Toolkit for Living: Reproducing (Matthew 28:18-20)
For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at some of the tools that are necessary for living effectively. These are all tools that Jesus used in his own life. They are practices or habits that are necessary if we are going to live in obedience to God.
The first week, we talked about slowing. Our lives go so fast that we don’t slow enough to hear God speak. That led us to talking about tuning: taking the time to tune into God and to hear his voice. That will look different for each of us, but it’s important. Then we talked about investing: using our stuff for the good of others or for the Kingdom. We talked about being detached from our stuff, and trusting God enough that we can live with radical generosity.
Today, we’re bringing the series home with one last tool: reproducing. It’s not what you think. There are many other practices that we could talk about from Jesus’ life, but we would not be here today if Jesus had not practiced reproduction. Let’s unpack this to see what I mean.
Sometimes when Christians talk about reproduction, they mean evangelism. That’s not what I’m talking about today. One thing that Christians have in common with those who aren’t Christian is that nobody likes evangelism. It makes us both unhappy. Reproduction is actually a lot more than just evangelism.
What I’m going to talk about today is completely different. It’s probably closer to the idea of apprenticeship. Your life is not for yourself. You were given your life for the glory of God and to benefit others. The goal of your life is to be an apprentice of Christ so that you become more like him. Then, you in turn will be able to reproduce your Christlikeness in the lives of other people. This is what Jesus meant as he gave this command:
I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)
Think about this. Jesus had just risen from the dead. A group of his followers had gathered in a secret location in Galilee in the middle of nowhere. Some think that this crowd was the one that Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 15 as being over five hundred strong. They were filled with anticipation about what was going to happen next. What would Jesus do? Would he lead them down to Jerusalem to overthrow the government? Would he take on the religious leaders? What could they do to Jesus this time? They had already tried to kill him and it didn’t work. He came back to life. What was Jesus going to do next? I would guess that people expected a lot of things, but they didn’t expect this.
Jesus gave a command and then he was gone. Instead of leading the followers, he turned to his followers and said, “You take it from here.” He gave his followers a command to make disciples. Essentially, this was a call to reproduce. It’s a command that extends to every one of us today.
I need to clarify a few things here. First, this was not a call to the elite. There was nothing elite about the people who were given this command. This is not for those who are spiritually mature. It is the call to the quirky, to those who have doubts, for those who weren’t so sure a day ago about what they believed. This is not a command that is for those who have reached a level of advanced spirituality. It is given to people like you and me.
This is not a call to missions. Some have followed this call and ended up overseas. The English says, “Go and make disciples.” What Jesus actually said was, “As you are going…” It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go anywhere other than where you were already going. This is not a new destination. It’s a new purpose to take with you where you were already going. It’s a call to live differently where you already live and work, not some overseas country.
This is not a call to evangelism. It is actually a call to something far deeper, to something far more significant. This is a call to reproduce.
Back in Jesus’ day, there were many rabbis. These rabbis had followers, who learned from the rabbi and became just like him. They were male. They lived with him and heard him teach. They ate together and traveled together. The goal of these followers (disciples) was that they learned the way of living and thinking from the rabbi, so that they eventually could become rabbis themselves and impart that same way of living to others. The life of the rabbi was reproduced in the lives of the disciples. Then, the disciples would reproduce that life in others. They would “make disciples” of others, teaching the way of their master to others. Jesus was calling his followers to become rabbis themselves, so that they knew his way of living so well that they were prepared to teach it to others.
The goal of a disciple is always to become just like the rabbi. Jesus said in Luke 6:40: “A student is not greater than the teacher. But the student who works hard will become like the teacher.” Jesus made disciples of his first followers. Succeeding generations are repeating that pattern. We are called to become followers of Jesus, so that our lives become just like his. Then we are called to reproduce that in the lives of other people as well.
There are some differences in the way that Jesus served as rabbi. As I mentioned, rabbis only had male disciples. Because rabbis were Jewish, they focused on Jewish disciples. Jesus broke both of these norms. His discipleship is not reserved for a select few. He opened it to men and women. He told his followers to make disciples of all nations. Jesus teaches a unique form of discipleship, one that is breaks through all the barriers: gender, ethnic, religion, social, and economic. He calls us to reproduce the life of Jesus in our own lives, and then to reproduce that in others.
Jesus mentions three stages here.
Baptism – The first one is baptism – “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is the initiation into a life of discipleship. It is where one starts to follow. It is the demarcation point between those who follow and those who don’t. It’s not a step for those who are spiritually mature. It is the step for those who are starting out to commit to follow Christ.
Baptism is like an acting out of the commitment made to Jesus when we become disciples of him. It is an acted-out prayer. It is a visible representation of what cannot be seen. It is the entry point into a life of discipleship. This is where it starts. If you are a follower of Christ, I encourage you to take this step. We love to hold baptisms here. Let us know and we can arrange for a baptism to take place.
All good things have a beginning. There is the first day of work. There is the first day of a child’s life. There is the first day of a marriage. Baptism is the marking of the arrival of a new disciple, someone who is going to learn from the rabbi and eventually become just like him. More than raising your arm or walking an aisle, this is how you start your life as an apprentice under Jesus.
Obeying all things Christ has commanded – This is the bulk of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We learn from him. This is not just an accumulation of knowledge. As disciples, we learn a way of living. We begin to act like Jesus. Our life conforms to his life. We are obedient to what he has commanded, so we become more like him all the time.
This is why we have done this series on tools we need to become like Jesus. We don’t become like Jesus just by knowing more or studying more. Becoming like Jesus means that we live the life of a disciple: living with him, learning the way that he thinks, obeying what he says. It requires certain habits. It is the long, slow process of becoming more like Jesus.
Repeating the process with others – Then we come to the last step, which doesn’t occur after the previous one. It occurs as we are doing the previous one. As we obey all that Christ has commanded, and become more like him, we then lead others into the process of discipleship as well.
This is much more than evangelism. It is living differently so that others will see the difference in our lives. It is about a way of life, not just a message.
The goal of our lives is not just to become spiritually mature. I used to think that is the point: to reach a level of spiritual maturity. That is not enough. The goal of our lives is to reproduce the change that Jesus makes in our lives in other people as well. The goal is that we become so much like Jesus that we can teach others how to become just like him too.
Here is what we need to know about this process: Our purpose is to learn the way of life taught by Jesus, so that others will learn that way of life from us.
This is obviously impossible on our own. God, however, has given us his Spirit to enable us. We become like Jesus as we keep in step with the Spirit and become more like God’s Son.
So here is what I would like to ask you. Where are you in these three steps? Have you been baptized as your mark of starting out as a disciple? Are you practicing the disciples of a disciple and becoming more like Jesus? If not, why not? What practices are you missing? Do you need to do more slowing, tuning, investing?
How does the idea of apprenticeship change my understanding of Christianity? The Christian life changes when you realize that the goal is not to hear more sermons or to just get to know the Bible better. The goal is that you become an apprentice of Jesus so that your life becomes just like his, so you can reproduce this in others.
How do I answer the question the disciples faced after Jesus’ ascension: “What now?”
The first season of the TV show The Apprentice tracked the lives of 16 up-and-coming business people as they vied for a highly coveted job with Donald Trump. It was the top-ranked-show among new TV series in the first half of 2004, with over 20 million viewers.
In this scene, Donald Trump faces two of his apprentices at the opulent boardroom table. On the left is Kwame, the polished Harvard MBA, and on the right is Troy, a business-savvy risk-taker without a college education. They have earned their place among the final few contestants, but now, one of them must leave.
Trump turns on Troy and in his gruff manner says, “Troy in reality we’re dealing with multibillion dollar companies here. The consequences of hiring a live wire like you could be costly and devastating. So I have to say, you’re fired!” The camera fades to Troy, head bowed in disgrace.
How different from the scene Jesus promises his people. In the opulent boardroom of heaven, Jesus turns to us and says, “In reality, we’re dealing with something far greater than multibillion dollar businesses here-we’re talking about the salvation of the world. The consequences of hiring someone like you could be costly and devastating. So I have to say, you’re hired!”
Jesus has chosen us, the doubters, the quirky, the half-committed. He has called us to become his disciples. He has called us to become like him and then to reproduce ourselves in others. Nothing else will do.
Father, may we settle for nothing else than living a life of discipleship. I pray that we – all of us, not just the mature – would see our life’s purpose as living as apprentices under Jesus, learning just how he lived, so that his life would be formed in us as well.
I pray that we, too, would see our lives as existing for the benefit of others. Help us to see how we can live in such a way that what we learn from Jesus about how to live gets passed on to others as well. Thank you for choosing us and not having a back-up plan as well. Thank you for teaching us through those who lived as apprentices of Jesus, and have passed that on to us. May we pass that on to others as well. Amen.