STUDY TWELVE: THE COMMITMENT AND OBEDIENCE COMMANDED IN THE KINGDOM

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012

We turn now to look more fully at Christ’s command to follow him. Like his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and the parables this is a radical command. It takes us to the very root meaning of true faith, and calls us to an extreme response. But this command is not extreme or radical by being ‘far fetched’ or weird. Rather it calls us back to the original relationship with God for which he created us in the first place. It calls us back to our real identity and our real role and responsibility. As we look at it we discover that in this command Jesus Christ is telling us to do exactly the opposite of our original rebellion against God and his authority in the rebellion of our ancestor Adam in Genesis 3. In this command he calls us to radical repentance.

 

A. JESUS COMMANDED/CALLED PEOPLE TO FOLLOW HIM

Each of the Gospels reports that just after Jesus commenced his public ministry he commanded people to follow him. Later we are told of others who received the same command.

Check out these verses and answer the questions.

Text

Who was called to follow?

What was their response?

Matthew 4:18-20

 

 

 

Matthew 4:21-22

 

 

 

Matthew 9:9-13

 

 

 

We know from the Gospel records that the command to follow was not limited to these few addressed by these specific commands. For your own interest check out the following:

John 1:35-51; Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; Matthew 19:21; Luke 10:1,17

 

Writing about the response of Levi in Mark 2:14 (= Matthew 9:9-12), Dietrich Bonhoeffer states:

‘The call goes forth, and it is at once followed by the response of obedience. The response of the disciples is an act of obedience … How could the call immediately evoke obedience? … behind the immediate following of the call by response is Jesus Christ himself. It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, Levi follows at once. This encounter is a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus. There is no need of any preliminaries, and no other consequence but obedience to the call.  Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and to demand obedience to his word. Jesus summons men to follow him not as a teacher or a pattern of the good life, but as the Christ, the Son of God. … Not a word of praise is given to the disciple for his decision for Christ. We are not expected to contemplate the disciple, but only him who calls, and his absolute authority. According to our text, there is no road to faith or discipleship, no other road – only obedience to the call of Jesus.’ [pp48,49, The Cost of Discipleship]

[We learn here that the whole concept of a gospel ‘invitation’ actually misses the point, because this invitation, this call, is in actual fact a command. Does he invite us to follow him? Yes, he does. But this is not a take-it-or-leave-it invitation as we understand invitations. It is an invitation, because Christ is gracious, because he really wants us to follow him even though we have rebelled against him; it is a command because he is the King, because no word of the King is to be taken lightly, and because, at the bottom line, there is no other viable option but to obey. He, the King, knows that to refuse this invitation is to reject him, the King, and to reject him, the King, is to persist in our rebellion, to remain in that other kingdom in which there is only darkness, death, destruction and despair.]

 

B. WHY FOLLOW JESUS?

What is it about Jesus Christ that elicited this prompt response recorded in the passages in the table above? Why should people follow him? Bonhoeffer has pointed us to the authority of Jesus that elicited prompt obedience. He has rightly pointed out that it is Jesus Christ himself who is behind the call, and behind the response of obedience.

But there were those who heard his command to follow, and didn’t follow. There were those who heard, followed, then changed their minds. There were those who heard, followed, but all the time they were not really following, not really with him. All of these had heard the call, but although some followed, none realized that it was the ultimate call, the only call worth following. Believing it to be just one more call among many, they also believed it to be optional, that nothing really depended on it.
 
We need to be careful here, when we hear these words ‘Follow me’ that our response is for the right reasons, that we are not ‘obeying’ this command out of a mistaken perception of who Jesus is, or for our own agenda, or simply for the sake of ‘following’ someone or something. We need to be sure that we are following him, that we are obeying him who is Lord over all.

Bonhoeffer is right. Jesus does have the authority to command our instant obedience. Let us look further at what the Scriptures say about Jesus in the context of his command to follow him, and let us put the focus not on the ‘follow’, and put it on the ‘me’. Who is this ‘me’ who commands us to follow?

The Scriptures draw our attention to significant truths about the identity of Jesus Christ, and give us good reason why we should follow him. For example:

John 1:36-37

 He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In other words, this person who commands us to follow him is the One who lays down his life as a substitutionary, sin-bearing sacrifice to obtain the forgiveness of our sins.  He is a person of incredible, immeasurable love. This is he, who is calling us to follow, this Lamb of God who loves us this much.

John 1:44-45

 He is the One foretold by the Scriptures – in whom all the promises of God find their fulfilment. He is the One anticipated right through the Old Testament from the first promise of salvation in Genesis 3:15 to the last warning of the second coming in Malachi 4:5. He is the one of whom the law and prophets speak, both in word and in symbol, and to whom the Psalms and prophets look forward with eager anticipation. After centuries of promise and prediction the One in and through whom God will work his eternal purpose has come: this is he who commands us to follow him

Matthew 4:18; Matthew 19:16-23

He will make us fishers of men – he incorporates us into the saving work of his kingdom. We are not called, invited, commanded to a pointless, meaningless inactivity. He does not call us to follow him simply for our own sake. This Christ who commands us involves us in the work of the kingdom of which he makes us members. This Christ who summed up his whole life in the words ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do’ [John 17:4] sets us about that same work [Matthew 5:13-16; Ephesians 2:10]. Indeed it was for this work that he called us to follow.

John 6:66-71

To follow him is to gain eternal life for he alone has the words of eternal life. There is simply no other choice. As Peter said in John 6:68: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’

John 8:12

He is the Light of the world. Not one light among many other equally brilliant lights but the light of the world. He is the one in and by whom all the darkness of our ignorance of God is shattered and dispelled. To see him is to see God. To know him is to know God. There is no more spiritual darkness for those who obey his command to follow. Who would not obey such a King, such a God? Only those who love the darkness [John 3:19-20].

John 10:4; John 10:27

He is the good Shepherd who knows us, and whose voice we recognize. This image of the good Shepherd teaches us of the infinite and immeasurable love of the One who commands us to follow him. Nowhere else will we find such love. Nowhere else will we find such compassion. Nowhere else will we find such sacrifice. Only here, in this One who commands our allegiance. Those who follow him, knowing his voice, will follow him forever. They will never be snatched out of his hand, for he, the Good Shepherd, keeps them safe, even through the valley of death.

John 12:26

To follow him is to be with him forever. It is not a temporary allegiance. He does not call us to a one-off event; he does not call us to a short-term commitment after which we can return to our own lives and our own agenda. He invites us, he commands us, to an eternal destiny, to an endless relationship with himself. This is his plan for us, this is his gift to us: that we will be with him forever.

And it is here, in this purpose for which he called us into his kingdom, that we understand that this call and this command, is a re-call: it is a re-call to that original relationship and purpose for which God created us [Genesis 1:26-27]. In commanding us to follow him, Jesus is commanding us to turn back to God. By this call, by this command, he invites us to be what God intended us to be: people who image him, people in whom his glory is seen, people through whom his name is made known.  And as we contemplate this, we realize that all the other purposes listed above were also a command to return to this unimpeded relationship with God for which he created us, in which we trust him fully, in which we rest in the knowledge of his love, in which there is no darkness, and to which there is no end.

All of this teaches us why we should follow Jesus – and not another.

 

C. WHAT COMMITMENT IS INVOLVED IN FOLLOWING JESUS?

C.1 The kind of commitment

Read the passages. Discuss the commitment described. How does it challenge you personally?

Matthew 4:18-20 –

a decisive response

 

 

Luke 9:61-62 –

a single-minded response

 

John 21:22 – a personal, individual response

 

 

Leon Morris comments on Matthew 16:24:
‘Sets his will [NIV: ‘would’] is important; the prospective disciple must exercise his will; nobody becomes a follower of Jesus by drifting into it. There must always be a wholehearted decision. Coming after me … means “be a disciple,” “be a committed follower.” [p431, ibid]

 

C.2 A commitment that takes priority over:

Read the passages. What are the implications of this priority of Christian discipleship for our lives?

Our livelihood - Matthew 4:18-22 – over

 

 

Our family commitments - Matthew 4:21-22;

Matthew 10:34-37

 

Our personal comfort - Matthew 8:19-20

 

 

Social expectations -Matthew 8:21-22

 

 

Social boundaries -

Matthew 9:9-13

 

 

Which of the above is most difficult for you personally? Why?

 

 

 

 

C.3 A commitment that involves:

Discuss and record [1] the meaning of each aspect of commitment listed below [2] how each aspect compares or contrasts with the mindset of contemporary society, [3] to what extent each aspect is evident in contemporary Christianity. The comments from various authors below the table may help your understanding.

[1] What do each of these mean?

[2] Attitudes of contemporary society

[3] Attitudes in contemporary Christianity

Self-denial – Matthew 16:24-26

 

 

 

 

Losing one’s life for Christ – Matthew 16:24-25; John 12:25-26

 

 

 

 

Submission to the word of Christ – Matthew 19:16-21

 

 

 

 

Willingness to leave ‘everything’ to follow Christ – Matthew 19:16-27

 

 

 

 

Taking up one’s cross daily – Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23 

 

 

 

 

Following the example of Christ in his suffering - 1 Peter 2:18-23

 

 

 

 

The possibility of suffering, persecution and martyrdom – Matthew 10:17-42; John 21:19; 1 Peter 2:18-23

  

 

 

 

D. PERSONAL CHALLENGE

As we have seen above this command of Christ to radical commitment does not gel with either contemporary society or contemporary Christianity.  It is not an acceptable command. It goes against the grain. It expects of us a commitment that, humanly speaking, seems a recipe for disaster and loss, a command that would drive people away from Christ rather than draw them to him. In addition, it simply seems too hard. We want to excuse ourselves from it and say, oh, that’s only for the pastors and the missionaries, that‘s only for old people who have nothing better to do, that’s only for a select few whom God calls to a special level of spirituality. It’s not for me, not for us, we are only ordinary, every-day believers. We’re not the giants, not the Billy Graham’s, not the Martin Luther’s who have to change the world.

James Montgomery Boice, in Christ's Call to Disipleship, and referring to Chantry’s The Shadow of the Cross: Studies in Self-Denial, lists two possible reasons for the lack of teaching on self-denial in the church today:

[1] the extreme, fanatical asceticism of past eras of the church, in which people cut themselves from most normal contacts with the world, exemplified in monasticism; and

[2] the teaching, popularized by the holiness movement, of “a second work of grace”, in which Christians progress from simple faith to a second level of Christianity “marked by self-surrender, self-denial, and discipleship.”

Boice rightly points out that both of these have a common denominator: that the people of whom self-denial is expected are on a different plane to others, separating ‘ordinary Christianity’ from ‘superior Christianity’. This marginalization of the call to self-denial, of the call to obedience to the select few, is not true to Biblical discipleship. It lets the majority of us ‘off the hook’.

We try to wriggle out of this command to commitment, and we grasp at every straw to find an exit.

But we cannot.

He who is the Lord commands it. He confronts us each in his word and says ‘Follow me. Follow me along this way of the cross … this way of self-denial for the sake of the Kingdom, for the sake of the Father.’


 

Personal Question: In what ways are you personally challenged by this command to radical commitment and obedience? Are there any specific areas where there is need for:

• Re-affirmation of your commitment to follow
• Self denial
• Separation from the self-serving mindset of the world around you
• Acknowledgement of the Lordship of Christ