Discipleship: Luke 9:23-26
It is often debated as to what a true Christian disciple looks like. That is, many wonder about what it is that defines a follower of Jesus. It is a difficult task, and in reading the teachings of Jesus Himself it can become rather daunting. Still, there are certain characteristics that are consistent throughout the Gospels and indeed the other books of the New Testament. Love, for example, is a constant theme - Christianity is essentially nothing without Love. As any good Christocentric theologian would know, true love is unknown without the example of it given by Christ. However, while Love is at the core of discipleship there is always another principle that accompanies it, and in fact is intimately related to - even intertwined with - this Christian notion of true love. This theme is another of which Jesus is the ultimate paradigm, and one Jesus speaks of especially in His last days: It is the Way of the Cross. In particular, Luke 9:23-26 speaks of this foundational standard of discipleship, and is often over-looked because of its difficulty. Yet, the fact remains that discipleship is a rigorous affair, and much more than merely an intellectual assent to the teachings of Jesus. That is, discipleship is beyond simply declaring a love for God and His Son, but is in fact a living out of Jesus the Christ's teachings. In examining the passage of Luke, one will better understand the requirements set out by God, through Jesus, and see that while salvation is a free gift, paradoxically, it does indeed come with a cost.
Before one jumps into the specified text, it might be important to note the place in which it has been situated. Prior to the direct discourse on discipleship, Jesus is speaking with His apostles about His identity. This is important as what will follow ties directly to whom Jesus is - to be precise, discipleship is intimately nailed to Jesus' identity. This confession by the apostles marks a turning point in Jesus' life: Prior to this Jesus had been with the crowds, proclaiming the kingdom of God through a ministry of mercy, while after this Jesus will spend more time with His disciples, preparing them for His death, resurrection and continuing witness.1 With the confession of Peter, declaring the apostles' communal belief that Jesus is the Christ of God (Luke 9:20), Jesus stifles any intentions the Twelve might have of spreading this revelation (Luke 9:21). Jesus does this for the specific reason that nobody would understand the kind of Christ He was.2 In the accounts given in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, neither does Peter - and likely all the other apostles - understand what kind of Christ Jesus is. The common view held at the time regarding the awaited Messiah was one of an exalted conqueror,3 and with the Jewish people experiencing oppression under the domination of the Roman Empire, they were more than ready to join a messianic revolutionary.4 Thus, Peter's rebuke of Jesus, when He teaches the apostles of His approaching suffering, comes with no surprise: Peter, and the other disciples, may have begun to follow Jesus in the hopes that He was the Messiah, but the common expectations of the nature of His messiahship obstructed any real understanding.5 As a result, Jesus cannot allow them to spread this proclamation until they have received further instruction on what it truly meant for Jesus to be the Christ of God.
With the Gospel of Luke, Peter's objection to Jesus' sufferings is skipped and therefore the subsequent sayings on discipleship are less a corrective address and more a teaching discourse.6 Consequently, the terms of discipleship, for Luke, are more noticeably entwined with Jesus' identity as the Suffering Servant. It can be seen that since the birth of Jesus, to the voice at His baptism, and to the wrestling in the wilderness, Jesus had been moving toward a Suffering Servant realisation.7 The Son of Man was to suffer many things in order to complete the mighty acts of God and bring about the redemption of humanity. Jesus' rejection by the leaders of the sacrificial services of the religion of Israel - by the official interpreters of that religion - was inevitable, for the leaders could never accept Jesus' form of messiahship or His understanding of the true nature of God and religion.8 A prophet who truly spoke the words of God was never welcome - evidenced throughout the books of the Old Testament - and Jesus could be no exception. While the Jews had spun the Laws into a legalism, creating in them merely a way to be righteous before God instead of allowing them to be the way in which the will of God took command over their lives, Jesus was so bound completely with the will of God - and gave Himself so completely to God's purposes - that His life became the point where we can see the greatest conflict between God and the world.9 Jesus' rejection serves to show us how radically different He was from the world, and even from what had come of His own religion. Accordingly, as Jesus next teaches His disciples, while Jesus is to bear the cross, His followers must be prepared to also - Jesus did say, after all, that no servant is greater than his master: 'If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also' (John 15:20).
- Ray Summers, Commentary on Luke: Jesus the Universal Saviour (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1972), p.109.
- Kenneth Baker and John R. Kohlenberger III, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Abridged Edition: New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p.242.
- Ibid., p.78.
- Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), p.151.
- Summers, Universal Saviour, p.109.
- Ibid., p.110.
- Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), pp.103-105.