The call of Christ demands that each Christian become a disciple, denying self, taking up the cross daily and following Jesus.
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Luke 9:23 (NAS)
Jesus did not care about being popular. No, that is not nearly a strong enough statement. “Popularity” was in Jesus’ view, an evil counterfeit to be dealt with in terms that were brutally uncompromising and undiplomatic. He had gained popularity; large crowds of “groupies” were shadowing His every move, and the air was probably buzzing with stories of the new phenomenon. He had what many others desperately wanted and would do anything to achieve – fame and attention. It is no wonder that the political and social leaders of the time so feared and envied Jesus. He had what they lusted for, the adulation of the masses.
Jesus’ own goals were much different, not for Him the vacuous rapture of the self deceived. Luke says the throngs were “going along” with Jesus, but Jesus knew this was a fleshly, superficial reaction, and so He turned on the multitude to clarify the conditions of following Him. He wants disciples.
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life — he cannot be My disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple. Luke 14:25-27 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple.” Luke. 14:25-27, 33
That message thinned the crowd. Anything less than total commitment is unacceptable. Nothing can come before or above Jesus if we want to be His disciples. Family, reputation, personal accomplishments, possessions, popularity, our very lives, everything must be given up.
If we value anything above our relationship with Jesus we CANNOT be His disciple. It does not say that being a disciple will be more difficult if Jesus is not first. It is not a suggestion that an increased involvement will enhance the disciple-ness experience. It is a stark, non-negotiable truth.
This was not the only time that Jesus engaged in such audience eradicating teaching. After Jesus fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes, the slack- jawed gaggle were ready to declare Him “King.” They were mesmerized by the miracle of the multiplying food – “Wow,” they must have thought, “no more hunger and no more work!”
Jesus clarified that it is not about eating bread, but about eating of My flesh, it is about drinking in My blood. As these words spread across the field, the fickle flock flew away like startled birds. The disciples were confounded by this strong image of total commitment.
John’s narrative says this:
As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” John 6:66- 69
We notice that from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. Apparently there are disciples and there are disciples. Peter is one of the ones who keeps on being a disciple, who stays and sees the choice very clearly. Jesus is truth and life and the Holy one of God; who else, or what else is the alternative?: Only lies, death and separation from God.
On another occasion John writes: Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed him, If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples. John 8:31
True disciples then are abiders, life long students of Jesus. They are apprentices who attach themselves to their teacher in order to learn from the experience, knowledge and wisdom of the master. They stay with Him, study Him, obey Him, imitate Him; they focus on being like Him. Early on in their relationship the disciples of Jesus often called Him Rabbi, but as they grew in their understanding of who He was, this term of respect was replaced by terms of worship. They called Him master and Lord. Jesus is the Christ of God, and following Him is no trivial matter.
What could possibly compete with loving, worshipping and following the incomparable Christ, son of the Living God? Paul says that nothing the world offers can come close. The best of the best is rubbish, a pile of refuse by comparison.
Disciple is not a mere title bestowed on a certain species of Christian. Being a disciple is not a part time job, a spiritual hobby, or one important aspect of life. It is about a daily, total commitment to BEING. Once we know Jesus as our Savior, we are to respond to His love with total abandon. As Paul says:
“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that One died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” 2 Corinthians 5:14 & 15
When Jesus turned on the crowd to articulate the call to being a disciple, He used the sobering image of the cross, the then current mode of capital punishment, to make clear the seriousness of following Him. Then He used an illustration about building a tower…
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” Luke 14:27 -30
What is the point concerning the tower? This is a goal which by its very nature requires an expectation of completion for it to make any sense at all. It would be foolish in the extreme to go into the business of starting but never finishing building projects. I am certain that there are people who wish they could make a living from starting things and never finishing. There are people who could be millionaires if they could only get money for all the things they’ve started – diets, knitting, refinishing furniture, cleaning out the garage and the like.
I once met a man who had decided to learn to play the guitar and thirty years later owned twenty beautiful guitars, ten amplifiers, thousands of guitar records and had attended hundreds of guitar concerts, but still couldn’t play a song. He somehow thought that by creating and living in a guitar rich environment he would vicariously acquire skill. However, he never practiced because it hurt his fingers.
Progress is to be expected from true disciples. Disciples grow spiritually and make noticeable progress in becoming Christ-like. Spiritual maturity is not something that happens to us because we place ourselves in a certain environment. Growth comes by being like Jesus by practicing the spiritual life and its disciplines. Righteousness is to be pursued.
When Peter refused to walk away at Jesus’ call to eat His flesh and drink His blood, he stayed in order to be being a disciple, beginning a life quest to be like his master. As Peter reached the end of his life he wrote to encourage us to make progress, increasing in the spiritual qualities of the Lord we follow.
For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:4-8