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God's design is always that the gospel would stupefy the world. Nothing that the church does is to be ordinary but it is to be arresting, stopping people in their tracks and causing them to notice that what goes on in the church is unique in this world. That is, something that comes from outside of this world. 


Evangelism is not just marketing, or getting out your message, or making people like you, evangelism is also unlikely people telling other unlikely people about Christ, inviting them to the greatest news they've ever discovered. It is Jews telling formerly hated gentiles about Christ. It's Gentiles telling formerly hated Jews about Christ. 


It's the same for apologetics. Apologetics is not just defending the faith and explaining the tenets of the faith; it's illustrating the power of faith and its ability to tear down dividing walls of racial hostility. That's the way it was from the very first century. We tell people about this holy God and his ability to reconcile with unholy people. God demonstrates that through his church by causing people that formerly hated each other call each other brothers and sisters and worship and fellowship in the same place. 


This is no less true for our work of discipleship. This all-important work is not just something that we are to do as part of something the church ordinarily does. It is a work that we are to participate in it so that the world will be stupefied. The world will be stopped in their tracks and made to admit that this is something they've never experienced before. 


This past week, Todd Erickson and I has the privilege of attending The Gospel Coalition council meeting in Louisville, KY, which is hosted by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The President of the seminary is Al Mohler, a well-known author and speaker. I have a problem with reading classes. I often lose or break them and I can't see very well without them. While we were there, I went into a shop to get a new pair of reading glasses. They had a box of reading glasses but the only ones left were extremely high-powered lenses. 


So I asked the person running the store if they had any left of a lower-powered lenses. I liked these glasses because they looked very sturdy, so I thought perhaps even I won't be able to break them. The store attendant, however, told me that was all they had and that they could never keep them in stock, because they looked just like Al Mohler's glasses and everyone wanted to imitate Al Mohler. People will even call from out of state to order them. 


People want to imitate those they love and admire. It's a basic principle in the Christian life. We're called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Whatever we see Jesus doing, if we love him, we will want to do what he's doing. Jesus traveled a long distance, making himself uncomfortable to evangelize us. Jesus also removed stumbling blocks so that we could see the faith clearly (apologetics). Jesus served and serves us in our physical needs (mercy ministry). And Jesus the prophet teaches us what we need to know for life and godliness (2 Pt. 1:3). Not only so, he tells us that he has made us teachers as well. He not only teaches us; he makes us teachers. In fact, he has given us his Spirit to enable us to do this work (Acts 1:8). Thus, we have the privilege of becoming disciple-makers. 


Requires A Church

The challenge with this is that we believe far too little about our individual gifts and we believe and expect far too little from the church. So we tend to think that discipleship is beyond our abilities. However, I want you to know that just by showing up to church, you are participating the all-important work of discipleship. 


Participation in this work of discipleship requires the church. In Acts 11, Barnabas interviews the new converts and realizes they need to be discipled. So he goes and moves in among them. He doesn't take them away on a retreat; he moves into their space. And while they are going to church together, he teaches them and recruits a colleague - Saul. Barnabas recruits Saul to come and help him disciple the congregation. 


There are two primary things that a local church provides for discipleship:


1) Content

The local church provides the content that everyone needs to grow, not just as a disciple of Jesus Christ but as a human being. This content answers three questions: 1) Who am I? 2) Why am I here? 3) What is wrong with me and how can it be fixed? 


The church of Jesus Christ teaches this, not only from the pulpit and in Sunday School but in our lives together as well. And so we help one another answer these questions.


1) Who am I? This is who you are: you are one made in the image of God and as such you are inherently beautiful and dignified. You are also one for whom Christ died.


2) Why am I here? You are here to be redeemed and to be commissioned to tell others this good news. You are made to bring the kingdom of God to bear on this earth and to demonstrate the glory of God as you live, work, and worship. 


3) What is wrong with me? You are a glorious person made in the image of God, but you are also a "glorious ruin" (C.S. Lewis). You have sinned and you have been sinned against. We sometimes call this brokenness. Our minds, bodies, and relationships do not work as they were created to work. How do I fix it? You can't. Only Jesus who came as a human being and lived, died, and rose in your place in order to start the work of putting you back together. The only thing you must do to become a participant is to receive it by faith alone. 


This is the proper view of the world and of yourself. The church of Jesus Christ possesses that message. And it is the gathered church of Jesus that exemplifies that message, as we show each other the hope that it works. 


2) Community 

Not only does the church have the content for discipleship, we are a "cohesive community" (James Davidson Hunter). We surround people with this good news. We do it in several ways. We surround people with teaching: pulpit, Sunday School, online, seminars, conferences, children's classes, Bible Studies. 


Teaching alone, however, doesn't transform a person. Jesus wants to transform his disciples. So in addition to teaching, we form habits. It's part of what we do in worship. We are essentially exercising every week with our worship service in that we are repeating liturgies of the gospel each week so that we cut deep grooves in our minds and souls that we revert to in times of need. 

For example, we sing the same hymns over and over so that in a time of doubt you will think "guide me oh thou great Jehovah." When you face a time of uncertainty about the future, you can think "father I know that all my life is portioned out for me." When you're distressed over your sin, you can think "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me." We also repeat the creeds such as "I believe in God the father almighty" so that when we feel overwhelmed, we will cast ourselves in trust on God. By doing this, we cut grooves in our souls to form us as disciples. 


Finally, we use modeling to disciple. You come into this cohesive community not just to hear the truth and not just to repeat it each week but to see it and experience it. This is why I say that if you don't do anything else but show up here to worship, you are participating in the work of discipleship. The Spirit is doing something through you that you can't always calculate. 

Think, for example, of those who show up every week who have a difficult time even getting here. Some have to get into a wheelchair and fight against the conditions of rain or cold and find a way to get themselves to worship. When these people come, they disciple us with their presence. 


When we see these people come, we are ashamed for not getting out of bed and coming ourselves. When we see tears streaming down the faces of others in worship, it convicts us to respond to the gospel in our own hearts. When we overhear others talking about the hope they have in the midst of suffering, we learn to trust in God. When we see others blessing God even though they have received a terminal diagnosis, we are discipled by them. You disciple your brothers and sisters with your presence. This is why discipleship requires a church. This type of discipleship cannot occur in any other place or medium. It only occurs when we gather together regularly as the people of God. 


Requires Effort

There are all kinds of effort displayed in this passage. Barnabas had to go down to Antioch, an unpleasant place to visit because of its gross immorality. Then he found out there were so many people he couldn't disciple them all, so he sought Saul.  The verb translated “look for” is anazeteo which is used especially with reference to searching for human beings and carries the connotation of looking with difficulty.  It would not have been an easy task to find Saul since he had probably been disinherited by his family for joining the Christians (cf. Ph. 3:8). Barnabas finally finds Saul and brings him to Antioch where they would live and model discipleship.

How do you model discipleship? Part of it depends on what group you are a part of. There are parents and grandparents, pastors, peers, and you. Everyone is called to the mission of modeling kingdom living to others around you.

Parents and Grandparents

Last year, I read a study called "Families and Faith." It is the longest longitudinal study ever conducted, asking the question 'does a parent's faith (of any kind) translate to the next generation?' Are there predictors that can be isolated that determine whether your faith will be passed on to the next generation. Several conclusions were mad, but I will mention just one of them. Parents, grandparents, and grandfathers in particular are the single most important determining factor for whether their children or grandchildren will continue in their faith as adults. The study found that the activity that assured that more than half of children would accept their family's faith as adults was taking them to church. The single most important predictor for whether children of the next generation will as adults embrace the same faith as their parents was their parents taking them to church. 


There were two extremes in the study. In other words, there were two ways that you can assure that your children will imitate your example in the generation to come. One is never going to church. If you never go to church, you can be assured that your children will never go to church. On the other hand, if you go to church weekly, you can be assured that your children will adopt your faith and worship weekly when they are adults. There is no assurance for anything in between, such as once a year or once a month. If you don't want your children to follow your faith, here is the way you can assure it, never go to church. If you want your children to model your walk with the Lord in worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ, you need to go to church with them weekly. 


This is really not so hard. You may think it is hard, because it may mean revising your schedule. However, if you care for your children and the generation to come, you will begin to pattern your week as the Lord has determined it: six days you shall labor and on the first day of the work, it shall be the Lord's day. 



As pastors, we are responsible to craft the worship services and church programs to cut deep grooves in your hearts. Part of the way we do this is by preaching through books of the Bible. In doing this, we ensure that we hit all of the major topics that are needed. If I am constantly trying to chase the culture to figure out the topics, I'll never catch up. But when the Holy Spirit is guiding us, what is preached is relevant. 



Peers also have a responsibility to model discipleship. You are responsible to bring your friends to worship and model the Christian life before them. You are to weave the gospel into your conversations so that your peers hear the gospel more and more and begin to see it as normal. This phenomenon is happening in internet chat rooms. People that never did bizarre things before are doing bizarre things because these chat rooms and apps make it appear to be normal. As Christians, we must do a similar thing by surrounding people with language and behavior that can only be explained by the gospel. 



Finally, you have a personal responsibility in discipleship to get yourself into Christian community; to query and listen to those who are older in the faith; to talk to those who are younger in the faith than you. You participate in these people's comprehensive discipleship. 


Results in Courage

It is apparent that their work was successful because these were labeled “disciples,” that is disciplined and well-taught followers of Jesus.  And they were not secret disciples.  They lived and talked about their faith to the point that the citizens of Antioch began to call them “Christians.”  The intransitive form of chrematizo usually referred to the public name under which one transacted business.  It is unlikely that this label was applied positively.  The earliest occurrences in secular literature are derisive.[1] 


However, when these Christians were called such things they leaned into it. They affirmed that label and knew that when they were persecuted, it was confirmation of the fact that they were following Christ. We are sometimes ashamed of being called "evangelicals," but that is actually a good word that comes right out of the New Testament. It is used there as evangelion, or "good news." So when we are labeled as such, we can heartily affirm it and explain what it actually means. 


No matter what someone calls you or does to you, when you are a disciple and know that you are on the side of truth, you live with a family who loves you and will be with you in all of eternity. Then, without compromise, you can accept that persecution and share the good news each time it comes.


It also means that we embrace our suffering with praise. The disciples in this passage embraced suffering cheerfully and proved by their actions that the gospel works. They bore witness to one another and we must do the same, sharing with each other how the gospel has worked and is working in our lives. 




[1] For instance, when Tacitus refers to Christians as those whom Nero accused and killed for the fire in A.D. 64 he says they were “people loathed for their vices, who were commonly styled Christians—a name derived from Christ, who was executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor.”  Similarly, another historian, Suetonius, related that for the same fire “punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of people addicted to a novel and mischievous superstition” (Bruce 228,229n).