Sunday Services: 9:00am & 10:45am

Discipleship 101

Discipleship 101

Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

We are teaching through the gospel of Luke. Last week Jason helped us to see that who we become in this life will be extended into eternity. At one point he said, “What [we] believe now and how [we] act now, will work itself into [our] eternal DNA.” In the parable in Luke 16 that we were studying when he said that, we saw that for one man in the parable this extension of his moral character into the next life had tragic consequences. The selfishness and the arrogance and the pride that he had cultivated in this life, went with him into the life to come, and it was hellish.

But this morning’s passage, in a sense, is about the opposite. It’s about what it means to follow Christ. It’s about discipleship. It’s about following Jesus in such a way that your spiritual DNA becomes something beautiful, something you want to carry with you into the next life.

Scripture Reading

Follow along with me as I read from Luke 17:1–10. It’s a collection of commands to disciples. After I read the passage, we’ll pray that God would be our teacher.

17 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Prayer

This is God’s Word. Thanks be to God. “Heavenly Father . . .”

Introduction

I wouldn’t have said it this way while growing up in the church, but looking back on it now, I think I thought about the death and resurrection of Jesus as clichés—meaning there is some truth in it somewhere, but it’s been said and heard so often that it really doesn’t have any power. But in the middle of college God opened up my eyes to see the gospel, not as a cliché or some nice story, but as a true story, as real history, as the very events that change everything about everything.

When this happened for me in the middle of college, it’s when I first began actively following God. And when I did, I also began to realize how little I knew about what it meant to follow God. I needed help. I needed instruction. I reached out to my former youth pastor. We met each week that summer at a Denny’s restaurant to read through Ephesians, which is a New Testament letter written by the Apostle Paul to a church in Ephesus. I also had two men disciple, who incidentally were both named Scott. These guys invested in me and began to show me what it meant to be a disciple: to love God, to read his word, to share the gospel with others, to be a husband and to love one’s children, and to work at everything you do for God’s glory. These were things that—though I should have known more about them—I didn’t understand. I needed instruction. Again, I needed to know what it meant to be a disciple.

After I graduated from college and felt God pulling me into ministry, I realized that if I was going to be a pastor someday, a whole new set of questions came to the surface. I realized I was going to need more help and instruction about how to be a disciple who goes into fulltime ministry. So I went to seminary.

I mention all this background so that when we come to this passage in Luke, we see it in the proper context. The opening verse tells us that the instructions that follow are given to disciples.

Just for a moment, consider the spiritual and religious climate that these early disciples inherited. It was a dysfunctional, distorted discipleship modeled before them. The primary religious leaders of the day were spiritually lost. They cared more about their own glory than God’s. They loved money, they loved the praise of man, and they added tradition upon precept and rule upon commandment so that not only was it difficult to see what God wanted from his people, but it was difficult to see who God was himself!

Let me put it like this. For these early disciples, following God in all facets of life was like having a 1,000-piece puzzle to put together while looking at the wrong box. Think how difficult that would be! Disciples need instruction. It was true for them; it’s true for me, and it’s true for you. And because Jesus loves his disciples so much, in this passage he’s showing us how to follow him.

1. Disciples invest in Christian community that forsakes sin and extends forgiveness, vv. 1–4

The first area of instruction is related to Christian community. It’s just a few verses, but the main thing that is said is that disciples invest in Christian community that forsakes sin and extends forgiveness. Let me read vv. 1–4 again.

17 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Several things are worth pointing out, but let me state the overarching theme again: Christian community forsakes sin and extends forgiveness.

To forsake sin, to turn away from it, you need to have a healthy fear of sin and the damage it causes. Consider the seriousness with which Jesus speaks of it here. A millstone was a giant stone that was used to grind flour, often so heavy that it was only able to be turned by an animal such as a donkey. Jesus says it’s better to have that kind of weight tied around your neck and be dropped into the sea than to cause the “little ones” to be scandalized as they try to follow Christ. Note, this isn’t the punishment; it’s better than the punishment.

That was pointed out to me this week by a friend. I as having coffee with Jeff Davis this week, who is a member of our church and has been a missionary with Child Evangelism Fellowship for over twenty years. In the front yard of the state headquarters of Child Evangelism Fellowship, which is here in Harrisburg, there is a millstone with a similar verse from Matthew 18 written on it.

Queen

They use the verse from Matthew 18, because in Matthew 18 it’s clear from the context that the little ones were children trying to love God. In this passage in Luke, that’s not so clear. Little ones could be a tender way to speak of all disciples, especially perhaps those who are first beginning to follow God.

But regardless, we can say there are all sorts of ways to cause someone to be scandalized by Christ. There is flagrant hypocrisy, just to name one way. How many of you have gone through an extended season in your life where you were turned off from Christ because the Christianity you saw modeled for you was a joke? There was nothing real about it; it was all posturing and politicized. Perhaps some of you still feel this way, and you’re here trying to find out if there is something real in Christianity. I’m glad you’re here. Look at the words of Jesus and see what he intends for his followers to be.

I was speaking with a friend recently who mentioned that one of his good friends was recently removed from his teaching post at a seminary on account of a moral failure. As my friend talked about his friend, his shoulders were sagging, and his voice was slow and his eyes looked despondent. It was like we were speaking at a funeral. My friend wasn’t going to turn away from Christ or anything on account of this professor, but the professor’s sin and double life did have consequences for many: the seminary, the students, the other professors, the community, the publishing that he had done, his wife and children, and the broader perception of Christ in the world.

Jesus’s point is that Christian community must treat sin as serious. It’s so serious, that it needs to be rebuked. That’s what is said in v. 3. And for someone to rebuke you, and for that rebuke to have the desired effect of change and restoration, what is implied is that we should be living in community to such an extent that we know when someone might need a rebuke. And it implies that we must live so graciously and lovingly that if we should be called to give a rebuke to a dear sister or brother in the family of God, we have loved that other person so well that the person on the receiving end of the rebuke should be open to hearing it. That’s the type of community Jesus calls all followers to.

This spring, I was having lunch with a friend here at church, someone that knows me very well, and at one point in the lunch he says, “Benjamin, let me tell you something. I’ve seen something in your life in a number of areas, and it needs to change.” And then he told me what it was, which I won’t tell you! I’m thankful for that kind of friend, that kind of disciple, this kind of community.

And do you see the line about forgiveness? The rebuke leads to repentance, which leads to the extension of forgiveness. There is a beauty to that kind of community. Have you ever apologized to someone who wasn’t a Christian and when you apologized they just shrugged saying, “Okay.” There was no forgiveness extended. That’s the worst. You don’t know how to relate to the person. You must guess whether you are okay with them or not. But not so among Jesus’s disciples.

Now, there is this line about how frequently we must extend forgiveness. Seven times a day if someone asks for it, Jesus says. I think it would be right to think that if every hour or so someone did something to you and then said, “I’m sorry,” you’d be right to question the genuineness of the repentance. Surely, a disciple could feel the need to retort, “Forgive? They don’t mean it, Lord!” To which the Lord might say something like, “Maybe, but leave that to me. I’m talking to you.”

And speaking of you in particular, some of you who are good at rebuking need to learn to forgive. And some of you who pride yourselves on being able to forgive anything, you need to learn to rebuke because you never do it. 1

To be fair, this kind of Christian community can’t happen in its fullness on Sunday mornings, but in the step of church membership we get closer to it. Another way to move toward this type of Christian community is to join a small group. Right now, Pastor Jason organizes our small groups. In the fall many of them will be restarting. If you’ve been coming to our church for a few months and would like information about them, just reach out to us.

2. Disciples have faith that trusts God for the ability to do the seemingly impossible, vv. 5–6

I’ll move much more quickly through the next two sets of verse. In vv. 5–6 Jesus continues his instruction. He says that Christian faith trusts God to do the seemingly impossible. Let’s re-read vv. 5–6.

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

There are many times in the gospels that the disciples say stupid things. They are often putting their feet in their mouths. But here, even though Jesus seems to push back on them, the disciples are on to something right.

Their response shows that they have heard correctly what Jesus has said. He has just said that disciples invest in Christian community, which can be a difficult thing. If you’ve ever had to forgive someone—which is all of us—then you know Christian community isn’t easy. And so the disciple’s response here tells us that these disciples were tracking with Jesus. That sounds hard, Lord; increase our faith.

But how does Jesus see this request for more faith? On the one hand, I’m sure he’s pleased for the reasons I pointed out. On the other hand, he knows they are missing something. The disciples needed to learn that the biggest concern is not the strength of one’s faith but the strength of the one in whom the faith is in. Let me say that a different way. A disciple’s faith may go grow and shrink, but even when it’s small and weak, just like a mustard seed, genuine faith is big enough to see God do amazing things because faith—however weak—is placed in an amazing God.

My father- and mother-in-law have two mulberry trees on their property. They have a ton of acres in rural Iowa, and just last month we drove all over their farm through the creeks and trees and hills and trials. On several afternoons I stood up in the back of the four-wheeler and picked mulberries from the branches of the tree. I’d leave the bright red ones on the tree and gently grab the black ones and hand them down to my children. You have to be careful, though, because ripe mulberries squish and stain everything they touch. The best, in my opinion, are the ones between red and black because they are sour.

The mulberry trees at my parent’s house are huge. On the back of a four-wheeler, you’re still nowhere near the top. To pick up that tree and plant it in the sea would not just be extraordinarily difficult, but impossible—at least for a person. In other similar passages Jesus mentions not mulberry trees, but mountains moved into the sea by faith. But whichever it is, whether mulberries or mountains, the image is figurative. There are no accounts—as best as I know—of any disciple ever doing excavation to forests and mountain ranges with their faith.

But I have heard of believers forgiving people. And I have heard of believers treating sin so seriously that they risk being ostracized by culture when they name it as such. These are not only hard things, but apart from faith in the goodness of God, they would be impossible things.

3. Disciples serve without expecting fanfare, vv. 7–10

And this leads to the next point. If that’s the kind of Christian community we are called to, and if everyone who has genuine faith in God—even if their faith is small—does extraordinary deeds, then doesn’t that give us something to boast about? If I pick up a tree by the trunk and throw it into the sea as I might pull a toothpick out of a cupcake and throw it in the trash, don’t I get to boast about that? Doesn’t God owe me something? Let’s read what Jesus says next.

7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? [No.]

8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? [Yes, he will.]

9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? [No, he doesn’t.]

10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Jesus is not here commending the harsh treatment of people under your care. That’s not how he treats people nor how we are told elsewhere to treat those under our care. That’s not what these rhetorical questions are about.

The point is to say that even after we do everything we are supposed to do, we have nothing to boast about. We have no right to claim that God owes us anything. When a disciple serves God, he or she must do so without expecting fanfare, without expecting pats on the back. Disciples serve God because God is worthy of our service. Period.

This is difficult for us to understand in our day of participation trophies. And I’m not entirely against participation trophies, and it’s certainly not something I’m going to get worked up about. But in a culture where everyone who ever does something worth doing feels like they are owed something in return, then it does make it difficult for us to make sense of this passage. But if we were to recover the view of God that sees him as he is—the Creator God, the God who knows the names of stars, the God who can pick up mountains in his pincher fingers and fling them into the sea, the God who can reach down to the Blue Mountain Ridge, just north of us, and he can peal it up like you’d peal a Twisler from the pack—then we might have a better sense of what it means to serve him as God and us as his humble servants.

Conclusion

At the start, I mentioned that when I first became a Christian I had a lot to learn, and I was thankful for the instruction I received. And when I went to seminary to learn how to be a pastor, it was the same. I was thankful.

But the full story is that it was also overwhelming to me. The Bible seemed so huge. And becoming familiar with it, let alone understanding it and obeying it, seemed daunting. And when I was in seminary, my least favorite day, perhaps even more than the day of final exams, was the day the course syllabus was handed out. What?! I’m going read how many books and write how many papers?! Before seminary I was in a field that required very little reading and writing, and it was so hard for me to keep up in seminary.

This passage shows us what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus. It’s the box of the puzzle that helps us fit the pieces of our life in their proper places. I’m sure the disciples were thankful for this instruction, even as we are thankful for it.

Yet it’s overwhelming to see all the explicit commands in this passage. We are to . . .

1. . . . pay attention to our own lives and the lives of others
2. . . . live in a community with other disciples where we are known and loved
3. . . . repeatedly forgive when we’ve been sinned against
4. . . . rebuke someone in sin no matter how uncomfortable
5. . . . consider causing someone to stumble over Christ as more weighty than our own death
6. . . . and do our duty to God without feeling any vestige of pride, as though God now owed us.

And these are just the specific things mentioned on the course syllabus. This does not include the many other commands implied by the specific statements. For example, the command not to cause little ones to stumble implies a host of applications related to all the possible ways we could cause someone to stumble. The picture of discipleship here is high-res; you can keep zooming in and zooming in, seeing more and more, and not lose resolution.

So what are we to do? It would be possible to see the severity of what is required of disciples but fail to see the love of God for disciples. The weight of these commands means we need the gospel. We need the gospel for forgiveness for past, present, and future sin. And we also need the gospel for the power to live in obedience.

As we close this sermon and move toward participating in the Lord’s Supper together, I’d like to read one more passage also from Luke’s gospel. In our passage, Jesus asked rhetorically about whether a servant who does his job should then expect to be served by his master. The answer clearly implied was, No, we should not expect this. No servant should ever expect to be served by his master because that’s not what masters do.

Except for Jesus. Earlier in Luke’s gospel, as Jesus is giving instructions to his disciples about staying ready for his return, he tells them of a wonderful gospel reversal. Look what is said in Luke 12:35–37,

35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.

The master’s servants were awake and ready to serve him. But that’s not what happens. There’s a beautiful reversal. The master dresses himself for service, sits them at his table, and serves them.

This invitation, though undeserved and unexpected is what is dramatized as we participate in communion together. In just a moment, I’ll pray and invite the music team back up, as well as those who are serving communion. If you feel that you deserve to have God serve you, then you haven’t understood, and this table isn’t for you. This table is open to anyone who is a Christian, anyone who knows they are unworthy to come to God’s table on their own. And if that’s how you come, God is delighted to forgive all your past sins and provide the power you need to live as his disciples in the present.

When you are ready, please come forward down the center aisle and take the bread and the juice back with you. When we have all been served, I’ll come back up and we’ll all share together.

Let’s pray . . .


1 I heard these comments made and expanded upon by Thabiti Anyabwile in his sermon on Luke 17, “The Humble King” “here.
2Something similar was done in Kent Hughes’ commentary with supplying the expected answers to the questions (Luke: Preaching the Word, 602?).

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