About ten years ago, Dr. Wiatt and Southside’s Vision Committee, after much prayer and discussion, decided that Southside’s Mission Statement would be:
Building the Family of God into Faithful Disciples of Jesus Christ.
But they also wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just another church with just another mission statement. They didn’t want to simply talk the talk…they wanted to walk the walk. And so, with that in mind, the Staff Parish Committee put together a search committee that would be tasked with the goal of finding a person whose ministry would focus on helping to make faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
In doing this they were showing how seriously they were taking Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s Gospel –what we call the Great Commission. Jesus basically said there…
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
By God’s grace…at least from my perspective…I was hired as Southside’s Minister of Discipleship. The idea and goal of discipleship is so vital to the life of Christ’s Church. And there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for putting the burden of discipleship on my heart and allowing me to do what I do here at Southside. Thank you!
And so I was delighted when Pastor Bruce allowed me to preach on the topic of faithful discipleship this morning. It really is near and dear to my heart.
But what exactly is discipleship and what text would I exposit to give us a deeper understanding of it? I mean, after all, you can be a disciple of anything or anyone? What makes a disciple of Jesus Christ a faithful disciple?
Well, this subject is not peripheral in Scripture. It’s front and center throughout.
Having said that, there was still a text that stuck out in my mind that I thought would really help us in understanding what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.
Let’s read Matthew 7:24-27.
Our text comes at the very end of what we call, “The Sermon on the Mount.” For three chapters Jesus taught what we might call, “The norms of the Kingdom.” Or…what our character and conduct should look like if we would be faithful citizens of his Kingdom.
Jesus begins these concluding remarks in verse 24 with these words…
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…”
His very first word here is “therefore.” And remember my number one rule about the word, “therefore.” Whenever you see the word “therefore,” always ask what it’s there for. The reason why is because it’s a word that usually means something like this: “Based on what I’ve just said…go and do such and such.” And that’s exactly what it means here.
Furthermore, Jesus says in verse 24…
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine…
So Jesus is telling us exactly what the “therefore” refers to – “these words of mine.” The words that he had just been preaching, which we call…”The Sermon on the Mount.”
Of course, Jesus’ words can never be separated from who he is. You see, Jesus embodied everything he said. His person, works, and words are all part of the same package. They always point to his Father in heaven…and to him.
But what in particular are these “words of Jesus?” What’s in the Sermon on the Mount? Are they relevant to us today…some 2,000 years later. Well…you tell me…
In chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ words focus on…
- Our character
- God’s blessings
- How to influence others
- God’s Law
- The righteousness God expects from us
- Taking Oaths
- Truth Telling
- Going the extra mile for another person
- Loving your enemies
- Giving to the needy
- How to pray
- The Lord’s Prayer
- How to fast
- Treasures in heaven vs. treasures on earth
- Putting God first
- God’s provision for you and your family
- God’s Kingdom
- Judging others
- Persistence in prayer
- God’s goodness to his children
- How to enter into heaven
- True and false prophets and how to tell the difference between them
- True and false disciples of Jesus and how to tell the difference between them.
So you tell me: Is any of that relevant to your life?
Now, to bring his teaching to life and to drive home his point about being a faithful disciple, Jesus tells us a story to two builders – one he calls wise…and one he calls foolish.
But before we look at this familiar story, there’s one part of it that may not be so obvious. It’s easy to miss. I know I did for many years. You see, Jesus is not, in this parable, comparing and contrasting a Church-goer from a non-Church-goer. He’s not comparing and contrasting a committed Christian with an outspoken pagan who’s never darkened the door of a church.
I think we would all breathe a collective sigh of relief if that were the case because we would all say, “Whew, well at least he’s not talking about me.”
Now, to be sure, Jesus has plenty to say about the “official” unbelieving world…but that’s not his focus here. In this parable…Jesus is comparing and contrasting you…and the person sitting right next to you this morning. OUCH!
Jesus is talking about two different kinds of people who, for all practical purposes, look just alike in almost every way. To put it in our own language, we could say that both people go to church. Both can recite the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer from memory. Both sing every verse of every hymn or song. And both will sit and hear every word of the sermon.
That’s the point that Jesus is making: Both houses that the builders built looked identical with this crucial exception: The foundations were completely different. One builder searched, found, and labored to build his house on a firm foundation of rock. The other took the path of least resistance and built his house in any old place…on nothing but sand.
Now, Jesus’ audience would have known exactly what he was saying here. Why? Well, because they knew all about Palestine’s dry climate. They lived there. There weren’t very many heavy rainfalls throughout the year – especially during the summer. But during the Fall, the rain would sometimes be very, very heavy. Excessive flooding could easily destroy homes that were built on the dry and sandy terrain. And that dry land would give way to the sudden torrents that would rush down the ravines and carry away anything in their path.
We know how this works from our own experience. You spend half the day building a sand castle at the beach. What happens when the waves start crashing into it? It crumbles faster than a house of cards.
Well, Jesus calls the builder who built his house on the rock, wise. The builder who built his house on the sand was called, foolish.
So what’s the foundation that Jesus is talking about? It’s his words. And what makes a person wise or foolish is what he or she does with those words…and therefore, him. Both men heard the words of Jesus. They looked just alike in that respect. But only one of them put those words into practice. Jesus called him wise. The other man also heard the words of Jesus. But for whatever reason, he ignored them. Jesus called him a fool.
James, the brother of our Lord, must have been paying attention to what Jesus was saying here because he wrote these words in James 1:22-25…
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror  and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives reedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.
If I could use one word to describe what Jesus is talking about here it would be “obedience.” Jesus wants more than people who “talk the talk” of faith. He wants people who will “walk the walk” of faith. That’s faithful discipleship.
And this isn’t just a New Testament thing. God said the same thing through his prophet, Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 33:31-32…
My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.  Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.
You see, the Sermon on the Mount (as well as the rest of God’s Word) isn’t just to be admired, but obeyed. Our men’s ministry, the Baxter Boys, studied a book last year entitled, “Point Man.” It was about how Christian men can be godly husbands, fathers, workers, churchmen, and so on. One of the chapters spoke to our need to study and obey Scripture. Steve Farrar, the author wrote…
“The Enemy does not mind if you revere the Bible, just as long as you don’t feed from it.”
“The danger in the Christian life comes when I listen to a sermon or go to a Christian seminar or listen to a series of teaching tapes without applying the truth I hear to my life.”
He concluded this thought with these words…
“In the Christian life the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, but obedience. God does not want to take a new Christian and move him from ignorance to knowledge. He wants to move him from ignorance to knowledge to obedience.”
I love that! From ignorance to knowledge to obedience! You see, we don’t read or study the Bible purely for information but for transformation. Now…to be sure…we have to know and understand what the Bible says before we can put it into practice. But faithful disciples of Jesus Christ aren’t simply collecting Bible-information so they can win Bible-Jeopardy one day. We have to obey God’s Word if we would be transformed.
Well…finally…let me ask you this: Have you ever read (I mean really studied) the Sermon on the Mount? I remember what happened to me when I finally started getting what Jesus was talking about. I felt despair. And I think that’s the whole point. But maybe you’re asking why I felt that way. Well, because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said things like…
“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (5:19)
“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (5:20)
“I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (5:22)
“Anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.” (5:28)
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (5:29-30)
Beloved, that’s just from the first half of chapter 5. There’s still the second half of chapter 5…and all of chapters 6 and 7. So much for “Gentleman Jesus, meek and mild.”
My point is that it’s those words…and the many, many other words like those that Jesus is saying we are to read, study, and put into practice. That’s why I felt despair and guilt the first time I really started understanding what Jesus was talking about.
But as I said…I think that’s the point. Those feelings of despair, guilt, and hopelessness are there to drive us to the Cross of Christ. They are to drive us to God’s gracious provision in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus put those words into practice and perfectly practiced them. And that’s why he was and is the only acceptable sacrifice to the Father on our behalf.
That’s why we are saved only when we place our trust and in him and alone and love him as our Savior, Lord, and all-sufficient Treasure. He is the pearl of great price.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not contradicting everything I just said. We are indeed to strive to be more and more obedient to God’s Word with each and every passing day, week, month, and year. It’s how we glorify God and become more like Christ. We must put his words into practice. That’s a non-negotiable.
But at the end of the day, you aren’t trying to obey Jesus in order to save yourself with your own good works. You can’t do that anyway. You’re seeking to obey Jesus by putting his words into practice because he has already saved you by his grace. Your obedience, while required in a very qualified sense, is evidence of a grateful heart. And it will be his Spirit working in and through you that will give you a desire to obey him and will enable you to do so.
And that’s how you show Jesus and the world that you love him…by obeying him. Jesus said in John 14:15…
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.
And in John 14:21…
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
That’s what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. What could be better than that?