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Becoming a Disciple, with John Hiigel

So the genealogy succinctly portrays the full scope of God’s salvation and identifies Jesus as the pinnacle of God’s long redemptive project. Fundamental to the good news is that we who follow Jesus, living as his extended family, have a part in that redemptive project. We’re in this together. We need him, and we need each other. In coming to Jesus, we come into his family, locally and globally, with all its glory and all its diversity. We belong. It is wonderful to have a part in something so big and important. How does this book contribute to widening people’s vision of God’s salvation beyond assurance of an afterlife?

Hiigel: Too often, especially in America, the message of Jesus is narrowed down to saying “you’ll be OK after you die,” and salvation is presented as no more than “you’ll be let in rather than shut out in the end.” Surely those are valuable benefits of coming to Jesus. But presenting the gospel to address only our personal afterlife makes it to be all about us instead of all about Jesus. Moreover, such a message often leaves the way we actually live now untouched and leaves a hurting world unhealed.

Our calling to be disciples is a summons into a ministry of salvation.

By contrast, Jesus sees all that he is doing – not just his dying and rising, but his earthly ministry – to be a ministry of salvation. When the woman with the flow of blood is healed, Jesus says to her, “Your faith has saved you,” meaning that her physical well-being comes under the purview of God’s salvation. So Jesus’ healing work is salvific. His multiplying bread to feed the hungry crowds is salvific. His rescuing of disciples out of meaningless lives and reforming their character is all salvific. Salvation means that the whole of God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Our calling to be disciples is a summons into that salvific work, and whereas all the power for it comes from Jesus, we have a vital part to play. It means that our lives here and now matter profoundly. As disciples, we learn to live with Jesus and for him, and we daily taste the benefits of his salvation and convey them to others. A key idea in Matthew’s Gospel is the kingdom of heaven. What is the book’s conception of the kingdom?

Hiigel: Let me answer with a short excerpt from Partnering with the King:

“The kingdom of heaven is God’s effective kingship. (It is not a place, but a reign. The other Gospels call it the ‘kingdom of God,’ without using the word heaven at all.) In fulfillment of his promises to Israel, God’s reign has become dynamically present – it has “come near.” Through Jesus, God is intervening to enact his will on earth. His will is done as Jesus encounters human misery in each new circumstance and overcomes it. Jesus comes with authority and liberating power to challenge whatever is sick (leprosy, paralysis) and dark (demonic violence, habitual sin) and deadly (a storm at sea, a girl’s death) and to bring restoration and blessing in its place. Through him, God’s healing and his righteous authority are penetrating into every arena of human life.

“As an essential part of Jesus’ mission to establish God’s reign, he has called the fishermen and the tax collector – and us – to be his disciples. Our missional Messiah is forming a missional people who are devoted to God’s will being done in the world. We obey his call to “follow me,” opening our hearts to his deep healing and making ourselves fully available to serve at his side in his transforming work.

“We do still await something further, something worth anticipating with great yearning, a glorious final success of God’s saving work, celebrated through the image of a great feast (8:11). For now, we live and serve in grateful submission to God’s authority. Our eventual participation in the renewed world when Jesus returns in glory (19:28; 25:21) will be a brilliant new phase of enjoying his kingship.”


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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2014

About the Author: John L. Hiigel earned his Ph.D. from Fuller Seminary and is Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota. Previously, he served more than two decades as a pastor and musician in Los Angeles. He is the author of Leadership in First Corinthians (Edwin Mellen Press, 2003) and Partnering with the King: Study the Gospel of Matthew and Become a Disciple of Jesus (Paraclete Press, 2013).

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