The Making of a Disciple
January 7, 1996
This being the first Sunday of a new year, it’s appropriate that we should make a new beginning as a congregation. For the last five years we have adopted a theme for each year. In honor of our 80th Anniversary 1995 was The Year of Celebration. It was a great year and the Lord was very good to us. But with the dawning of 1996, it’s time to put the party hats away.
Several months ago, as I began praying and thinking about this year, one word kept coming back to my mind. For a week or more, I wrestled with many ideas for 1996, but that word wouldn’t leave me alone. As I pondered the matter, I came to the conviction that this word was God’s word for us in the new year. I believe that God wants this congregation to learn what this word means, to discover its power, and it make it a reality in our daily lives.
The word itself is not new. In fact, it is at least 2000 years old and the idea behind the word is much older than that. It is the word that Jesus used more than any other to describe his followers. That word–the word that God has given us for 1996–is the word disciple.
True disciples live in such a way that everyone knows they belong to Jesus Christ.
This is the Year of the Disciple. Our theme verse for the year is John 15:8, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” We picked that verse because it emphasizes that disciples bear fruit. When the orange trees of Florida bear fruit, everyone who passes by knows it. You don’t have to put up a sign that says “Harvest time.” You can see it for yourself and you can even smell the fruit as you drive by.
True disciples live in such a way that everyone knows they belong to Jesus Christ. They bear “much fruit” as a result of their relationship to Him.
This year God wants us as a congregation to move behind church attendance and religious activity to discipleship. He wants us to bear “much fruit” for Him.
I. What is a Disciple?
The word “disciple” literally means “student” or “learner”.
The word “disciple” comes from the classroom. It literally means “student” or “learner.” In Jesus’ day, young people didn’t go to college because there weren’t any colleges back then. If you wanted to be a shepherd, you signed on as an apprentice and learned from the chief shepherd. By learning from him, you eventually became a shepherd in your own right. If you wanted to become a lawyer, you studied under an experienced lawyer. You worked for him and with him and listened to every word he said, learned to argue by listening to him argue, learned to bargain by watching him bargain. You became his disciple and learned from him.
So it isn’t unusual that the men who followed Christ were called his disciples. The first disciples were students and Jesus was their teacher. For three and a half years they followed up and down Galilee, watching, listening, observing, asking questions, drinking in everything their Master did and said. Jesus had a three-fold plan for training his disciples: First, learning by watching. Second, learning by doing. Third, learning by teaching others. That’s why the Great Commission says, “Go and make disciples of all nations … teaching them everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). He phrased it exactly as a teacher would in the first century. “I made you my disciples, I taught you everything you need to know, now go and make other disciples, and teach them everything I taught you.”
The entire history of the Christian church for 2000 years has been nothing more than that: Going and making disciples and teaching them what Jesus has taught us.
II. What are the Beatitudes?
This morning we’re beginning a new sermon series called “The Making of a Disciple: Focusing on the Things That Matter Most.” We’re going to be looking at a portion of Scripture called the Beatitudes. If you are familiar with the life of Christ, you know that his most famous sermon is called the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7. The beatitudes comprise the first paragraph of that sermon. If the Sermon on the Mount is the Constitution of the Christian faith, then Beatitudes are the Preamble. These eight statements of Christ offer the best definition of a disciple in the New Testament. This is the Job Description for a disciple of Christ.
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-10).
Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with eight statements that we call the Beatitudes, from the Latin word for “Blessed.” These eight statements serve two important functions:
1. They describe the inner qualities of a true disciple.
There are many answers to the question, “What is a Christian?” Most of us would say that Christian is a person who has trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. By that we mean that a Christian is a person who has a deep and real relationship with Jesus Christ.
But there is another way to answer this question. A Christian is a person who lives out the principles of the Beatitudes. He is poor in spirit, he mourns over his sins, he is meek, he hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he is merciful, he is pure in heart, he is a peacemaker, and he is persecuted.
In that sense the Beatitudes tell us what a true Christian looks like. This is how you spot one in a crowd. If you look long enough, you’ll see these eight qualities on display.
2. They challenge us to inquire as to the state of our soul.
Since this is the first of the year, we’re seeing a great deal of information regarding losing weight, getting in shape, and maintaining your health. But it’s even more important to inquire as to the health of your soul. Earlier this week, right out of the blue, someone asked me, “Are you happy?” I stumbled and fumbled and hesitated and hemmed and hawed because that’s not an easy question to answer. My happiness tends to go up or down depending on how things are going in my life.
The root idea of blessed is “approved by God.”
But there is something more important than happiness for the disciple. That’s the word “Blessed.” Although some translators used the word “Happy,” that’s doesn’t do justice to the Greek word, makarios. The word itself doesn’t even apply to human emotions. It’s a statement of how God views people who live a certain way. The root idea of blessed is “approved by God.” Max Lucado catches the idea beautifully in his book on the Beatitudes called The Applause of Heaven.
God applauds the poor in spirit.
He cheers the mourners.
He favors the meek.
He smiles upon the hungry.
He honors the merciful.
He welcomes the pure in heart.
He claps for the peacemakers.
He rises to greet the persecuted.
As we begin this study of the Beatitudes, let’s realize that if we want God’s approval more than anything in the world, then these words have the power to change us dramatically. So the real question this morning is, How much do you want God’s approval? Do you want it more than the approval of your family and friends? More than the approval of the people where you work? More than the approval of your colleagues? More even than the approval of your closest loved one? If you want God’s approval that badly, you can have it.
That’s what the Beatitudes are all about. They show us what a disciple looks like and they tell us how we can have the applause of heaven.
If that’s what you want in 1996, then the place to begin is the first Beatitude.
III. What does it mean to be Poor in Spirit?
In some ways this is a mysterious way to begin the Beatitudes. When you read, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” you aren’t immediately certain what Jesus means. The words themselves are not difficult. We know what the word “poor” means and we know what “spirit” means. But what does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?
Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to say what it doesn’t mean. It’s not a reference to actual poverty. Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are the poor,” but “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” which is something else entirely. Very few poor people would call their poverty a blessing from God. As proof, we may consider how hard people work to stay out of poverty.
To be poor in spirit means to recognize your true condition before God.
Beyond that, we may say that being “poor in spirit” does not refer to shyness, false humility, an inferiority complex, or the suppression of your natural personality. There is such a thing as false humility, which is really just a form of self-pity that uses feigned humility as a way to draw attention to itself. Most of us instinctively recoil from people like that because they aren’t what they seem to be.
Well, then, what does “poor in spirit” mean? It may help to know that there are two primary Greek words for “poor.” One means you have just enough to get by and the other means you have nothing at all. It’s the difference between being down to your last dollar and being flat broke. In the verb form, the word means “to crouch” or “to beg.” It describes a person who is utterly helpless and completely dependent on others. That’s the Greek word used here.
To be poor in spirit means to recognize your true condition before God. It is the exact opposite of being rich in pride. You might say that it means to recognize your spiritual bankruptcy in the eyes of God. That’s why Goodspeed offers this translation: “Blessed are they who feel their spiritual need.”
Two Men in the Temple
Proud people will never understand this principle and will therefore never receive the promised blessing. Luke 18 offers a vivid illustration of what it means to be poor in spirit. Jesus said that one day two men came to the temple to pray. One man, a self-righteous Pharisee, feeling good about himself, prayed like this: “Lord, I’m so glad I’m not like the other people who pray to you. I don’t commit adultery, I don’t murder people, and I don’t break the law. I fast twice a week and I give a tithe of all I have. Lord, you’re really lucky to have me on your side.” But the other man felt so bad about himself that he wouldn’t even come near or look up to heaven. Feeling the heavy weight of his sin, he cried out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Two men in the temple, both men prayed. Whose prayer did God hear? The religious Pharisee? Oh no, because he wasn’t praying, he was giving God his resume. Jesus said that God heard the other man’s prayer because his words came from a broken heart. Then Jesus gave the moral of the story: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled (See Luke 18:9-14).
One man was rich with pride, the other poor in spirit. One man thought highly of himself, the other felt his shortcomings. One man impressed with his own accomplishments, the other depressed by his sin. One man boasted, the other man begged. One man recommended himself to God, the other man pleaded for God’s mercy.
One man was saved, the other lost. Only it wasn’t the “good” man who was saved. He ended up lost. And the “bad” man? He ended up saved.
Heaven Belongs to the Poor in Spirit
That simple truth explains the end of the first Beatitude: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit. Because they don’t deserve it, God gives it to them as a gift.
God wants rejects for his family.
Here is a startling truth: God wants rejects for his family. He wants rejects who see their failure and run to him for help. To the spiritually bankrupt, Jesus opens the door of the kingdom and says, “Come right in. This place was made for you.”
That explains why this is the first Beatitude. In giving this simple truth, Jesus has shown us the way of salvation. Blessed as the poor in the spirit, for they shall be saved. But cursed are the proud, for they shall be condemned.
The world says,
Blessed are the strong, for they shall rule the earth.
Blessed are the mighty, for they shall rise to power.
Blessed are the rich, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are the influential, for they shall be favored.
Blessed are the popular, for they shall be loved.
Blessed are the gifted, for they shall be followed.
Blessed are the beautiful, for they shall be admired.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Nothing in my hand I bring”
It is no mistake that “poor in spirit” comes first. This is the first and fundamental quality of the spiritual life. This is where discipleship begins. This is the key that unlocks the door of heaven.
Do you want to be a disciple in 1996? Then learn what it means to be poor in spirit.
Augustus Toplady expressed the truth the first beatitude when he wrote this verse in the hymn called Rock of Ages:
Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, fly to Thee for grace.
Foul, I to the fountain fly.
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
“Now what are you going to do about that?”
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, tells of passing a little house at a railroad crossing. Inside the house was the flagman for the railroad. As Dr. Chafer looked inside, he saw the man reading a family Bible. Although the door said, “No admittance,” Dr. Chafer walked in. “I saw you reading the book and I wanted to greet you,” he said. “Oh, I read that book a great deal.” “But are you saved?” “No, I’m not. I never could be good enough to be saved.” Dr. Chafer thought for a moment, then said, “Friend, if God would make an exception in your case, and give you heaven as a free gift, would you receive it?”
“I’m no fool, mister. Sure, I’d take an offer like that. Who wouldn’t? “ Dr. Chafer said, “Take your Bible and read John 10:28 and Romans 6:23. The man read the verses which speak of eternal life as the gift of God. “Stranger, I don’t know who you are or where you’re from, but you’ve done more for me than any man.” “What have I done?” replied Dr. Chafer. “I’ve got you in a trap. You told me if it was a gift you’d accept it. Now what are you going to do about it?”
“Well, I’ll accept it right now.” Dr. Chafer led the man to the Lord and went on his way.
That’s the simplicity of salvation. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now what are you going to do about that?
Lord Jesus, some of us have worked all week for the approval of men and we still don’t have it. And when we get it, we can’t keep it. When will we ever learn that nothing in this world can ever fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts. Only you can satisfy. Empty us, O Lord, so that you can fill us with yourself. Wean us from the things of the world so that your smile will be the only thing that matters. Build the character of the kingdom in us so that you can call us Blessed and we may hear the applause of heaven. Amen.