“Defective Discipleship” (Matthew 26:58 sermon)

Several times in recent weeks I have mentioned Martin Luther, the German Reformer of the 1500’s. After he brought the authority of the Bible, and salvation by grace through faith, back to the forefront of Christianity, he was not satisfied with the discipleship he saw going on among his people. In fact in 1529 (12 years after his Reformation began) he wrote:
“‘Dear God help us … The common man, especially in the villages, knows absolutely nothing about Christian doctrine; and indeed many pastors are in effect unfit and incompetent to teach. Yet they are all called Christians, are baptized, and enjoy the holy sacraments — even though they cannot recite either the Lord’s Prayer, the (Apostles) Creed or the (Ten) Commandments. They live just like animals.”

Somehow I get the sense that Luther was not satisfied with the discipleship he saw among the German people! But most of us would admit that Christians in America today are not the disciples that we should be, either. I finished reading the Book of Matthew the other day, and near the end of the book is a verse that really stuck out to me. It comes after the Jews had arrested Jesus, and they took Him to the high priest to be examined, and Matthew 26:58 says:

“But Peter was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and entered in, and sat down with the officers to see the outcome.”

In this verse we see several ways that Peter fell short as a disciple, that should challenge us too, not to be “defective disciples”:

I. “Distant Discipleship”

Verse 58 says that Peter was “following Him AT A DISTANCE.” Why was he following “at a distance”? Undoubtedly because he didn’t want to be associated with Jesus too closely. Jesus had just been arrested by the Jews, and who knew what was going to happen to Him; He might be put to death — and what would happen to His followers then? THEY might be harmed or put to death too. So Peter evidently thought it prudent to just follow “at a distance” — not to get too close to Jesus, so he didn’t have to suffer anything from an association with Him. He practiced a “distant discipleship,” he “followed” Jesus “at a distance.”

That seemed to be kind of cowardly. But don’t many of us today have the same policy? Like Peter we are supposed to be committed to Jesus — we’ve said we’ve given our lives to Him — but also like Peter we know that if we follow the Lord too closely, it might just cost us something, and so we’re careful not to associate ourselves with Him too much; we just follow, like Peter did, “at a distance.”

The “distant disciple” doesn’t want to embarrass himself by being known as a follower of Jesus. He doesn’t want to be labeled as too “radical”, or as a “fanatic,” or whatever.  This kind of person still claims to be a follower of Jesus, but often times they are “following at such a distance” that it can be very difficult to tell if they are really His disciple at all!

It’s like the beauty queen contestant I mentioned a few months ago, who showed up at a Christian event at her high school, and one of her classmates said to her: “Wow, I didn’t expect to see YOU here; I didn’t know that YOU were a Christian!” What happened? Evidently she’d been “following at a distance” — no one knew she was supposed to be a disciple!

And many of us who claim to be “followers” of Jesus, are following at that same kind of distance. There are a lot of ways that we can practice “distant discipleship”:

One way is by never being baptized. Baptism is supposed be the first “public identification” of a believer with the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism is where you say for the first time, “I am identifying my life with Jesus Christ.” He is my Lord & Savior. He was baptized, so I am going be baptized. He commanded it of His followers, so I am going to obey and do it. He died, was buried, and was resurrected, so I am going to follow Him in that picture of His death, burial, and resurrection, in the waters of baptism. I will publicly confess Him as my Lord in baptism. Baptism was meant to be the time when His disciples identify themselves publicly with Jesus. If you are not willing to be baptized, you are doing just what Peter did: you are “following at a distance”, unwilling to really identify yourself with Jesus as your Lord.

Or maybe you have been baptized, but there are other ways you can be “following at a distance,” and not getting too close to Jesus:

— Maybe you never talk about Jesus on the job, or with your family or friends. Maybe you don’t want to embarrass yourself, or appear to be “radical,” or “too religious, or whatever. So you don’t talk about Him.
— Or maybe you don’t line up with His word when controversial issues like abortion or homosexuality come up. There’s a lot of media and peer pressure to conform to the prevailing, popular views on these things today, so it is easy just not to say anything. Just “follow at a distance.”

There’s a whole lot of ways to do that: you can claim to be a follower of Jesus, but the truth is, many of us are “following at such a distance” that if you ARE His follower, no one can tell it!

What about YOU? Do people at work, or at your school, or in your neighborhood, know that you’re a Christian? Or have you been “following at such a distance” that no one even knows you’re supposed to be a believer? The truth is, if you are following so far away from Jesus that no one even knows it, then you are not really following Jesus at all! Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” If you are really going to be a Christian, you can’t follow at such a distance that no one knows it. You can’t be ashamed to say you belong to Jesus. You’ve got to be willing to confess Him publicly. You’ve got to identify with Him in baptism. You’ve got to be willing to hold to His word in the world.

Listen: there are growing numbers of people in our society today, who parade down the main streets of our cities, proudly proclaiming that they practice the most vile perversions that have ever been dreamed of under the sun — while at the same time, many of us who are supposed to be God’s people are “following at such a distance” behind Jesus that no one even knows we’re His followers! We blush to speak His name; we don’t stand up for His word. You can’t “follow at such a distance” that nobody even knows you’re a Christian, and think you are really a disciple of Jesus. “Following at a distance” is “defective discipleship;” it is not being a real disciple of Jesus.

II. “Limited Discipleship”:

:58 then continues and indicates that as Peter “followed at a distance,” that he went “AS FAR AS the courtyard of the high priest.” This is very revealing too. Here Peter had set “limits” on how far he would go in following Jesus. Evidently he had somehow decided: “I’m going to go this far with Jesus — just as far as the courtyard — but no more. That’s all I’m going to do” Anything else, he had decided, was going too far. He had put limits on how far he was going to go in following the Lord.

Unfortunately, again, many of us today who claim to be Jesus’ disciples have put similar kinds of limitations on what we will do for Him. We’ve said, yes, I’ve committed my life to Jesus, but I’ll only serve Him within certain boundaries. We limit our commitment to Him all the time, by saying things like:

— “I’ll try to obey Jesus — UNLESS it makes me feel too uncomfortable; or costs me too much; or starts to make me unpopular.”

— “I’ll go to church, but not Sunday School;” or “I’ll only go on Sunday morning; no Sunday nights, or Wednesday nights.” See, whenever we say things like that, we are limiting our discipleship: we’re telling God we’ll do just this much — and no more.

— We limit or commitment in all kinds of ways. We’ll say: “I’ll help with a ministry — but not with children!” Or “I’ll serve in our church HERE, but I won’t go on a mission trip.”  Or “I will go on a mission trip — anywhere but Africa” — or all kinds of other limitations we put on what we will do for God.

— We do that with our finances: “I’ll give something, but I can’t tithe the whole 10%.” Or “I’ll tithe, but I’m not giving extra to the building fund, or ‘Acts 1:8.’” We’re limiting our financial commitments to God — who, by the way, gives us every penny we have, and asks us to give back to His work as a sign of our commitment to Him. But we put limits on it.

We limit our discipleship in all kinds of ways. We say things like:
— “I won’t marry a minister”, or “I won’t be a missionary,” or (I’ve heard this:) “I won’t let my KIDS go into ministry or missions.” Or “I’ll go into ministry, but only if it’s near my family.”
— Or “I’ll go make a visit or minister, but not during my football game.”
— Or “I’ll take a class, but I won’t memorize any verses”
— Or “I know God’s forgiven me, but I won’t forgive that other person; they just hurt me too much.”
Or a thousand other things. Maybe God’s Holy Spirit is bringing to your mind right now something you yourself have said — or maybe you haven’t even SAID it out loud, because it sounds so bad — but YOU KNOW in your heart that you have limited your commitment to God in some way. You have said like Peter: “I’ll go this far and no farther.” Whatever limitation you have put on what you will do the Lord, that too is “defective discipleship.”

“Limited Discipleship” is really not “discipleship” at all. Because when Jesus is truly your “Lord,” that means that you are committed to do WHATEVER He tells you to do. The word “Lord” means to be “Master,” “King,” “Boss.” If someone is your Master or your King, you do what they say. That’s the very nature of it.

Archie Leach was born in England, but came to the United States and became the famous actor, Cary Grant. Grant loved our country, and when the Second World War broke out, he volunteered for military service. He said he would do whatever our government wanted him to do. In fact, he put out a public statement: “Whatever Uncle Sam orders my utilization to the best purposes, there I will willingly go, as should every other man. I feel that Uncle Sam knows best.”
Now what if he had said, “I love this country. I’ll go wherever our government wants me to go, and do anything they want me to do — EXCEPT I won’t go in the navy.” Or “except I won’t go to the South Pacific.” Or “except I won’t load trucks” — or whatever. Well that’s not really serving in the military, is it? When you’re in the service, you don’t get to say “I’ll do this but not that.” When you are in the military, you have to OBEY.

Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” If Jesus is our Lord, that means we are to obey Him — in WHATEVER He calls us to do. No limits. The genuine Christian should have the attitude that Mary told the servants to have at the wedding at Cana in John 2. She told them: “Whatever He says to you, DO IT!” THAT is the kind of commitment we are to have to the Lord:
— “Whatever He says to you, do it.”
— “Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go.”
— Whatever He asks for I’ll give.
No limits. A “Limited Discipleship” in which you say to God, “I will go so far and no farther” is really not discipleship at all. If you’re telling God what you will and will not do for Him — then He is not your Lord; YOU are! You’re instructing HIM as to what you’ll do. That’s not Lordship. And the truth is, you are not His disciple at all. A real disciple is committed to do whatever His Master tells him — NO limits. (That’s why Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to sell all his possessions. Jesus doesn’t command that of all His disciples. He was testing that young man: would he do ANYTHING Jesus asked him — even if it was the biggest thing in his life? And he failed the test. He wouldn’t do it. And the Bible says Jesus let him “go away sorrowful.” You can’t be a “limited disciple.”

Some of us here today need to decide: are you going to be a real disciple of Jesus, or not? There’s no “halfway.” “Limited Discipleship” is a contradiction in terms. It is “defective discipleship.” And it is really not “discipleship” at all.

III. “Spectator Discipleship”

Verse 58 concludes by saying that Peter then sat down “to SEE the outcome.” When they brought Jesus to the high priest, Peter was content to be an observer in whatever was going to unfold for Jesus. But evidently he didn’t plan to PARTICIPATE in any way which might affect the outcome. He wasn’t going to fight for Him; he wasn’t going to testify for Him; doesn’t even appear that he was going to PRAY for Him! He was just going to SIT there, and “see the outcome.” He was a spectator, and not a participant — and there’s a big difference between the two.

I noticed this again a little farther along in the story, in Matthew 27, when Jesus was on the cross, and He called out “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani” (“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”). Verse 48 says “Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink.” But :49 says “But the rest of them said, “Let us SEE whether Elijah will come to save Him.’” Do you notice the difference there? The first man heard what Jesus said, thought He was thirsty, and DID something about it: he ran and gave Him something to drink. But the others said: “Let us SEE whether Elijah will come …”. They weren’t going to DO anything about it; they were just going to “see.” They were just going to be spectators.

And unfortunately, many people who attend our churches in America have adopted this kind of defective, “spectator discipleship.” They say they are followers of Jesus, but what they call being a “disciple” mostly just means they come to watch church for an hour a week. They come to watch the show, and go home, and think that is what being a disciple of Jesus is: being a “spectator.” They come to church to watch the Sunday “event” just like a fan watches a football game. But like Peter at Jesus’ trial, they aren’t really DOING anything to contribute to the outcome.

Are you a “spectator disciple”? You might be, if you leave church and talk about how “good” the worship service was (or was NOT!) Why do we do that? Why do we critique the worship service the way a critic would evaluate a play or a musical? We need to remember that we are not here on Sunday mornings to come to a “show” to be “entertained,” where we can “judge” how “good” the entertainers were! We aren’t singing or preaching or leading this service for your entertainment. We are supposed to all come to this service to BRING our worship to GOD! If you’re going to “judge” ANYTHING about the service, then judge how well YOU are participating in what is going on:
— Are you joining in during the singing time, or do you just stand there judging everyone else’s voices?
— Are you praying during the prayer time, or just listening to someone else pray?
— Are you listening to the message to make changes in your life; or are you just evaluating the pastor’s enunciation?
— Did you come to give a sacrificial offering that pleased God?
— Did you volunteer to DO something that was listed in the bulletin or in our mission opportunities?
If you did, then you are really a “participant.” But if all you do is walk in, listen, go home and critique what went on, then you are just a spectator. And Jesus did not call us to “come to church and be spectators.” Now, in all fairness, that IS how many religious people have taught Christianity for a few generations: if you “come to church” three times a week, you’re a “good Christian.” But that’s not what Jesus asked us to do. He said “Follow Me!” Come after Me. Fish for men. Serve people. DO what I do. Are you doing that — or are you just a spectator? “Spectator discipleship” is “defective discipleship.” Again; it is not really being a disciple at all.
So think about what we’ve seen here this morning. Is YOUR life characterized by any of these kinds of “defective discipleship”?
— Are you following Jesus “at a distance,” so that hardly anybody really knows that you’re a Christian?
— Have you limited what you will do for the Lord in some way?
— And are you guilty of being a “spectator,” who critiques, but doesn’t really DO what Jesus has called you to do?

If any of these things is true for you, then you’ve got a case of “defective discipleship,” and you need to recommit your life to the Lord today. You may need to commit yourself to Him, really, for the very first time.
The solution for “defective discipleship” is REAL DISCIPLESHIP. What does being a REAL disciple of Jesus mean? Jesus told us, in several places in scripture:
— In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Real discipleship means you commit yourself to really follow Jesus.
— He said in Matthew 10:37 “He who loves father and mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” Real discipleship means that Jesus is the #1 priority of our life — even over our own family.
— Jesus said “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not do what I say? Real discipleship obeys Jesus, and DOES what He says.
A real disciple has NO “DISTANCE;” NO LIMITS; NO SPECTATORS. But he is really committed to follow Jesus.

But here’s the thing: even the best followers of Christ have “defective discipleship” to some degree. We all fall short. Thank God that our salvation does not depend on how great a disciple WE are; but on how gracious a God HE is! “For by grace are you saved, through faith … NOT of works.” When you truly give your life to Jesus and become His disciple,, you are saved by what HE did on the cross, and not how good your discipleship is. That’s not to become an excuse to be a lazy, distant, limited, spectator disciple — but when we ARE those things, like Peter was; thank God we “Defective Disciples” may still be saved by His grace!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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1 Response to “Defective Discipleship” (Matthew 26:58 sermon)

  1. Nancy says:

    I hope I’m wrong, but then again I know we are told of end times, but sure seems American Christians are lacking in discipleship. I see and hear of the things going on in news and I am thankful my grandfather is in heaven and not a witness to our times.

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