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March 22 2015

The Method of Jesus

 

A man wanders into a small antique shop in San Francisco. Mostly it's cluttered with knickknacks and junk. On the floor, however, he notices what looks like an ancient Chinese vase. On closer inspection it turns out to be a priceless relic from the Ming dynasty whose value is beyond calculating. It is worth everything else in the store put together.

 

The owner clearly has no idea about the value of this possession, because it's filled with milk and the cat's drinking out of it. The man sees an opportunity for the deal of a lifetime. He cleverly strategizes a method to obtain the vase for a fraction of its worth.

 

"That's an extraordinary cat you have," he says to the owner. "How much would you sell her for?"

 

"Oh, the cat's not really for sale," said the owner. "She keeps the store free of mice."

 

"I really must have her," the man countered. "Tell you what--I'll give you a hundred dollars for her."

 

"She's not really worth it," laughed the owner, "but if you want her that badly, she's yours."

 

"I need something to feed her from as well," continued the man. "Let me throw in another ten dollars for that saucer she's drinking out of."

 

"Oh, I could never do that. That saucer is actually an ancient Chinese vase from the Ming dynasty. It is my prized possession, whose worth is beyond calculation. Funny thing, though; since we've had it, I've sold seventeen cats."

 

Both men in the story had a method. One had a method for obtaining a costly relic. And one had a method for selling his cats. One man’s method failed and the other man’s method was successful. The reason the shop owner’s method was successful is because it took into account what people desire and what they might do to fulfill that desire.

 

Jesus has a desire and a purpose (which are the same thing) and that is to reach out to a world lost in its own sin, estranged from God and on a collision course with divine justice and to reconcile his people back to God. In a word: to give his people new life.

 

Jesus also has a method to accomplish this. We have already considered his desire in recent weeks and we should now consider his method.

 

We can try to accomplish the desire of Jesus using our own methods or we can use the method of Jesus. By and large the church has been trying to “do its own thing” when it comes to reaching the lost…and we have not been very successful.

 

There are many methods by which we may spread the good news of freedom from sin and its consequences. Even though some of these are patterned after biblical examples, we have manipulated some of these to such a great degree that these ways no longer resemble the apostolic examples.

 

What are some of these? Mass evangelism has been a popular method. The most well known example of this in recent times has been the crusades of people like Billy Graham and Greg Laurie. What percentage of people who come to faith come by this method? Answer: 1%!

 

Praise God for that one percent. There are people today who came to faith, had their sins forgiven, because they attended a Billy Graham or Greg Laurie crusade or some other evangelist. But it is not the way the world will be converted.

 

Street Preaching still takes place. There are faithful men and women of God who travel to college campuses and attend public events for this purpose. It is biblical and it serves a function that many forms of evangelism do not address, such as bringing the knowledge of sin (something that our culture has lost in recent years). Many who get converted by other means testify that what got them thinking about their condition was when they heard a campus preacher or a street preacher. Still, even less than 1% get saved through this method. But it is not the way the world will be converted.

 

Television is watched by so many people – just about everybody – that this must be an effective way to spread the gospel. Just put it on TV! It’s on TV, isn’t it? There are several televangelists on the air. What percentage of people who come to faith come by this method? Answer: 1%! Why so low? Because, although just about everyone watches TV they are not tuning in to evangelistic shows. They’re watching the Walking Dead or something else.

 

Door knocking has a unique effectiveness. Some will never be exposed to the gospel except that someone would come to their door. Pastor Mike at Winfield First Baptist shared with me that when he first became the pastor there he went door knocking very frequently and attributes a dramatic growth to their congregation because of going door to door. I was saved by someone knocking on my door in 1975. What percentage of people who come to faith come by this method? Answer: 2%. It is not the way the world will be converted.

 

A live church event: A church has an outreach with flyers and advertisement to get people to a church to hear the gospel. Our church did this last year with an evangelism team coming to help. What percentage of people who come to faith come by this method? Answer: 14%. It is not the way the world will be converted.

 

Tracts. There is much to commend passing out tracts. Did you know that George Whitefield, the great preacher of the Great Awakening, was saved by a Gospel tract? After reading it he wrote, “God showed me I must be born-again or be damned.”

The great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, was also saved by reading a tract.

God even used a Gospel tract as the tool that led Greg Koukl, founder of Stand to Reason, to Christ. He has stated that “some brave soul” put it in the bottom of his grocery bag while checking out.

 

Tracts can do the witnessing for us. If we are too timid to speak to others about the things of God, we can at least give them a tract, or leave one lying around so that someone will pick it up.

Tracts speak to the individuals when they are ready; people don’t read it until they want to.

Tracts can find their way into people’s homes when we can’t.

Tracts don’t get into arguments; they just state their case.

 

There are many opportunities to leave tracts in places where they will be noticed:

In shopping carts
In clothes pockets in store
In letters to loved ones
With a generous tip
On seats in restaurant lobbies
With fast-food employees, cashiers, and gas station workers
In restrooms
At rest areas
On ATM machines and bank counters
In envelopes with bill payments
In elevators
On hotel dressers for the maid
On ice machines
On newspaper racks
In waiting rooms of doctors’ offices and hospitals
On seats at airports, subways, and bus stations

 

Internationally, especially in countries where the gospel is restricted or where it is difficult to send missionaries, about half of the people who come to faith come through reading gospel literature like a tract. However, in Western nations, like America, less than 5% come through a tract.

 

We should not stop reaching out through television, church events, street preaching, door knocking, and distributing tracts and gospels. But none of these were Jesus’s primary method. Jesus was a street preacher. But that was not his primary method.

 

In the very beginning of Jesus’s public ministry we read this in Mark 1:16-20. 

 

Soon thereafter, in 2:14, we read: “And as he passed by he saw Levi (Matthew) the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax office, and he said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he arose and followed him.”

 

Still at the beginning of his ministry, we read this: read 3:13-19.

 

[I] His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with a few men that he could train so the multitudes would have someone to follow. He gathered these men at the beginning. Men were his method! When I say “men” I mean people, not just those of the male gender.

 

His plan was to enlist people who would bear witness to his life and carry on his work after he returned to the Father.

 

He selected these men. They might not be the kind of men that you or I might choose.

 

  • None of them occupied a prominent place in the synogogue.
  • None of them were priests.
  • They were common laborers.
  • None of them had scholastic training. (Today, we would say that none of them had degrees.)
  • They were Galileeans, meaning that they came from the poorer section of Israel.
  • They were impulsive.
  • They were tempermental.
  • They were easily offended.
  • They were unlearned and ignorant. (Acts 4:13)
  • They had a hard time understanding what Jesus taught.

 

Simply put, they were just like you and I! I am sure that Jesus chose them for more than one reason. One consequence of his choice, though, is that you and I can never use the excuses that we don’t know enough, we aren’t trained enough, we aren’t godly enough. God used fishermen and God is going to use you!

 

[II] How did he train them? He did not start a formal school or academy. He did not open a seminary. In Mark 3:14 we see the simplicity of it all.                                              And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach.

 

He chose twelve so that they, first, might be with him. That is the first thing and the most important thing: that they would be with him! All Jesus did to teach these men His way was to draw them close to Himself.

 

He was the school.

He was the curriculum.

 

As we read the gospels we see that those apostles travelled with Jesus to remote parts of Israel. He took them into the mountains at times to get away from the crowds. They lived with him. They ate with him. They observed how he lived.

 

They were with him. This is discipleship. Discipleship means being with someone and thus learning by observing.

 

There was something about his life and his words that were different than the scribes and the Pharisees. It drew them and produced in them a desire to be with the Master. Even when he would say offensive things and others on the periphery would leave him, he asked if they were going to leave him also, his core group could say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

 

It is not by plugging people into classes that we are going to develop strong and vibrant disciples. The reason we need classes now is because people are not being discipled at all in the church at large, at least not in any significant numbers.

 

There is simply no substitute for being with people…often.

 

This was the Lord’s method. Ours is to institutionalize the process.

 

His is to personalize the process of becoming like Him.

 

[III] Some of you may be thinking, “My life is not up to the standard to disciple others.”

“I’m not like Jesus.”

“I’m not like Peter was after the resurrection.”

“I’m not even like Peter was before the resurrection.”

“I’m not good enough.”

 

There was a Christian woman, let’s call her Carol, who went to a community college. While she was there she had come to know a couple of other Christian young men but she did not pay much attention to them because she concentrated on her studies. She graduated with a two-year degree and soon found a job. It wasn’t long after this when she started sensing the urge to marry, to have children, to settle down. Women seem to get this urge at a younger age than men (if men get it at all). It’s one of those good urges since God made us for families and families are His way to the best kind of life.

 

She started praying, “God, send me the right man. It is your will for us to marry so please have a godly man cross my path.” There was a young man at church her age but he didn’t have a good education so she knew he was not the right one.

 

In her late 20’s there was a new fellow who started working where she worked. He was a Christian and a college graduate but he wasn’t that good looking so she knew he was not the right one.

 

In her early 30’s she started getting desperate. She started praying more. She started fasting. She even switched churches and started attending one of the big mega-churches to get into their singles group. There, she met all kinds of men who were single. But Bill, who she liked, was 8 years older than her. She thought that was too big of an age difference. Sam, who she also liked, was 6 years younger than her. She thought that was also too big of an age difference the other way.

 

In her late 30’s: more fasting and more praying and she switched to another church and another singles group. This group was smaller because, well, she was in her late 30’s! She met Brad, but he was so into physical fitness that she thought that it was just too much. She liked David but all he talked about was the Lord. He didn’t seem to have any hobbies or other interests. He just liked to read his Bible and serve in the church all the time. She thought that was too much.

 

When she hit 40 she thought, “It’s not too late. I can still find Mr. Right and I wanted four or five children, but I can still have one or two. More prayer! Finally, a Christian man started working at where she worked, John. They were the same age. They liked each other. But he had been married before (his wife passed away) and had four children. The two youngest were still in school. She just wasn’t prepared to step into a ready-made family.

 

When she was in her 60’s she became bitter and when she died she asked the Lord, “How come you never answered my prayers?” God said, “I sent you two when you were a young lady. Then I sent you Bill, Sam, Brad, David, and John but you rejected them all. But Bill, Sam, Brad, David and John were praying too and you were my answer for them. It’s just this freedom of choice thing sometimes gets in the way.”

 

Like Carol, we use the excuse of not being good enough as a reason for not fulfilling the Lord’s command to disciple others. In Carol’s case the men in her life were not good enough. In our case, we see ourselves as not good enough. Carol was looking for an ideal man. There is no ideal man. If she had found one she would not have been on planet earth. If she thought she had found one she would have discovered after not too long a time that he wasn’t ideal after all.

 

If you keep waiting for a certain level of maturity it will always be out of reach. There is an ad on the radio that seeks to reach foster parents because there are not enough to go around. The ad says something like, “Children are not looking for perfect parents. They are just looking for parents.”

 

God is not expecting perfect disciplers. He is just looking for disciple-makers.

 

Consider the task the first disciples of Jesus had when they went out into the world. They were uneducated and outnumbered 10,000 to 1. Their fellow Jews were antagonistic to their message. What did Jesus promise them? In Mark 13:9-11 we read:            “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

 This promise is not just for the first disciples. It is for all disciples. It is for you. It is for me. God will give you the words to say through His Spirit who lives within you. God has already done that if you have ever opened your mouth at all and he will do it even more if you simply obey.

 

Jesus has a method. His method is you. Will you be like Carol and find excuses not to find a new friend who needs Jesus? Or, will you be like the early disciples who, being uneducated, simple, common laborers, turned the world upside down…by relying on the Spirit?