If you want people to follow Jesus, you have to tell them the truth - like Jesus did. Some people today just want to make "church members." They bribe people to get them to come and then promise them an easy life filled with all kinds of "blessings" ... good health, prosperity, loving relationships, a great job ... and everybody will love you!!
Some fill up church buildings by making those kinds of promises, but Jesus had a very different approach when it came to recruiting disciples. Oh, He promised them life - eternal life, in fact - and joy and peace. Jesus said that He would never leave His followers, those who trusted in Him, and that He would give them all they NEEDED. But He told those who would follow Him that in THIS world, they would have trials, they would suffer, they would be persecuted and maybe even killed! Being a disciple of Jesus was not going to be easy ... and yet, they came ... and they followed Him.
Listen to some of the things Jesus said to those who were beginning to follow Him and who wanted to know more about what it meant to be a disciple:
"Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. ... Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child ... All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved ..." (Matthew 10:17, 21-22).
Jesus said to His disciples: "Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, ... a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' ... Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds His life will lose it, and whoever loses His life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:32-37).
Is that any way to recruit disciples? In another place, Jesus told His disciples that they needed to be the servants of everyone else. Even in the moments before His crucifixion, Jesus told them He was going to suffer and die, and then He told them that if they were His disciples, they could expect the same. At the very beginning of His ministry Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).
Why would anyone want to be a disciple of Jesus?! Over the next eight weeks, Lord willing, I am going to be preaching about "faith," based on some of the examples of those who lived by faith, that we read about in Hebrews 11. Most of these were people who lived before the time of Jesus. They trusted in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who had promised to send a Savior and to bring the dead to life! By faith they endured injustice and oppression, yet they believed in God's promises. The disciples of Jesus, the promised Savior, were called to do the same. It was no easy road that Jesus promised. Indeed, Jesus said, "Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:14).
So, if being a disciple of Jesus is so difficult, why would anyone want to follow Jesus? Why not just live life and do your own thing, go your own way, find a different religion where you can just follow some rules and go to "heaven" or live forever? Here's the truth: Only Jesus delivers on His promises! Only those who are true disciples of Jesus receive God's gift of eternal life. All the rest ... ALL the rest will face the judgment of God and will endure His wrath in hell - FOREVER! Meanwhile, for those who follow Jesus, God is never far away. In fact, by His Spirit, Jesus comes to live within His disciples and Himself empowers and equips them to carry out His purposes in the world in order to bring glory to our Father in heaven.
The true disciples of Jesus understand that the only way to live with meaning and purpose in this world is to live as servants of the King who is coming to reign over all of creation. Those who are disciples of Jesus love Him, because He first loved them and gave His life to bear God's wrath against their sin. Our Father in heaven actually sent His own Son to bear the punishment of all who believe in Him. When you understand the two alternatives, being a disciple of Jesus becomes the only sensible choice. I can live my life for myself, trying to make myself happy - even being a good, religious person and doing things for others, and yet miss the life Jesus offers ... OR, I can confess Jesus as my Savior and Lord and live for Him, telling others about the cross and how trusting in Jesus brings forgiveness and hope and peace with God - knowing that most will not understand and some will even get angry and try to get me to stop talking about Jesus - but also knowing that God may use me to lead someone out of the darkness of sin into the glory of His perfect light!
Some try to play the fence ... you know ... saying they believe in Jesus but being quiet about it. After all, who needs to know? "Faith" is a personal thing, right? Wrong! Long ago someone said, "Preach the Gospel at all times ... and if necessary, use words." That sounds profound and many people seem to think it is right, but it's not! Disciples of Jesus are called to confess Jesus, to talk about Jesus, to urge others to believe in Jesus. We are not to try to force people or to be obnoxious, but neither are we to be ashamed or bashful about talking to others about Jesus. Someone else asked, "If you were put on trial for being a disciple of Jesus, would there be enough evidence?"
Again, some quote Jesus' words: "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). But your good deeds are not the only "light" God calls the disciples of Jesus to shine. People need to know WHO you are and WHOM you are serving and WHY! They need to hear about Jesus and the cross ... about His death and resurrection and ascension ... about His reign and His soon return. And they need to know that if they decide to follow Him, it is because God Himself has called them to be His and that His Spirit now lives within them. They need to know that He will NEVER leave them and that even if they die for the name of Jesus Christ, they will live forever with Him in the new heaven and the new earth.
Such knowledge, such faith, such love draws people to Jesus Christ, no matter what the cost. Cheap discipleship is no discipleship at all. Jesus told those who would come after Him to count the cost. Are you willing to give up everything for Jesus? Because God is a God of grace and mercy, He often blesses the disciples of Jesus with good things even in this world. Health, strength, family, jobs, homes, prosperity ... all of these can be gifts from God to those who are faithfully following Jesus, but if God gives you these it is for His glory, not for you to boast or to make promises to others that they, too, can be so blessed if they will follow Jesus. Many are suffering for the cause of Christ and if you are His disciple there WILL be trials and times of suffering and, perhaps, even death.
Life in this world will not be easy for the disciples of Jesus ... but there is more to come!! Jesus isn't looking for church members; He is looking for disciples. And it is only true disciples who are truly part of the Church. In the eyes of the world it will cost you to follow Jesus, but those who know Him love Him and are willing to sacrifice anything and everything to serve Him, to confess His name before the nations ... beginning with those across the street!
Are YOU a disciple of Jesus Christ? Are you moved by love for your Father in heaven to testify to Jesus Christ in your daily life ... to live in obedience to His Word and to serve those around you in Jesus' Name? Remember, Jesus told you ahead of time that whoever would come after Him must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Him. It's not the way the world would recruit disciples - but it's the way Jesus does it. Tell them the truth ... tell them what it will cost ... and call them to a cause higher than any other the world has ever seen or known: to glorify the God of creation by exalting the name of His Son, the reigning and soon-to-come King!