he would not do for someone, but going to church was off limits for him.

When I arrived at the nursing home, he greeted me with the words, “I am soon going home.” I assumed he was referring to his earthly home, but Bill looked quite sick to me. Stumbling for words I said, “You are going home? I think you should stay here for a few days.”

“No,” he replied, “you do not understand. I am going to my heavenly home.”

This was a shock. Without thinking I blurted out, “How are you going to get there?”

Bill had the answer. “With a smile on his face he said, “Jesus is coming to get me. You know He died for all of us, including me, though I have not gone to church. I remember the song I learned in Sunday school: Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so.

Bill died a few days later, and based on what the Bible tells us, Jesus did come and receive him. He cheated himself while on this earth. Life would have been so much more joyful for Bill had he walked with Jesus. It was a glorious experience to hear his short testimony of the Lord’s love for him. It brings to mind the words of the prophet Isaiah: “My word shall not return void.” What had been sown when Bill was a child bore fruit fifty years later.

The coach told his player to remember his role. Jesus is doing a little coaching today as he gives us a fundamental point in being an effective witness for him. Just plant the seed and leave the rest to me. Amen.

Training the Team for Life’s Greatest Assignment

When a basketball team plays a bad game, we often hear a coach say afterward, “We have a young team. Give us another year and you will see a big difference.”

Jesus knew the twelve disciples needed much training if they were to be prepared to accept life’s greatest assignment Ð that of telling others about Christ. Notice what we are saying Ð training for life’s greatest assignment. Only those who are committed to Jesus Christ would agree that this is life’s greatest assignment. This is our conviction, because we are dealing with the eternal destiny of people, not just the few years we spend on planet earth.

Jesus’ disciples were ordinary men. He might have said, “Give me twelve ordinary people who are willing to commit themselves to me, and I will change the world,” for that is what happened. When someone spends time in the training school of Jesus Christ, they become a different person. St. Paul said it well, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17).

The disciples’ first qualification was, and it continues to be, a personal relationship with Christ. Knowing that such a relationship is possible is necessary for us. We first met God as the Almighty who created this world and is all-powerful; He can do anything. Remember those Sunday school lessons? This truth has not changed. He is still the omnipotent God, but he is also the God who wants to come into our heart and have a very personal relationship with us.

Jesus said to his disciples: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit Ð fruit that will last” (John 15:15-16).

Christ meets us in His Word. He knocks at our heart’s door, and the relationship is created when we receive Him as our Savior and Lord. During their three-year walk with the Lord, the disciples met many who became followers of Jesus. One of these people was Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus one night to learn more about Christ. During the conversation, Jesus astounded the Pharisee by saying to him, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:5).

This term, born again, is a part of the Christian’s vocabulary. We were born in sin and need to have a spiritual rebirth, which makes us presentable to God. When does this rebirth take place? A part of the Christian Church says this rebirth happens at baptism. However, they go on to say the infant must then be introduced to Jesus Christ. They must awaken that child to the truth that God has entered this personal relationship with him or her. As important as baptism is, it alone does not save us. There comes that time when the baptized person, empowered by the Holy Spirit, acknowledges Jesus at the Savior and Lord of the world.

There are others believe another Christian introduces us to Jesus. When we have received Christ into our life, we are then baptized.

Our point in this sermon is not to elaborate on how and when we are born again. The disciples, then and now, learn that for another person to live in this relationship with Christ, he or she must be born again.

We learn, as did the first disciples, that Jesus has the power to forgive sin. This is the lesson Jesus taught one day when he healed a paralytic. He first said to this man, “Your sins are forgiven.” This caused the crowd to say that Jesus was blaspheming. He then said, “Which is easier: to say, ÔYour sins are forgiven’ or to say, ÔGet up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . . ÔGet up, take your mat and go home'” (Matthew 9:1f).

We learn as His disciples that God does not condone sin, but in Christ he will forgive it. The primary lesson to learn is that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Many times during the disciples’ training period they saw this truth demonstrated.

This Biblical teaching is shown in practice in a dramatic story. It is the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Her accusers, the Pharisees, asked Jesus, “In the Law of Moses we are supposed to stone this woman. Now what do you say?” All eyes, including the disciples’, were on Jesus. Jesus bent over and began writing on the ground as they kept on questioning him. He straightened up and said to them, “If any of you are without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.” When the crowd left Jesus asked her, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:1-11).

Jesus not only taught them verbally, he also demonstrated the dynamics of the truth by applying it in the lives of people. The woman left as a free person. The load of her sin had been removed. That is a basic truth of the Christian faith that every disciple, whether in the first or the twenty-first century, must understand. Our Lord sends us out to bring this message of grace to all who live in darkness.

We learn our first lesson in being Christ’s servant through reading His Word and experiencing how he works changes in our life. This is essential for we cannot share this truth until we first experience His free grace ourselves.

One disciple whom Jesus chose, John, learned this message of forgiveness well. He experienced God’s grace himself. When John wrote this letter, which is a part of the New Testament, he said, “If we claim to have fellowship with him, yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (I John 1:6-9).

Our message is the grace of God. There are millions of people who know they are sinners. They are desperate. “I have committed this sin or that sin. There is no hope for me.” They do not need someone to rub it in. They do not need to be reminded that they have made a mess of their lives. They need to know there is a solution, and this solution is Jesus Christ. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection He has taken our sins on himself. As He forgave the paralytic and the woman taken in adultery, so he will also forgive our sins and set us free to live personally with him.

What a privilege to live in this grace ourselves.

What a joy it is to share this grace with others and see their lives change. Amen