What is a disciple? We use that word so much these days I’m not sure we really know what it means. I think we tend to think a disciple imitates what somebody else does – and this may well be true; after all, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” You act like people you like. You learned from your parents not just by doing what they told you to do, but by doing what they did, even if it only happens when you get to their age.
But what is a disciple? How does Jesus use the term? The term deals with learning. A disciple is one who learns. The children in our classrooms are disciples of their teachers. They’re learning from them. And yes, they might even be picking up some of their mannerisms and imitating them. They do learn from them, whether they like to admit it or not.
Today Jesus tells us to be His disciples. He wants us to learn from Him. And what do you know about this learning? You know He says in St. Matthew 11: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” And you know He says at the end of that Gospel: “Go therefore and disciple all nations, baptizing them in The Name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Ghost, teaching them to hold unto all I have instructed you.”
What does Jesus want us to learn? St. Matthew tells us in these passages that Jesus wants us to learn both Law and Gospel and everything He teaches in His Word. Let’s take a look at these things.
He wants us to learn Law and Gospel. This is the hallmark of Lutheran preaching. We preach The Law and The Gospel. The Law comes first, and it must. It exists for one reason: to show you your sins. It needs to show them to you so clearly and devastatingly that you have to say: “How then shall I be saved? I deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment for all my sins. I deserve nothing good from Him because I am sinful at my very heart and core and can never please Him enough.”
Only then can The Gospel enter in and do its work. If you have not been convicted that you are a sinner deserving eternal wrath, you won’t know your need for Christ Jesus. What has He done? He died for you. He bore in His Body all your sinfulness, all your sins, all your diseases, everything that has come about because of sin. He bore it all and was punished for it all. He suffered the very pangs of hell upon The Cross. He was punished for you and you no longer will be punished. He died and now you can’t stay dead. He rose again and you will live forever with Him.
So how should you respond? Repent of your sins and believe The Gospel. Be truly sorry for all your wrongdoings and not doings. Trust His Word that says your sins are forgiven. They truly are pardoned. God sees them no longer. If you believe these things, then He sees what Jesus has done for you – not your sins – when He looks at you.
So desire to amend your sinful life out of thanks for what He has done for you. Desire to do what is good not to earn salvation, but to please, not an angry God, but your loving, doting Father in heaven. So the the message of Law and Gospel is this: repent, believe, and live in Jesus’ grace! But He doesn’t just want us to learn Law and Gospel. He also wants us to learn everything He teaches us in Holy Scripture. Our translations of Matthew 28 fail us here. They talk about observing His commandments. Jesus actually says we should hold on to His instructions. His instructions is everything He taught His disciples, His Apostles. He didn’t just teach them things hoping something would stick. Everything He taught has a purpose and a use for salvation. He taught them God’s Law. He taught them about The Triune God and His saving work. He taught them how to pray. He taught them about Baptism, about forgiving sins, and on Maundy Thursday, about Holy Communion.
What does that sound like? It sounds like The Catechism, right? Some of our children are just starting to learn it in depth for the first time. Parents, don’t shy away from teaching it to your children when they’re little. Start them young with The Ten Commandments, The Creed, and The Lord’s Prayer. Teach them the words Jesus used to institute The Sacraments. Use Luther’s Catechism hymns to help, because music helps us remember things. And don’t just teach them the words, but teach them the importance of these things too. How? Show how they play out in your daily life, by being in God’s Word at home and at church and living as God desires.
Why teach these things? The Ten Commandments show us we have not and are not able to do what God wants us to do because we are poor, miserable sinners. The Creed shows us everything our God has done, still does, and yet will do for us, most importantly to bring us unto everlasting life. The Lord’s Prayer shows us how to communicate with our dear Father in heaven. Holy Baptism tells us how God brings us into His family. Holy Absolution tells us how God continues to forgive our sins. Holy Communion tells us how Jesus physically and concretely continues to apply His Passion and Death to us sinners that we might live eternally.
Why does Jesus want you to learn everything He instructed His Apostles about? To use the language of today’s Gospel and the courts, it’s because it’s “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” and “the truth will see you free.”
The Jews were indignant when they heard Jesus say that. They also had a severe case of selective memory and were in severe denial. After all, they had been slaves of Egypt 1500 years before, had been in Babylon about 600 years before, and were at that very moment ruled by Rome! Most importantly they were slaves to Satan because of sin. Yet they denied it all. They thought they didn’t have to worry about sin because they were Abraham’s kids. They were wrong.
You are born a slave of sin and Satan. Their balls and chains are too tight and heavy for you to escape hell. Only Christ can break them for you. That’s exactly what His Gospel does. His Blood dissolves those bonds and lifts you up from the depths of hell to heaven’s heights. It frees you. It frees you to reject the devil and all his works and ways so you can follow your Savior wherever He leads. He leads you on the path of suffering and doing good unto life eternal.
Thanks be to God! You are free! The wrath of evil would consume you if He didn’t get in its way. But His Cross guards and defends you against evil. Because of that cross your soul has escaped the net of the fowler Satan and his snare is broken, you are free. Being Jesus’ disciple, learning from Him, brings true and greatest freedom. So you are free – free to believe in Christ and enter eternal life. “Our help is ever, Lord, in Thee, Who madest earth and heaven” (TLH 267:3).