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.
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.
“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.