What is the key to successful living in 21st century America? We might receive a number of different suggestions. "The key is a good inheritance." Most people do not have that option. "The key is good connections." I hope we are not forced to live in a society that uses bribes and favors to survive or succeed. "The key is 'ground floor' opportunities." Most of us lack the vision and insight to recognize what most people call good opportunities.

While we might suggest a number of things as "the key" to successful living in this century, I think the greater majority of us would offer the same suggestion. "The key to successful living at any time is education."

What does that mean? I am confident most of us in this audience would agree on the importance of education. Most of us would agree that there is a direct link between education and successful living. Most of us would agree that a lack of education is a definite liability. But if we really thought about it, none of us would say that education is magic. Education can create opportunities, but an educated person can live a very unsuccessful life.

  1. One of the statements frequently quoted or used in churches of Christ is Jesus' statement at the close of the gospel of Matthew. (We have no copyright on that statement. Other evangelical churches also use the same statement frequently.)
    Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
    1. You may know Jesus' statement so well that you never think about its words or its meaning.
      1. Jesus' basic acknowledgment is this: all authority belongs to him.
        1. By God's planned intent and purpose, the resurrected Jesus is Lord in heaven (the residence of God) and Lord on earth (the residence of people).
        2. By death and resurrection, God enthroned Jesus as the Christ.
      2. That is precisely the conclusion Peter wanted Israel to understand in the first sermon preached after Jesus became the Christ.
        Acts 2:36 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified."
    2. Jesus' basic instruction was to go among all people and make disciples.
      1. We have placed enormous emphasis on going into the world and baptizing people.
      2. Jesus certainly declared people's need to be baptized.
        1. But that was not the primary need Jesus emphasized.
        2. People's primary need was the understanding they needed to be Jesus' disciples.
        3. Those who wished to be disciples were baptized.
        4. Baptism was a person's reaction to his or her desire to be a disciple.
    3. To advance our understanding of Jesus' statement, let's advance our understanding of the context of the statement.
      1. Who made the statement? Jesus made it.
      2. When did Jesus make the statement? After his resurrection, before his ascension.
      3. To whom was he speaking? He spoke to eleven of the disciples who followed him during his ministry (Judas was dead).
      4. Please pay careful attention to these things in the statement.
        1. Because he had the authority, he had the right to send the eleven among all people to make disciples.
          1. How strange that directive must have seemed!
            1. In Matthew 10 he told them to only teach Israelites.
            2. The eleven's mission had been to Israel, not all people.
          2. Jesus had not yet ascended to stay with God.
          3. The understanding that accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 had not yet come to these eleven men.
          4. Acts 1:6 reveals these men were still confused about what Jesus was going to do just before his ascension.
          5. All the evidence leads me to conclude that they had no real idea of what Jesus meant when he said to go make disciples among all people.
        2. Jesus' emphasis was on making disciples
          1. If people were to become disciples, two things had to happen, not one thing.
          2. First, the desire to be a disciple would lead them to want baptism.
          3. Second, after baptism, these baptized people who wanted to be disciples were to be taught to observe all things Jesus had commanded these eleven men.
            1. These men already had the teachings.
            2. The teachings were the teachings Jesus gave them.
          4. Jesus gave this instruction to these men before his ascension and before Acts 2.
      5. Let me share a conclusion; I do not ask you to accept my conclusion; you surely can disagree with my conclusion; I just ask you to think with me.
        1. Matthew was written before what we call the Bible and New Testament existed.
          1. In fact, all the writings that are in the New Testament had not been written.
          2. The first known declaration that the same books [writings] we have today should be in the New Testament was made in AD 367.
          3. That is almost 300 years after the gospel of Matthew was written.
        2. I conclude Jesus' meaning in this statement is found in the gospel of Matthew.
          1. This statement is the last statement made in this writing.
          2. The emphasis Matthew gave to Jesus' teachings between the first of the book and this last statement would include the teachings the people who wanted to be disciples should receive.
          3. My conclusion is simple: let Matthew tell us what Jesus meant.

  2. Let's deepen our understanding by asking a simple question: what was a disciple?
    1. A disciple was a pupil, a learner.
      1. The disciple system of education was common in the Roman world.
      2. It was extremely common in first century Jewish society.
      3. A teacher (among Jews, a Rabbi which was their word for teacher) would select a group of men to be his students.
        1. Those students were called disciples.
        2. By their own choice they wanted to study under the teacher.
      4. The more advanced and knowledgeable the teacher, the more selective he was in accepting students.
      5. The students would reflect the concepts and values of their teacher.
    2. Jesus wanted people worldwide to have the opportunity to be his pupils, his learners.
      1. He wanted everyone who wanted to learn his teachings to have opportunity to do so.
      2. What did Jesus want people to learn? The importance of that question cannot be exaggerated.

  3. The gospel of Matthew opens with Jesus' birth.
    1. Only two of the gospels discuss Jesus' birth, and Matthew is one of them.
      1. An angel informs Joseph his fiancee, Mary, will give birth to a son.
        1. Joseph was not to assume Mary had been sexually unfaithful to him; she was not.
        2. The angel makes this statement: Matthew 1:21 "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
      2. Among his missions, Jesus came to save Israel, his people, from their sins.
        1. Israel did not think they needed to be saved from their sins.
        2. They were God's chosen people; they were not evil people.
        3. While Jesus came to save them, many of them had no desire to be saved because they were certain they did not need to be rescued from evil.
      3. Jesus' ministry began after his baptism and temptations--both experiences opened his ministry.
      4. Matthew 4:23 states he went throughout the Jewish region of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, declaring the good news of the kingdom, and healing people.
    2. Matthew 5, 6, and 7 is the longest recorded sermon in any of the gospels.
      1. Basically, the sermon declares if their righteousness does surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees they cannot be a part of God's kingdom (5:20)
        1. In the first century religious world of Israel, the Pharisees were the accepted symbol of righteousness. Jesus' statement was incredible.
        2. Jesus was not talking about outdoing the Pharisees.
        3. Jesus was talking about having a different understanding of righteousness.
      2. To have a righteousness that surpassed the righteous of the Pharisees:
        1. You had a different concept of morality, of honesty, and of the proper treatment of people (5:21-48).
        2. You understand the purpose of righteous behavior was to serve God, not to make people notice you (6:1-18).
        3. You trusted God, not money or material things (6:19-34).
        4. You helped people instead of judging them (7:1-5).
        5. You learned how to help (7:6-12).
        6. You were very careful to make your relationship with God a real relationship (7:15-27).
      3. Then in Matthew 8 and 9 Jesus was busy practicing what he preached.
      4. In Matthew 12 Jesus found himself under attack by the Pharisees. He told them:
        1. They misunderstood God's priorities.
        2. They gave Satan credit for God's work.
        3. They could not see the obvious.
      5. In Matthew 13 Jesus taught in parables; he told stories.
        1. God wants everyone to hear about His salvation and His kingdom.
          1. Even those who will never accept anything they hear should have opportunity.
          2. Even those who begin to live for him and quit should have opportunity.
        2. Satan will actively oppose God's work, but God will prevail.
          1. His kingdom will begin small but become huge.
          2. It will influence slowly, but it will influence everything.
          3. Some will find His kingdom by accident, and some will search for it.
          4. His kingdom will have serious people in it and false people in it.
      6. In chapter 15 Jesus said:
        1. God is not deceived by words.
        2. God looks at and knows hearts.
        3. Just as true good comes from hearts, true evil also comes from hearts.
      7. In chapter 18 Jesus said:
        1. God values the innocent and the humble.
        2. Never cause yourself or others to trip.
        3. Seek to settle differences in constructive, helpful ways.
        4. Forgive others just like you wish to be forgiven.
      8. In chapter 19 Jesus said:
        1. In your marriages and in your personal lives, you have and keep God's priorities, not the priorities of religious society.
        2. It is hard for the rich to have God's priorities.
      9. In the last week of his life, Jesus' teachings were under the microscope.
        1. As he was repeatedly under attack by Israel's religious leaders, he kept his focus on God's priorities.
        2. Then he endured injustice and died showing us how to live and die by God's priorities in the worst of times and circumstances.

Israel was certain that they knew how to live exactly as God wanted. Jesus said they did not. If the eleven went among all people and made disciples, what would they do? They would use Jesus' teachings to teach people how to live. Jesus came to people who did not know how to live. People still do not know how to live. Jesus taught and teaches people how to live.

Many of our problems exist in the church because we have convinced people to be baptized who do not want to be disciples. "Jesus can be involved with my religion, but he cannot be involved in my life. Jesus, you can tell me how to do church, but do not even try to tell me how to live."

Am I suggesting that we monitor who is baptized? No! I am suggesting that we do what Jesus asked--call people to discipleship.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 15 July 2001

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