The Challenges of Discipleship

February 15, 2020

Jesus is about to leave the crowds behind him and cross the Sea of Galilee. Two men come to him expressing their desire to follow him: one is identified as a scribe and the other man as “another of the disciples.”

The scribe says, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” I suspect we would do everything to sign this man up. Jesus, however, reminds him of the challenges of discipleship. Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20, ESV). If we were to distill this colorful statement, it seems to mean: The disciple must value Jesus above material comfort and possessions.

It’s a challenging statement especially for those of us living in the United States. We have very comfortable lives. Even the circumstances of our poor can be favorably contrasted with the past and with third world nations today. So how do I apply this principle? A few will become missionaries and go into third world nations and not live as comfortably as we do here. But even for those of us who stay in the USA, we may practice generosity pleasing to Jesus and so live below our means in order to be generous. And who knows what the future may bring on a national or international scale? Regardless of what happens, we must value Jesus above our comfort and possessions.

The second man identified as “another of the disciples” begins with a request: “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (Matt. 8:21, ESV). Jesus replies, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22, ESV). As we look at Jesus’ cryptic reply, we see some who are literally dead and needing burial. But Jesus says to allow “the dead” to do the burial. Obviously, the first “dead” cannot be literal, because literally dead people don’t bury literally dead people. So, the first dead must be figurative and most likely the spiritually dead who are not responding to the call to follow Jesus. What’s the principle for us to learn? Disciples must value Jesus above earthly relationships.

Fortunately, following Jesus does not always require separation. It is only when they force a choice between family or Jesus. (See also Matt. 10:35-37, Luke 14:26). But it can happen. I knew a new Christian in college who had converted from Judaism and his parents had cut him off: he was dead to them. Converts from Islam will often lose family and in some settings face the danger of losing their lives. Jesus is making a point. The disciple must value Jesus above earthly relationships.

Jesus wants us to know up front the challenges of discipleship. The value of following Jesus is higher than every earthly value, because Jesus offers the eternal. This is not always easy, but always worth it. As we make and renew our commitment, Jesus wants us to ponder the challenges of discipleship.

— Russ Holden