“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When Jesus called you to follow him, he didn’t call you to pleasantries and politeness. He called you to join him in battling against the spiritual forces of darkness that war against the human soul. He called you to step into the breach to battle for what is holy, pure, and just. To do that, I have to die to sin and self-will.
My father taught me: “Son, there are no free lunches.” I wonder if we should hang that sign over the Lord’s Supper? The redemption we commemorate in Communion certainly wasn’t free to him. How dare we think we can eat the bread and drink the ‘fruit of the vine’ of that communion meal and not pay a price for doing so.
Discipleship is a costly thing. If it isn’t to be taken seriously in my life, I would give God more honor by not paying lip-service to it. A theology that minimizes the commitment involved in following Jesus belies the significance of both Jesus’ cross and our own.
In 1937, in pre-war Germany, a book was published that exploded like a bombshell in a very liberal church that had become deaf to the voice of God. The author, a young minister who was deeply concerned about the life of this church, was only 30 years old when he wrote it. The book, The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is really an exegetical study of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Sixty-five years later it is still relevant.
In fact, Bonhoeffer’s introduction to the book sets the right tone for the passage we are studying today as we consider the relationship between the gospel of Jesus Christ and the call to discipleship: “Revival of church life always brings in its train a richer understanding of the Scriptures. Behind all the slogans and catchwords of ecclesiastical controversy, necessary though they are, there rises a more deter-mined quest for him who is the sole object of it all, for Jesus Christ himself. What did Jesus mean to say to us? What is his will for us today? How can he help us to be good Christians in the modern world? In the last resort, what we want to know is not what would this or that man, or this or that Church, have of us, but what Jesus Christ himself wants of us. When we go to church and listen to the sermon, what we want to hear is his Word–and that not merely for selfish reasons, but for the sake of the many for whom the Church and her message are foreign. We have a strange feeling that if Jesus himself–Jesus alone with his Word–could come into our midst at sermon time, we should find quite a different set of men hearing the Word, and quite a different set rejecting it. That is not to deny that the Word of God is to be heard in the preaching which goes on in our church. The real trouble is that the pure Word of Jesus has been overlaid with so much human ballast–burdensome rules and regulations, false hopes and consolations–that it has become extremely difficult to make a genuine decision for Christ.
DISCIPLESHIP: A HIGH CALLING
When Jesus said to his first disciples, “Follow me and I will make you to become fishers of men,” and they immediately dropped their fishing nets and followed him, that was just the beginning of the process for them. I’m grateful that this is a process, and that God is patient and loving toward his disciples as he leads them into spiritual maturity.
The Lord’s mission on earth was to “…seek and to save that which was lost” (Mark 19:10). Once we place our faith in him as our Lord and Savior, his desire for us is that we join him as disciples in his mission on this earth-the redemption of men, women and children from the kingdom of darkness. We have likened this process to a school curriculum. Thus, we learned that Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:18-27.)
Jesus then warned that we are not to try to follow him with our own agenda, but rather when he calls us, we are to be willing to leave our security, family and friends immediately for, as he said, “No one after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-10:24.) In Discipleship #103, Jesus reminded all who desired to follow him and become his disciples that we must be willing to hate (love less, in other words) our families as well as our own lives and give up all our possessions (Luke 14: 25-35).
To help us see how some of these truths are worked out in flesh and blood, let me read to you an unknown author’s impression of the life of the apostle Paul once he came into a vital relationship with Jesus on the Damascus Road: “He is a man without the care of making friends, without the hope or desire of worldly goods, without the apprehension of worldly loss, without the care of life and without the fear of death. …A man of one thought—the Gospel of Christ. A man of one purpose-the glory of God. A fool, and content to be reckoned a fool for Christ. …He must speak or he must die, and though he should die, he will speak. He has no rest but hastens over land and sea, over rocks and trackless deserts.
“He cries aloud and spares not, and will not be hindered. In prisons he lifts up his voice and in the tempests of the ocean he is not silent. Before awful councils and throned kings, he witnesses in behalf of the truth. Nothing can quench his voice but death, and even in the article of death, before the knife has severed his head form his body, he speaks, he prays, he testifies, he confesses, he beseeches, he wars, and at length he blesses the cruel people” (True Discipleship, Wm. MacDonald).
Warren Webster: “If I had my life to live over again, I would live it to change the lives of men, because you haven’t changed anything until you’ve changed the lives of men.”