Five Questions on Discipleship: (1) What Did Jesus Do?

A number of years ago, I followed the Christian crowd and wore the trendy WWJD bracelet.  For those who have forgotten (or never heard), the letters stood for “What would Jesus do?”  Developed from the book In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon, a book that favored a social gospel and promoted a man-centered kind of Christian imitation, the bracelet asked an important question:  How should we live our lives in a manner that would please our Lord?  The question was meant to stimulate obedience and lifestyles that reflected the kind of things true believers should do.  While missing the beautiful, objective work of Christ for us, it did helpfully ask how we ought to live for Christ.

That is what we are after this week too: How do we adhere to the Great Commission imperative to “make disciples”?  What is a disciple?  How should we go about making disciples?  And why should we do it?  Those are the questions we will consider this week, but instead of asking “What would Jesus do?” which orients the Christian life around subjective obedience of Christ’s followers, our inquiry begins with the better question: “What did Jesus do?”

Putting Christ at the center, instead of our Christian obedience, we will be able to see how central disciple-making is to our Lord and then from their to see how we might follow him in the work.  Therefore, today as we consider what Jesus did (past tense), we will look at a number of purposes statements spoken by Jesus that explain why Jesus became a man (Cur Deus Homo?), and how each of these purpose statements relate to disciple-making.

Here are five reasons why Christ came to earth.

First, Jesus came to preach the gospel

The first thing to note is that Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Mark 1:38 records Jesus’ words, “And he said to them, “Let us go to the next town, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.”  When we are introduced to Christ, in the Synoptic gospels, the first act of his ministry is to go out into the regions surrounding Galilee preaching the gospel and calling sinners to repent and believe (Mark 1:14-15).  What was his purpose?  The answer is surely pluriform, but it at least involved the calling and creation of disciples.

Second, Jesus came to fulfill the law

Not only did Jesus come to preach the gospel, he came to fulfill the law—to keep covenant with God, so that he could establish a new covenant, not based on works of the flesh, but faith in the Spirit.  So he says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law of the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  In fulfilling all righteousness, Jesus made it possible for his disciples to one day be clothed with his righteousness (Isa 61:10). Likewise, he provided a perfect example of love and service to God that disciples are called to imitate (cf. John 13).

Third, Jesus came to provide salvation

In Luke 19, Jesus seeks out Zacchaeus, a hated tax collector, for the singular purpose of making this unlikely sinner a son of Abraham. Verse 10 gives a larger explanation of Jesus’ ministry: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  Clearly, Jesus the lost, so to make them his disciples.  The same thing can be gleaned from Matthew 9:13, which states, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Here, Jesus explains that his target audience is not religious professionals, or even good people, but those who weary and heavy-laden with sin.  Jesus life, death, and resurrection served the purpose of making disciples.

Which leads to a question:  How can a righteous God who cannot stand the sight of sin or sinners (Ps 5:5; 11:5; Hab 1:13), extend blessings to sinners?  Again, the life of ministry and his biographical purpose statements explain.  In Mark 10:45, Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  The many harkens back to Isaiah 53:11-12, but it also bespeaks of the many disciples that Jesus is purchasing with his blood.

Fourth, Jesus came to judge the world

Jesus came not only to save a people for his own possession; he also came to judge the world, to cleanse the world from those who stand opposed to God.  In John 9:39, Jesus debates with the Pharisees concerning the healing of a blind man, and he says, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Likewise, with greater graphic illustration, Jesus states in Luke 12:49, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!”   The fire is that of judgment.  While John can say that Jesus did not come to bring judgment; in another sense he did.  He is preparing the way for his return when he will call all men to account.

Even the demons recognize this, though they did not know how it was going to work out.  In Mark 1:24, Jesus heals a man suffering from a demon, and they reply “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?

Jesus is not directly making disciples with these judgments, but in another way he is. By judging the world, Jesus is creating a place for his people to abide with him.  Today, we do not yet see all things in subjection to Christ.  The new creation is not yet here in its geographic form.  However, Christ is saving me and women.  These are his new creations, disciples who are learning how to live in his kingdom–the kingdom that they will inherit at the end of the age (Matt 25:34).  Thus, Jesus purpose statements about judgment promise that all those who have become his disciples will escape his coming judgment, and will instead be protected by his sword.  This leads to a final point.

Fifth, Jesus came to create a new community of disciples

The final answer to the question of what Jesus came to do is this: Jesus came to call a new community of disciples.  Now indeed all the previous purposes are related to this.  (1) He preached the gospel to call people to faith; (2) he fulfilled the law and died on the cross so that he could remove the sin of his followers and clothe them with righteousness; (3) He announced his kingdom authority and his right to judge in order to assert the kingdom he was going to establish—a world free from sin, evil, Satan, and death.  Jesus came to create a new humanity.  He came to make disciples.

Significantly, this is what we find  then in Matthew 10:34-35.  In a context where Jesus has sent his disciples out to proclaim the message of the kingdom, Jesus explains his purposes after there return: “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Everything Jesus did, he did for the purpose of making disciples.  His life, ministry, death, and resurrection, and heavenly session are all aimed at bringing in the sheep of his fold.  While acquiring many names in he gospels (sheep, children, given ones, friends), Jesus did everything for the purpose of making disciples.  So should we.

In the days, ahead we will answer four more questions on discipleship, as we consider this central feature of our Lord’s work.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


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