The Inner Circle of Discipleship
Read Luke 9:57-62: “And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto Him, Lord, I will follow Thee withersoever Thou goest. And Jesus said unto Him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head. And He said unto another, Follow Me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow Thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Nine or ten days previous to this incident Jesus said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
Here in quick succession, Christ deals with three candidates for admission to the inner circle of discipleship—to the circle of those who not only received the truth themselves but would also witness near and far to others about the Lord.
At this stage of Christ’s public ministry the cause of Christianity outwardly was far from being assured a success, yet Jesus was not in a hurry to add to His numbers without testing their reality.
In the case of each aspirant there was an impediment — natural and legitimate in itself — yet a big enough obstacle to hinder the true and loyal discipleship our Lord sought. Down through the centuries these three remain a stumbling block to thousands of Christians:
I. Earthly desires
II. Earthly sorrows and cares
III. Earthly affections
It is an interesting study to notice how Christ deals with these three volunteers. The first offer — so unconditional — was repelled; the man’s burst of enthusiasm was repressed. The second offer results in Jesus’ taking the initiative and He encourages, summons, and insists upon the services of this man even after an obstacle is presented. Apparently there was more truthfulness in the backwardness of the second than there was in the forwardness of the first. The third offer was a conditional affair with evident half-heartedness, so Christ gave a clear and stern rebuke. Truly He knew what was in man!
We are not told the names of any, nor the final outcome after Jesus gave His unusual and rather blunt replies.
Let us look at the candidates more closely. In Matthew’s Gospel we learn that No. 1 was a scribe — one who was accustomed to an easy, sheltered life — perhaps he would be unable to withstand the life of exposure and privation if he followed Christ. For example a young man raised in the tropics would not easily qualify to join an expedition to the Arctic circle. Possibly this fellow was a hasty man of impulse — incompletely estimating what the Lord’s service required. In his transient enthusiasm he was evidently attracted by the graces of Christ, and noticing how popular the Lord was becoming, perhaps he wished to be associated with the “up and coming” that he might share the glory of His ministry.
From a natural standpoint most of us like to be associated with influential people for they can be:
1. Good company (we are gregarious and do not like to be lonely).
2. Good influence (we are affected by our companions),
3. Good example (we find important people provide inspiration),
4. Greater power (close association helps us to profit by knowing the secret of their success).
All of these factors tend to benefit self.
To this self-confident self seeker, Christ replied in so many words—“You will follow Me? I am the poorest of all—despised and rejected of men! I have no throne, no royalties, no kingdom—not even a home or a bed! Certainly there will be no comforts that you have enjoyed in your present occupation.” The Lord does not openly reject his offer, but sends him to prayer and self review.
No. II is the dilatory disciple, the procrastinator who is secretly attracted but undecided. Legitimate responsibilities of domestic duties—perhaps not quite as important as he would pretend—are holding him back. “Wait till I bury my father,” he tells Jesus, and who knows—his father may live another ten years! How many have heard the urgent call to the mission field, but allow earthly cares to hinder their going forth. Surely the Saviour taught “Honour thy father and mother, etc.” and would have us to see that loved ones are cared for, but perhaps someone else can attend to them.
When one is summoned to the holiest of all divine callings, the disciple is absolved of the holiest of all earthly duties. In all collusions of earthly and heavenly responsibilities, the latter must have precedence! Perhaps someone reading this has allowed legitimate earthly duties to detain him from serving Christ full time — to such our Lord would say, “Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou.” There is always someone on the home front who is already tied down, who can look after others who need care.
No. III. The disciple with a divided heart. He starts to make an offer like No. II’s, but it is conditional like No. II’s — “I will, but!” Apparently he does not appreciate the gravity of the moment, the pressing character of the Lord’s call. He has a close family circle. How many times workers are hindered because they put family ties first and give God second place. To such we would say, read Psalm 45:10 — “Forget also thine own people and thy father’s house!” The lower affections of the natural heart interfere with spiritual affections of a higher plane. The rejoinder is stern! Christ insists upon wholehearted yielding of oneself. “No man putting his hand to the plow, (incidentally, this is literal, as Arab farmers still plow with one hand) looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.” So many are ready, but then look at their loved ones and feel they cannot part with them.
But are there compensations when the step is taken? Peter said (Matt. 19:27) “Behold we have forsaken all and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?” The answer: “Everyone that hath forsaken houses or brethren, or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My Name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold and shall inherit everlasting life.” Is not that a big reward? Matthew is an example of this, and his name has been revered down through the centuries, whereas he would never be remembered had he remained a tax-collector.
Alfred Gibbs has said, “For every ‘Come and see’ there is a ‘Go and tell.’” Surely privilege is coupled with responsibility.
To summarize: Christ wants followers who:
I. Have counted the cost,
II. Are ready to follow at once,
III. Will follow with an undivided heart.
The claims of Christ are paramount to any other. Let us not allow earthly desires, sorrows and cares, or affections to detain us from going forth in obedience to the Saviour’s commission.