The Demands of Discipleship
Today, the gospel calls all men and women to become disciples.
18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
- Matthew 28:18-20
In addition to this, Jesus explains quite clearly what it will require to become a faithful disciple of His, because you see, even though baptism is necessary to become His disciple, it's the easy part. It's the first step in a long journey. The hard part of discipleship is following Jesus faithfully until He returns or remaining faithful to Him until your life ends here and you sleep awaiting His coming.
9"Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. 13But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
- Matthew 24:9-13
Because this is so, they'll hate you, they'll kill you. The Lord has left us information intended for those who have become disciples by faith in Him, expressed in repentance and baptism, and now they find themselves somewhere on the narrow way of discipleship.
Some of you are pretty far down that narrow way. You've been on the narrow way for a long time. Some of you have just entered the narrow way, having been baptized in the last several months. No matter where you are on the narrow way, all of you are disciples. And so for all those on that road, no matter where, whether you're at the beginning of it, or the middle, or you're nearing the end, here are Jesus' instructions for those who want to finish faithfully their journey as disciples.
The passage that I'll be reading in a moment and commenting on is a conversation between Jesus and His apostles, the first disciples, the 12 have been out preaching and doing miracles. Peter has confessed his belief in Jesus's deity, and along with James and John, they have witnessed Jesus's incredible transfiguration into His glorified state.
Now the Lord and the apostles are heading south. They're on their way to Jerusalem from Galilee. So far, their ministry has been pretty successful and unchallenged, but as they travel to the main city where Jesus will meet opposition and eventually a cruel death, He begins to talk to them about what being one of His followers means and what being one of His followers will cost them.
So I ask you to transport yourselves to that road on the way to Jerusalem and pretend that Jesus is speaking to you, disciples about the cost of discipleship, about the demands of discipleship. He explains to them and to all of us that being a disciple of His will be demanding and in this passage He outlines three things that being a Christian disciple demands of a person. These are not the only things, but three basic demands that all disciples must be willing to commit to if they want to finish. It's easy to start. It's finishing that's hard.
57As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, "I will follow You wherever You go." 58And Jesus said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." 59And He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." 60But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." 61Another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." 62But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
- Luke 9:57-62
Have you understood the demands of discipleship that Jesus mentions here? Let's go back over them, shall we?
1. We will be pilgrims in this world.
The dictionary defines a pilgrim as a person who makes a journey to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion.
For example, the Muslims, once in their lifetime, have to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia in order to be right with Allah. It's one of the five pillars of their religion.
The Hindus are required to make a pilgrimage to the Ganges River in order to bathe in the river as one of the demands of their religion.
Christians are not required to go to any location here on this earth as part of their religion, because, for Christians, the entire life of a Christian is a journey or a pilgrimage that takes us to our final destination, which is heaven. Our pilgrimage is our lifetime. Our destination is heaven, not any place here on this earth. Jesus is not saying here that His disciples are not to have homes to live in or property owned by Christians.
Christians are to be sensitive to the idea that this is not the final home. This is not the last stop in their existence, and they shouldn't treat this place as it is. Christians are only passing through, so they don't allow this place to get too much of a grip on them. They don't yearn to settle here, only to serve the Lord while they're here.
Someone said, "If you've found your place in this world, it may mean that this world has found its place in you." And that's what you are trying to avoid. You're trying to avoid that this place and the things of this world and the shiny sparkly things that are presented to us day after day after day, that those things don't become our world. We have a place to which we are going and it's not in this world. It's in the world to come.
So if you want to be a successful disciple of Jesus, you have to remember that you're only passing through this place.
2. Discipleship demands that we follow Jesus.
Jesus demands a commitment to Himself personally. He never says, "I want you to follow this religion." He doesn't say that, does He? "I want you to follow these doctrines." He doesn't say that. He says, "Follow me." That's what He says. "You follow me." We're following a person. We're following a being. Christianity is not about loyalty to a set of ideas or doctrines. It's not about sentiment over a location or a set of traditions. It's not about culture. It's not about historical movements. Christianity is about Jesus Christ, the living Son of God, who is the creator of the world, and who is the Lord of all, who is the person that we have pledged our allegiance to.
We follow Him. Jesus says that those who are not committed to Him are spiritually dead, and they have plenty of people to see to the burial of their bodies when they finally die physically. That's what He means when He said, "Let the dead bury the dead." You stay with the living.
To give you an idea of this dead while you're alive type thing, I like to use the example of a tree. You have a tree with a trunk and branches. The leaves that are green with fruit on them, it's alive. Then, if you go and cut off one of the branches, and examine the tree and the branch that's been cut off, you cannot tell the difference. The bark on the tree is brown and fresh. The bark on the cutoff branch is the same. The leaves on the tree are green and luscious. The leaves on the branch that's been cut off are green, luscious, and there's fruit on them.
Even though there is fruit on the cutoff branch, we all know that the branch is dead and the tree is alive. That's the difference between Christians and non-Christians. Christians are the tree, they're alive in Christ. Those who are cut off from the tree may look like they're alive. They may be walking around like they're alive. They may be producing stuff like they're alive. They may be singing and dancing like they're alive. They may be having children. They may be building things, inventing things, going to places, staying busy. They may be famous. They may be powerful. They may be rich. They may be influential, but they're dead.
Because if you just wait a while the difference between the tree and the cutoff branch will become evident. The tree will continue to grow and produce fruit. The branch, however will grow brown and dark and dry. The fruit will rot, and if you wait long enough, the wind will come along and blow it away as dust, but the tree who is alive will remain.
It's the same thing with Christians. Disciples follow Jesus because he is alive and only a living Christ can resurrect a disciple when he or she dies. Jesus says that one of the major roadblocks for would-be disciples is that they can't let go dead friends, dead relatives, dead activities dead beliefs, dead loves, dead habits. They can't let go these things in order to be with a living Christ. If you want to be a disciple, you must follow Jesus and choose Jesus over whatever you love in this world.
3. Discipleship also demands that we don't look back.
Discipleship is not something you get into when you settle your affairs, or you have one last fling. You know, all the men that came up to Him said, "I'll follow you," but first I got to do this, but first I got to do that. Who knows what these men in the story wanted to do when they returned home? Jesus certainly knew and declared that whatever it was, it wasn't worth putting off discipleship for.
Discipleship doesn't mean going to church on Sunday. It means being the church wherever you are every day of the week. We're the church. Disciples are the church.
Ask yourself, "I'm at work and I'm working and I'm doing my work. Am I doing my work as the church, as a disciple? I'm a mechanic. Am I a mechanic who's a disciple of Jesus? I'm an accountant. Am I an accountant as a disciple of Jesus?" Problem that this man exemplifies in the passage here is double mindedness.
He was nostalgic for the old life. He loved the world. He wanted one more taste of it before letting go. Discipleship, brothers and sisters, is not a punishment. It's a privilege. You give up sin, but you gain salvation.
You abandon darkness, but you live in light. You trade lust for love. The disciple doesn't look back because what's ahead is infinitely better than what is behind. If what's in the world and in your old life is more appealing to you than Jesus Christ, then it shows that you don't really know him and you're not yet fit for the kingdom of God.
In Luke's account, Jesus and his apostles were walking towards Jerusalem in Judea. Today, Jesus is still walking with His modern day disciples, you and I, but our destination is the New Jerusalem, which is in heaven, where God lives. This is our pilgrimage, an eternal destination.
Jesus teaches us the same lessons about discipleship as He taught His apostles back in the day. First, disciples measure success by spiritual gains and spiritual growth, not financial gain or security here on earth. Secondly, disciples are always in fellowship with Christ just like the apostles were back then. Obviously we can't see or touch him, but today we have fellowship with His spirit through obedience. Every time you're tempted to disobey, realize what the cost is. The cost is a broken fellowship with Jesus. Is what you are tempted to do or consume, is it worth breaking fellowship with Jesus?
Today we have fellowship with His Word through study. Today we have fellowship with His body through faithfulness. The only way to be faithful to Jesus is to be faithful to His body, which is the church.
Then of course, disciples desire the return of Jesus, not the return of their old lives. Yeah, I get it. There's a time in our lives when we like to talk about the old days, when we were sinners, oh man, and we like to boast about how bad we were. "Oh man, I used to get so drunk. Drunk? Man, you don't know drunk. I really used to get drunk." I'm not nostalgic for my sinful life in the past. Marty and I were talking the other day and we were talking about smoking, I guess for some reason or other. I don't know how we got there, and I said to him, "You couldn't pay me to smoke. You couldn't give me enough money." You couldn't pay me to take the Lord's name in vain in the way that I used to before I was a Christian. If we are a little too nostalgic over our sinful lives, it may mean that we're loving the old days more than we're loving Christ.
This lesson is not something new to those who have been walking with Jesus for a while. It's a reminder that if you want to arrive at the New Jerusalem with Him, you must continually stay in step with Him. And believe me, in this world, there are so many things that want to get you out of step. You're too busy. You're too fast. You're too tired. All of the things that the world is offering you to consume because it'll make you feel better or to do because it'll give you pleasure that Christianity can't match.
All of those things try to get you out of step with Christ. Try to realize what's happening when those things come before you. I mean, Satan has his minions working in this world in a variety of ways, politically and through entertainment, and through the things we consume into our bodies with the single purpose of pulling us away from Christ.
Whatever you do, whatever you consume, ask yourself, "Is this thing somehow drawing me closer to the Lord or further away from the Lord?" And then of course, for those who are contemplating becoming Christians through repentance and baptism or being restored through prayer, this sermon is a warning that walking with Christ has certain demands.
And so if you're willing to follow Him, He will enable you to get there with His power. And if you are unwilling, then He will not substitute His will for your own. You can do as you please. He won't force you to follow Him.
You have to decide to follow Him, cause He won't force you to do it. Become a disciple today, or return to being a faithful one today and make a commitment that you will help your children and your grandchildren know the Lord by bringing them to VBS, bringing them to Sunday School.
Believe me, there are people in this world that are working overtime to capture the minds and the spirit of your children. Believe me, they're working overtime to do it. You must fight back. You must protect them.
And the protection that they get is this. This will protect them. Every time you teach them, every time you feed them this, you are protecting them against the evil one in this world. And so become a disciple, return to being one, help your children, do what you can, do what you know is right and good.
And if that requires you to do something this morning, whatever that may be, to be baptized, to ask for prayer, then we encourage you to do that now, as we stand and as we sing our song of encouragement.