Jesus had a lot of prospective disciples. Seriously…a lot. Think about Jesus feeding 5,000 men, not to mention the women and children. It’s not hard to presume that on this one occasion Jesus was interacting with a Cassell Coliseum-sized group. People were entranced not only but his miracles but by the things he had to say. In Mark 2:1-12 when Jesus heals the paralytic, we see a good example of both healing and teaching in one place. It seems, at times, that Jesus had a knack for drawing a crowd.
But at the same time, Jesus doesn’t seem to keep the crowds around for long. Sometimes, he told people to drop what they were doing and follow him. But sometimes he said some hard things that seemed to scare people away. “Eat my flesh and drink my blood” (John 6:53) is not the most inviting language I’ve ever heard.
So, I think it’s fair to ask – what exactly does it mean to be Jesus’ disciple? What characterizes the life of someone who follows Jesus? Books could fill the world on these questions, but at BCM we have tried to synthesize the answer to this: After God’s Heart, In Community, On Mission. This is our slogan and it’s the thing around which everything we do revolves. This, we believe, is the heartbeat of the Christian life.
After God’s Heart
In rebuking Saul, Samuel tells him that God will install a new king over Israel, one who is “after his own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14) David was the young man God chose, the smallest of his brothers, but the right one for the role because of his heart (1 Samuel 16:7). What then can we learn from David about being after the heart of God?
David’s life was riddled with mistakes, some of which were quite grave. The episode with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband is enough evidence. How about his census that brought about a plague? A cursory reading of the Samuels demonstrates that David’s life was far from perfect or pleasant. One of the more heartbreaking stories revolves around his son Absalom. David’s other son Amnon raped their sister Tamar. Absalom was enraged by this act and later murdered Amnon. Later, Absalom decided that he would replace his father as king. In a scheme of trickery, Absalom rallied support and David was forced to flee to the desert.
In the desert, at the point of despair, David pens these words:
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you. (Psalm 63:1-3)
The heart of God is mercy and love. On the cross his love and justice meet. We have worshipped the golden calf and turned to other gods but God looks at us and says, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
If this is God’s heart, then to chase after it means to put yourself at His mercy. It is to confess and agree with God that you have sinned and cannot earn his favor. Like David, it is to look at the mess around you and acknowledge that He is the bread of life. Come to Jesus like a little child, dependent on his love.
If it hasn’t happened for you already, if you grew up in a church-going home, your mom WILL call you within the first month of school and ask about church. In fact, if you last a month without her asking, I would be shocked. For some families, going to church feels as natural as breathing. It has been engrained into the neurons of your brain that Sunday=church.
The thing is, not everyone loves going to church. Many have been disillusioned by surface-level interactions or sermons that didn’t connect. Some went to churches with music that felt out of touch or where the median age was 60. What happens in many situations like this is that people become disenfranchised with the faith. They get to college and don’t want much to do with Jesus and would rather look elsewhere for the life they desire.
This should catch our attention. If Christianity was all about information, we all have access to the same stuff – we all have the same Bible and most churches teach at least the basics of the gospel. What’s the difference? Community.
It’s not a secret that Jesus talks a lot about our relationships with others. When he narrows down the commandments to 2, “love your neighbor as yourself” is left standing. His sermons and ethics have a lot to do with how we treat others. In the gospel of John, he tells the disciples that it is our love that will demonstrate our identity to the world. Examples abound.
However, I believe that many of us have experienced far more polite religion than we have experienced community. Many have sat in pews with people for years and know almost nothing about them. We love to have theological conversations, but are not very good at talking about our inner lives, struggles, and hopes.
God made us to be relational beings. In fact, God himself, within the Trinity, is inherently relational. Neurobiologists have found that connecting with others is how our brains form rightly. Put simply: you were not created to live alone. In that, God has made our relationship with him to be intricately tied up with our relationship to others. We cannot truly have one without the other. Think that’s overstated? Check this out: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” (1 John 4:20)
God invites us not just to know about him, but to know him. Doing that involves letting ourselves be known by god. (See 1 Cor. 8:3) But integral to this is Christian community. One of the takeaways I see from Hebrews 10:23-25, a famous community passage, is this: community is God’s vehicle for drawing us near to Himself. It is in community that we experience his love, grace, correction, and reconciliation in the flesh. The Spirit is at work in and among us.
Mission trips have long been the hallmark of church missions. Backed by the Great Commission, we take the gospel to “them,” which is inevitably oversees or at least across some kind of border.
Don’t get me wrong, missions to the nations is biblical and spans the entire canon. The Israelites were called to be a priestly nation. God moved them to the geographic center of a bunch of people who didn’t know him and put his people on display. He wanted the people of the world to see their obedience and relationship with God and stand in awe. (See Deut. 4:5-8) And yes, Jesus sends the disciples out from Jerusalem to share the good news. Paul is seen spanning west into the known world. We can and should go to the nations with the gospel.
This may seem nitpicky, but it’s important to note that we are not “on missions.” We are “on mission.” That is to say, we are joining in with the mission of God. What is that? It is God brining all of creation under his rule through the gospel of Jesus. God designed us to be co-rulers of the earth, but sin has temporarily marred this intention. Through the reconciliation available in Christ, we are invited back into the family of God to rule with him once more.
What does this involve? Everything. God desires all of our lives to be a mirror of him here on earth. This is what in means to be made in his image; we are his representatives here on earth.
So yes, this involves reaching out to all of mankind, imploring them to cease their striving and find rest in the love of Jesus. Jesus does truly want everyone to be saved. But this is done through far more than simply preaching and helping people understand the words of the gospel. This is done by showing extraordinary care for those who hate you. This is done by standing with the oppressed even when it disadvantages you, especially in light of George Floyd. This is done by doing what is loving instead of what is self-preserving, especially in light of the pandemic.
The gospel is not just about getting your mind right, it’s about getting your life right. This means that we aren’t just out there trying to get people to say a prayer and believe that Jesus rose from the dead – Satan believes that. Being on mission is about submitting to the lordship of Jesus and inviting others into that life. Others are drawn by our unique love both for one another and the world.
Come and See
Philip was called to follow Jesus and he seems to accept somewhat quickly. Before long he finds Nathanael and tells him that they have found Jesus of Nazareth, the one about whom the prophets wrote. Not only is this an outrageous claim, Nathanael carries with him the local bias against Nazareth. He rebuffs Philip’s excitement, sure that nothing good can come from Nazareth, much less the Messiah.
Philip’s next words are amazing: “Come and see.” (John 1:46) Philip doesn’t open up a scroll and begin to argue with Nathanael. He doesn’t get mad that he has been so quickly dismissed. He says the only thing he can say: “come and see.” This is the call of following Jesus. From a distance, it can seem hard, odd, and frustrating.
But would you simply come and see?