Would-be Followers of Jesus

One of the most tragic lines in all of of Scripture is probably the one uttered by King Agrippa to Paul when he says, “Do you think that is such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Someone has made the observation that the word “Christian” only appears in the New Testament 3 times whereas the word disciple is occurs 269 times and the whenever Christian is used is always referring to disicples. Hence, Agrippa might as well have asked, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a disciple?” Indeed, every person who claims to be a Christian must acknowledge that they are a disciple as well. Someone who claims to have Christianity without discipleship does not know what he is saying; the two are hand in glove. Indeed, at the heart of Christianity is discipleship.

In Luke 9.57-62, we have a couple of other examples of King Agrippa’s attitude. Men who seek to be a part of the kingdom of God without committment to discipleship. Without a committment to discipleship, one cannot have citizenship in the kingdom of God. No there needs to be something deeper to this thing called Christianity. In this short passage we find the basis for discipleship, that is total committment to Christ and his teaching. Someone has said, “A student learns what his teacher knows, but a disciple becomes what his master is.” Yes, that is a fair assessment. We are learners of Jesus as disciples, but we are seeking something more and that is to become like Christ himself.

The Context

We must remember that this passage has a larger context, namely a context that includes v.51 where we read that Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (NIV). Hence, when these men say that they are going to follow Jesus or when they are invited to follow Jesus, it is nothing short than a request or invitation to a death to self. For Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to die. It is a plea to follow Jesus to a cross. It is an invitation to come die with the Master. I wonder did these men fully comprehend the demands such a request requires. I doubt it; not even the disciples understood it. Question: Do we understand it? As disciples, as followers of Jesus, do we understand that we all have a Jerusalem to follow Jesus and a cross to crucify the selfish and evil desires on? Paul tells us the only way to ensure that sin does not reign in our mortal bodies is if we suffer a self-death (Rom 6.11-12). Just as Jesus suffered a death for sin once for all and is now alive to God, we too ought to consider ourselves the same way as disciples: dead to sin, alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The Cost

“Salvation is free; discipleship is costly.” By its very nature, grace is the free gift of God to those who have faith in Christ Jesus. But the life demanded of the saved will cost something, even our very life. As Paul has said elsewhere, “You are not own, you have been bought at a price” (1 Cor 6.19). So while salvation may be the free gift of grace to us and we need but only accept it from God, it did cost something to God, even his own Son. How dare us treat that great and precious sacrifice as something common by living as half-hearted, lukewarm, would-be disciples! It is going us something to live the life demanded of us in light of our salvation. In Luke 9.57ff, we find the cost demanded from some would-be disciples…

As Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem, three men approach him. The first, it seems, is eager to follow Jesus anywhere. The question is, does he? Does he follow Jesus? Luke (and even the Matthew parallel account) does not make this clear. I think it safe to assume, that along with the other would-be disciples, he left that conversation greatly distressed because the hardship that a follower faced was too great. Jesus says, “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” And any disciple of Jesus had better be prepared for this same kind of life. It is not an easy-go to follow Jesus. In fact, do not expect a luxurious life. Hence, men who propogate a “health and wealth” type of gospel fail to recognize that Jesus, in this verse, contradicts that. And yet, Jesus makes the promise elsewhere that though a disciple may not have the biggest and best, God still provides what we need (see Matt 6.25-34).

The second would-be follower struggles with ties to the family: he wants to make sure his father is buried. Question: Was his father dead when this man asks makes this request to Jesus? Maybe. It is possible this man’s father had recently died and he just wants to make arrangements for the body. In which case Jesus is stressing the urgency of discipleship and that nothing must hinder a disciple, not even earthly family ties. However, it probably is closer to the truth that this man’s father was still living at the time he made the request. Why wait for his dad to die? Inheritance! This man wants his cut of daddy’s life savings. But Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” Either he means “Let that duty take care of itself” or “Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead.” The command is still clear: “Go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Do not deny or delay in getting the message out. Allow nothing, be it money, family, etc., stand in your way of what a disciple must be about doing. Question: Did he do it? Or was the price too high? Luke leaves it open, but I think we can conclude he too went away discouraged.

The third man also has some struggles with family ties: he wants to say goodbye to everyone back home. This is not an unreasonable request from this man. In fact, you find a similar request from Elisha when Elijah called him and Elijah allowed it saying, “What have I done to you.” Question: What was Elisha doing when Elijah called him? Was he not plowing a field? And it is as if Jesus picks up that very concept and adapts it to the present situation he faces: unlike Elijah who allowed Elisha to return home to burn his plow and slaughter the oxen and offer them as a burnt sacrifice, the message here is don’t look back. Why? Perhaps Jesus knows the heart of the man and knows that if he does go back home and says goodbye to mom and pops, they may convince him to stay and not enter into service for the King. Truly, family can be the number one killer of the mission spirit within people. And Jesus is saying, don’t go home and risk having the fire in your belly quenched – keep plowing.

It is marginal Christianity, mediocre discipleship that is the biggest threat to the kingdom. If Satan can convince a Christian that they really don’t have to take their Christian life seriously, he has gained a victory. If he can whisper in their ear that good enough really is good enough, he has the upperhand. If he can entice them into would-be discipleship, where hardship and the loss of family ties for the kingdom of God may happen, then the devil has come one step closer to dragging more souls into hell. No, we must strive for total discipleship, total commitment to the cause of Christ so that we may be deemed fit for service in his kingdom. Jesus must take first place in our lives if we are to be the kind of follower he desires, a disciple who looks like his Master.

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Following Jesus to Jerusalem

Chapter nine of Luke has a lot to say about discipleship. When one takes up the career of following Jesus, they agree to follow in his footsteps and follow his teaching not out of dogged duty but out of reverent love for the Master who saved them. It should never become a burdensome thing for a disciple to be a disciple for “his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5.3). However, in the lives of the Twelve, it seems that this discipleship business was just becoming more than they could handle at least in the sense that many people were following Jesus and were His disciples. And it would appear that the Twelve did not much care for that. They were “the group,” and anyone else threatening their territory had better watch out. Even in their own number, tempers flashed and emotions ran high.

The Wrong Argument for a Disciple

There arose a dispute between the Twelve. Were all Twelve involved in the dispute? Hard to say. Luke just says the disciples were arguing and I think it safe to assume all of them were in on it. The arguing was not just a small quibble or or discussion; the Greek implies that this was a full blown ordeal that was ready to come to blows over this matter. And just what matter is that? Who, of their number, would be greatest. Who was tops. Who was the best and brightest. Jesus knew thir thoughts and their hearts and so he calls a timeout and huddles the group together to resolve this matter. Mark tells us that the disciples probably a little embarrssed because they “kept quiet” knowing they had been arguing about who was the greatest.

Jesus sets the record straight by detailing just who is the greatest. It is not the guy who is on top. It is not the best and brightest. It is not the one who has the most money. It is the one who is “least.” The NIV Study Bible (which has good reference material) has a note that says, “People become great in God’s sight as they sincerely and unpretentiously look away from self to revere him.” Doesn’t this all go back to what Jesus mentioned earlier in the chapter about having a daily death to self (v.23). You are not going to become great unless you have made yourself the least through a denial and death to self through the cross of Christ.

Sadly, this is not a lone occasion for this topic to come up for the disciples (cf. Mark 10.35). For the disciples, discipleship was all about being “the greatest.” They wanted power, position, authority and they failed to recognize that there is only one person who gets all the glory in Christianity: Jesus. Certainly, we should all be striving for greatness as a disciple, but not the greatness the disciples sought. Our greatness must be through Jesus Christ. He has all power, has the top position, and has all authority (Matt 28.18). Therefore, let’s let him have his role and never try to remove the crown from his head by putting it on our own head. This would be foolish beyond measure.

Verse 50 needs some special attention. Some have tried to make this say something that it simply does not say. Some have said that since denominations and other religious groups are not “against us” then they are for us. Hence, we should not be trying to “stop them” but should let them continue to do what they are doing. This simply will not do. This passage, along with the parallel passage in Mark, knows nothing of denominations. This is all about discipleship, especially Jesus’ condemnation of any type of heirarchy in His Church. The ground is level at the foot of the cross – no one man is over above another man. Hence, Jesus is rectifying the thinking of the disciples about other disciples, namely, they are not above them. In the kingdom, there is only one head (Jesus) and those in the kingdom comprise one body (His Church).

The Wrong Attitude for a Disciple

We now reach a turning point in the gospel of Luke as we come upon Luke 9.51. Jesus has been traveling from town to town, preaching and teaching, healing to confirm the word spoken. And to be sure, every move Jesus has made has been on purpose. But now Jesus is entering the point in his ministry that will bring him to the fulfillment of his mission on earth, namely, going to Jerusalem to die. He has already alluded to this in the past (see 9.22, 44), but now he is going to “resolutely” set his face for Jerusalem and head for the culmination of his mission on earth. He has talked about with Moses and Elijah, and the time for his “receiving up” (lit. from Greek) is drawing near. And it is time to head for Jerusalem.

From now on, Jesus is heading for Jerusalem, and Luke will point that again and again (see v.53; 13.22, 33; 17.11; 18.31; 19.11, 28). He has much to teach his disciples, and many more works to accomplish before he arrives, but he every action will lead his closer and closer to his final destination: Jerusalem. His first stop is in Samaria. But they refuse him for this very reason of heading for Jerusalem. It seems the Samaritans helped no one who was either a) a Jew (which Jesus was) or b) heading for Jerusalem (again, this was Jesus).

Now we face the response of the disciples James and John. Some people have a problem with Jesus having a sense of humor or laughing. Indeed, we don’t read about Jesus laughing, but I think it is safe to assume he did laugh and had a sense of humor because he was just like we are (Heb 2.14). And truly, his naming of James and John reflects this sense of humor as he calls them “Sons of Thunder.” Their colors ae showing in their response to the Samaritans when they want to call down fire from heaven.

This was wrong first of all because the disciples are trying to take the place of God. As Sovreign God, it is his prerogative to judge and to destroy, not man’s. Second, the disciples demonstrate a wrong attitude toward the people who reject them. Jesus has already explicated what to do when people do not welcome when he sent them out (v. 5). Clearly, the disciples, James and John, do not demonstrate that “spirit” but rather a different spirit. (Textual note: whether you bible has verse 55 in the text or footnote usually depends on what Greek text it was translated from. The difference is whether they depend upon the Textus Receptus (NKJ and KJV) or the Majority Text (just about every other translation).)  Jesus rebukes them for having this kind of attitude in their hearts. Indeed, Jesus came to save.

Conclusion

As disciples, we must learn from our Teacher the proper conduct and attitudes a disciple is to have. We are not be entrenched in heirarchy battles, making power-plays in the Lord’s church, jockying for position like so many wild horses. We are part of a body, members working together for the good of the head, Jesus Christ. He hs all authority and power. Also, we must never think that some group is worthy of destruction but instead see all men (even those who reject us) as worthy of salvation from the Lord.

Probably the greatest lesson wee learn from Jesus here is that we are all, as disciples, heading for Jerusalem with Jesus. And Jesus is not going to Jerusalem for a party, or to join a country club or to have a good time; Jesus went to Jerusalem to die. He went to Jerusalem to face a cross. Every disciple needs to recognize the seriousness of this lifestyle. It is not for the faint of heart and it will consume every part of your life. But that is the point – Jesus as Jerusalem consumed Jesus’ life, so the cross must consume the life of the disciple.

Jesus Rebukes an Evil Spirit

Apologies

I must admit that my “continuous commentary” has not been very continuous. It is not because this is a burden to me or that I don’t want to do it – I just have so much going on right now that it is a little tough to find the time to write. So to the constant few who visit this site, I apologize for leaving you hanging.

The Request of a Father

In Luke 9.37-45, we come upon an account of that takes place the day after Jesus and his three disciples come down off of the mountain. Luke, ever close to the details, is sure to include this bit of information; he ensures his audience knows just exactly when this account occured. He is met by a large crowd of people and in the midst of this crowd is a father who has a demon-possesed son. But there is an interesting detail in his his story. You see, he has already approached the disciples of Jesus to see if they could cure his son. However, they cannot.

The Rebuke of the Faithless

Jesus explains why his disciples could not do it in verse 41: someone was not believing the disciples could do it. Now just who did not believe is what we need to figure out. Was it the disciples? Were they the unbelievers and perverse generation? Possibly, since so many times in the past they have been characterized by their lack of faith. However, they were not perverse men nor did the constitute a who “generation.” I also do not think the father is who Jesus has in mind here; he appears to be honest and sincere, coming to Jesus in belief, albeit an imperfect faith (cf. Mark 9.24). So when Jesus says this, it appears he has the who generation of his time who had an attitude of unbelief toward the disciples and Jesus and perhaps had feelings of want to “stump” Jesus and his disciples, hence they are perverse in this regard as well. Jesus, though, ever the loving shepherd, is concerned for the lost sheep of Israel and this is seen in his words, “how long…?” How long, O Israel, will you remain in your faithless and perverse state?

While Jesus does rebuke the demon and heals this boy, it is unfair to say that the demons, like Israel, were unbleievers; after all James, the half-brother of Jesus, says they “believe and shudder.” So they know what’s what. But they, along with the faithless of Israel, are rebuked as well, albeit for a different reason. The people see Jesus do this and they marvel, a common theme and reaction in Luke.

The Riddle from the Faithful One

Following this, Jesus proceeds to perplex his disciples by telling them that he (the Son of Man) must be betrayed by men. Luke tells us the disciples did not understand it, it was hidden from them, and they could not grasp its meaning. In addition to this, the disciples are afraid to ask Jesus what the meaning of it is. Perhaps out of embarrasment, perhaps from fear of being rebuked, whatever the reason, the disciples keep their mouth shut about not catching what Jesus is throwing their way.

In the grand picture, We see Jesus reiterating, in case anyone missed it, that he is indeed the Son of Man. He has authority over demons, proving he is the Christ. This comes on the heels of the divine voice confirming this fact on the mountain to the disciples. Now, everyone knows it so it is time to put away unbelief and perversion and put on belief and righteousness. Indeed, let us line ourselves up with Jesus and never be found guilty of perverting the faith in anyway. And let us strive to keep the faith, falling deeper and deeper in love with our Master and Savior.

Jesus’ Exodus

For anyone who has ever taken an arplane on a trip, you know that there are certain protocol you must follow. For example, you must take off your shows and empty your pockets in order to go through the security checkpoint so that they can run your stuff through the x-ray machine. It is standard protocol at the airport to check in any luggage you need to check in. Sometime during the whole ordeal at the airport, you will have to find the gate you will be flying out of. So you walk over to several television sets which have every flight flying out of the airport for a certain number of hours. These television sets are separated into two categories: Arrivals and Departures.

Planes are going everywhere: San Antonio, Detroit, New York, Miami, Phoenix, Fresno, Lubbock, Seattle, etc, each labeled with an airline, a flight number, and a gate number. You search the screens for your flight, find it, learn what gate it is departing from, and move toward it. Jesus had a moment similar to this in Luke 9.28-36. You see Jesus is approaching the screens of life, but he is not looking for arrivals – he has been there done that. No, he is looking for his departure flight. And the gate he will be leaving from is in Jerusalem.

The Change

Since Jesus had explicated the characteristics of a disciple, it has been eight days. Luke is meticulous in his recod keeping, even down to the day. Jesus takes three of his disciples (Peter, John, and James) onto a mountainside to pray. Luke again emphasizes the prayer life of Jesus; he is in constant communication with the Father because he understands that it is only through his continued reliance on the Father through prayer that he will do what he has do and that is die for all of mankind. We don’t know how long he was praying, but it implied that it was long enough that his disciple grew weary. The Greek says they were “burdened with sleep.” Maybe all the hustle and bustle of the crowds, maybe all the walking, maybe it was late in the day…whatever the reason, the disciples are a bit groggy. But it is during this prayer time that something magnificent happens: Jesus is transfigured.

Luke tells us it was as bright as the flashing of lightning (v.30). Matthew says it was “as white as light” (Matt 17.2). Mark tells us no bleach in all the world could have washed the garments of Jesus as white as they were then (Mark 9.3). Peter, an eyewitness, calls this his “majesty” (2 Peter 1.16). Not only this, his face was changed (v.29) which Matthew says it “shone as the sun.” Indeed, something special has happened to Jesus. For a brief moment, the curtain of Jesus’ humanity has been pulled back and the brilliance of the glory of his majesty has come shining forth. All of this points to one unchanging fact: Jesus is God!

The Chat

Luke, and indeed all three synoptic writers agree, records that Jesus has a conversation with Moses and Elijah. Why Moses and Elijah? At best our guesses would only be conjecture. Some would say because you have the great lawgiver and the great representative of the prophets. Others point to the fact that these were men who on mountainsides beheld a manifestation of the glory of God. Nevertheless, they appear with same brilliant splendor that Jesus has. And why are they there? To talk with Jesus. But this is not just some “sit-down-to-tea” type conversation; there is business to attend to, namely the departure of Jesus. This word “departure” is our English word “exodus” (Greek ezodon). The spoke of Jesus’ exodus.

This ‘exodus’ was to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. However, its fulfillment was not to be accomplished by the Jews or the Romans; this exodus is accomplished by Jesus himself. No man controlled the road Jesus tread upon, no man controlled the destiny of the Son of God. He was in complete control from start to finish. He died when he wanted to and not a second sooner or later. Everything in the grand scheme of redemption was God ordained and God controlled so that God accomplished it.

The Charge

As was stated earlier, for whatever reason, the disciples were “very sleepy.” Shaken from their slumber, they awaken to this scene: Moses, Elijah, Jesus! The beheld the glory of the Son of God as well as the glory of Moses and Elijah. The chat ends, Moses and Elijah leave (how they came and went is beyond me), and Peter, perhaps stunned by everything he has just taken is, makes a bold charge: he wants to build tabernacles for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Obviously something amazing has happened and Peter wants to honor these men.

The Challenge

It is God who steps forth to proclaim the reality of this event. It was not to demonstrate that Jesus is now on equal footing with Moses and Elijah; rather, Jesus is superior to them. God descends in a cloud upon the mountain, encomapssing the disciples, inciting fear into them. The voice of the Majestic One utters forth the command: “Listen to Him!” Moses and Elijah were great prophets of old, but now there is one who superior to them, the greatest prophet of all. He is the unique Son of God, hand-picked by God to perform the work he must accomplish.

For the time, the disciples will keep this quiet. Why? Terror, maybe. Matthew records that Jesus told them not to speak of it, pointing to the fact that Jesus is in control of the whole situation, his very life. But there will come a time when they do proclaim it and tell everyone about it. Peter wrote of it in one of his epistles.

With his death, Jesus began a mass exodus. He opened up a “new and living way” by which man can enter and find salvation. But there is only flight leaving the terminal and just as it was for Jesus, the departure gate in in Jerusalem. If we do not follow Jesus to the departure gate, following him to the cross every single day, we cannot have access to this exodus. Jesus points us the way to the gate which is the way of the cross. It is as much a part of our life as it was for Jesus; everyday, when he looked to Jerusalem, he knew what was coming. Everyday spent in Jerusalem drew him closer to the hour of his departure. Hence, the cross in the disciple’s life can have no smaller part. It comsumes our very essence and is what identifies a disciple of Christ. So check your ticket (the Bible) and recognize you, as a disciple, have a flight to catch.

Mistaken Identity

Since moving to Peoria, Kim and I have been working hard to connect faces and names. For the most part we are doing pretty good – we know most of the people and have either had them in our house or have been in theirs. People loves and we them. However, there are some names and faces that we just cannot make stick. For example, there is a young couple (whom I will leave nameless not because I can’t remember their name but for privacy) which it took several weeks for us to finally get their names to stick. It is just one of those things…

The worst is when you think you have someones name but it is the wrong name and you call them by that name you think you know. Color me embarassed. There is the briefest of awkward moments before I say, “Yeah, so about that thing,” and try my hardest to move on.

This is sort of the thing that was happening in Jesus day with him: people, for one reason or another, we confusing him with all sorts of people – the disciples tell us that people thought Jesus was John the baptist, Elijah, even one of the prophets of old. Some people just could not get it right. So Jesus, in Luke 9.18-27, is going to set the record straight.

Question 1: What about the crowds?

Luke tells us Jesus is in a private place praying. Lots of emphasis on prayer in Luke. Sometime go through and study this great theme and see what it says about Jesus, his life, and prayer. He is praying, his disciples are with him, and he asks them a question: “Who do the crods say I am?” A simple question – I mean everyone knows Jesus; he is the great miracle worker, the healer, the awesome teacher, everyone loves him. But the answer given is not as easy as it should be. Everyone is confused about the character of Jesus. No one is identifying him for who he is, the Messiah, the Anointed one of God, the Son of God. In fact, he is every other great prophet except the prophet he really is.

Question 2: What about the disciples?

Ok. So everyone else has it mixed up, but certainly those men who are around him 24/7, in ministry with him, have seen the miracles…surely they know. Peter speaks up and hits the nail on the head: “The Christ of God.” And for the moment they have it. They know who they are dealing with, the one who was promised and will bring Israel back into prominience. Such great news cannot be kept to oneself , right? Well, Jesus tells them not to tell. The text says he “strictly warned them not to tell this.” And we scratch our heads and say “Why not?” I think the answer is very simple: to avoid further misunderstanding. The crowds have got it wrong thus far, why add this to the mix to further confuse them. At the present time, the crowds could not handle it and (as will be seen later) neither could the disciples. However, there is coming a time when the people will be ready and the apostolic band will give them all they want concerning the Messiah.

Question 3: What about the Son of Man?

So now that the disciples have this truth in hand, what about Jesus? Does he understand all this stuff about the Christ? He does, he knows his mission and seeks to do the will of God. But to the ears of the disciples,it sounds as if Jesus do not know what he is talking about. The Messiah did not come to die, but to lead Israel back to preeminence. Right? Not exactly. In fact, the disciples had it so wrong with their ideas of the Messiah that Peter, in the parallel accounts, takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. “Don’t talk that kind of talk, Jesus.” This results in Peter being equated to Satan (cf. Matt 16.22-23). So to the Jewish, what Jesus speaks in Luke 8.22 is down-right silly. This is not the Messiah they sought. This, though, is the mission of Jesus, the Son of God. He is to die a gruesome death at the hands of Israel’s leaders according to the plan of God.

Question 4: What about us?

In Luke 8.23-27, Jesus lays it out there as far as the identity of a disciple. This is what is called by some “the rugged plain of reality.” Christianity is not for the faint-hearted nor the lightweights. Jesus commands a kind of faithfulness many refused to live (cf. John 6.66). The reason it is so difficult is because of what it entails. Jesus calls for a daily death of self. Daily we put the cross upon back. Daily we walk where divine feet trod. Daily we follow Jesus to Golgotha. Daily we crucify the old self. We deny ourself, just as the Master has taught us to through his example. It is only through the denial and death of self that we can truly find unity with Christ. That’s not Nick talking; that’s not man-made doctrine. That is just what Jesus said. That is what the whole business of saving and losing your life is about. Only Jesus can save your life. If you try to do it yourself, it will slip through your fingers like a handful of sand.

Tell us, O lifesaver. Explain to the Lord, once you have gained the whole world at the cost of your soul, what will you give to get it back. Half the world. All of it! No, you cannot buy back your life once it is lost. When a disciple gives up all for Christ, he enters life that is life more abundant. It is this life that we share with others. For it is not enough to hord unto ourselves this abundant life; we must share it with others and that boldy, lest we be found “ashamed” of Jesus and his words. What a said thing it would be to stand outside the gates of heaven and learn that your were nothing but a coward for Christ.

The disciple who lives a life to God and not unto himself is a member of the King’s house. You are brought of the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son, Jesus. It was this kingdom that was ushered in by Jesus when he poured forth the Spirit which the Father had given onto the disciples. They proclaimed this kingdom and preached this very same unity with Christ with a death to self (cf. Rom 6). The reason the death to self is so important is because of what it means. The old self is a slave to sin and unrighteousness. But “anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” No longer does death, sin, Satan have mastery or dominion over you. Instead you are a slave to righteousness, seeking the godly and good and denying self all for the blessing of God to rest upon you.