‘If you hold to my teaching’ Jesus said, ‘then you are really my disciples…’ (John 8:31)
It stands to reason, then, that to be a disciple of Jesus, we must first know what He taught. Jesus began to teach His disciples, according to Matthew, by giving them some principles of attitude and behaviour that should be the characteristics of those who live in the kingdom of God.
Matthew wanted his Jewish readers to be convinced that Jesus was the king of the Jews. The focus of his writing was Jesus as Messiah and especially the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy regarding Messiah’s role as king. Even when Matthew recorded the events around His crucifixion, it was always with the understanding that Jesus died as the king of the Jews. He did not ignore the prophecies about Jesus as the Suffering Servant. He presented them in the context of His royal office and calling.
However, Jesus was a very different king from those who ruled in Israel and those who ruled over the surrounding nations. He was not a king who lorded it over His people. He was a king in the nature of God, one who loved, and one who always showed mercy to the extent that He gave His life to rescue His people from the plight of their sin. He characterised Himself as one who was gentle and humble in heart (Matt. 11:29).
Some people say that they live by the Sermon on the Mount without giving allegiance to Jesus as Lord. This is impossible without the presence of the Holy Spirit within. Jesus gives new life to those who believe in Him, and this life is lived only through the power of His Spirit. The Sermon on the Mount is not a new set of rules; it is a new way of life – internalising God’s instructions given to His people in the Old Testament so that the very disposition of Jesus, gentleness and humility, is the new disposition of the believer.
Jesus was the perfect expression of the Father in the flesh. He was bold enough to say to Philip and his fellow disciples,
Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14: 9).
On many occasions, Jesus enraged the Pharisees by claiming, “I and the Father are one.” They understood very well what He meant because they recited the Sh’mah, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4) at least twice a day and had done so for as long as they could remember. For Jesus to say that He and the Father were one meant only one thing – He was God – so He said. What was worse was that He produced the evidence although they refused to accept it.
As a Jewish rabbi, He insisted that His disciples be like Him. This was a particularly tall order for them because Jesus was unlike any other rabbi who ever walked the earth. His disciples recognised and confessed that He was indeed the Son of God (Matt. 16:16). And He wanted them to be like Him?
He gave them the prescription for having a disposition like His and acting towards people as He did. His first teaching, according to Matthew (in Matt 5), was about having a disposition of humility and mercy so that they would bend their energies towards reconciling man to God and man to man even if it brought the hatred of God’s enemies down on them.
The so-called “Beatitudes” are not meant to make His followers morbidly introspective. The devil is good at provoking us to self-condemnation. Jesus wanted His followers to understand that His life, and following Him, was a life of self-forgetful and loving service to others from a heart of mercy. We are to be generous and show mercy because of what God has done for us.
How do we hold to Jesus’ teaching? Paul explained it this way:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12: 2a).
The transformation of our disposition from selfishness and greed to generosity and mercy is a slow process. It happens as we contemplate the Lord’s glory in the Word. The more we gaze at Jesus, the more we are enthralled with His glory and the more we become like Him.
It’s a principle of life. We will eventually become like the people we watch closely. Isn’t that why Hollywood has such a powerful influence on the world? People hero worship the stars. Soon enough they begin to copy them. They don’t need help, either, because their corrupt nature is already at work in them.
The same principle is at work when we gaze at Jesus assisted by the Holy Spirit whom God has given to every believer, to reveal the glory of Jesus and to lead us into all truth. Our part is to give Him every opportunity to change us into His image as we respond to His promptings, learning from Jesus and being empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a true follower.
Being a disciple of Jesus is certainly not about obeying a new set of rules. It’s about subduing the old selfish nature by submitting to a new Master and responding to the heart of His teaching – loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and loving my neighbour as myself.
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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My second book, Learning to be a Disciple – The Way of the Master (Copyright © 2015, Partridge Publishing), a companion volume to Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart, has been released in paperback and digital format on www.amazon.com.
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