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Lesson 4: Lessons From Would-be Disciples *

Introduction: Admit it. Sometimes you just feel lazy. Sometimes you feel comfortable and don't want to change. Sometimes change seems too complicated. Sometimes change seems not to be worthwhile. Recently, I have made some very big changes. After 30 years of litigation, I started as a new teacher in law school. After decades, the Holy Spirit broke through my logic to show an area of sin in my life. I repented and changed. My work change has been costly. It costs me much of my free time, it costs me a lot of money because I now have to rent a second home. It costs me time with my wife. As I write this I'm laying in bed with a physical injury that I doubt I would have had at my old office. Is the change worth it? Oh, yes! Jesus' call to us as disciples is a call to change. Let's jump into our lesson and study a group of men who were reluctant to change and follow Jesus.

  1. The Scribe

    1. Read Matthew 8:18-20. This man volunteers to be a disciple of Jesus. Why does Jesus respond by talking about animals? (Jesus informs the scribe that He does not have a home.)

      1. What does Jesus' reply have to do with the scribe's offer? The scribe did not ask Jesus about living accommodations. (Jesus wants the man to see the full picture involved in this change. The scribe was probably delighted to hear the teachings of Jesus. But, before he impulsively changed to become a disciple, Jesus wants him to understand that this is not a luxury tour.)

    2. The Bible does not record how the scribe responded. What do you think, did he follow Jesus? (I doubt it. Jesus knew his heart and knew the scribe would decide the change was not worth while.)

  2. The Digger

    1. Read Matthew 8:21-22. This fellow had already made some sort of decision to follow Jesus because he is referred to as "another disciple." Do you think Jesus is being a little harsh?

      1. The IVP Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament notes that one of the eldest son's most basic responsibilities was to bury his father. Is Jesus telling this son not to honor his father by being sure the father is properly buried?

      2. Read Ephesians 6:2-3. Is Jesus opposing one of the Ten Commandments and the writings of Paul? (We should not assume the father is dead. The Jewish culture buries its dead immediately. If this fellow's father had just died, he would not be hanging around listening to Jesus. Instead, the most likely story is that this disciple wants to wait to follow Jesus until after his father dies. This was an issue with Abraham. See Genesis 11:31-12:5)

  3. Nicodemus

    1. Read John 3:1. What does this tell you about the social status of Nicodemus? (He was a prominent fellow. A religious and political leader.)

    2. Read John 3:2. Nicodemus says nice things about Jesus, but does not reveal why he wants to meet. Why do you think Nicodemus wanted to have a private meeting with Jesus? Was he considering becoming a disciple of Jesus?

      1. Was Nicodemus considering a change in his life?

    3. Look at John 3:2 again. Should Jesus have been insulted or complimented by Nicodemus' opening line? (This is a "damned by faint praise" problem. Nicodemus meant it as a compliment. But, it is a compliment for a prophet, not the Messiah.)

    4. Read John 3:3. Wait a minute! This verse starts out, "In reply Jesus declared." How is this statement a reply to Nicodemus' statement Jesus was from God?

      1. Step back from this just a moment. What reasons did you decide Nicodemus came to see Jesus? Did he show up to tell Jesus "we know you are a teacher from God?" (No. I doubt that handing out compliments to people he did not know was very high on Nicodemus' list of priorities. Nicodemus wanted to find out if Jesus was the Messiah. He wanted to find out if Jesus was the one to follow.)

      2. Now, let me ask again, is Jesus' statement in verse 3 a "reply?" (Yes. Jesus is "cutting to the chase." He knows Nicodemus is there to find out more about the kingdom of God and Jesus' role in it. Jesus goes straight to the point by saying "You must change. You are not part of the Kingdom of God unless you are "born again." No need for us to be discussing the finer points of the Kingdom if you are not part of it.")

    5. Let's continue and add verse 4. Read John 3:3-4. Put yourself in Nicodemus' place again. Would you be insulted by Jesus' reply? (Irritated, if not insulted. Certainly, the conversation is not going the right way. You are a very important person. Jesus should be delighted to have a conference with you. Instead, Jesus seems to be questioning your adequacy. He says change is needed for salvation and discipleship.)

      1. Do you think Nicodemus is serious in his question? (It is so obvious that a person could not literally be born again. I think Nicodemus is being defensive. According to several commentaries, Nicodemus would have understood the need for a "new birth" for Gentiles who wanted to be converted to Judaism, but it would not make any sense for Jews. The suggestion would be particularly inappropriate for an important Jewish leader like him. He did not see that he needed to change.)

    6. Read John 3:5. Jesus now makes plain what He means by being "born again." What is it? (To be "born of water and the Spirit.")

      1. Do you think Nicodemus understood what Jesus was saying? (Read John 4:1-2. Since Nicodemus had been keeping up with Jesus' miracles, he surely kept up with the reports of Jesus' conversions. My bet is that Nicodemus knew that being "born of water" meant baptism.)

    7. Read John 3:6. Would Nicodemus want to be baptized? (No. This would seem to be a huge admission he was unworthy. He was a religious leader, not part of the rabble. His proud heart would resist this. This is why "flesh gives birth to flesh." Human hearts naturally resist the gospel.)

    8. Let's touch base with the theme of this series - discipleship. Nicodemus believes he is on the right course, he is just looking for more information to determine if Jesus is the Messiah. Nicodemus wants to refine his Godly life. Instead, Jesus tells him he needs to change! This is not what Nicodemus expected to hear.

    9. Read John 3:7. What does this tell us about the way Nicodemus was looking at the moment? (He must have looked shocked, or Jesus would not have commented on his surprise.)

    10. Read John 3:8. Is the Holy Spirit logical? (In God's great Creation we see order. Therefore, I'm reluctant to say that part of the Godhead is not logical. However, this text at least says the Holy Spirit is not predictable by humans. The Holy Spirit does what it wants, humans can sense the Spirit's presence, but they cannot tell if the Spirit is coming or going.)

    11. Read John 3:9-10. Can you sympathize with Nicodemus? He wants to know why logic and obedience are insufficient!

      1. Israel's teacher did not understand this idea of being "born again" into discipleship involves baptism and regeneration(rebirth)by the Holy Spirit. Do you understand this? (Simply knowing the Bible and following the rules is not enough. It is the Holy Spirit that brings us to repentance. Forgiveness comes from the unmerited grace of God. We cannot earn these things. Pride is a barrier to accepting these gifts.)

      2. What new approach to making disciples do we find in this encounter with Nicodemus?(All the logic in the world and all the insight into human behavior, will simply not convert the heart. It is all "flesh." The essential ingredient is the Holy Spirit.)

    12. Read John 3:14-16. Why would Jesus compare Himself to a snake - the first symbol of evil (see Genesis 3)? Except for the "lifting up" analogy to the cross, doesn't this comparison seem all wrong? (Just like the people needed to look at the serpent, so we need to face our sins. We need to face the fact that we need to change. In Luke 13:3 Jesus tells us that unless we repent we will perish.)

    13. Friend, even if you are an honored religious leader you may not understand discipleship. You may not understand the change that needs to come in your life. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we come face to face with our sins, acknowledge them, repent of them and change. Will you?

  4. Next week: Gender and Discipleship.
* Copr. 2008, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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