(This is from a sermon I did on July 20, 2014)
Pastor Jeremiah Steepek transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the new head pastor that morning.
He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service and only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food – no one in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.
As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation.
The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited Scripture.
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame and he dismissed the service for the following week.
In this story, the new head Pastor did not see a group of disciples of Christ but rather saw a gathering of people. But what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ and what does it look like? Why did the Pastor plot such a bold statement over not seeing disciples of Jesus Christ?
In our culture, it is normal for people to bypass a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk with an empty Tim’s cup in front of them looking for spare change…or a man who looks as if he hasn’t had a shower in quite a while sleeping on the park bench.
When we look at today’s culture the oppressed include, homelessness, poverty, racial inequality, gender inequality, and the list could go on and on really But as disciples, when we look at Jesus’ life and who He spent time with, we don’t see Him staying among the same group of people constantly but rather He was always with the down and out…the children, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, basically everyone society rejected and pushed away just like the disciples tried to do with the children in this passage. In the same way, in the culture that the disciples were part, it was normal to bypass to children because frankly, they were viewed as unimportant and insignificant.
In the ancient world, children were easily ignored and they had no status. Children added nothing to the family’s economy they simply just didn’t count. During this time you could literally throw away a child by disposing of the child at birth if it was unwanted. The unscrupulous would then gather up these disposed children, raise them and train them to be gladiators or prostitutes.
This passage says that Jesus became “indignant” towards the disciples, which means feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment. Jesus stopped the disciples and said, “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” By saying this, Jesus went against the grain of the culture, as He usually did and sent a clear message to the disciples…no one is limited to coming to Him….EVERYONE, including children is more than welcome to come to Him. The disciples meant well but Jesus did not approve.
Jesus goes against the grain here by expressing value over the children. Jesus embraces the powerless children with no status rather than dismissing them or banishing them. Jesus’ response towards the disciples not only centered on their lack of compassion, but for not seeing the greater faith picture in the children’s desire to see him. Put another way: Who does the Kingdom of God belong to? It belongs to those who come to him like little children. It belongs to those who see their need of him and embrace him without reservation.
Sometimes we can be like the disciples in the story. Perhaps not being accepting of someone because of something they did or said in the past. Perhaps their job is not at the ethical standards of Christian living and so we steer clear of those people. Or perhaps they swear like a sailor or party every weekend and that makes us uncomfortable so we crawl back into our own comfort zone and avoid reaching out to others for the sake of maintaining within our comfort zone.
In Mark 10:13-16, most often the children are the focus, but I want to focus on the disciples and really take a look at what being a true disciples means. This story in the Bible is an example of how Jesus does not want us to conduct ourselves as His ambassadors or in other words, His disciples.
The English word “ disciple” comes from the Greek word, “mathetes” which generally refers to a student or pupil. In the ancient world, “disciple” was most often associated with people who were devoted followers of a great religious leader or teacher of philosophy.
During the time of Jesus, “disciple” was most often used when describing someone who supports a person or set of ideas of a wise teacher. During this period of time, discipleship refers to people who were committed to following a great leader, imitating their way of life, and passing on their teachings.
By times, we are not conscious of the fact that we are Christ’s disciples and never really take it upon ourselves to do something about the hurt someone may be going through. This mindset is summed up very well in this little story:
One day a young woman was walking home from work when she saw a little girl standing on the street corner, begging. The little girl’s clothes were paper thin and dirty, hair matted and unclean, and her cheeks red from the cold.
The young woman dropped a few coins in the begging bowl, gave the girl a smile and walked on. As she walked she started to feel guilty. How could she go home to her warm house with its full pantry and well supplied wardrobe while this little girl shivered on the street.
The young woman also began to feel angry, angry with God. She let her feeling be known in a prayer of protest. “God, how can you let these sort of things happen? Why don’t you do something to help this girl?”
And then, to her surprise God answered. He said, “I did do something. I created you.”
2 Corinthians 5:20 says, we are Christ’s ambassadors. Therefore, if we are Christ’s ambassadors, we are representing Christ here on Earth. Where ever we may be at here on Earth, where ever we may work, go to school, whoever your family is, whoever your friends are, no matter what your circumstances are, as disciples of Christ, we are called to follow the ways and teachings of Jesus Christ, imitate the way He lived His life and pass on His teachings.
I want to challenge everyone, including myself to always be mindful that as Christians, as followers of Christ, as disciples of Christ, we are continuing Christ’s work here on Earth. That means following the way He lived His life as we read in Scripture. In other words, letting Christ shine through us in the way we live, in the way we talk, in the way we interact with others and in the way we treat others.
In all of our uniqueness, our unique spiritual gifts, or unique weakness, our unique strengths, and our unique personalities, God has called us together here in Berwick, as the body of Christ to represent Him. He has chosen to create each and every one of us during this period of time to represent Christ and to show others His love in our own unique ways. As Christians, others should see Christ through us and that cannot help but be so attractive to those looking in.
A Christian artist wrote a song entitled, “You’re the only Jesus, some will ever see” and some of the lyrics go like this:
If not you, I wonder where will they ever find the One who really cares? If not you, how will they find the One who heals the broken heart, gives sight to the blind? If not you, I wonder who, will show them love, and love alone can make things new? If not you, how will they learn there’s one who’ll trade their hopelessness for joy in return? Cause You’re the only Jesus some will ever see You’re the only words of life, some will ever read So let them see in you the One in whom is all they’ll ever need You’re the only Jesus, some will ever see.
The children and the disciples that we read about in Mark 10:13-16 were at an advantage, they actually got to SEE Jesus, they saw with their very eyes what He looked like, how He lived His life and how He treated other people. They saw something different about Him and as we read in the passage, the children were very attracted to the qualities they seen in Jesus. They saw someone who loves, someone who cares, someone who had compassion…the difference that they saw in Him, they wanted to be a part of it.
Jesus’ time as a human on Earth has ended but now He is living within us. The moment we became a Christian, Romans 8:11 says. “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you. He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.” In other words, the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead, is living in each one who has accepted Christ into their life. That is powerful. That same spirit is living within each one of us here today, and with all the other Christians in the world because we share the same Spirit. With that Spirit and the body that God has given you, in the place He has placed you, in the circle of people He has surrounded you with, we are called to be disciples of Christ. We are called to show others through the way we live that there is something different about us.
The call to Biblical discipleship presupposes salvation…that a person has believed in Christ as Lord and Savior and continues to believe in Him. But discipleship is also a summons to follow Jesus and this is, at times, no easy matter. He demands exclusive, complete, and unflinching obedience to Himself. It requires one to step out of their comfort zone most of the time. Jesus, on the other hand, pointed people to himself (and still does) and calls them to radical commitment to him. Jesus’ call to discipleship is a call to Christlikenes.
In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus absolutely did not approve of the disciples trying to shoo the children away. As Christ’s disciples, God calls us the have a childlike faith as he tells the disciples that we should receive the kingdom of God like a little child. In other words, we should have a childlike faith.
Imagine a world where all mankind had the intellect and wisdom of an adult, yet viewed things with a child like attitude: receptive, trusting, willing to learn, obedient, optimistic and unconditionally loving. This is the child like attitude all disciples are to have. Christ’s command to his disciple’s not to hinder the little children serves as a warning to us not to hinder anyone who would come to him.
Going back to the story of the pastor who dressed up as a homeless man, imagine if he was actually a homeless man and that was his first experience in coming to church. Do you think he would likely come back? Do you think that he would see Jesus in the people within that church? The fact of a matter is, our lives are on a stage, people watch the way we live. As disciples of Christ, we are representing Him and what others should see, is Jesus Christ. A professor once told me, that the loudest testimony that will speak to others is through our life. So if we genuinely come to God with a childlike faith, welcome anyone and everyone, follow the way Jesus lived His life, truly live it out in our own lives, share His message through our words and our lives, that is what it means to be a true disciple of Christ.