Title: What it Means to be a Disciple of Jesus
Speaker: Jonathan Bailey
Location: Four Corners Church
Date: July 6, 2008
This is post-resurrection. Jesus is out of the grave. The disciples are excited again. This kingdom movement, this Jesus movement is moving on. I want to talk for a second about the Great Commission. Jesus is going to give us some directions, some instructions to these disciples on what it means for the church to go forward. This address, this little teaching from Jesus gives us some shape, some vision for what we as disciples are to do. I think about how important that time was, and I always want to ask these questions: “What do you tell these disciples to do? What kind of instructions do you give them?” Here's what Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” In other words, “I'm in charge. I have say over everything.” Here's the important phrase: “Therefore, go and make disciples of My name. Not converts; not people who confess or profess a few things about Me; not churchgoers; not Bible thumpers; but disciples of My name, students of Jesus.”
We live in a strange time where we don't hear too much about that anymore. There's a great quote from Dallas Willard where he says, “We have divorced being a Christian from being a disciple.” So there's no real natural connection, and now discipleship is kind of an option in the Christian life. It's kind of an addendum we add on. It's for the real serious Christians or the real hard-core Christians. It's not an addendum. Jesus tells us that discipleship is not an option; it's a commission. It's something He commissioned us to do.
This morning I want to talk about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. There's a lot of confusion about that. In some Christian circles it could mean memorizing the Greek and Hebrew Bible. In other Christian circles it could just mean showing up for Sunday school and going to Wednesday night church. For others it could be the infamous quiet time, or it could be reading a Psalm or reading a Proverb every day. Who knows? Or it could be our smorgasbord of groups: Accountability groups, care groups, life groups, home groups, cell groups. This morning I want to talk about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
I want us to think about a disciple as not someone who is learning information and just soaking it in, but someone who is out in the field learning. I want you to try on a new word: “Apprentice.” “Apprentice” has a little more teeth to it. It says a little something more than “disciple.” I have a cousin who is studying to be an electrician in Marshall, Texas. He doesn't wake up every morning and get his electricity books out and read about electricity, lights, and plugs. He goes out every day with the master electrician. He goes with him and he learns how the wires work. He's dropping plugs, hanging cables, and he's with him, learning to be like him. The master apprentice is saying, “Now you try. I just dropped this; I just did this; now you give it a try.” That's the clearest picture we have in the gospels of what it means to be a disciple. When Peter is sitting there and Jesus says, “Come on out; get in this water with me; I'm doing it; you do it,” that's what discipleship is all about.
I want to give you a definition before we get started of what a disciple is. A disciple of Jesus is someone who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to be with Jesus, learning to be like Jesus. That's what a disciple is all about. I wish I had more time to talk about just what it means to be with Him, because He ascended into heaven, and He's not with us like He was with the disciples. There are so many ways we are with Jesus now. One way that we are always with Jesus is we immerse ourselves in the Gospel stories. We baptize ourselves into those stories. There is rarely a day that goes by that I am not reading what Jesus is doing in the Gospels. I'm constantly soaking it in, reading about it, and I'm always asking questions. A disciple is someone who is asking questions because they're trying to learn, they're trying to become. I'm always asking questions like, “What in the world does that mean, Jesus? Why would You say that?” The most important question I could ask is, “How do I do that?” That's one way that we are with Jesus.
This morning, I'm going to talk about Luke 14:25-35. I want to walk through those 11 verses verse by verse and talk about what each verse means. It's almost self explanatory. That's why I like teaching exactly what Jesus taught because I don't have to come up with anything, and that's a good thing.
Let me pray before we jump into the text. Jesus, I am painfully aware that my words will not be enough this morning to change anyone's heart. Only You and Your Spirit can do that. I ask now that Your Spirit will come and forcefully impress on every one sitting in this room the beauty of being a disciple of Jesus. Lead us and guide us as we go from this room. It's in Your great name we pray, Amen.
Just to give you a little bit of context on this passage, this teaching from Jesus comes after some pretty significant miracles. He has healed the lady whose back was bent over. He healed a guy from dropsy. Some more notable miracles are He calmed the storm. In one right after that, He fed the five thousand. When you take into the account the women and children, we're talking about 15,000 to 20,000 He fed. So we get a clue in the first verse of what preempts this teaching from Jesus, because it's a pretty severe teaching. That's why I like it so much. Starting with verse 25:
25“Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them,”
Key phrase: Large crowds. Luke wants us to know that before we jump right in to Jesus’ teaching. It could be that maybe some of these people were coming to see a miracle. Maybe they were coming to see Jesus to get healed by Him. Maybe they were coming just to get some of that fish or that bread that He had made for everybody. Maybe they were seeking some kind of experience rather than seeking Jesus.
One of the things that I really love about Jesus is that He doesn't seem very impressed with crowds. It's kind of the opposite for us today. Crowds validate who we are. Crowds validate what I'm saying. When we see crowds, we say, “I have to go see what's going on there.” Jesus was almost always deterring people, or at least He wanted them to know what the deal was before they got all excited or hyped up about what was happening. For a disciple of Jesus, the question that we always want to keep in front of us is this: Are we in it for Jesus, or are we in it for ourselves?
Growing up, I would always go to these stadium crusades, youth camps, Christian conferences – these big, large-crowd gatherings. I was always seeking some great, life transforming experience. Can anyone relate to that? You get hyped up, you have a lot of emotion, and then you come back, and three or four days later you're back to your old life. That probably happened four or five times before finally I said, “That kind of Christianity is a sham.” It wasn't until four or five years later that I found where the heartbeat of Christianity is, where the pulse of Christianity is, and that's in the day-to-day living with Jesus Christ. If you want to know where transformation happens, it's in the day-to-day living with Jesus Christ, deciding that the most important thing in your life is to be with Him, learning to be like Him.
I have this quote for you this morning from Eugene Peterson. It's one of my favorite quotes that Eugene has. He says, “Today there is a great market for religious experiences but little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue. Few people sign up for a long term apprenticeship than what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” A long, patient acquisition of virtue. That's what you have ahead of you. That's what it's all about: Signing up for a long-term apprenticeship with Jesus. What are you doing for the rest of your life? I'm following Jesus. That's what I'm doing. I'm signing up for that long haul, and I'm going to be with Him day in and day out. He's going to be changing me, transforming me into His very image, because a disciple is someone who wants to be with Him learning to be like Him.
Now we're going to actually get into what Jesus is saying. Verse 26 is a very strange and difficult passage:
26“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”
What is Jesus saying there? That is an unbelievable statement. When I first read that I asked, “Is Jesus commanding us to hate our family members?” I think this is why you don't hear too many sermons about Luke 14:26. It's kind of a little too offensive, maybe a little too difficult. It kind of puts Jesus maybe in a bad light. But I believe it places Jesus right where He must be. It looks like Jesus is talking about hate, but it ends up that He's talking about love.
What He's doing is He's using a teaching technique called overstatement. Think about the first century. How does someone communicate without any audio visual equipment? Look at all this stuff I have. I have all these speakers; I have this PowerPoint presentation; I have this cool microphone on my ear; I have this stand, stage, bible, and notes. Jesus didn't have any of that. People weren't carrying around notebooks saying, “Okay, I like that one, Jesus. That's good.” They couldn't write anything down. So what Jesus does all the time is He uses this technique called overstatement. People said, “Wow, that's crazy.” So the teaching starts to spread through the crowd. You can almost see it: “Jesus just said to hate father and mother.” “What?” The next person tells the next guy, and so it's spreading. Jesus uses this technique all the time, and He's going to use it for the rest of these scriptures that we're going to look at.
The definition of overstatement is when you overstate a truth in such a way that the resulting exaggeration forcefully brings home the point you were intending to make. Growing up, I was very much a hooligan. I was a crazy kid. I was jumping off the roof into my pool. I was jumping on the trampoline to my roof. I was swimming in the creek when it was flooded. I was lighting things on fire. I was breaking my mom's valuables. Crazy kid. My dad would always use this phrase with me when we got in trouble: “Jon, I am going to shoot you! I could just shoot you, John!” Did my dad mean that he was going to grab a shotgun, stick it in my belly, and pull the trigger? No, he just meant, “I'm really upset. I'm angry. I wish you would stop acting like an idiot!” That's what he meant.
So what does Jesus mean by this statement? That's the important part. Here's the point Jesus was making: No one is more valuable or more important in your life than Jesus. No human relationship, no matter how intimate, should stand in the way of you becoming and being a disciple of Jesus. That's what that phrase means. Our love for Jesus should be so much greater that the love we have for human relationships almost looks like hate. It's not hate, but the chasm is so great that it appears that way. Is it wrong to love your wife? Is it wrong to love your husband? Is it wrong to love your kids? No. It's just wrong if you love them more than Jesus. That's idolatry. That's adultery. I like what John Piper says: “That's elevating the gift above the giver.” All these gifts of spouses, kids, mom, and dad all came from Jesus. We take those and we say, “We worship You, Jesus. We thank You for those gifts.” We don't elevate the gift above the giver.
Let me talk about my family. Let's take my dad, for example. My dad looked after me; cared for me; raised me; did so many things for me. Are you telling me that my ultimate allegiance, my ultimate love can't be for him? That's what Jesus is telling us. What about my mom? She gave birth to me; she changed my diapers; she cooked meals for me; she did my laundry for 18 years. You're telling me my ultimate allegiance, my ultimate love, can't be for her? That's what Jesus is telling us. What about my brother and sister? Josh: He's my twin; we're co-zygotes; we shared the womb together; we share a business now. What about my sister? She changed my diapers. She looked out for me. She always keeps me on track with birthdays and anniversaries. You're telling me my ultimate love, my ultimate allegiance, can't be for them? That's what Jesus is telling us. What about my wife? She's the person I love more than anyone in the world, the person I decided to spend the rest of my life with. You're telling me my ultimate allegiance, my ultimate love, can't be for her? That's what Jesus is telling us. It's a great thing because once we get that relationship right, all the others go so much better. That's not the point; that's just an effect.
There's one person I'm forgetting. It's always the easiest person to forget, and that's me. Jesus says, “Yes, even your own life. Hate even your own life.” The greatest temptation you or I will ever face in this world is self-worship. I don't mean you sing a couple slow songs, you sing a couple fast songs to yourself. I'm talking about allegiance. Worship first and foremost is a matter of allegiance. Where do I put my time? Where do I put my energy? More importantly, where do I put my money? Those three things are what we worship with. So you want to ask, “Is all my time, is all my energy going into me? Is all my money going in to me, or is it going out? Is it going to the cause of Jesus Christ? Is my time going there? Am I disciplining myself? Am I walking with Jesus day-to-day?”
What does it mean to be a disciple? It means that no one is more valuable, no one is more important in your life than Jesus Christ. This begs the question: How do I dethrone myself as the ultimate reference point in my life? How do I not worship myself? How do I stop doing that? This is what verse 27 is all about:
27“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
Jesus has a cross. You have a cross. We love His cross. He was the propitiation for our sins, the forgiveness of our sins. We thank Him so much for that. But Jesus tells us we have a cross to carry. A.W. Tozer said, “We insist that Jesus do all the dying.” Something inside of us has to die. What does Jesus mean here? What does the cross mean? The cross means, very simply, the end of your life. What happens if a guy is told he's going to be crucified tomorrow? That's it. You have about five or six hours and you're done. That's what Jesus is telling these people. Something inside of you – that selfish nature – must die. I like to think of it this way: The cross means the end of a life dominated by selfishness and the beginning of a new life liberated by selflessness. That's what it means when you take the cross.
Let's look at Galatians 6:14. I want to read one verse about the apostle Paul. Here is a man who decided to be a disciple of Jesus. Here's someone who decided that the most important thing in his life was to be a disciple. The cross was his companion in his life, all of his life. Galatians 6:14:
14“But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
May it never be that I would boast except in one thing: The cross. If there's anything to boast in, it is the cross. And then he adds a strange little phrase on the end: “Through which the world has been crucified to me, and I have been crucified to the world.” What is Paul saying there? He's saying: “The world has been crucified to me,” meaning, “The world is dead to me.” What does John tell us that the world is in his first letter? He says all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of possessions. Paul says, “The world has been crucified to me. It's dead to me. It no longer has a pull on me.” Because here's what the world does: The world is fueling your selfishness. It is feeding it. But the cross is fueling your selflessness. That's why it's so important. Jesus includes it here because He is showing us that the only way to lose our lives is to get on that cross, to put that on our backs, to follow Him up that hill, and then we die there with Him. So the cross of Jesus means the forgiveness of my sins, but it also means the freedom from my sins.
Let's move on to the next few verses. For the disciple, the cross is always a companion in life. If you're going to be a disciple, you have to know that. The cross is always your companion. In verses 28-32, Jesus is going to give us an analogy. He has given us some teaching, and now He's going to give us a little analogy to explain what He's saying and what He means. Here's what He says starting in verse 28:
28“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? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' 31Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.”
Why does He throw this in there? Five out of the eleven verses we're talking about this morning have to do with planning; counting up the cost; figuring out what the deal is. You don't just build a house on a whim. You have to go to the lot; you have to check it out; you have to check the soil; you have to look at the blueprint. There are so many things that go into it. You certainly don't go to war on a whim. So what is Jesus saying? He's saying, “If you're going to carry your cross, if you're going to be a disciple of Me, you need to get a plan. You need to count up the cost and ask, ‘What is it going to cost me? What am I going to have to do with my real life? Not just my church life, but my real life.’” One thing that I like that this says is that carrying our cross is not done on a whim. It takes planning. Another thing I like is that dying to self, taking up our crosses, doesn't happen automatically. I think some people think that that just happens automatically. They say, “That just comes with being a Christian. That just happens.” Jesus clearly teaches right here that this is not something that just hits you. This is something that He wants you to sit down, think about, pray about, read about, study, journal, write, get a plan together, and then go for it. It takes serious planning, and I wish I had more time just to talk more about how we plan, but I have some resources in your outline that you can look at if you're interested in finding out more about this.
Verse 33: I know some people especially don't like this verse. This is a hard one. Here it is, verse 33:
33“So then, (referring back to what He just said), none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”
We have to give up everything. Think about the rich young ruler. He came to Jesus and said, “I would like to have this eternal life. What should I do?” Jesus says, “Sell everything you own, give it to the poor, and come follow Me.” It may be that we actually need to do that. But it may be that we don't have to. When Jesus is talking to a big crowd or a big audience, He's usually going to use this overstatement technique. So I don't think Jesus is telling us to sell our shirts, our shoes, our cars, and our house. We'd just be naked, walking around. I think He has a deeper point and a deeper truth behind all of it. Here's what I think He's saying: “Nothing you own is more valuable than being in discipleship with Jesus.”
Here's the question you always want to ask yourself as a disciple: Do my possessions possess or control me, or do I possess my possessions? If you find that there's a possession that is competing with your discipleship, constantly pulling you into the world, sell it. Get rid of it. It's not worth it, because there's nothing more valuable than being in discipleship with Jesus. No possession is worth it.
Let me give you an example from my own life. My brother and I own our own business, so we are able to have our own office in Richardson. We have this back room, and when we were first getting started, we were officing with a few other guys. We all decided to get some TVs and some Halo 2 video games. It's the greatest game that has ever been, especially for guys. We're talking rocket launchers, sniper rifles, swords, machine guns – you can get on a big car and shoot a gun. That's what guys like. We had these four TVs, we linked them up, we had a couple couches, and we'd play each other after lunch or before we went home from work. What happened was we kept acquiring more. More is never enough. I had to learn that the hard way. So we got a fifth TV, and now we could do three verses two. Then we thought, “Maybe we need another one,” so we got six TVs, so now we could do three on three. That's awesome. Then we decided a few months later to get two more. Finally, the ultimate. Eight TVs, eight Xboxes, eight Halo 2 videos games, twenty-four controllers, all linked up to the internet and linked up together. We could have these awesome battles. My friends loved it. They thought it was the coolest thing in the world, and it was. We should have charged admission to recoup some of the costs.
But what began to happen is I would play that before we left work, and I would get so angry because I love to win. I would get angry at my friends, and I would think, “Why am I getting so angry?” I would play before I went home from work, and I would go home to Kori, and I would be in this funky mood. This would happen every day. Five days of the week I'm playing. It was almost like I heard Jesus say, “John, sell all your Xboxes and follow Me.” So that's what we did. We got rid of all the TVs; we got rid of all the Xboxes; we sold as much as we could. Now it's just a big open room. It's a conference room. But you say, “It was so much fun.” Jesus is so much better. Life has been so much better since then. I'm not angry; I'm not upset. It's way better. That's what I mean about not letting a possession possess you. If it's competing with your discipleship, get rid of it. It's not worth it.
Let's go to verses 34-35. Jesus is going to wrap up this teaching with these last two verses and He's going to give us another analogy. He starts with “Therefore,” and you always want to ask the question, “What's the “therefore” there for?” “Therefore” is to refer us back to everything we just read.
34“Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? 35It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
So therefore, salt is good. I love salt. I love to put it on my food. My dad and I are both salt freaks. We just love it. It gives so much flavor. It's not good for you, but I love salt. So Jesus is saying, “You put salt on food, and it's good.” Back in those days it was more for preserving food. But even then you had the idea of flavor and seasoning. This is what the disciples are doing in the world. You throw salt out into the world. I like the phrase Jesus uses: We're in the world, but not of it. It's like when you throw salt into food, you're in it, but you're not the food. That's what He has in mind here. He wants us to be salt. He wants us to have that preservative nature; that season; that flavorful nature. So what does He say? “If the salt becomes tasteless, it's useless. I can't use it for anything.” Back in those days, salt wasn't like how we have salt. It came in big chunks and rocks. So what would happen is the salt would leach out of the rock and it just left the rock. Jesus said, “You can't even put that on the manure pile. You can't even do anything with it.”
What is Jesus trying to say by giving us this little analogy at the end? Here's what I think He's saying: “If you're not going to be a disciple of Me, then you're useless.” That doesn't mean you're worthless. Jesus loves you; He died on the cross for you; you are so valuable to Him. But what He's saying is “I just can't use you. I can't throw you out into the world because you don't look any different from the world. I can't use you.” It's a powerful illustration at the very end to use.
I love this little phrase at the end: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus always uses this phrase. It's a mysterious little phrase. He uses it at the end of parables, stories, and teachings like this. What's He trying to say? To understand that, we have to go back to the old Israelites in Psalm 115. This is an Old Testament reference, so the original hearers of Jesus would have automatically known. For us, we don't understand because we weren't back there. This passage says something so fundamental about the human race and about what we do as human beings. Psalm 115:3-8:
3“But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. 4Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man's hands.”
So right there we have this contrast. God is in the heavens, and He does whatever He wants to do. “Heavens” doesn't mean “Heaven”; it means the sky and the stars. He is out there with us. He is out there and He's sovereign. He's autonomous. He can do whatever He wants. Then He compares it to their little idols, those outside of ethnic Israel. Their little idols are silver and gold, made with human hands. So now He's going to talk about those little idols. This is pretty cool. He says in verse 5:
5“They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; 6they have ears, but they cannot hear; they have noses, but they cannot smell; 7they have hands, but they cannot feel; they have feet, but they cannot walk; they cannot make a sound with their throat.”
What is the Psalmist saying? Their little idols that they fashioned out of silver and gold have ears; you can see them, but they don't work. They're just silver. They have mouths; you can see the mouths there, but it's not real. It doesn't work. They have eyes, but they can't see anything out of them.
Here's the key verse that ties everything together. I think this ties this whole sermon together. Verse 8:
8“Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them.”
Why does Jesus say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”? He's saying, “Have you become your own idol? Can I get through the silver and the gold? Or the sex and the money and the lust? Whatever it is you worship, whatever it is you have become, this idol. Greed, envy, malice. What is it? Can my words penetrate the idol you have created? Stop worshipping yourselves and worship Me.” That's why it's so important that we worship Jesus because we become what we worship. That's how this whole deal works. When we worship Jesus, we become like Him. That is what we need. That is what we need to hear. We stop worshipping ourselves and we worship Jesus; that is what the world needs. That is what the world is waiting for – people who are selfless and who go out into the world and don't think about their own lives. If you think about the early Christian movement, you had people who were giving their lives for the cause of Jesus. Selfless. If we lose discipleship, we lose that. I think that may be our current situation. If we lose discipleship, then we lose this idea of taking up our crosses; of living selfless lives; of not worshipping ourselves; of putting our time, our energy, and our money not into ourselves but into the cause of Jesus, into other people and loving other people.
The greatest opportunity you will ever have in life is following Jesus. The greatest opportunity you will ever have in life is to become a disciple of Jesus. We claim He's the Creator of the universe, that in Him He holds all things together. We hear His words: “Come, follow me,” and we shrug our shoulders and say, “I'm busy. I have some other things going on right now. Maybe later.”
I want to ask you this morning: Have you decided to be a disciple? Has anyone ever asked you to be a disciple? This is not a decision you make at the end of a sermon, on a big emotional high like we talked about earlier. This is a decision you go back home – like Jesus was saying – and you sit down and you think and you read and you pray. Look and see if what I'm even saying is true. Then you go ahead and you make that decision. You get a plan. You count up all the costs and then you go for it. And you say in the words of that great old hymn, “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.”