|Discipleship Starts at the Cross|
μαθητής, mathētḗs, “a learner,” from manthánō, “to learn”
The American Tract Society states: "A disciple of Christ may now be defined as one who believes his doctrine, rests upon his sacrifice, imbibes his spirit, imitates his example, and lives to do his work."
Websters 1828 Dictionary: "A follower; an adherent to the doctrines of another. Hence the constant attendants of Christ were called his disciples; and hence all Christians are called his disciples, as they profess to learn and receive his doctrines and precepts."
A disciple is a convert to Christianity but it is important to understand that not all converts are disciples. As disciples we are to bear our cross daily (Matt. 16:24). This means to live and die for Him if necessary (Matt. 16:25). Discipleship is one of the major tasks of the church. In Jesus' call of the "The Great Commission" Matt. 28:18-20, He emphasizes that we are to go into all nations and make disciples. In John's gospel Jesus also emphasized the following: "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him" (John 4:23). I think it is absolutely amazing that the Father is seeking such to worship Him! Spirit and truth are two hallmarks of the life of a disciple of Christ and today the church is being called to make sure they fulfill the mandate of discipling believers.
In my upcoming book, "The Sifted Generation" I strongly emphasize what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The following excerpts are from the chapter "Sifting Allegiances":
To Jesus, Following is a Serious Matter
In reference to this wholehearted dependence that it will take to endure the days ahead Jesus revealed the following interactions with some He called to follow:
Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, "Lord, I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." Then He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God." And another also said, "Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house." But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62)
In this amazing and radical passage Jesus emphasizes three things, Trust, Expediency, and Readiness.
Luke 9:57-58 – “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." Following Christ would take complete trust in Him as the provider for our lives and that of our families. In the passage Jesus tells the man a true believer must be willing to take their eyes off of the immediate comforts and securities we have become so accustomed to and in obedience follow Him. No greater example could have been left for us to emulate than that which He modeled in unmitigated devotion to the Father. He was a living example of the type of trust we must all have as He trusted no man to meet His daily needs but the Father only. There was no set place sporting a soft mattress, a warm pillow, and comfortable blankets He could look forward to on a daily basis. Like the lilies of the field, He had to daily trust the Father to provide them. To be a true disciple of Jesus means we too must have that type of trusting faith in Him; one which believes that somehow, someway He will provide our needs, both physical and spiritual. Remember, Jesus had no place to lay His head, but through the things He suffered He learned obedience and in return the Father met all of His earthly needs.
Luke 9:59-60 – Then He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God." Expediency in relation to God's call to listen and obey His direction, is the ability to make the right choice at the right time based upon known outcomes. For example, in the walk of life we will come to a fork in the road where two directions force upon us a choice. As the old adage goes, “Do we take the high road or the low road”? Both may seem to offer advantages and the choice may be difficult; but one will always be more expedient in relation to the end result. In relation to spiritual choices the end result must bring glory to God. When choices are faced the Spirit of God is all too willing to reveal the will of the Father. This is where we must exercise discernment—where God asks us to seek Him for wisdom. We must learn to spend quiet time with God and just listen for His voice. A principle to remember is that saying yes to His directive will always result in advancing the gospel message and a resulting blessing on those to whom God directs it. But disobedience will cause setback and loss, not only for the believer but also for the lives of those who would be impacted most by our faithfulness. Obedience always results in bringing God glory and always works out for the good of those who love God and are the called according to His purpose, Rom. 8:28, in spite of the circumstance one may face.
Barclay retells the story of a Syrian Missionary, M. Waidmeier, who had advised a friend of his, a rich young Turkish man to take a tour of Europe after he had completed his education. “The Turk answered, "I must first of all bury my father." The missionary expressed his sympathy and sorrow that the young man's father had died. But the young Turk explained that his father was still very much alive, and that what he meant was that he must fulfill all his duties to his parents and to his relatives, before he could leave them to go on the suggested tour, that, in fact, he could not leave home until after his father's death, which might not happen for many years.”1 In the case where priority and expedience was Christ’s intent, a reply of such nature would not work. Moreover, it would put off following Christ for an indefinite period of time especially if the father was still fairly young. In this life some opportunities only come around once and must be immediately seized or they may be lost forever.
In the passage, Jesus’ response to the disciple was,” "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God." Some say it was harsh thing to say and in the Western mindset it would be. But again, context is the key. Jesus was just using another expression of the day which meant to “Let the affairs of this life be cared for by those whose only care is in this life.” He saw that immediate obedience to His call is the proper response because it would be more fruitful exponentially both to the one called and the countless many who would become believers in the future. Jesus told the man that spiritual matters were of more importance than material, even when it involved family. To Jesus it was ok to let the those who lived for this life only take care of the affairs of this life only, this man needed to obey his time of visitation (see Luke 19:41-44). But lest we get the wrong opinion of Jesus let’s remember that He always allowed time for His followers to take care of family matters, even being mindful of Mary, His mother (see John 19:27). But when matters of eternal significance were at stake, the best choice was the expedient one. God would take care of the rest.
Luke 9:61-62 – In the final strokes of the passage a man called out to Jesus saying, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house." Jesus’ reply falls completely in line with His previous responses, He states, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Here we have what we may think is an unusual rebuttal to the idea of simply letting a person tell his family and possibly some visiting friends, that he must leave for a time in response to an invitation to follow the Lord. It sounds like the responsible thing to do. Most would agree that it’s always a good idea to let those close to you know of your future plans and whereabouts. But in this case Jesus disagrees. Why? Let’s answer that with a short story.
After I became a believer the one person I wanted to share my joy with was my best friend Joe (not his real name). Joe and I left no stone unturned. I knew him and his family and he knew me and mine. We were rarely ever apart if it were possible to just hang out. After I surrendered my heart to Christ God put a strong burden on my heart for his soul. I approached him with the gospel on many occasions. But repeatedly he said, “I do believe but I am just not ready to take the steps in surrender. I am not ready to live that life.” As we grew apart and went our separate ways, I found out Joe had become a very heavy drug user and dealer. Later I was heartbroken to hear he was shot to death in his own front yard. Joe wanted to do what God required, he wanted to follow, but he was never ready to surrender.
I think that’s the crux of what Jesus is telling us in this passage. The man came to Jesus and said He would follow Him but he had other things to do first. He was never really ready to follow Christ. He had taken the first step to follow—he had grasped the plow’s handles and looked straight at the Lord, and said, “I will follow,” but then he let go and said, “But let me first go back…” And looking back is where his real heart was.
In Genesis 19 the Lord brought judgment on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, destroying them completely, because they were steeped in abnormal sexual sin, homosexuality, and wickedness of all types. But He had mercy on Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family who dwelt there. Having showed them mercy they were told to leave and never look back. Lot’s wife was not ready, she looked back and was immediately turned into a pillar of salt (see Gen. 19:26).
In Matthew 24 Jesus foretells of a terrible time of desolation which will come upon the earth just prior to His return. Many scholars refer to this period as the 70th week of Daniel found in Dan. 9:24-27. It is a period which lasts seven years (there will be much more detail about this later in the book). About 3 ½ years into this period Jesus specifically warns those alive to flee to the wilderness, forgetting all things earthly, and to not look back. He states, “In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:31-33). A true disciple of the Lord will be ready at all times and will not be so endeared to worldly affections and distractions, be they family or other, that these things would cause him to look back. Our hearts need to be captivated by the living Christ.
What is clear from the Lord’s teaching is that being a disciple of Christ means relying upon Jesus to continually provide for us when the call to “get up and go” in His name comes. We must put Him first above all other duties, and live in readiness to take the plow at any given time, never looking back.