First Mennonite Church
March 26, 2017
Called to Be Disciples
Text: Luke 9:57-62
Before I go any further, let me say that my every participation in what I do and every word of encouragement or request to participate in ministry to you is motivated by my effort of promoting discipleship. Therefore, although I will be ending my series on discipleship today, underlying everything I do for and among you has as its ultimate goal our mutual growth in the Lord. Let us pray to God that we may all share this same desire.
Let us be reminded once again that we all are disciples. A disciple is a learner, an apprentice, a student. Therefore, it is implicit that a disciple has a teacher. In Jesus’ times every rabbi had a circle of disciples. These disciples learned by literally following their masters everywhere they went. The learning process took place as the disciple observed the teacher do things and by carefully listening and following the master’s words. The disciple’s goal is to learn in order to become master himself and to establish his own school. It is for that reason that Jesus once said, “A disciple is not above the teacher . . . [and] it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher….” (Matthew 10:24-25) Yet, one of the greatest differences between the rabbinic discipleship model and Jesus’ model is that in the rabbinic tradition discipleship was open to anyone. Anyone at his own choosing could become a disciple. Moreover, the disciple could choose which teacher he wanted. Along with this prerogative is the fact that the person could choose when and if he ever wanted to become a disciple.
In the discipleship of Jesus’ model, there is an underlying factor: the disciple must first be called to become one. This call was addressed to fishermen, tax collectors, sinners, zealots and all kinds of people. It is a call that comes when Jesus invites people to follow him. Those called had no control over the timing of the call. They only have one option: to follow or refuse to. When Jesus called the fishermen, they left their boats and fishing nets and followed him. They left family behind. When Jesus called the tax collector, Levi left the tax booth and followed him right away. There are those who would rationalize this incident by saying that certainly Levi most have taken his time to prepare before he followed Jesus. The Bible story does not allow space for that conclusion. It simply states that upon the call, Levi left everything and followed Jesus. Among those Jesus called were the sinners, the wealthy, the poor, men and women of all walks of life. And those who responded, literally followed him everywhere he went.
The context of our passage today is one of great importance in the life of Jesus. In this chapter according to the gospel of Luke, Jesus had just announced his death two times (9:22; 9:44). And in verse 51, Luke is careful enough to inform us the pertinence of this time approaching. When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
The King James Version captures the emphasis of Jesus’ action when it says, “He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem”. He determined to go to Jerusalem. And Jerusalem was the place where he would surrender his life in the ultimate expression of obedience.
Jesus knew what was awaiting him in Jerusalem. Yet in his overwhelming sense of urgency to obey the Father’s will, he set his face to go there. In a way, Jesus was not only the Master of his disciples, but also the obedient Son, in whom the Father was well pleased. And it was during that journey towards his ultimate act of obedience that Jesus was confronted by people who were still reluctant about when and whether to follow him.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 9:58 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.”
The first problem with this would-be-disciple is that he thought he could begin following Jesus just anytime he wanted to. He thought that the enterprise of following Jesus was something he could carry out on his own. Jesus responded to the man, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” That had been his most recent experience. The Samaritans upon realizing that he was not staying in their town, except to spend the night, decide not to welcome him. He had no place to call home. He had no security when it came to personal comfort. Discipleship is to trust that God will provide. This man’s ardent wish to follow Jesus was quenched not because of selfishness on the part of Jesus, but simply for two major reasons: because he had not considered the price it entailed and because and foremost he had not been called by Jesus. These are the two questions we should ask ourselves: Have we heard the call? Has Jesus called each of us by name? And, are we willing to pay the price? If we are not certain that he has called us, I want to assure you that he might be calling now. What is the price we have to pay in our following Jesus today? In the next would-be-disciple we will find out.
As they were going on the journey Jesus said to another, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 9:60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” One had just offered to follow Jesus but he was reminded that he had not considered the price. Now Jesus looks at another who seems not ready and says to him, “Follow me”. This would-be-follower of Jesus apparently did want to follow Jesus, but he had some important unfinished business. He was aware that once he started the journey there was no turning back. Therefore, he wanted everything to be settled before he embarked on this journey. However, the call came a little too early, in his view. In the ancient Jewish culture proper burial was counted as an important service and requirement especially from children to parents. The duty of proper burial took precedence over the study of the Law, temple service, killing of the Passover sacrifice or any other religious ritual. It was shameful if a son neglected this commitment to his folks. Otherwise, there was no inheritance. And this man wanted to secure his future by doing not only what was necessary but also what was dutiful on his part. “Lord, first let me go and bury my father,” he pleaded.
In today’s version it would sound something like this: Lord wait until I finish school, wait until I retire, wait until I get married, wait until I finish this or achieve that, etc., then I will follow you. Then I will be truly committed. Then I will become more involved.
Once again, we should remember that the disciple has no control over the timing of the call. We can be disciples if we respond to the call any moment it comes. If you are hearing the call, do not postpone it. It was for such reason the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote: Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness (3:7-8).
Let us not harden our hearts if the Lord is calling. He also says to us, “Follow me”.
9:60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Let those who have not heard the call take care of their equals. But as for you who have been called, go and proclaim the kingdom of the living God. According to Jesus, nothing in life takes precedence over proclaiming the kingdom. There cannot be true discipleship if proclamation of the kingdom is not carried out. No matter how urgent other matters might look to us, for the disciple of Jesus sharing the Gospel is most important.
9:61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 9:62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Here is another would-be-disciple. He offers to follow Jesus. But he cannot help but turn back to what he is leaving behind. Jesus affirms that no one who has decided to go forward in his journey should look back. Discipleship is a journey of no turning back. Discipleship is cutting with the past. This begs the questions: What is it that is still holding us to our past? What is it that we cannot cut loose from our past? What sin do we still struggle with even today when we have said to the Lord, “I will follow you”?
In that regard, being a disciple of Jesus requires constant renewal of our commitment to follow him. At the beginning of each day we should go to the Lord and say, “Lord, I want to follow you today.” We must be watchful that our past does not lure us back and keep us from being that faithful disciple of the Lord.
In conclusion, as we consider our being disciples of Jesus, let us be sure of these three key issues:
- Are we heeding the call to follow Jesus?
- Do we have excuses for not following?
- What things, concerns, or vices might be holding us back from becoming true and full disciples of the Lord?