a string of incidents in the Gospel may appear to have no particular thread or
theme. Sometimes the thread is a little below the surface. Today’s thread is
the growth of the church. We start with evangelism.
And He called the twelve together, and gave them
power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. And He sent them
out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. And He said to them,
"Take nothing for your journey, neither a
staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics
apiece. "Whatever house you enter, stay
there until you leave that city. "And as
for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust
off your feet as a testimony against them." Departing, they began going throughout the villages, preaching
the gospel and healing everywhere. Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was
happening; and he was greatly perplexed, because it was said by some that John
had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others
that one of the prophets of old had risen again. Herod said, "I myself had
John beheaded; but who is this man about whom I hear such things?" And he
kept trying to see Him. When the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him
of all that they had done. Taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a
city called Bethsaida.
(Luke 9:1-10 NASB)
with great power
of the great themes of Christ is that his followers don’t do things in the
world’s way. The world would set out in this by building a college, training
people and preparing lots of literature. Seminars would be held; and always
there would be the air of a new academic theory being tested. The hearer would
clearly understand that this new belief system was appealing to them to be the
judge of its fitness.
does no such thing. He sends his disciples out with authority and power:
have authority over things spiritual; even the demons are subject to
them. Doesn’t sound like much for those who watch television demons; but
remember that the demon is a fallen angel, a being of great spiritual
have authority over things temporal – he gives them the authority and
power to heal diseases.
he sends them out on a mission which has two somewhat contradictory messages:
mission is to preach the kingdom of God. That implies a wandering style,
no great buildings, just the voice from the wilderness.
other mission is to heal; that implies a permanence.
church, from its very start, is what the modern theorists call “goal
conflicted.” One goal is evangelism; preach and move on. The other is the
maturing of the saints, which implies a permanence of place and effort. Such
an organization, by modern theory, cannot long exist. So much for modern
are sent in power, but also in poverty. Why?
to avoid suspicion. The itinerant beggar clothed with the priesthood of
some god was a familiar sight in ancient times. Christ’s messengers are
giving away eternal life; a gift so costly that it cannot be bought.
Should they then be like Elijah’s servant?
to avoid distraction. The things of this world should be of no great
concern to them. They are not burdened with other duties.
to show the world – and the disciples – their utter and complete
dependence upon God. And to show that God does not fail them.
reaction of the world
seem to be three common reactions to the Gospel, the news of the kingdom:
of course, is joyful acceptance.
is rejection. If this happens, the disciple is to shake the dust off his
feet. This comes from an ancient tradition. The Jew, knowing the land of Israel to be holy, would shake of the unholy dust of foreign lands upon entering into Israel. It is a way of saying that the kingdom is holy ground, not to be defiled with
those who reject it.
then there is Herod’s reaction – the official reaction. He knows that he
is in charge of the area; this Jesus is subject to him. He also knows
this man is not an ordinary subject. Do you crush him quickly? Do you
co-opt him? Or just wait and see? Herod never saw him – until Good
the Five Thousand
doesn’t exactly sound like it has anything to do with church growth – but
But the crowds were aware of this and followed
Him; and welcoming them, He began
speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of
healing. Now the day was ending, and the twelve came and said to Him, "Send
the crowd away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside
and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate
place." But He said to them, "You give them something to eat!"
And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless
perhaps we go and buy food for all these people." (For there were about
five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, "Have
them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each." They did so, and
had them all sit down. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and
looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them,
and kept giving them to the disciples to
set before the people. And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken
pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full.
(Luke 9:11-17 NASB)
event is rather unusual. As you might imagine, events which appear in all four
Gospels are considered very important. The Crucifixion, the Resurrection –
these appear in all four. But (for example) the story of the birth of Jesus
does not. This event is in all four Gospels; it therefore must be important.
In fact, I submit that it is (among other things) an excellent picture of how
the church is to grow. We shall look in on it.
thing the disciples are sure of: they can’t feed these people. They are also
sure that it is SEP – Somebody Else’s Problem. We can do nothing, so send
these folks away to get something to eat.
you not see that they are thinking in precisely the same fashion as the world?
They are sure of the answer; they think they know what can and can’t be done.
But I submit the question to you: just how good are you at predicting the
future? Especially when you think it can’t be done, you are very often wrong.
You may be right about the fact that it won’t be done, but it is foolish
to neglect the Living God in your calculations.
real difficulty is this: the disciples do not believe that God will
act. They assume he will do nothing. This prevents them from seeing the
solution, or from trying it. The same is true today. We often make our plans
without God, and then (as an afterthought) ask him to bless them. It just
doesn’t work that way. So how does it work?
big, groups small
go back to “goal conflicted.” God has a solution to this:
speaking to the world, the evangelist speaks to as many people as possible
at one time. The Gospel is too precious to be kept silent.
in teaching the people how to live, the disciple is to work in a smaller
keeps the evangelist humble, knowing that long term results must come from the
hundreds of small group leaders. The small group leader, however, gets to hear
a consistent and sound message. Of interest to many is this: the small group
leader typically does not see a lot of growth in the kingdom. His group tends
to stay about the same size; that’s the size he can handle. It’s just that
God keeps forming new small groups.
John’s Gospel, he quotes Jesus as telling the disciples to gather the leftovers
“so that nothing will be wasted.” It is a sign that God wants no one
forgotten, no one left behind. More to the point, the leftovers are now ready
for the next meal.
is this? Remember that God sends forth his word – and it does not “return unto
him void.” It accomplishes its purpose. The same can be seen in the food here
– the fact that you have leftovers means that all have been fed. These
leftovers are the sign of the completeness of God’s word.
Do You Say I Am?
this about church growth? You bet.
And it happened that while He was praying alone,
the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, "Who do the people say that I am?" They
answered and said, "John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets
of old has risen again." And He said to them, "But
who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The
Christ of God." But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected
by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on
the third day."
(Luke 9:18-22 NASB)
world’s reaction to Jesus Christ comes in a variety of flavors. Two are given here;
the first being that he’s another preacher like John the Baptist – no miracles,
but a great preacher. Others saw him in the miraculous, like the prophets of
the Old Testament. That’s the world’s view – he’s a great guy who can safely
of views, but only one truth. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.
Upon this fact the church is built.
Christ tells them to keep silent about it. The time is not yet ready; but
soon there comes a time when his name will be proclaimed to all the world.
Even as it is today.
Paradox of Christian Living
and again in the New Testament we find the fundamental paradox of the Christian
life: take up the Cross.
And He was saying to them
all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must
deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but
whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. "For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world,
and loses or forfeits himself? "For whoever
is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He
comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. "But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those
standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God."
(Luke 9:23-27 NASB)
the condition: if you want to follow him – not just admire him from a
distance. What are you to do? Deny yourself. The word in the original means
to “disown yourself.” You are to give up all rights to yourself, handing them
over to God. You will need to learn to say no to physical urges (hunger, sex),
mental thoughts (he will tell you the truth), spiritual hunger (which he will
fill) and emotional needs (which you will fill in others, and thus yourself).
sounds like such a negative life. It is not; for you not only deny yourself,
you take up your cross. Note that he commands us to do this daily.
It’s not just a one time decision.
must decide each day to take up the cross. Yesterday’s decision is
gone; you must renew it today.
must carry it each day. You are not permitted to put it down for a
week or so; it is your daily burden.
must follow Him each day. Take no thought for the morrow; you
have enough things to do today.
what is profitable
matter, in the end, is knowing what is truly profitable. The world is
temporary; the kingdom eternal. You must choose one or the other as your
objective – and stick with it.
Day of Judgment is coming; when it arrives, your choices will be made plain
for all to see. Sadly, few of this generation will be welcomed on that day.
Hear what a saint from an older time says on this:
JESUS has always many who love His
heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire
consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but
few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to
suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to
the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few
approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no
hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from
Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either
into complaints or into deep dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him
for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial
and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should
never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish
always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus -- love
that is free from all self-interest and self-love!
those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not
those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love
themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve
God for nothing? Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all
things. And who shall find a man so truly poor in spirit as to be free from
every creature? His value is like that of things brought from the most distant
man give all his wealth, it is nothing; if he do great penance, it is little;
if he gain all knowledge, he is still far afield; if he have great virtue and
much ardent devotion, he still lacks a great deal, and especially, the one
thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one thing? That leaving all,
he forsake himself, completely renounce himself, and give up all private
affections. Then, when he has done all that he knows ought to be done, let him
consider it as nothing, let him make little of what may be considered great;
let him in all honesty call himself an unprofitable servant. For truth itself
has said: "When you shall have done all these things that are commanded
you, say: 'we are unprofitable servants.'"
will be truly poor and stripped in spirit, and with the prophet may say:
"I am alone and poor." No one, however, is more wealthy than such a
man; no one is more powerful, no one freer than he who knows how to leave all
things and think of himself as the least of all.