The King's Life: His Disciples

Unlike other Rabbis, Jesus hand-picked his inner circle of disciples, rather than letting them choose him.  Such was Jesus' magnetism that it took only a few phrases to persuade them to leave their jobs and families to join him.  And he spent most of his time with them, training them and teaching them to take over after he left.  He knew the ultimate success of his mission depended, not just on what he accomplished (his time was short), but what his disciples would do after he left.  They were just ordinary men, a strange mixture, whose most obvious traits seem to be their denseness (Mk. 7:18), and quarreling amongst themselves about who would be the greatest (Mt. 17:17).  Yet Jesus kept working with them, teaching them, rejoicing with them about their successes when they reported back after their first missionary journey (after the 72 were sent out).  No passage in the gospels shows him more exuberant "at that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children.  Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.' "  Luke 10:21.

John 13.  This is the last night with his disciples -- after 3 years.  (Jn. 13:1) "O how he loved them" -- Jesus did an astonishing thing: he got up, wrapped a towel around him and washed the disciples feet.  I don't know in what order he washed their feet -- let's see what they were like that night.

I want you to identify with two or three:

Andrew - the man known as the disciple who brought people to Jesus.  He brought his brother Peter - the little boy with 2 fish, 5 loaves and the Greeks.  Andrew was only known as "Peter's brother".  He didn't bring that many people in 3 years.   Jesus loved him and washed his feet.

James and John - the brothers.  John was known as the apostle of love later in life.  But this night the only record we have of these two is far from love.  One time they were passing through a Samaritan village and the people would not be hospitable.  John said, "Lord, let's call down fire from heaven and burn them up."  Not such a loving response!  Another time John said, "Lord, there's someone baptizing in your name on the other side of the Jordan - shall we go and take care of him?"  Jesus named these two brothers the "sons of thunder" - they were apparently hot-headed and very intimidating.  In addition their mother (who apparently pushed them to get ahead at any cost) tried to convince Jesus to place her two sons on his right and left when he ruled his kingdom.  The result was a huge fight among all the 12 disciples about who could be at the top.

This turn of events must have been very disheartening to Jesus. He'd been with them for at least 2 years, serving and loving them, teaching them about loving servitude and here they are fighting again, striving to be No. 1.  So he took the opportunity to teach them not to be like unbelievers, lording it over each other, instead, to serve like he did.  "The son of man came to serve, not be served.  To give his life a ransom for sin."   And this last night Jesus loved James and John - and he washed their feet.

Phillip - was spiritually dense.  Two illustrations:  just a few minutes later Jesus said, "If you've seen me you've seen the Father," Phillip said, "Show us the Father and we'll be satisfied," contradicting his Messiah. Phillip knew who Jesus was and he was one of his first disciples.  Another time at the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus turned to Phillip specifically and said, "Phillip, how do you think these people can be fed?"  His response was purely humanistic, "It would take over 200 days' wages to give them just a little food."  -- i.e. it's impossible.  Phillip was spiritually dense because he had watched Jesus perform miracle after miracle - healings of all kinds, still a storm, walk on water, casting out demons; you would think he'd say, "Lord, if you want us to feed them I'm sure you will supply the food."   But Jesus loved him and washed his feet.

Thomas - you think of Thomas as the doubter, but really he was a great hero. When Jesus said they were going back to Judea for Lazarus all the rest of the disciples said, "No, it's too dangerous -- we're scared."  But Thomas said, "If Jesus is determined to go back to Judea let's all go -- if he is killed we'll die with him."  That's loyalty!!  But Thomas was also one who contradicted Jesus when he told them he was leaving and they knew where he was going.  Thomas said, "We don't know where you are going or the way."

Jesus' answer is a wonderful verse, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me."  -- this so clearly leads people to Christ.  So, as so often happened, the disciples' denseness led to great revelation from Christ.  Then, of course, it was Thomas who demands to see Jesus' wounds before he would believe - then he called Jesus, "My Lord and My God."  Jesus loved Thomas and washed his feet.

Matthew - we know he threw a party for Jesus and his heathen friends right after he started following him.  But he didn't do anything else for 3 years. He was excited at first and then his zeal faded away - like so many followers of Jesus.  But Jesus loved Matthew and washed his feet.

James - this is James, the son of Alpheus.  Guess what - that's all we know about James.  He must have been a real mover!   Jesus loved James and washed his feet.

Thaddeus - here's a very common name, and guess why so few people name their kids Thaddeus?  He didn't make a mark, we don't know anything about him.  But Jesus loved him and washed his feet.

Simon, the Zealot - he was obviously one who was zealous to overthrow Rome - zealots were right wing radicals who were risking their lives to rebel against Rome.  There is not one word about Simon after he followed Jesus -- Simon, the not-so-zealous Zealot.  Jesus must have hoped Simon would be a tough uncompromised, sold-out disciple - but he wasn't this night. But Jesus loved him and washed his feet.

Bartholomeu - probably he was Nathaniel an "Israelite in whom there is no guile."  There's no word about him since John 1 when Jesus called him.   But Jesus loved him and washed his feet.

Judas - did Jesus wash his feet?  Yes, he did, even though immediately after he put his clothes back on, he said one of you is going to betray me, and pointed out Judas.  But Jesus loved him and washed his feet.

Peter - I have chosen to take him last because there is more about Peter than any other disciple mainly because he was such a sanguine, blabber-mouth.  Like on the Mount of Transfiguration when he said such a bizarre thing, "Let's build three tabernacles." -- I'm sure Jesus, Moses and Elijah looked at Peter with utter disbelief as he interrupted their deep communion with each other revealing themselves to the three disciples.  Then the time Peter contradicted Jesus about his prediction about his own death. Jesus rebuked Peter by saying, "Get behind me, Satan."   Peter was basically tempting Jesus not to go to the cross.  But this night Peter was especially obnoxious as Jesus tried to wash his feet.  In effect he said, "These other guys let you wash their feet, but I am not that crass.  No, you shouldn't be washing our feet, you are our Messiah."  And Jesus had to rebuke him again saying, "If you don't let me wash your feet, you are not one of my disciples."  "Well then Lord, wash me all over - head, feet and all."  "No, Peter, you've already been washed.  This is just for your feet tonight." And Jesus knew Peter was going to deny him this very night.   But Jesus loved him and washed his feet.

Wouldn't it have been logical for Jesus to say to Peter, "You know, I named you the Rock - Peter - but you've disappointed me.  You are still unstable.  I wanted to begin my church with your strong stand, but you are going to deny me instead.  How can I entrust my message and these other men into your care when you are still lunging and undependable?"  But Jesus did not say that to Peter.  What did he say?  Jesus put on his outer garment, sat back down and made some very gracious statements.  "A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another just exactly as I have loved you."

How did he love them?  He loved them just as they were!  "Having loved his own . . . he now showed them the full extent of his eternal love."  (John 13:1).  Did he love them any more in A.D. 40 then he did this last night of his life?  Did he ever love them more than this night?

No!  He never could have loved them any more than he did this night. He continued on to the cross, died for their sin, rose again for their justification.  When Jesus had finished his course and his love had been poured out what happened to these men?  His love completely transformed them -- they became great men, courageous, loving men who changed the world empowered by the love of Christ and the Holy Spirit.  At Pentecost, big mouth Peter got up and preached the most dynamic sermon - 3,000 people got saved.  He was Peter - the Rock - changed by the love of Jesus Christ.  He gave his whole life to his Lord and with those other 10 men, they changed the world.  Why?  Because they were captured and transformed by the love of Christ.

Can you comprehend the incredible trust that Jesus had:  to place his whole program - the church - in the hands of these 11 men.  He did so because he accepted them and loved them JUST AS THEY WERE, and he knew his love would transform them if they loved him.  When a person responds to the love of Jesus and builds a love relationship with him, that person's life is forever changed.  Their focus changes from self to Christ, and they are able to love others just exactly like Christ does.  That person is filled with Christ's peace, his joy, and the fruit which endures -- just as Jesus promised his disciples (see John 13-17).            

Many of you may be in the following stage of your walk with Christ: You have a deep commitment to teach and impart truth to those who God has brought to you and put in your care.  You pray for them and spend significant time with them, but often walk away feeling empty and not confident that you have imparted real spiritual life to them.  You often find out that your disciples don't feel loved by you, even though you have spent time, communicated truth and prayed.

How do I build an intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ so that I can love others exactly like he did?  That's his new commandment (John 13:34-35).

Moving from the desire to deepen our relationship with Him to actually doing it is the challenge. (1) The first step is to realize that this deep relationship with Christ is a supernatural, non-material, non-functional and non-self-produced one. Christ relates to each of us in the very depths of my being as the ever-present, transcendent God - an advantage which no material relationship can compare to.  Jesus told his disciples about this privilege by saying it would be better for him to leave because "I was with you and He (the Holy Spirit) will be in you."  The Holy Spirit, dwelling in our hearts, put us in touch with the person of Christ and makes him real to us.  It is not an activity of our flesh.

This is actually a great advantage, because this upside-down fallen material world creates real problems in relationships.  A personal relationship with Christ is found in HIS world, invisible, but very real. This is the work of the Holy Spirit:  to make Christ real to us, and increasingly reproduce his life and his love in us.  His ability to perform this in our life is in direct proportion to the freedom given him to do it. The more we walk in the Spirit, the more we become like Jesus Christ.

Christ has made this extraordinary provision for each of us to build intimacy with him, but it can never occur through human effort, the flesh will never produce divine love or character.  When we depend on the Holy Spirit and permit him he brings forth his own fruit in our life as we grow more like Christ in our actions, and are able to love with his love.  Being filled with the Spirit is so real that people feel loved by us and we never feel empty or inadequate.

The Holy Spirit's great responsibility is to make Christ real to you and me.  Jesus said about the Holy Spirit, "He will not speak on his own . .  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you."  (John 16:13-15).  This is why I am very leery of so-called ecstatic Holy Spirit experiences.  I think it's very clear his role is to progressively reveal Christ to us and apply the truth of the Word to our heart.

Christ has done his part, now how should I do my part?  He has the right to command me to give myself completely over to him, but Christ's way is to motivate by love rather than conquer by force.  Yielding is the glad, joyous, willing response of love to Love.  "We love him because he first loved us."  This is a definite act.  It is not just a desire, but is a definite act of our will.  Desire becomes decision, and decision takes action, it's a response to pure grace -- the Holy Spirit always takes the initiative in bringing us into a deeper relationship with Christ in every area of our life.  He knocks, but never forces an entrance.  The initial act of yielding needs to be followed by a continuous attitude of instant surrender to God's will.

"Surrender is a crisis that develops into a process."

These are the six principles necessary to build an intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ:

  1. Open the door of your heart - not only for salvation, but also for intimacy.  Our heart is where we dream, deliberate, decide, want and will - it is the core of who and what we are.  It is the Control Center. Usually we want to meet Christ in our quiet time, at a safe and comfortable outer edge of who we are.  He wants to fellowship with the real me, and he wants complete authority in my heart.  He will remove the irrelevancies and trivia I clutter my life with, and he will be in charge of my desires, decisions, and strong will.  There can be no compromise here.  If I want a deep relationship with Christ, then I have to let him in, and I must not be afraid.  What he does will be loving and my heart will be better, by far,  than before.
  2. Pursue Jesus.  This intimate relationship is built by communication and closeness.  Study his patterns of attitude, action, and reaction in the gospels.  Ask him the tough questions and stay close enough to him to get his answers.  Meditate on and memorize his word and his works.
  3. Put him in his place - at the center of everything you do.  As the sun is to the solar system, so Jesus is to the life of one who pursues intimacy with him.  Expel anything and anyone who usurps his place in the center of your life.
  4. Be where he is . . . . We can't relate to Christ on our terms like calling to him, "Lord, I'm over here in my bitterness and self-centeredness."  He never gets off-track to cater to our sins.  We will find him where he is, and fellowship means being there with him.  We experience his joy and power as we faithfully walk with him.  We love him and we will serve him and others with generosity and compassion because we are in close proximity to Jesus.  Distance from Christ is damaging, so train your heart to know when you are starting to follow him afar off.
  5. Meet with Jesus in the crisis.  In our hard times he shows us most clearly his grace, power, and his sustaining presence.  Hard times are great opportunities to experience intimacy with Christ.
  6. Experience Jesus in his people.  While Christ is invisible, his Body, the church, is visible.  The Body of Christ makes real his love, companionship, and compassion as the members encourage and comfort us, admonish and reprove us in love.

Unless our relationship with Jesus is vibrant and growing, the transforming power of his love will seem like too tough a job.  When, however, Christ is the central love relationship in my life, the transformation of my life as his disciple becomes the most intriguing and exciting adventure I can experience. From those apparent unpromising men Jesus founded a church that changed the world, and is still growing.  All through the history of God's dealing with his people he has had the problem of sinful men and women who start out committed and end up compromised or worse; some even to walk completely away from God.

Application

Of course, there are many positive examples in the Bible like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Nehemiah, Elijah, Daniel, and many others. Two men who illustrate these two extremes are David and Saul.  Both were outstanding young men, sincere and humble.  However, their great beginnings did not keep them both from terrible failure later in life.  The main difference:

  1. Once Saul turned away from God; he continued to disobey and his life ended in tragedy.
  2. David, however, sincerely repented, asked for forgiveness and returned to a vital relationship with God.
    Saul was not all bad, and David was not all good; they both had human weaknesses.  The difference lay in their life focus.

 

  1. Saul more and more followed his own willful rebellious plans with the self-destruction that results from disobeying God.
  2. David, especially in his early life, earnestly followed God and obeyed him.  And even when David failed miserably, he always turned back to the Lord.

In our lives as disciples of Jesus we have the very same choices because we all have the same heart "more deceitful than all else and it is desperately wicked."  Jer. 17:9.  Solomon also wrote "Watch over your heart with all diligence for from it flow the springs of life."  Prov. 14:23.

We all know the life stories of Saul and David, but I want to explore the basic attitudes and principles of their lives because they apply to us as Christ's disciples.

  1. David's view of God should be our view of God.  God's omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, His loving concern for all -- especially for me, His faithfulness and holiness.  How does it effect my life?  How should it effect my life?
    By submitting to God's authority, David was recognizing he was the creature and God was the Creator.  When you consider how charismatic and strong David was, it was no small thing for him to humbly choose submission and obedience.  Learning how to live in submission to God is a process.  It is obvious that David was often in a mess, due to his own impetuosity, before he cried out to God in prayer.  But God heard and answered him, delivering him out of his own foolish predicament.  E.g. Ps. 34, "This poor man called and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles . . blesssed is the man who takes refuge in Him."  This was written after his episode in Gath with the Philistine King Achish.
  2. One of our greatest concerns should be to uphold God's reputation.  We must trust the Lord to help us achieve this goal while accomplishing His work.  A life fully submitted to Christ shapes our character to become more like Him.  We will manifest Jesus' kindness, mercy, love, purity, and wisdom in ways that are reflected through our own distinctive personalities.  To put it another way:  God is making us holy. Truly holy people are humble and easy to be around.  They are the first to acknowledge their sins and shortcomings; they've been around God too long to pretend they are perfect.  Then why are godly people so joyful and radiant? For one thing they know their sin problem has been cast on Christ; they don't try to please him through efforts of the flesh, but by their obedient walk in the Spirit.  Holiness comes from knowing that obedience must arise out of living in the presence of God -- walking with him, talking with him, asking for his help -- that's how we become more and more conformed to Jesus Christ by the Spirit.
    The Psalms reveal much about David's prayer life.  He and the Lord talked as two good friends; he poured his heart out to God and held nothing back.  David did something more important than merely expressing his  feelings in prayer.  He reflected on his deepest feelings right in front of God.  He wept, he complained, he "grumbled morning, noon and night", and paraded his problems in front of his Comforter who he knew cared about every detail of his misery.  Though his prayers often expressed intense pain; his hurt was nearly always transformed into praise.  His praise did not spring from naive optimism, but from his complete trust in his loving God who David knew was involved and concerned in his every pain and hurt.  
  3. We must never take advantage of God's Grace, and interpret blessings in our lives as necessarily a sign that god has always approved of our decisions and actions.  When we take advantage of God's Grace, and his longsuffering patience, we lose perspective on God's plan for our lives. Never rely on past success as security from future failure:  failures often follow victories.  Success often makes people very vulnerable to rationalization of their weaknesses, and open to Satan's attacks.  Don't allow temptation to lead to desire, that is only one step away from the act of sin itself.  Temptation per se is not sin, but if you are caught off guard, Satan will see to it that you fail God:  "If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall."  I Cor. 10:12.  And once we fail it is particularly difficult to admit sin because it will lead to embarrassment.  However, if we cover our sin we are taking advantage of God's Grace, and are vulnerable to continuing in that sin.  In David's life, the more he tried to hide the first sin of adultery with Bathsheba the more he committed additional sins.  Avoid this predicament by facing the sin immediately, accepting God's forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  Confess it to those you've sinned against, and to a trusted friend who will hold you accountable.
    At times, David, misinterpreted his success and popularity as a sign of God's blanket approval of all he was doing.  And his failures always related to the fact that he failed to consult God concerning His will.  This was true as he schemed and lied in order to escape Saul.  When fear replaced his faith he took matters into his own hands and began to scheme and connive.  Then he failed to do God's will.  However, when he once again put his faith in God he could balance his human skills with dependence on God to use those skills to achieve the Lord's divine purpose.  This is very apparent when David emerged from the cave of Abdullam and faced both the Philistine army and King Saul (I Sam. 23 and 30). 
    Each time David acknowledged his sin and repented, God forgave him and restored him to fellowship with Himself.  But the consequences of David's sins were far greater and more far reaching than he could have imagined.  Those most affected were his own family members, but the results also extended to all Israel.  He lost the respect of his own people, Joab his faithful commander, and even the pagans of the land.  In Ps. 51 we again see "a man after God's own heart" -- David's prayer for forgiveness and restoration.  The results of that restored relationship are recorded in Ps. 32:2-5. 
    David's failures always related to his lack of submitting to God, trusting in his own ingenuity and gifting:  Taking matters into his own hands.  He loved the Lord, but his obedience was partial.  He would charge ahead impetuously without ever consulting the Lord, and he would soon be in deep trouble.  Then he would lie and connive his way out (like feigning madness).  But God always exposes us when we sin in private (like lying and manipulating), and then we get shown up in the public arena as well. 
    Eventually David obeyed God, submitted to His authority with humility.  No one loved God's word more than David.  He meditated on it morning, noon, and night.  Gradually God was able to soften David's strong will, making him thirsty for an intimate relationship with his Creator -- restraining his hot-blooded temper, and convincing David to seek God's will and submit to it. 
    David learned his greatest lessons of depending on God when he was under the greatest pressure and adversity -- then he asked God to be his deliverer and defender.  But even when David lunged and got into trouble, he learned to cry out to God in prayer, and God heard him and delivered him over and over again.  So don't resist God's comfort and help, don't withdraw from God and the BOC -- sitting in your misery alone. We must not deny our pain, but bring that pain into the very presence of our God who cares for us.
  4. A very important aspect of our life in submission to God are the people he has put in our life to speak the truth to us.  One of the greatest protections you have against your sin areas, your self-deception and discouragement is objective counsel from a mature Christian in the BOC. Someone in a position to point out your willfulness.  You should seek such a person for counsel and become accountable to them.  Saul did not want the counsel of others -- he ignored Samuel's guidance, and lost his support. Saul refused to listen when Jonathan pointed out his sin against David, even trying to kill his own son -- so Saul lost his son's emotional support.  He killed the priests who gave David bread, and ended up going to a witch for direction -- a practice forbidden by God.
  5. Don't underestimate God's goodness.  He has your best interests at heart, and He knows what he is doing in our life.  Usually though, we have to learn the tough discipline of saying 'no' to what we desperately want because it is nearly always an idol.  God will not give you that special 'gift' until you learn relinquishment -->  trust his goodness and obey him no matter how much it hurts at the time.  Don't keep rebelling and resisting obedience.  A submitted life is one that cares about and lives for God's opinion; joyfully recognizing that he has a wonderful life all laid out for you.  The only real happiness and safety you can know is in trusting, obeying, and giving your whole life to your loving Savior, Jesus Christ.  That is what he is looking for in His disciples.