Are you following Jesus today? I mean really following? A thought occurred to me that might help answer that question.
John 17 is Jesus’ last major time of prayer before his death. “Father, the hour has come… I am coming to you now..” are words that almost sound like a debriefing before the final stretch. As you read the passage, you get the sense that Christ is looking back over the course of his life in review:
1: The hour has come
2: I have accomplished the mission you gave me
3: I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me…
4: I pray that they would be one
5: I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…
Is it at all surprising that the primary focus of Jesus’ mission on earth comes down to 12 ordinary men? As David Platt writes in his bestseller, Radical, Jesus’ plan was to revolutionize the world, but in order to do that, he didn’t aim for the multitudes. Instead, he knew that if he could revolutionize the hearts of a few, they would in turn revolutionize the hearts of others in the same way.
Looking back on his entire life and mission, Jesus does NOT mention the miraculous signs and wonders he has performed. Nor does he focus on the crowds he preached to, how he has shamed the wise, brought good news to the poor, etc. All those things are good and true, but don’t seem to occupy his mind at this moment. Instead, three years of non-stop God-given ministry on this planet all boil down to his investment in 12 people. And if we would follow Jesus, then our mission is the same – to make disciples in the manner He has demonstrated (Matthew 28:18-20; John 4:19-20).
Sometimes I have asked the question “Am I really following Jesus?” Not a question of salvation, as though it depended on works, but more a question of whether I lived for God’s purposes, or my own. If you’ve ever wondered the same thing, then perhaps the answer can be found through another question:
Suppose you only had a matter of hours to live. You are now looking back on your life and going to God in this one final prayer. What would be the focus of your prayer? Would you highlight your major accomplishments? Fond memories? Successful business ventures?
Or would your thoughts be consumed by the people into whom you have poured time, love, and energy for the sake of Christ’s mission on earth?
Would your primary concern be whether or not you lived a full enough life? Or would it be whether or not the Lord’s name will continue to be manifested through the people you have manifested it to? I believe that when we truly discover our purpose in life as carrying out Christ’s mission, that purpose will become the fabric of our lives, far above our concern for self. I should also note that manifesting the Lord’s name implies far more than merely telling someone about Jesus. It involves deep relationship. It involves time, and patience. And it involves a self-giving love. Ironically, it is in this giving that we experience the most abundant life.
So in those final moments, looking back on a life and talking to God, what would your prayer be?
Are there people in your life right now whom you have intentionally chosen to invest in? Is your prayer that Christ would be manifested in their hearts through you so that they will turn and do the same for others?
Question: I don’t get the reference to John 4:19-20. Can you flesh that out a bit more?
Comment: I see Jesus instructing us to “Go, therefore…” but I don’t see instruction about the method. It is true that Jesus focused on his group of 12, and that it appears He focused even more on three of them. But I don’t see Him explicitly teaching us to use that method.
Jesus healed one man by spitting on the dirt and making mud which he then placed on the man’s eyes. But he didn’t teach us to heal with that method. And, as far as we know, he only used that method once.
I’m not saying that focusing on a small group of people is an invalid method – I’ve seen God work through this type of group many times. But it certainly isn’t the only method, and I would be hesitant to say it is the method God prefers us to use. Maybe God wanted the group of 12 to function as it did for reasons we can’t deduce from Scripture. Maybe that was the best route based on the individuals involved and the specific purpose God had for each of them.
Throughout the Bible we see God working in a variety of ways. He only used a burning bush once. The only thing we can be certain of is that Jesus did only what His Father told Him to do. Depending on that relationship has always been God’s point.
Is there more to it than that? Are there parts of Scripture that we can take to mean that “making disciples” is best done in a “Jesus and His ’12 Disciples’ plus His ‘Inner Circle of 3’ model?”
Answer: Yes, I can flesh out John 4:19-20… It’s the wrong passage. Supposed to be Matthew 4:19-20.
Jesus commands us to “Go therefore, and make disciples…” Our natural question is “how?” But the apostles didn’t ask that question, because it had already been demonstrated for 3 years. The question isn’t so much one of method, but of what works. Why didn’t Jesus host a “crusade” (not the medieval kind)? Why did he choose the method he did? Because it worked. You and I are testimony to that. It’s not that other methods aren’t viable. Jesus did speak to large crowds, and he did heal people. But oftentimes, the crowd would go away confused. When questioned by the apostles, Jesus said “it’s not for them to understand, it’s for you to understand.”
As far as the spitting-in-the-mud-healing goes, I don’t know about you, but for me, it works every time ;-).
The Matthew 4 passage says “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The idea is that men will be following them as well. You see this replicated in the book of Acts. You also see that the emphasis of Jesus’ entire mission is wrapped up in the 12, if John 17 is any indication. You see Paul telling Timothy to entrust what he has heard to reliable men who will teach others also. It isn’t necessarily that the church small group method is the only method, but you repeatedly do see in scripture the emphasis on evangelizing, baptizing, teaching, and then passing that along (making disciples). So the point really comes down to realizing that manifesting Christ to someone takes time, and it takes relationship, with the intention that that person will eventually be doing the same thing for someone else as well. I think that is a safe assessment, and I’m not the only one, even though I know that scripture doesn’t explicitly teach a once and for all formula.