I wonder if we make the whole business of being Christians – living with Him, and for Him – just a little bit complicated? In our Sunday gatherings recently, we’ve been learning from the Thessalonian letters in the Bible. Written by the Apostle Paul to help strengthen a community of Christians he had to leave earlier than he wanted to, it’s worth asking the question ‘who was in the room?’ when they first heard Paul’s teaching. Not specialist scholars or academics, they didn’t have people on hand to explain the complexities of what Paul wrote, they were just straight forward people who had been Christians probably less than a year. It can’t have been that complicated.
So just what is at the core of being a Christian and where could we find it? A good place to start could be the summary Jesus gives to the disciples as he prepares them to share the life He gives them with others. He spends time with them encouraging them and preparing them to make disciples of all nations. They will shortly head out into life with Him in a new and different way, now He is the resurrected LORD. (It’s in Matt. 28:16-20 find it here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=MAtt+28%3A16-20&version=NIVUK )
You would expect Jesus to highlight the core as He gets the disciples ready for this future mission of making disciples. He’s already told them to meet him on a mountain in Galilee and as they first catch sight of Him something big is going on for them. Some of them worship, some of them doubt as they’re just not sure what’s going on, but all of them experience Jesus coming close to them - literally in their case. He confirms what the worshipping ones got instinctively and helps the others grasp what’s going on; He has been given ‘all authority’ over everything. He is the King.
At the core of following Jesus – discipleship as it’s sometimes called – there is a deep and life-changing awareness of who you’re following! We too encounter this Jesus with authority, welcoming His rule in our lives as loving King and Lord. That’s where the disciples started then and it’s where every future follower begins. That’s why they’re baptized – it’s a sign of connection with Jesus. Loyal to the King we walk with Him because he’s committed to us in his death and resurrection, and our lives are connected to that. (See Romans 6 for more on this!) Our new life as disciples starts as we follow Jesus our LORD and that’s the way we keep going.
Back on the Mountain Jesus explains that new disciples will learn to ‘observe’ what Jesus has commanded them, just like the first ones did. There’s a way of life to live and we’re taught that by Jesus. The Gospel accounts are full of that and followers of Jesus embrace that ‘Jesus way’ of living. Jesus is our teacher and we live what He says.
But all of this is not about how to improve yourself by attempting to do your best to be very, very good. Jesus goes on to promise the disciples on the Mountain and the rest who follow until the end of the age, that he will be with them always. For those who first heard him say this it all happened a few weeks later. With the arrival of the Holy Spirit Jesus was with them in a new way, always, just as He promised. This has gone on ever since as people repent of sin and welcome the King into our lives. With His presence with us, in us, we discover new resources to live the way of the King we love.
So at the core of it all are these three strands to following Jesus – he’s the Lord who rules us, the teacher who leads us and the friend who is with us. We know Him in these ways; our Lord, our teacher and our friend. Growing as a follower of Jesus must surely be seen in living within these three reference-points, it’s essentially quite simple in one sense.
All of this is better done with others – it’s clear from this incident and the rest of the New Testament that Jesus sees his disciples acting together on this, just as they had always done. So, could we help each other grow around these ways? I don’t think that need be very complicated. Lots of us meet with other Jesus-followers in small groups to pray or just to ‘do life’. Into that we could add some conversation around how we’re doing in knowing Jesus as Lord, learning from Jesus as teacher and experiencing Jesus as friend, and pray for each other.
To give shape to the first two areas we could base our conversation and prayer on a passage from the Gospels. In the next month the plan is to provide a simple resource for this kind of conversation including a short section from the Bible, so watch this space. But we don’t have to wait until then, you could start that part of a conversation by talking around a question like; ‘How are we experiencing Jesus as friend at the moment?’ or ‘I’m struggling with Jesus being Lord of this area in my life, can you pray for me?’ or ‘What are we learning about living out the Jesus way this week?’. If it really is simpler than we sometimes make it then it shouldn’t be that difficult to give it a try at least.
This is based on a message find it here, for a bit more depth and detail: http://www.portswood.org/assets/talks/2018/09_September/02_AM/2nd_September_2018.mp3