The last words of Matthew's gospel are 'the Great Commission', recorded for us as well as for the first disciples: all Christ's followers are to call others to follow Jesus, so that they in turn may receive all that Jesus has so dearly bought for them. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus; but everyone has to choose whether or not to accept his authority. Only when he is on the throne of our lives can we enter his kingdom, and only when we are in his kingdom can we find true fulfilment.
The first disciples knew something of Christ's authority. In Luke 5:1-11 we read how Jesus commandeered Simon Peter's boat for use as a pulpit. Peter and his unnamed companions (almost certainly including his brother Andrew) became a captive audience and could not help hearing all Jesus' teaching. As Jesus spoke about what the reign of God would be like, one can imagine the hard bitten fishermen, tired and despondent after a futile night's fishing, thinking, 'Fine words, but they won't help me feed my family.' Nevertheless, his words must have impressed Peter sufficiently for him only to make a token protest when asked to let the nets down again. The resultant catch did more than astonish Peter. It made him realise that Jesus was no ordinary man; that he who taught about the reign of God exhibited that reign in his actions. Suddenly, he was frightened of Jesus, and uncomfortably aware of his own failure to submit to God's authority - 'Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!' (How could Jesus go away - he was in Peter's boat!) But Jesus reassured him, and summoned him to a greater work. The fishermen left their employment for the riskier - or safer? - business of following Jesus.
The work of 'catching men' did not start in earnest until Jesus had left them physically and ascended into heaven. Jesus had come from heaven to bring people back to God as citizens of heaven. The amazing plan of God is for us to be involved in this great mission. Christ has done the hard part by his death and resurrection; now he sends us with the good news of what he has done to do our part in building the kingdom of God, under his direction and with his infinite resources. Although he is not with us physically, yet he is with us always, and we can rely on him.
The Bible does not tell us how to make more disciples. It does not give us a programme to follow. The story of the New Testament is of the Holy Spirit at work through the disciples doing what came naturally. Programmes such as 'Alpha' and 'Lost for Words' can help; but they are useless without Christians being open to God and willing to risk sharing the good things they have received, in love and trusting obedience as the Spirit leads them. God is working out his purpose of salvation; and we have the amazing privilege of being his agents!
ISSUES AND QUESTIONS
How important is it to be under Christ's authority?
Why is following Jesus worth while? How much can we say about it to other people?
IDEAS FOR MEETINGS
How did you start following Jesus? If you have not started, what might persuade you?
Read the following story:
'Colin Holtum went from Coventry to Kenya in January this year, to take part in a mission among the Maasai. The team went to help a church which started four years ago, when two Maasai men had a dream about Jesus in the same night, and became Christians. Neither knew what had happened to the other, but both felt compelled to go and tell others about Jesus, and by 'chance' met each other on the road. They didn't know much - but they told people what they knew, and now there are four churches in that neighbourhood where before there were none. Colin reported that people were very responsive to the story of Jesus while the team was there, and many became Christians. God is working among the Maasai!'
If anyone in the group knows another story of how God is bringing people to faith in Jesus, let them share it. Then spend a moment thinking about your own areas, and ask people to thank God for what he is doing there - even if they can't see it yet. (They can thank God silently or aloud.)
Finally pray for those areas, or use this prayer:
Mission belongs to you, O God.
The ground is holy
Because you are already there.
All we are and all we do in faith
Is dependent on you
And the victory is already won.
We place ourselves in your hands
And ask you to keep us in readiness
For the time you want us to serve you
And that you will give us all that we need to do the task. Amen.