January 6, 2014
Over the last months, I have been thinking about the first disciples and some of the changes they went through early on in their walk of faith. They were with Jesus for about three and a half years, witnessing the great things He did, listening to Him preach, teach, tell parables, and seeing Him perform miracles.
They lived an incredibly exciting life, a very different life from that of the average person. They had a special relationship with Jesus. They were personally taught by Him. They took part in His ministry. They saw Him up close and personal. They knew there were only five loaves and two fishes, but they passed out enough to feed 5,000; and another time seven loaves and a few small fish fed 4,000. Can you imagine how incredible that must have been?
Traveling with Him, being taught by Him, hearing revelations direct from His mouth to their ears, seeing Him heal the sick, being challenged by, and challenging the scribes and Pharisees, overturning the moneychangers’ tables, raising the dead, all must have been electrifying. Talk about an amazing lifestyle!
They were expecting it to continue on until Jesus became king, and when He did, they were going to be right there with Him, with power and glory. That’s why they would have discussions, probably arguments, as to which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom, who would sit at His right hand. Because if He was going to be king, then they were going to be prestigious and influential. People would come to them for patronage, for favors. They would be rich and famous and important. They would be powerful.
They finally come to Jerusalem, and the crowds spread their cloaks and branches on the ground as Jesus, riding on a colt, comes into town. The people are shouting: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!1 What excitement! What expectations the disciples must have had. Their future was set, everything was going great, and it was only going to get better and better.
And then … wham! Jesus is arrested!
Less than 24 hours later, He’s dead. What a shock. From one day to the next, everything changes. All of their hopes are dashed, the lifestyle they were used to and their expectations for the future are destroyed. It’s over, it’s all changed. The whole atmosphere, the whole culture, everything that they had, is now gone! It must have been incredibly difficult. I can’t even imagine what they were going through. They didn’t understand, they were fearful, they hid.
Of course, three days later He was with them again. What a joy that must have been! For the next forty days He explains more from Scripture, and they begin to understand the changes they are facing, as well as the task before them.
Then He ascends into heaven and days later the Holy Spirit descends upon them, and the witnessing explosion begins. They powerfully preach. Five thousand converts one day. Three thousand another. They’re bunched up there in Jerusalem, with lots of new disciples whom they are teaching and training. They’re gathering people in, they’re staying together, they’re sharing all things, they’re living Acts 2:44–45, All that believed were together. Eventually there are problems; people begin to murmur and complain. They have to build some kind of structure; they elect deacons to help take care of the personal problems, they develop rules, etc.
Jesus had commissioned them to go into all the world, to make disciples of all nations. He said that after the Holy Spirit had come, they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the world.
They started off in Jerusalem, and from the sounds of it, they had their hands full for a while with so many immediate converts. It took time before they started heading out into the rest of the world. When reading the book of Acts, one can get the impression that these events happened quickly. That they were in Jerusalem getting filled with the Holy Spirit and then a few weeks later they were in Antioch, and not long after that the apostle Paul was taking the Gospel to Turkey and Greece. But actually all of this took years. Most likely there were things they needed to learn while working together to teach, train, and manage all of those first converts—things that would help them do the job when they were going to be more on their own.
The time came when they had to disperse, when the disciples had to go to other lands and other people. They had lived and worked together for years, they had a common history, they were friends, comrades in arms, and now it was time to leave one another, to move on and take the Gospel to new horizons.
Things changed. It was time to head out and to go, perhaps alone or perhaps with a handful of others, to where Christianity didn’t exist, where people hadn’t heard about Jesus. In a sense they had to start all over. They moved away from their friends and didn’t have the backing of large communities. They had to start from scratch, meet new people, witness to them, build a work from the ground up. They needed to survive in a new situation. They had to start witnessing and winning all over again. It must have been terribly lonely. It must have been a huge challenge. It must have been so different from what they were used to. But it was those men and women who brought the Gospel to the places where God had led them to, and who caused the teachings and message of Jesus to be spread throughout the world.
They witnessed, they preached, they taught, they won, they built communities, and the faith carried on. They had to do what they could day by day to bring the faith to others. And they did. It was different from their past. It was probably more difficult, and it no doubt took time for them to start over, to adjust to the changes; but they were committed to doing their part, to doing the mission where God had led them.
He’s still calling His followers to preach the Gospel, to make disciples. He wants to use you to reach your world. Wherever you are, whatever He’s called you to do, you can reach your world, those who are around you, those that He brings across your path.
The Lord wants you to use your gifts in a way that you can brightly shine. You have gifts, talents, and abilities that are unique to you, which make up who you are. God wants you to use them for His glory, for the good of others, to change your world and theirs.
Some people are gifted in music, others in business, some in physically caring for others; some are good at communicating with people, others are experts at caring for children, some are great at listening to others; others have hobbies which make for opportunities to meet others. Whatever your gift, whatever your talent, whatever your passion, the Lord can use it as a means to assist you in reaching others with His love and message.
Besides your talents being used in a way that is a blessing to others, He wants them to be a blessing to you as well. It’s often been said that the ideal job is the job where you can use your gifts, where you can do the things that you are good at and that you enjoy doing. What better way to do the mission throughout your life than combining your talents with bringing people into the kingdom of heaven?
He’s given you those talents, and as disciples, as Christians, He’s called you to reach people. We’re called to share the good news with others. Your mission may be your hometown. Your mission may be a faraway mission field. You are called to “the world” He has led you to, those you interact with, whether it’s at a job, or at a park with your children, or even to your children, or in full-time ministry work. You are called to reach those in your world, those you come into contact with, who may have the same interests or who may belong to the same club you do.
No matter where God has led you in your life, the world around you is your mission field for as long as He has you there. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be engaged in full-time ministry, but as you interact with others, there will be opportunities to meet those you can witness to, pray for, influence for good, bring salvation to, and teach and train.
I imagine that when the disciples went out, when they were more on their own than they had been in the past, they felt alone and wondered how in the world they would make a difference. It was hard, probably discouraging at times, but they witnessed, they preached, they taught, they won others to the Lord, and in time, over the years, they built up communities of believers. They made new networks, new friends, they influenced those around them, and because they did what they could day by day, year after year, Christianity grew and was passed on from generation to generation.
They may have felt alone, but they weren’t. You may feel alone at times in your life, but you’re not. The Lord is with you, and if you’re following Him, going where He’s shown you to go, doing what He’s shown you to do, then you can have the confidence that no matter what the situation is right now, He’s there. He wants to, and will, use you to make a difference in your world.
God wants you to make a difference in your world. You have the opportunity to do so by doing what He’s called you to do, living the life He’s called you to live, letting your light shine, influencing those around you, sowing the seeds of faith in people’s lives, giving them Jesus, walking with them on their spiritual path, and making disciples of those who feel the call. It may take time, but it’s doing your part day by day that’s going to help you change the world around you, by changing the hearts of those the Lord has brought into your life. That’s our calling. That’s the mission.
Originally published October 2011. Adapted and republished January 2014.
Read by Jerry Paladino.
1 Mark 11:9–10 ESV.
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