LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 5 January 2020
Sermon Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
I. Called by Jesus
II. Called to know Jesus and love and believe in Him
III. Christians and discipleship
Banjo Paterson is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Australian poets famous with many poems like ‘Waltzing Matilda,’ and he could take a worthless sheet of paper, write a poem on it, and make it worth $1,000 – that’s genius. Gina Rinehart could sign her name to a piece of paper and make it worth a million dollars – that’s capital. The Reserve Bank of Australia can make a 12-cent worth polymer sheet into a bill worth $100 – that’s money. A mechanic can take material that is worth only $5 and make it worth $50 – that’s skill. An artist can take a $20 piece of canvas, paint a picture on it, and make it worth $20,000 – that’s art. Then, what is this called that God chooses a worthless, sinful life, washes it in the blood of Jesus, puts His Spirit in it, and makes it a blessed follower of Jesus? What is this called? Discipleship. Through discipleship, therefore, a life is no longer worthless but priceless, no longer meaningless but meaningful, no longer aimless but purposeful with a strong and firm reason for existence. All this because of the One, Jesus Christ the Lord, who calls men and women as His disciples. His calling of sinners to make them His disciples is incomparably greater than any poet’s genius, incomparably richer and worthier than any entrepreneur’s capital, incomparably more skilful than any mechanic. The worth of discipleship is immeasurable and its effect is eternal.
And this worthy discipleship of Jesus is the topic I want to consider with you today and, Lord willing, over a few coming Sundays. I think it’s timely for us to consider this topic of discipleship as we have a new and fresh year to live and glorify God. We ought to enjoy our Lord Jesus’ grace and blessing in our walk as the Holy Spirit empowers us in these coming days and months. So, I’d like to begin this sermon series with this sermon title, ‘Called by Jesus as His disciples.’ In this message, we’ll hear about our status in Jesus as the ones called by Him, the only Saviour and Lord of the world. Then, next week, we’ll consider the purpose of our calling – why Jesus called us as His disciples.
I. CALLED BY JESUS
Let me begin by reminding you once again of the worth of discipleship, that is, being called by Jesus as His disciples. In a word, it is the greatest thing happened in the entire universe. Moreover, this calling of Jesus as His disciple is the greatest thing that ever happens to any individual. Talking about being called and invited, it reminds me of what happened on New Year’s Eve in Rome just passed last week. While Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church was cheering the Catholics gathered, holding hands of some of them, he was pulled back by a woman, and he slapped that woman’s hand. The woman was so excited to be able to not only see the pope that close but also grab hold of his hand, and as the pope tried to let go and walk away, she pulled his hand. She wasn’t called, nor invited to that encounter, but it seemed that she felt unbelievably blessed to reach the pope’s hand. Having slapped her hand, the pope walked away feeling irritated. It would’ve been different if she had been called by the pope to be there and meet him.
But imagine that you’re called by a very important and prominent person. About a month ago, on Sun, 15 Dec last year, I was invited by the Peppermint Grove Shire office to open its Carols by Candlelight event held at a nearby park. Standing before the gathered people together with the Shire President, I felt honoured. If that’s honourable, then, what would one feel if he is called by the Prime Minister of Australia and invited to his Lodge in Canberra or by the Queen to Her House, the Buckingham Palace, not as one of many spectators but as the most honoured guest? If it was you, you’d probably be unbelievably excited and greatly honoured. I guess this surely describes how blessed and excited it is to be called by Jesus Christ, the only King and Lord of the world, who is far greater than any king or prime minister! Even comparing the Lord Jesus to any human being is blasphemy. So, being called by Jesus is the most amazing thing that would ever happen to an individual. Anyone who is called by this King will surely be excited for not just a few days or months, but for eternity because of the supreme office and power and glory of Jesus Christ.
Then, how does Jesus call individuals to Himself? According to God’s plan set even before the creation of the world, Jesus reaches out to individuals and brings them to Himself. He speaks about it figuratively in Mt. 23:37 in these words: “I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Although this saying of Jesus in Mt. 23 is His sigh for Israel’s rejection of His call for salvation, it gives us a clear picture of how He calls His people – it’s like ‘a hen gathers her brood under her wings.’ This calling is to move His own people ‘out of darkness of sin and death into His marvellous light of life’ as the apostle Peter points out in 1 Pet. 2:9. This calling is to make the called people into a ‘chosen or elect nation of God.’
He calls His own by His word and Spirit. V. 13 of our text passage is clear about this – “God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth [i.e., His word].” Jesus also teaches in Jn. 3:16 that ‘whoever believes in Him – through His word and Spirit – should have eternal life.’ In Jn. 6:57, through ‘feeding on Him, Jesus,’ as He teaches that “whoever feeds on Me, he … will live because of Me [the Christ].” In this way, the Lord calls His own to Himself. So the called are ‘God’s chosen ones’ as in Col. 3:12; they’re, as v. 13 of our text passage designates, ‘Christians beloved by the Lord, because God chose them as the first fruits to be saved.’ Let me share with you one more reference to this call, that is, Rev. 17:14 which calls Christians as ‘people with Jesus who are called and chosen and faithful.’
Doesn’t it excite you that you’re – we’re – called by the King of kings and Lord of lords? He is with splendour and majesty that aren’t found from any created beings. In fact, His greatness in all attributes is reflected on His creation, and even this mere reflection amazes us. Then, guess how holy and glorious He would be in His sanctuary, in heaven! There, in His dwelling place, His true strength and beauty are found as the psalmist testifies in Ps. 96:6. And you and I are called by this Lord and King! This is a truly thrilling, breath taking thing! And I sincerely pray to the Lord that He restores this excitement of Jesus’ calling in your heart and soul at this moment of starting a new and fresh year. I deeply pray that God may renew your soul, renew our church with this spiritual joy in this year of 2020.
II. CALLED TO KNOW JESUS AND LOVE AND BELIEVE IN HIM
As Jesus’ call excites us, our spirit should also be thrilled by another aspect of His call – that is, we’re called to be with Jesus, called to reside and dwell in Him. We’re called to live with Him. Explaining this with the analogy I used earlier with the invitation of the Prime Minister or the Queen, living with Jesus could be illustrated as this that you’re invited to live in the Prime Minister’s Lodge or the Buckingham Palace; you’ve become a permanent resident of that place. Picture that in your mind. I know that some of you wouldn’t like that idea, preferring his/her own home in this beautiful part of Australia to the Queen’s palace, but I’m speaking figuratively. So, imagine that you’ve become a lawful resident there with all privileges and honour together with the Queen. You’d be greatly honoured!
Your call issued by Jesus is for you to live and be with Him in His residence forever! This is an important aspect of our call. Becoming permanent residents, becoming citizens of His eternal palace (in another word, His kingdom), you and I do not have to leave Him. Our coming to Him is not a short-term visit – no, that’s not it. The biblical term for this is our ‘dwelling and abiding and even resting in Jesus.’
This means that we do all things with Jesus. After all, that’s what family members do together under one roof. What we do together with Jesus is, simply put, ‘discipleship.’ So, Christian discipleship means ‘knowing Jesus, believing in Him, loving Him, and being committed to Him.’ Everyone engaged in these activities – that is, knowing, believing, loving and being committed to Jesus – is a disciple of Jesus. To be more specific, everyone who has come to the Lord in repentance and faith is engaged in all these activities. Everyone who reads Jesus’ word, meditates on His teaching, and seeks His guidance is a disciple of Jesus. Everyone who gathers before Him in worship, bows to Him in prayer and sings praises to Him is a disciple of Jesus. We’re engaged in all these discipleship activities of knowing, believing, loving and being committed to the Lord Jesus. So, discipleship means what ordinary Christians do every day and every week. So, nothing of this Christian discipleship is new to us because all these are natural to us, Christians.
III. CHRISTIANS AND DISCIPLESHIP
Then, a question arises – ‘Why has Christian discipleship been over many years a subject of interest to many Christians and churches?’ I searched on an Australian Christian bookstore website with the word, ‘discipleship,’ and the outcome of that search were total 143 books. Amazon is a web-based international bookstore and I searched on it with the words, ‘Christian discipleship,’ and the result was with over 10,000 books. If Christian discipleship is what Christians do every day and every week, if discipleship is what we Christian do with Him while we live and be with Him, then, why are there so many books dedicated to this subject of discipleship?
A. W. Tozer was a renowned American pastor and author of the first half of the 1900s and he stated this question in these words: ‘In the NT, salvation and discipleship are so closely related as to be indivisible. They are not identical, but as with Siamese twins they are joined by a tie which can be severed only at the price of death. Yet they are being severed in evangelical circles today. In the working creed of the average Christian, salvation is held to be immediate and automatic, while discipleship is thought to be something optional that the Christian may delay indefinitely or never accept at all.’ Tozer means that what cannot be separated has been separated, divided in the faith and life of Christians.
Let’s hear another Christian pastor and author from England, David Watson, who examined this strange symptom and shared his insight with many Christians in these words: ‘Why is the church in the West in such sharp decline? … It is because Christians in the West have largely neglected what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The vast majority of western Christians are church-members, pew-fillers, hymn-singers, sermon-tasters, Bible-readers, even born-again-believers or Spirit-filled-charismatics – but not true disciples of Jesus.’ Then, he added, ‘This is no idle claim.’ Both of these believing brothers say that Christians who are also Jesus’ disciples – in other words, those called by Jesus to dwell and do all things with Him – are not doing their ordinary, everyday things with the Lord Jesus. That is why churches are shrinking, that is why average Christians aren’t as happy and satisfied as they should be. Something is not right with many Christians; something is not right with their discipleship.
How can this problem be fixed? More specifically, what do we do to return to biblical discipleship? What should we, Jesus’ disciples, do to do all things again with Jesus?
I believe that it is what I’ve just said a few minutes ago under the previous two points of today’s message. Two simple, truly simple matters are the point of return to regain, to be re-engaged in Christian discipleship. That is, firstly, you must remember, if you’ve forgotten, that our call is the greatest and the most honoured call in the whole universe. You must realise, if you haven’t thought about it before, that Jesus’ call is the most amazing, mind-blowing call, invitation, summons issued by the King of kings and Lord of lords. Many great kings of this earth did not receive the call you’ve received; nor did others with brilliant brains or with exceeding wealth. Many rich or influential people passed away without having this call you and I have. No one can pay a price for it – it’s not for sale; no one can earn it – it’s unreachable by human effort or works. Truth is that all those who disappear without receiving this call didn’t even dream of having it, nor desire it because their eyes and hearts were completely blind to it and its worth. But, not to you because you’ve been chosen and called by the King!
Jesus spoke to you about this call many times over and, especially with such parables of the hidden treasure and of the pearl of great value. For the hidden treasure, the man who found it sold all his possession and bought it. The same is for the pearl of great value; the merchant sold all his possession and purchased it. The first and foremost important point we need to remember is its worth – how precious and amazing and thrilling this is! Realising and remembering the worth of this call you’ve received from Jesus is the beginning of turning your way to regain, regrasp biblical, Christian discipleship.
Secondly, you ought to remember the fact that, in this call, you’re called to dwell in the King’s residence permanently. This is the next simple fact that will quicken your recovery of biblical discipleship. Your dwelling place is in the light of Jesus’ life. This is the only place in the whole universe where the power and curse of sin and death can never reach. This is the place where Jesus’ truth frees you every moment, now and eternity. Some apostles of Jesus, namely, Peter, James and John, saw the worth of their presence as they had gone up on a mountain top with Jesus and when Moses and Elijah came and spoke with Jesus. Then, Peter said, most probably as their spokesman, in Mt. 17:4, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If You wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” They wanted to remain, stay, live forever there; nowhere else would satisfy their hearts; they were exceedingly excited with that place together with Jesus! The psalmist of the OT had known it centuries before Peter, James and John and said in Ps. 84:10, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
If you know the worth of your call, if you realise the pleasantness of your dwelling place with Jesus, you’d never desire anywhere else, you’d never want anything other than doing all things with the Lord Jesus. And that is Christian discipleship; that is what those brothers I quoted earlier – namely, Tozer and David Watson – had seen and wrote in their books and shared with all fellow disciples of Jesus.
Indeed, this is what the apostle Paul urges in v. 15 and following in our text passage with these words: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us.” Simply put, the King and Lord Jesus who is your Saviour called you and that through His blood shed and His flesh torn on the cross. So, stand firm, remember the worth of your call and remain excited by it!
V. 16 continues and we hear the apostle speaking under the divine inspiration, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” He means, you and I and all Jesus’ disciples must see and know the comfort and hope and joy of our dwelling place where Jesus resides. And his desire for all disciples is that our hearts may be established in ‘every good work and word,’ that is, we may do all things with Jesus and for Him alone. And this is our Christian discipleship. ***