Cost Of Discipleship
n this second Sunday in our preparation for Easter, we hear again the story of Jesus beginning to share the secrets of his heart and real purpose with his best friends. Although they had left their jobs and careers to follow him, they still did not know for real who he was and what his mission was. Some had probably signed on with him because they knew that his references to himself as The Son of Man meant that he would bring in a new Messianic government, casting off Roman occupation, and they wanted to cash in on his political power. However, Jesus had a big surprise for them.
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again."
Then Peter took Jesus aside and told him that he should not be saying things like that. Jesus rebuked Peter saying, "Get behind me, Satan!" Of course, Jesus knew that Peter was not Satan himself, but he was acting like Satan had done during his time of temptation when he offered him the whole materialistic world if he would give up God's plan of salvation for humanity. Peter was unknowingly attempting to scuttle God's plan for extending the Good News to the world.
So, Jesus enlarged his invitation for the crowds of new potential disciples to come hear his message. These prospective believers came as a preview of the thousands who would eventually come and hear him preach and respond by giving their hearts and lives to Jesus. These thousands were also a foretaste of the billions who would in due time join the universal Church that would be founded. Many of these first Christians came with very little understanding of what the dawning of the Christian era would mean. Most of the first believers were Jews and had some limited understanding of Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament Messianic prophecy, but did not realize that the new Christian Church would extend out to every precious soul that would ever live.
The fact that they came by faith, with limited understanding as to what they were really giving their hearts to, did not deter their faith. This is yet another example that salvation has always been, and remains, primarily by faith. Although we like to have most of our questions answered up front, if we wait to have a complete intellectual clarity, few will ever come. This is because it takes initial faith and commitment to even begin the process toward understanding. Faith, even childlike trusting, provides a relationship, friendship, with God through the Holy Spirit that will quicken one's desire and hunger for more and more. However, as one who has put in his time in the study, I can attest that scholarship alone will never replace the need for faith. In fact, it is often true that the person of faith who seeks highbrow pedantic, often narrow and ostentatious, scholarship alone, will end up falling from their initial faith experience. True Christian Wisdom is a combination of faith and learning, which realizes that intellectual growth is a lifelong process, as is experiential growth in grace. None of us ever arrive at a spiritual plateau where we know it all and can then look down on others and espouse the truth that we think we have attained. Discipleship keeps us humble all along the way.
Methodism's founder, John Wesley, whose 300th birthday we celebrate this year, is a perfect example of true wisdom. He rose to become a Fellow of his college at Oxford, which was comparable to an Associate Professor in our American system; yet he was able to preach practical Christianity to the ordinary uneducated masses of England. I have sat at his desk in his office at Oxford and have seen one of the many saddles that he wore out riding his horse throughout the British Isles preaching outdoors to thousands of people at a time, and establishing small bands of converts for the purpose of individual growth in grace toward spiritual maturity. True wisdom comes from combining faith with education while surviving the everyday challenges of adversity that are common to all. As we would die physically in an atmosphere void of oxygen, food, water and shelter, we would die spiritually without faith, hope, learning, challenges and the assurance of salvation that the Holy Spirit provides along the roadway of life. These ingredients turned Jesus' disciples into spiritual giants who changed the world with God's Good News.
It is our tradition that Methodist Preachers do not come into local churches as scholars alone, although we have raised a high bar of graduate educational attainment, but we come as one beggar pointing the way to another hungry person where they might find bread. We do not settle for sophomoric answers to formidable questions that sometimes we can only grapple with without hope of completely understanding in this life, but we do seek to provide true faith topped with spiritual wisdom. We know that simple answers to difficult questions are usually wrong.
Jesus placed a high price on discipleship. It would not just be a simple matter of saying a little prayer, making a vow and getting our ticket punched. What Jesus really told them was, "If any of you wants to be my follower you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul?"
As theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from a prison cell, having been convicted in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler, "There is no cheap grace." Although he was martyred just days before the end of World War II, today he exerts a remarkable influence worldwide upon clergy and laity. Discipleship cost him his life, as it did for many of Jesus' first disciples. Hopefully, for most of us it will not take away our life but will give us a life worth living. We are fortunate to live when grace is readily available; but; it is never cheap. Too often modern Americans have reduced discipleship to a kind of minimalist club membership, not demanding much and not worth much.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor