In Matthew’s Great Commission Jesus tells his disciples how to make disciples.
I started this series telling a story about a young woman approaching me on a snowy evening. She used a fake million dollar bill to ask me the million dollar question. She wanted to know where I would go if I died that night. Her goal was to get me to say a prayer. She though that would fulfill the Great Commission and make me a disciple.
But that is not what Jesus had in mind.
Instead, Jesus sends his followers back to their everyday lives. But as they live, he calls on them to see and engage with the world from a different perspective. Just as he opened his ministry with an invitation to repent, he closes it asking his followers to live differently.
Defending the Faith
Years after standing on that mountain with Jesus, a disciple named Peter wrote a letter to Christians living in modern day Turkey. Peter’s letter makes it clear they were experiencing persecution for their beliefs. I will admit, some of what he writes rightly offends our 21st Century perspective. But ultimately, the letter aims to encourage these followers of Jesus to faithfully live differently in their world. He writes:
But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.1 Peter 3:14–16, NRSV
Today we often interpret these words about defending your faith as having rational arguments to prove Christianity correct. In fact, the rest of the text on that million dollar bill aimed to just that. It sought to preemptively defend my potential objections. It aimed to logically shoehorn me into believing that Jesus died to forgive my sins.
But that is not what Peter wrote. These Christians experienced something akin to the powerful elites confronting John the Baptist out in the wilderness. They recognize the life Christians promote, if embraced by the masses, will subvert the power structures of the ancient world. At some level, that is what was starting to happen in that community. In contemporary language, I would argue that the way of love was speaking truth to power.
Peter describes a situation where someone is offended by the Christian decision to live according to love. They come demanding to know why Christians live that way. The Christian defense is not to try and argue someone into faith. It is a call to kindly share how Jesus’ teaching changes the way they see the world.
Fulfilling the Great Commission
This explains why people in the community would abandon what they knew and embrace a different perspective on life. I assume some of those who came as persecutors found the defense compelling and became disciples as well.
Christianity started as a largely secret gathering in Jerusalem. But through this kind of discipleship, is expanded to gatherings in nine cities across the Roman Empire within ten years of Jesus’ death. Sixty years later, there were more than a hundred such gatherings. By the year 300, Christians accounted for ten percent of the Roman Empire. All because Jesus invites us to explore a different way of being in the world.
So as I move forward here, I invite you to join me as I sit under Jesus’ teaching. Take up residence in what he has to say. Imagine how the world looks from a different perspective. Ask yourself how life might be if you embraced the wisdom he shares. We will start with the Sermon on the Mount.
This post is part of an ongoing series. Link here for a list of every episode in this series.