March 2018 Blog Theme: Multiplying Disciples
Jesus’ final phase in His disciple-making strategy was multiplication.
At this point in Jesus’ ministry, He pulled His disciples to a remote city in the far northern region of Israel, at the base of Mount Hermon, Caesarea Philippi. The region of Caesarea Philippi had a long history of pagan worship, dating back to the days of Abraham. Even today, you can still see the remains of ancient ritual altars to Baal, dating back thousands of years. In Jesus’ day, the city was full of pagan worship, particularly the worship of Pan: a half-goat, half-man creature who promoted every kind of sexual deviancy. According to legend, he was so terrifying that still today, we call his name when we say someone is panicked. There in the city, large temples were built in his honor, along with other pagan temples to Greek and Roman gods. The city was filled with idolatry and immorality. Also in the city, was a large grotto from which came the rushing waters of Mount Hermon that fed the north Jordan River. Many believed at that time, that this grotto was the gateway to Hades, “the underworld.”
While Jesus was there with His disciples, He asked them a question. “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9.18 ESV). The disciples gave Jesus the current popular opinion about Him. “Some say you are John the Baptist, others think you are a prophet. Even some say you are Elijah.” Then Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter boldly spoke up for the group, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” (Matthew 16.14-16 ESV). To which Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16.17-18 ESV). Jesus was declaring that no matter what evil they see in the world, be it physical or spiritual, Herod or Pan, the church Jesus was establishing would always prevail. Today, you can go back and see the ruins of the shrines to Pan — they are just a pile of rocks. You can go back and see the ancient ruins of Herod’s palace, but the church of Jesus Christ is alive and thriving!
From this point, Jesus began to resolutely set His face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9.51 ESV), and the suffering He would endure on the cross. He accurately predicted three times the death that awaited Him in Jerusalem (Luke 9.22, 43; 18.31 ESV). He called His men to be willing to suffer for the Kingdom of God. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels,” (Luke 9.23-26 ESV). In essence Jesus was saying, “If you choose to come after Me, you must deny your selfish ways, take up the cross of sacrifice and follow Me.” Jesus understood that the kingdom of God would not advance without self-denial and sacrifice.
On His way to Jerusalem, a would-be disciple came to Jesus and said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus told him plainly, “foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another came and said, “I will follow you but let me bury my father first.” Jesus replied, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as far as you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord but first permit me to say goodbye to those at home.” Jesus flatly responded “No one, after putting his hand to plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God,” (Luke 9.57-62 ESV). Jesus was calling for sacrifice.
On another occasion, Jesus taught about the cost of discipleship. He said,“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes and even his own life he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple…So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions,” (Luke 14.26-27,33 ESV). Before long, Jesus appointed 72 other disciples to go and preach in advance of His coming in the regions of Perea and Judea. The 12 had now multiplied to 72. When they returned to report all that God had done through them, Jesus was filled with joy (Luke 10.21 ESV). This is the only place in Scripture where we see that Jesus was filled with joy. What brought Jesus such exuberant joy? It was seeing the men He had trained multiplying and preaching the Gospel. He was seeing multiplication to the fourth generation: from Jesus, to the twelve, to the 72, to the masses. He was seeing the igniting of a movement!
On the night before He was betrayed, Jesus walked through a vineyard on the edge of the Mount of Olives. Probably stopping to cradle a cluster of grapes in His hand He said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father,” (John 15.5-8 ESV).
Jesus saw that one day His disciples would bear lasting fruit. One day, they would set in motion a movement of multiplication that could not be stopped. Multiplication is still what Jesus wants from those who follow Him. He wants you to multiply your life. He wants you to invite people to know Jesus and invest in people to grow in Jesus. Nothing else is more exhilarating, and nothing is more satisfying. But few followers ever really multiply their lives in others. Why? Because this kind of multiplication only comes at a high cost. It requires sacrifice. It requires self-denial. It may even require suffering. But men and women who know Jesus and are committed to multiplication at any cost, are simply unstoppable.
The early church rapidly grew because the disciples had been trained by Jesus to multiply (Acts 6.7 ESV). What about you? Are you seeing God multiply your life? Jesus started with the simple invitation “come and see”. Later, He called them to a commitment by saying, “follow Me”. Those who followed Jesus, He later invited to “come be with Me” so He could train them to walk with God. But the final invitation is, “come after Me and bear fruit”. This is the great adventure. It is in walking closely with Jesus, even in the hard times, and choosing to multiply our lives that we truly glorify God and leave a lasting legacy.
Written by Craig Etheredge
This blog is an excerpt that comes from our book Invest in a Few, which you can purchase here.