Does anyone matter more than God’s presence with us? Think about it: What could be worse than being separated from Almighty God? The Bible is filled with stories that describe the blessings that come with His presence and the horrors that accompany His rejection. God’s presence with people is a central theme of the Scriptures.
This is the best news in the world: God invites humanity into relationship with Him. However, as God makes covenants with people, it creates a serious tension. After all, isn’t it impossible for a holy God to stay connected to sinful people? At this point in the biblical storyline some important questions develop. Will God need to lower His standards? (Could He lower His standards even if he wanted to?) Will God’s people be able to live sinless lives so they can enjoy God’s presence?
Try to place yourself in the shoes of the Israelites. They quickly went from being the slaves of one of the most powerful nations on earth to being set free through a series of frightening miracles. They watched as God made fools of Egypt’s gods and Egypt’s “divine” ruler through the ten plagues. They marched out of Egypt as their former masters showered them with gifts of gold, silver, and clothing. They witnessed the impossible as God led them along dry ground through the midst of a parted sea. They saw God singlehandedly destroy the most powerful army in the region by simply unparting the sea.
As we turn the last pages of Genesis, we see God working toward the fulfillment of His promises to Abraham. God’s people had grown significantly, which was perfectly in line with His promise that Abraham’s descendants would be “as numerous as the stars in the sky.” But as soon as we start reading in the book of Exodus, it looks like something has gone wrong. Exodus begins with a significant problem: God’s people are slaves in a foreign land.
You may not realize this, but you felt the result of Adam and Eve’s sin today. In fact, you can’t go five minutes without encountering the effects of the fall. Every aspect of God’s creation has been in some way tainted or distorted by sin. Everywhere we look we see pain, rebellion, brokenness, hopelessness, despair.
We will probably all agree that studying the Bible is critical, but we may not agree on the best method of study. There is no universally accepted pattern for how Christians should interact with this book. Some approach the Bible as a textbook or rule book that gives them direction for how to live their lives. Others gravitate toward the stories and characters in the Bible as an inspiration or model for living a godly life. Still others take a more mystical approach: let if fall open to any page and you will find some spiritual encouragement or guidance to help you through the day. And then there’s the academic approach, which carefully examines each passage of Scripture to determine precisely what the original authors intended to say.
As we have said, an important part of making disciples is teaching people to obey everything Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:20). This means that we need to know Jesus’ teachings and commands. It may seem that the first disciples had an advantage on us here. How can we teach people to follow Jesus if we haven’t observed His ministry and listened to His teaching? But we are not at a disadvantage at all because God has recorded His words and the testimony of Jesus’ followers in a book – the Bible.
As important as the local church is, God’s plan extends way beyond your town. As much as God wants you to reach the people in your community, He has no intention of stopping there. God’s plan of redemption reaches into your neighborhood - and to every other city, village, and jungle around the globe!
You are on this earth to continue the mission that Jesus left for you: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” But you can’t do that on your own, nor are you expected to. God tells us to work together with the Christians He has placed in our lives to bring His healing and transformation in the life of the world. His plan of redemption involves the church working in unity to reach the people around it.
Not every culture is individualistic. But in the Western world, we tend to look up to Lone Rangers. Our heroes are strong and self-sufficient, and they tend to walk alone. Very often, the Western church tends toward this type of individualism. We hear Jesus’ call to take up our cross and follow Him, and we decide to follow no matter what anyone else says or does. Of course, this is the right response, but we need to be careful here. While EVERY INDIVIDUAL needs to obey Jesus’ call to follow, we cannot follow Jesus as INDIVIUALS. The proper context for every disciple maker is the church. It is impossible to make disciples aside from the church of Jesus Christ. Look at it from this perspective: the New Testament is full of commands to do this or that for “one another.” Love one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, etc. So how can we teach people to “observe all that I have commanded” if they have no one to love, pray for, or encourage? It’s impossible to “one another” yourself! It’s impossible to follow Jesus alone. We can’t claim to follow Jesus if we neglect the church He created, the church He died for, the church He entrusted His mission to.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we should be focusing on making disciples. But if we don’t do it with the right motives, we are wasting our time. Worse yet, we could be doing more harm than good. Ministering to other people has been a deadly trap for seemingly godly people throughout the ages. If God cared only about outward appearances and religious activities, then any effort toward ministry would please Him. But God tells us repeatedly that He cares more about the heart than the externals.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus walked up to a handful of men and said, “Follow me.”
Imagine being one of those original disciples. They were ordinary people like you and me. They had jobs, families, hobbies, and social lives. As they went about their business on the day Jesus called them, none of them would have expected his life to change so quickly and completely.
The goals of these lessons are to help you understand the Scripture and to give you the tools to disciple others in this process. We have a responsibility to grow in our love and service to God and others. This is what it means to be the church. We are not merely responsible for our own spiritual well-being; we are called to minister to the people around us, teaching them to obey all the things that Jesus commands.