I am amazed by the first disciples of Jesus. I recently re-read the stories of their call in the early pages of the gospels and considered the simplicity of their responses. These men were not normal, or at least there was something totally abnormal about the incidents in which they surrendered so instantly to follow a man whom they did not know. What made these men abandon there entire livelihood and personal connections in such a radical way, and with such unreserve?
Immediately they left their nets and followed Him… (Matthew 4:20)
Something about Jesus was so totally irresistible.
What is even more remarkable is that this seems to have been the expectation with which Jesus approached each one. Consider for a moment what Jesus said to a disciple whose name we are never given, who in response to the call of the Lord said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”
Follow me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead. (Matthew 8:22)
I think that in the modern world, we offer much more trivial excuses for our delay to respond to the call of Jesus. We say that we have an appointment, that our schedule is full, or that we want a few more minutes browsing Youtube, Facebook, etc. We want to see the oh-so important final episode of our favourite tv subscriptions on Netflix. We say this with our hearts every time we choose these comforts over His voice. But Jesus was not satisfied even with the request to be present at the funeral of this disciple’s father. Instead, He uses the man’s response to illustrate the absolute demands of His call, and the emptiness of a life without it. Jesus calls everything which pulls us away from an immediate and total acceptance of His call ‘dead’. And everyone whose life is made up of a life apart from following Him, He also calls ‘dead’. That is stunning. Are you totally submitted to Jesus’ leadership? If not, He says you are dead, and living among the dead. There is no room left for reserve in His call.
In the modern day, we accommodate a very half-hearted approach to Christianity. We ‘encourage’ new believers not to be ‘too extreme’ and to stay ‘balanced’. But there is nothing even slightly balanced about Jesus’ command to follow Him.
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37)
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
The call of Jesus is the call to reject all competing affections, personal and material. It is the call to hate and refuse to be drawn aside by everything in our lives that wrestles with His call. Saying yes to His call to follow requires that we refuse everything else. It is not possible to simply live. Every part of life must be lived through Him. Anything less amounts to a rejection of His call.
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)
There seems to be a very prevalent attitude that we can have Jesus as a convenient and helpful addition to our lives, which can otherwise remain essentially unchanged. This is a fundamental misunderstanding. The call of Jesus has to be an interruption. Things cannot continue as they were on any level. There must be a death. Everything must initially be put to an end, and then there must be a subsequent holy upheaval. Everything must be disturbed and reordered. All our associations in life prior to the call of Jesus essentially master us. When the perfect Master invites us to be mastered by Him, we must despise all of our old masters. We must count them, and ourselves as dead.
We often try to have many leaders and many masters in our lives – the most dominant one being self. I think this is the source of much of our sense of entitlement, which in itself amounts to no less than rebellion. We still think we are entitled to our opinions. We still think we are entitled to our decisions and our place in the world’s social structures. But Jesus says, ‘Come and die that you may live!’
This same sense of entitlement often causes us to refuse God’s heart and our prayers become weak and selfish. We are stuck in the affections of the world, and do not see that things that constantly break His heart – abortion, human trafficking, antisemitism and the global maligning of Israel, divorce, extreme poverty and epidemics that steal the lives of millions. Where is the gospel’s outworking? Too often it is bowed at the knees of comfort and complacency, or even legitimate natural affections which are given a place higher than His heart.
I am reminded of the cry of Elijah on Mount Carmel, “If Baal is God, then follow Him!” But Baal is not God. He is a deaf and dumb idol that cannot speak and cannot hear – he can give no remedy to the desperate need of the world for Jesus. It is time to call an end to Christianity that tries to dip its sore feet into the soothing waters of salvation after a long day working for Baal.
The call of Jesus is a death and rebirth, represented in the burial of the waters of Baptism. May the work of the Cross take effect in every place in our hearts and lives that we serve the perfect Master with total devotion. May our answer to the call of Jesus be like Elisha’s response to Elijah. He was plowing with oxen when Elijah threw his mantle upon him. It says that Elisha slaughtered the oxen, boiled their flesh and gave it to the people. Elijah knew the heavy demand that he had placed on this man. He said, ‘What have I done to you?’ (1 Kings 19:19-21). We must know the intensity of the call which is given by Jesus. If this kind of absolute service was demanded by Elijah, how much more is it demanded by the Saviour of the world and God Himself. May the grace of God empower us to understand the costliness of His call, and to say a radical yes to that cost in the same way as the twelve, that God’s power may flow freely through our lives.