Jesus never called anyone to be a “Christian”. He called people to be a “disciple”.
Why? A disciple is a “learner,” and to learn from Jesus you must be with him, and follow him as you obey him.
And what did that call to follow him look like? What were the expectations when Jesus called a person to “Follow me”?
Let’s read Luke 9:57-62 to find our answer:
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And 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.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (NASB)
Upon initially reading this passage, many typically respond with a comment such as, “Man, Jesus is harsh!” But that response alone reveals the influence of culture and letting others tell us about Jesus and what it means to follow him, instead of letting the Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus himself influence and define that call.
Honestly, Jesus isn’t being harsh, but truthful. Instead of deceiving us, or playing on our emotions, as some do today, Jesus is describing what it takes to be an effective follower of his.
And what does he say?
First, based on verses 57-58, a disciple realizes the call of Jesus is not a call to comfort but a call to sacrifice!
Animals such as foxes and birds naturally have a place to rest, which brings a measure of security and protection.
A disciple of Jesus is not promised this.
It’s not that you can’t have comforts, or even nice things, but you’re not here for those nice things! The comforts of life can distract us and consume an exorbitant amount of our time as we seek to gain more and more of them.
A disciple of Jesus has another purpose for being here.
Second, based on verses 59-60, a disciple realizes the call of Jesus is not a call to cultural obligations and religious rules, but a call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus!
In Judaism, a son had a crucial responsibility to fulfill his obligations when his father passed away. It was such a sacred obligation that the son was exempt from all other responsibilities to the Torah (the Law) until that was complete.
Is Jesus saying those responsibilities don’t exist anymore? No. All Jesus is stating is as crucial as that task is, the son now has a more pressing responsibility: “[G]o and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”
In other words, as important as a funeral was with celebrating and explaining the significance of the life of the deceased, now a disciple is to go about celebrating and explaining (that’s what “proclaim” means) to all who will listen what the reign of Jesus is like.
Consequently, this potential disciple discovered you can’t let cultural dictates or even religious rules supersede the call of God.
Lastly, based on verses 61-62, a disciple realizes the call of Jesus is not a call to make Jesus a priority, but a call to make Jesus the priority of your life!
Undoubtedly, relationships are an important part of life, if not the most important part. But again, Jesus has something to teach us about relationships.
Jesus declares it’s not that we can’t have relationships and fulfill our responsibilities, but in comparison to our relationship with Jesus, all other relationships are subordinate, or to be blunt, it’s as if they don’t exist!
And to close, Jesus gives a beautiful picture of what’s he’s asking of each disciple, using imagery everyone would have been familiar with back then – a farmer plowing his land. Israel could be a rocky land, and to plow a field, it took one hand on the plow, one hand guiding the animal, and continuously looking forward to get those lines straight.
Total dedication, not looking back but forward, and guided by one Master is the picture.
Only that kind of person is “fit” or “well-placed”, and truly “useable” in the kingdom of God.
We don’t know what happened to these three individuals, but it’s unlikely that they followed Jesus. The first person probably was unwilling to renounce the comforts and securities of this life. The second and third individuals came to Jesus with a “but first” request. After Jesus’ discussion, we know a “but first” request is never “fit” for kingdom life.
What’s your response?
Here’s what I believe the challenge is: don’t just be a Christian who is satisfied with their ticket to heaven and attending church as a spectator sport, but be a disciple: one who is willing to go on an adventure with our Lord, putting nothing before Him.
Let’s stop trying to redefine the nature of the call, and just start obeying.
That’s what a disciple does.