A Reflection on Luke 24: 44-53 & Acts 1:1-11
I love books! Just ask my husband. I love books of all kinds: cookbooks, craft books, gardening books, theology books, novels, you name it. I also love books with more than one volume or series. When a book is really good, I never want it to end. Among the most popular serial books are The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Outlander, and Hank the Cow Dog. They are among the most popular series of books ever written. Okay, Hank the Cow Dog may not be a classic, but we loved it and the others are. Oh, and a Voice in the Wind, so good.
Today we spend time reading from a two-part work in the New Testament: the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles, sometime referred to as Luke-Acts. Luke, thought to be a physician, was a science-minded, detailed fella that wrote his works for someone named Theophilus. Some scholars think that Theophilus was an individual, perhaps a patron of Luke, or a government official, or perhaps we need to look more closely at his name. Theophilus literally means ‘Loved of God,” theo = God, Philus, (loved of). Perhaps this was the very brilliant Luke’s way of reaching more people.
Our passages today from the two volume works of Luke and Acts overlap a bit. Imagine a two-book series that the first may have seemed pretty amazing with the conclusion it already had, after all Jesus ascended into heaven. But, it is just so good that the author had to repeat where he left off in the first. And there was more! There is so much more!
The passages move through the appearance of Jesus in the Upper Room with Jesus resolving the doubts of Thomas to the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the directive to the disciples to go to the ends of the earth to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins and ends with the disciples looking to the sky in wonder at the ascension and a promise that Jesus will return in the same way He went into Heaven. That is a lot in just a few verses.
These passages in Luke-Acts are not the only place the disciples are told to go and make disciples or to spread the good news. Remember when Jesus sent them out in pairs and if they were not received well, they were to shake the sand from their sandals and move on. Making disciples is a key directive of Jesus and it is a foundational direction for all of us.
From the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline….
Making disciples shows up fairly early in the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline. In paragraph 121, where we read about the mission of the church. It begins with this, “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs.”
Then we have more detail: “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by proclaiming the good news of God’s grace and by exemplifying Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor, thus seeking the fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in the world. The fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in the world is the vision Scripture holds before us”
We are called to make disciples. But can we make disciples without first being disciples ourselves? Probably not. What does it take to be a disciple? Let’s look at what the original 12 disciples did. They stayed close to Jesus and learned from Him. He said, “Follow me,” and they left everything to follow Him.
While some may not see faith as a logical pursuit, let’s apply a little logic to the discipling process. If the original 12 stayed closed and learned from Jesus are we not called to do the same? Would that not work well for us?
There are other directions that come straight from Jesus. He told His disciples to Follow Him. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus told his followers to “deny yourself, pick up you cross and follow him.” This is a three-part direction:
- Deny ourselves
- Pick up our cross
- Follow Him.
These directions do not really include anything we might think of as easy, do they?
And now in this passage in Luke and again in Acts, the disciples are called to wait in Jerusalem, for what we now know was coming. It was the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
They were told to wait and then preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jerusalem, Judea, and to the ends of the earth. First, their close circle, then a wider one, and then finally beyond their borders. In the Monday morning Bible study we just looked at this expansion from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria as first family and friends, then our community, and then to those we do not know, perhaps those who are different from us in many ways.. But we need to share the gospel.
This command is echoed in Matthew 20:16-20,” therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.”
Were these directions just for the first 12? No, I don’t think so.
Are these easy directions, even commands? I think the answer to this question is no also. What about you?
I preached a message the Sunday after Easter about the apostle Thomas being doubtful about the reality of the Resurrected Christ. I asked you all to look at all that God has done, trust the Word of God, embrace the identity we each have in Christ as believers, and to stop doubting and believe- believe the promises of God and live in the hope of the Resurrected Christ.
Easy? No. Simple? Perhaps.
Since then, I was told I made having faith sound really easy. I didn’t acknowledge struggle and doubt and the challenges of the journey. Do I think coming to faith is easy? No. Simple perhaps, but not easy. You may ask 100, 1,000, or more people to describe their faith journey. While you will find similarities, I contend you will find as many unique journeys as individuals.
Some may study and test and challenge everything before they come to faith in Jesus. Others will have an experience so profound that will transform their lives and then they will delve into study and learning. Some of us grow up in a home with parents who taught us about Jesus since birth, others have not. Some will seem to have a straight shot to a trusting faith in Jesus. Others’ paths will have twist and turns along the way with steps taken forward and then back and then forward again.
John Wesley’s Story
John Wesley himself had a meandering path to his assurance that his faith was sufficient. Remember John Wesley was an Episcopal priest before he had his experience at Aldersgate Street where he shared that his heart was strangely warmed. Let me share the backstory to his transformational experience.
”John Wesley was onboard a ship bound for the Georgia colony in early 1736 when a ferocious storm shredded the main sail and flooded the decks. Many of the English passengers aboard screamed in terror that they would soon be swallowed by the deep. But a group of Moravian missionaries from Germany calmly sang throughout the squall.” Wesley was jealous and distraught.
Two years later, after an unsuccessful trip to the colonies, (a story filled with lessons for us that we will save for another time) when Wesley was back in England, he was practically in despair. He was considering giving up preaching. His doubt of the assurance of salvation during the shipboard experience and the unquestioning, calm reaction of the Moravians still filled his heart with distress.
On the evening of May 24, 1738, he attended a meeting at Aldersgate Street.
Someone was reading from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. Wesley recorded that about 8:45 p.m. “while he (Luther’s writing) was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” 
Wouldn’t it be logical to assume that he had assurance of his salvation, confidence in his faith all along, after all he we an Episcopal priest? He was very studied and had grown up in a faith-filled home. Again, everyone’s journey is different.
What Does Your Journey Look Like?
Think on your faith journey. What has it looked like? Mine has had ups and downs, twists and turns. Many of us have face joyful twists and some even tragic turns that may lead us to doubt, even when we already believe Jesus. A journey of faith, like a journey in life is as individual as we each are. And it is not always, or even often, easy.
These differences will also be reflected in how we follow the Great Commission to make disciples for the transformation of the world.
So the question is how do we make disciples?
Please allow me a twist on the familiar saying, “It takes one to know one.” How about we change that to “it takes one to make one.” Of course, a person comes to faith by the grace of God. We cannot make disciples, only God can lead us there, but we can the plant seeds. Remember, be like the original disciples: stay close and learn from Jesus. These two ideas really go hand in hand. When we focus our attention (hearts, minds and time- on being close to someone we are going to learn from them.
Have you heard the quote, “You are the sum total of the 5 people you hang around with most,” John Rohn? May I suggest that 3 of those people need to be the 3 members of the Holy Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Are they 3 of yours?
What does it look like to hang out with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Imagine just for a moment what this might look like. Prayer, Scripture reading, study, meditating on the Word, memorize scripture, communion, remember your baptism, worship, fasting, service, and so many other ways may come to mind.
Being close and learning from Jesus are so closely related and they can take many forms.
How would you describe being a disciple of Jesus? What comes to your mind? How many of those means do you practice? How else do you stay close and learn?
In these passages we are called to make disciples. It is not as if we can check a box and say, “Okay, now I am a disciple, I can go and make disciples.” Becoming a disciple is never a finished process until we take our last breath and meet Jesus face to face. As we carry out the great Commission and the directions we find in our passages for today, we need to continue to grow, but we also need to share. We would not want to keep the hope of Jesus to ourselves, right?
A Process For Making Disciples
How do we make disciples? Let’s look once again at the Book of Discipline, paragraph 122, where we find the suggested process of making disciples of the UMC :
“The Process for Carrying Out Our Mission—We make disciples as we:
—proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome and gather persons into the body of Christ;
—lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ;
—nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley’s Christian conferencing;
—send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel; and
—continue the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ. And around the cycle we go.”
Through these spiritual disciplines we are exemplifying the love of God and love of neighbor as we are called to.
One of the lines of mission we use in Winter Grace Senior Ministries is “Engage, Nurture, Disciple.” When we are about making disciples, we need to engage, nurture and then make disciples by developing relationships. We engage people where they are.
We nurture those relationships through all of the ways the Book of Discipline says to – exemplifying the love of God and neighbor. We may be helping those who have material needs or helping restore trust with those who have had their trust broken. While we are actively exemplifying the love of God right where others are, we need to continue to stay close and learn from Jesus ourselves.
We learn and we embody what we have learned. We need to do our best to not only talk the talk but walk the talk. We come together to study, fellowship together, laugh, cry, and mourn together, live in with relationship with others while we are living in relationship with Christ Jesus.
Practical Steps to Take
(Some notes here are specific to my home church, Mt. Zion UMC, Highland, MD. I would be delighted to study the Word with anyone and everyone who would like to study together. Let’s grow together.)
What does this look like going forward from our 14 months of COVID living conditions? I have some ideas for you. Let’s lean in close to Jesus together and learn from Him.
- If you would like to join a Bible study here at Mt. Zion, you are welcome to our Monday morning study. You are welcome to check out Sunday school classes. You are encouraged to start a group, or we can talk together to start a new study group at a time that is best for all those who are interested. It would be a delight to study the Word with each of you.
- We set aside time for regular reading, studying, and memorizing. We partake of the sacrament of Communion.
- We check on one another. Pick up the phone and make a call.
- Pray for one another. I challenge each of us to think of someone in the congregation and pray for them daily for a month. You need not tell them, just pray for them.
- Give thanks for all the people who have continued to give generously of their time, talents, and treasure throughout a time unlike any other we have ever experienced.
- Worship, not just on Sunday, but make time each day to praise and rejoice in God’s goodness and steadfast, never-ending love. Continue to support the missions of Mt. Zion.
- Try to think outside of the box for new ways to exemplify the love of God.
- Oh, here is one more. Say hello to someone in the store. It seems that some have allowed their masks to silence their voices. Greet someone. Smile so large that they can see your smile in your eyes since they are unable to see your mouth.
- These are but a few ways to stay close to Jesus, learn from Him, and grow as disciples, and seek to make disciples.
I would love to hear your ideas. Let’s make plans to study together and learn together and grow closer to Jesus together.
Let’s do all of this together in our faith family here at Mt. Zion and spread the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins throughout our own Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.