The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9: 57-62 NIV).
The Cost of Discipleship 1
There are two further passages in the gospels which deal with the cost of discipleship, both of them found in the Gospel of Luke. The first one (above) is considered the “light” sayings of Jesus on the cost of discipleship and the second one (which we will deal with tomorrow) is considered the “heavy” one. Both are instructive and well worth taking a closer look at. After all, Jesus said at one point, you need to know what you’re getting into (Luke 14:28-32).
I’m not sure that the disciples knew what they were getting into when Jesus first called them to come and follow him. At first it was pleasant walks along the road, listening to his teaching, watching him rile up the Pharisees and get the Scribes all hot and bothered. Good fun for a bunch of fisherman and bar fighters (James and John had the nickname “the sons of thunder.” I’ll be there’s a story behind that name). Later, there would be more intense times of ministry, miracles and mysteries. Never a dull moment. And then they get involved in the ministry themselves and Jesus gives them authority over demons and the ability to heal sicknesses when he sends out the 72 to the towns and villages of Israel to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God in power.
But then, at the pinnacle of his popularity, comes the revolt. They come to make him King and he refuses. They try to convince him over and over again, but he just tells them that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they want anything to do with him. Most of the disciples and the crowds desert him and even his closest disciples were asked if they would desert him as well. Peter gives his confession of faith. Jesus announces that he would go to Jerusalem and suffer and be killed. Peter rebukes him and Jesus rebukes him right back and calls him “Satanic” in his mindset. Things are not going well and the disciples are faced with a decision. Will they follow Jesus to Jerusalem and face the very real possibility of sharing his fate? Or will they also fall away?
The “light” sayings of Jesus about the cost of discipleship seem to apply more to the first half of the ministry and the “heavy” sayings to the second half of Jesus’ ministry. Let’s take a look at the “light” sayings. I’m not personally convinced that they are so “light” after all.
In the first one, a man approaches Jesus to swear his loyalty and express his desire to follow Jesus. Many people were in this position. They were not specifically chosen by Jesus but rather took the initiative themselves to follow him. No problem. Jesus merely remarks that his situation is precarious. Even foxes and birds have a place to call home, but the Son of Man “has no place to lay his head.” They were itinerant preachers traveling all over the countryside. They did not know from one day to the next where they would sleep, whether or not they would have a meal, or when they would be able to wash up and relax a bit. The work of ministry was hard. Jesus was often tired and the disciples a bit cranky, the crowds were often demanding with their needs and desire to be healed and often wanted to press in and be a part of every teaching and miracle that Jesus performed.
That’s the way ministry is. I remember one old pastor telling me that people should not pray so fervently for revival unless they were ready to do the work. And it was a lot of work. To follow Jesus means a lot of long nights and even longer days. It means tired eyes and even more tired minds. And just when you need to sleep, the phone rings and someone else is in need of your ministry. To follow Jesus is more than merely believing that he is the Messiah and the Son of the Living God. It is to join him on the way of the cross, in the ministry of the gospel (which is the application of the power of the cross to the lives and relationships of the people through the ministry of reconciliation).
In the second case, Jesus actually said to someone, “Follow me.” He chose this man specifically and wanted him to be part of his band of followers. How I would love to be invited by Jesus to come and follow him. To be wanted. To be chosen. To be invited into the greatest adventure the world has ever seen. To have my hunger and thirst for the things of God filled at the side of Jesus. What glory that would be. I would give up anything to be part of that band of disciples.
And yet, this man has other priorities. He is willing but he needs to get his life in order. He has things he needs to take care of – important things. Who can deny him (especially under Jewish laws and customs) his right to bury his father? His father, for Pete’s sake. How can Jesus be so rude, so difficult, so lacking in basic human kindness? “Let the dead bury their own dead,” Jesus tells this poor man. How rude is that? Or is it?
Some people see Jesus as saying that those who do not follow him are dead in their sins and therefore they can take care of these mundane chores while we have something more important to do in proclaiming the kingdom of God. Well, there is some truth to the last part but I think the first part is stretching it a bit. It was a strong thing to say to the man but Jesus meant it to be strong. Get your priorities straight, he was saying. The work of ministry, the proclamation of the gospel, is not a weekend hobby, a part-time effort, a second career choice. It is the stuff of life itself. It has eternal consequences for the disciple and for those who hear his proclamation. Here the parables of Jesus come in – about the woman who lost her coin and cleaned the whole house in order to find it, the shepherd who lost one sheep and left all the rest to find it, the man who sold everything for the pearl of great price.
Similarly, another would-be disciple comes to Jesus and tells him that he will follow Jesus but only after saying goodbye to his family. Jesus declares him unfit “for service in the kingdom of God.” His heart is still at home with his family. What’s wrong with that? Doesn’t Jesus believe in families? Doesn’t Jesus believe in keeping the man engaged at home? Isn’t a good family life a witness to the kingdom of God? Yes and no but more no than yes if you accept Jesus’ words here. It’s a question of asking what your first love is. We are so quick to try and make Jesus fit into our lives when he is really calling us to radical service in the kingdom of God.
Look at these words and tell me what you think. Is this a confession that you can make in your heart? What do you hunger and thirst after? What is it that you want more than anything else in this world?
The joy of the Lord is my strength.
Getting rid of all my small ambitions
to make this one thing the hallmark of my life.
To please God.
Whether I get what I pray for or not,
whether my circumstances change or not,
whether I am healed or not.
To consider every sacrifice a small price to pay
to obtain the pearl of great price.
Discipleship is rooted in a fervent desire to please God by following him in fulfilling the purpose of the cross by sharing the gospel. It’s about getting rid of our small ambitions and replace it with the greatest ambition that we could possibly have. To please God with the quality and passion of our discipleship and ministry.
We cannot merely believe in God, we must follow him too. But when we follow him, the quality of our discipleship matters to him. Is it half-hearted? Is it desired more than the mundane activities of life? Would you rather go to the movies, go fishing with your buddies, spend time with your family then be involved in ministry? Would you rather watch TV, or Netflixs, or your favorite sports show, rather than spending time in prayer with the other saints at church? And there is no point in feeling guilty about what you should or should not want to do. It isn’t a question of feeling guilty. It’s a question of discovering what you truly want. If you truly don’t want to do ministry, don’t know how to do ministry, don’t want to learn how to do ministry, then, perhaps it is time to rethink your relationship with God. Something is wrong.
Where are the strong passions that drive people to take hold of the kingdom of God? Where are the leaders who sacrifice everything to get the message out to as many people as possible? Why are there so many boring committee meetings. Meaningless board meetings. Endless prayer meetings that don’t seem to accomplish anything. This is not the stuff of discipleship. This is about maintaining the infrastructure of the church whether or not it is effective in the transforming work of the cross. When did church work become discipleship?
Where are the exciting baptisms. The transforming worship services. Where are the growing small groups filled with new believers who have penetrating questions and are awestruck by the power of God’s answers in Christ. This is the stuff of discipleship.
When a retired choir member (who is a widower) is living with a woman whom he is not married to and no one says anything because they don’t want to offend him, that isn’t ministry. When a young girl has a baby out of wedlock but professes to love the Lord and no one says a thing because, well, frankly, it’s embarassing, that isn’t ministry. When an old man who has gone to the same church for 50 years and still thinks that Jesus is only a good example of morality and nothing more, and no one has the guts to have a spiritual conversation with him for fear of the political fallout since he is a pillar of the community, that is not ministry. That is religion, having the form but denying the power of the cross.
But if the widower confesses his sin publicly (since his sin was also public) and repents in tears, if the young girl acknowledges the error of her ways and asks the congregation to accompany her in bringing up this child in the fear and knowledge of the Lord, if this pillar of the church gives his heart to the Lord even in his old age and accepts the gift of salvation, now ministry is happening. It is exciting. It is powerful. The kingdom of God is making a difference in the heart of real people.
The difference between religion and spirit-filled ministry is the quality of your discipleship as someone who makes up that body of believers.
So ask yourself the question this Lenten season. Are you looking for excuses NOT to do ministry or reasons to be involved in the transforming work of God in Christ? Do you see discipleship as ministry, the ministry of reconciliation? Do you have other priorities, even legitimate ones, that keep you from participating in the work of the gospel? Where is your heart? At home with your family (which is a good thing) or in ministry with Jesus (which is much better)? Most people do not believe that discipleship is ministry at all. They consider themselves to be disciples since they believe in Jesus and they help out in church. That should be good enough. It’s not.
Unless you are living in the way of the cross and participating in the ministry of reconciliation, you are not a disciple of Jesus Christ. End of story. And that’s the “light” stuff.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Talk to him now and tell him what you truly want…
Lord, I want to follow you. I want to be involved in life-transforming ministry with you in the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure that my church is doing that kind of ministry of reconciliation. What do I do? Where do I go? How do I find your band of disciples who are taking this seriously? I need your help, O Lord, to find the path on the way of the cross and to find a band of brothers and sisters who will join me in this quest. Do I need to go to Bible School? Or search out answers online? I don’t know, Lord, but I am taking the first steps to find the answers. And I believe that you will lead me where I need to go. Thank you. In your name I pray. Amen.