Discipleship Difficulties


Recently we have been on a Chuck binge at our house. Chuck was an action comedy that was on a few years back about a guy named—you guessed it—Chuck, a mild-mannered nerd and Stanford dropout working tech support at a Los Angeles Buy More (a barely veiled Best Buy) when his former college roommate turned rogue CIA agent e-mails him a virus called “the Intersect” that implants the entire U.S. intelligence network into his brain. Chuck ends up under the protection of two rival agents, Sarah Walker of the CIA and John Casey of the NSA, whose job is not only to keep Chuck and the Intersect out of enemy hands but also to use him to help identify and eliminate threats to national security. Adventures and hilarity ensue.

One of the running themes of the show is that Chuck needs to learn how to be an agent for the CIA. So Sarah and Casey basically serve as his mentors who disciple him in the life of a secret government agent. While the Intersect has the capability to give him all the information and skill he needs in the field, his lack of training, discipline, and trouble controlling his emotions get in the way of the Intersect doing its job. In other words just because he has all the information and potential ability to be a spy, he still needed to learn the practice of it.

Much of the comedy revolves around the messes and mishaps that arise in Chuck’s training because his personal problems, life challenges, and attacks from enemy agents that are out to get him. More than once Sarah and Casey found themselves not really knowing what to do with him.

Like mentoring Chuck in the life of a government agent often became messy and confusing, there is a messy side to Christian discipleship too, because helping people grow in their understanding and practice of loving God and loving others, and helping them mature so that they are making disciples themselves is not often a neat and tidy process, and for similar reasons—personal problems, life problems, and spiritual attacks.

Paul likened discipleship to giving birth in Galatians 4:19. In fact the Galatians were so messed up that Paul—that most venerable apostle—exclaimed in the following verse that he was perplexed. That translation of the Greek, though accurate is rather sanitized. The meaning is “having no recourse, no resource, no way out.” Paul is effectively saying, I don’t know what to do with you (CJB). Discipling people can be messy.

Another passage that shows the truth of this is Matthew 16:13-23. Jesus asks the disciples who people think He is. The answers range the gambit from John the Baptist to Elijah to Jeremiah.

But what about you? He asks.

Peter, who speaks for the group, answers You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16, NIV).

Jesus is extremely pleased with His answer because the only way He could come to that conviction was that God the Father had given him that knowledge Himself, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven (Matthew 16:17, NIV). This was a real sign that Peter was spiritually growing.

Discipleship starts with illumination. There are two parts to that. The first is the illumination that comes from Scripture and what Christ was teaching them. That knowledge comes from being a student of Jesus, learning His yoke—His interpretation of Scripture and His way of life. The second is not taught or acquired by human effort but only by God’s grace. This illumination adds conviction and trust, love and affection, desire and devotion to the knowledge gained in being students of Christ. By being disciples of Jesus they learned the facts of Jesus teaching and way of life. Through the grace of the Father they became convinced that Jesus was more than a man, more than a prophet, that He was the Messiah and the Son of God. Without that second spiritual knowledge, it is not possible to really understand who Jesus is. Peter’s answer showed that the Father was at work in Peter’s heart, revealing to him who Jesus really was.

Then Jesus goes on to say in verses 18-19 (NIV),

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

What is this rock? Is it Peter, his confession, or is it Christ? I think the simplest answer is “yes.” It is hard to take Peter out of the equation here, Jesus certainly is referring to his confession that Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus is the Rock, the foundation, and builder of the church. What Jesus was going to do through them would be something so great that no power or enemy or allegiance thereof would be able to overthrow it.

Does it get any better than that? Then Jesus says something I think blew Peter’s mind, Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah (Matthew 16:20, NIV). They knew the truth, but for now they were to keep it to themselves. Then after telling them to keep this divine revelation to themselves, He makes a second unexpected turn, He starts teaching them that because He was the Messiah, He had to go to Jerusalem where He would suffer and die; but on the third day He would rise from the dead (Matthew 16:21).

No doubt emboldened by being told he had received special revelation from God about the identity of Jesus and the great pronouncements Jesus made to him because of it, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him. Translation, he tells Jesus that was a bunch of bologna.

If Peter received the highest praise Jesus could give in verses 17-19, a mere 4 verses later he gets the most stinging rebuke Jesus ever gives one of His disciples. Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:23, NIV).

Notice…

The highs and lows. How high the high was and how low the low was. Within these few verses Peter is seen at his best and at his worst.

That it happened on a dime. One minute Peter was being praised for his confession, the next he was being soundly rebuked.

In spite of being with Jesus and learning His interpretation of Scripture for so long, he was unable to reconcile his understanding of the messiah with Jesus’ understanding of it. Peter was caught up in worldly concerns, hopes, and ideas.

That there was a spiritual attack involved. Jesus recognized that Satan was behind what Peter was saying. This was not merely a case of Peter misunderstanding Jesus, but of Peter being deliberately misled by Satan in order to tempt Jesus to leave off His road.

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