Saturday, November 2, 2013

At once

Και παραγων ειδεν Λευιν τον του Αλφαιου καθημενον επι το τελωνιον και λεγει αυτω, Ακολουθει μοι, και αναστας ηκολουθησεν αυτω.

And as he passed by he saw Levi, the son of Alphæus, sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. Mark 2.14

The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus. The cause 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. 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. There is no road to faith or discipleship, no other road — only obedience to the call of Jesus.
What does the text inform us about the content of discipleship?

Follow me, run along behind me! That is all.

To follow in his steps is something which is void of all content. It gives us no intelligible program for a way of life, no goal or ideal to strive after.

At the call, Levi leaves all he has — but not because he thinks that he might be doing something worthwhile, but simply for the sake of the call. Otherwise he cannot follow in the steps of Jesus. The disciple simply burns his boats and goes ahead.

He is called out, and has to forsake his old life in order that he may ‘exist’ in the strictest sense of the word. The old life is left behind, and completely surrendered. The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus), from a life which is observable and calculable (it is, in fact, quite incalculable) into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous (that is, into one which is necessary and calculable), out of the realm of the finite (which is in truth the infinite) into the realm of infinite possibilities (which is the one liberating reality).

Again, it is no universal law. Rather is it the exact opposite of all legality. It is nothing else than bondage to Jesus Christ alone, completely breaking every program, every ideal, every set of laws. No other significance is possible, since Jesus is the only significance. Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.
When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person.

The grace of his call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the law and the gospel. Christ calls, the disciple follows; that is grace and commandment in one.

‘I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy commandments.’ (Psalm 119.45)
Discipleship without Jesus Christ is a way of our own choosing. It may be the ideal way, it may even lead to martyrdom, but it is devoid of all promise. Jesus will certainly reject it.

And they went to another village. And as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of heaven have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head. And he said to another, Follow me.

But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But he said unto him, Leave the dead to bury their dead, but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God. And another said, I will follow thee, Lord; but suffer me first to bid farewell to them that are at my house. But Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand unto the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
Luke 9.57-62

The first disciple offers to follow Jesus without waiting to be called. Jesus damps his ardour by warning him that he does not know what he is doing. In fact, he is quite incapable of knowing.
That is the meaning of Jesus’ answer. No man can choose such a life for himself. No man can call himself to such a destiny, says Jesus, and his word stays unanswered. The gulf betwen a voluntary offer to follow and genuine discipleship is clear.
Where Jesus calls, he bridges the widest gulf.

The second would-be disciple wants to bury his father before he starts to follow. He is bound by the trammels of the law. He knows what he wants and what he must do. Let him first fulfill the law, and then let him follow. A definite legal ordinance acts as a barrier between Jesus and the man he has called. But the call of Jesus is stronger than the barrier.

Nothing on earth, however sacred, must be allowed to come between Jesus and the man he has called — not even the law itself.

Now, if never before, the law must be broken for the sake of Jesus. Therefore Jesus emerges at this point as the opponent of the law, and commands a man to follow him. Only Christ can speak in this fashion. He alone has the last word. This call, this grace, is irresistable.

The third would-be disciple, like the first, thinks that following Christ means that he must make the offer on his own initiative, as if it were a career he mapped out for himself, but the third is bold enough to stipulate his own terms.

He lands himself in a hopeless inconsistency, for although he is ready enough to throw in his lot with Jesus, he succeeds in putting up a barrier between himself and the Master. ‘Suffer me first.’ He wants to follow, but feels obliged to insist on his own terms. Discipleship to him is a possibility which can only be realized when certain conditions have been fulfilled.

This is to reduce discipleship to the level of human understanding. The trouble about this third would-be disciple is that at the very moment he expresses his willingness to follow, he ceases to want to follow at all. His desires conflict not only with what Jesus wants, but also with what he wants himself.

If we would follow Jesus we must take certain definite steps.

The first step, which follows the call, cuts the disciple off from his previous existence. Jesus makes it clear from the start that his word is not an abstract doctrine, but the re-creation of the whole life of man. The only right and proper way is quite literally to go with Jesus.

The call to follow implies that there is only one way of believing on Jesus Christ, and that is by leaving all and going with the incarnate Son of God. The first step places the disciple in the situation where faith is possible. If he refuses to follow and stays behind, he does not learn how to believe.

This step is not the first stage of a career. Its sole justification is that it brings the disciple into fellowship with Jesus, which will be victorious. The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus. If men imagine they can follow Jesus without taking this step, they are deluding themselves like fanatics.

Discipleship is not an offer man makes to Christ. It is only the call which creates the situation, and the situation in which faith is possible is itself only rendered possible through faith.
Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.

If we are to believe, we must obey a concrete command. Without this preliminary step of obedience, our faith will be only pious humbug, and lead us to the grace which is not costly. Everything depends on the first step. It has a unique quality of its own.

This first step starts as an external work, which effects the change from one existence to another. It is a step within everyone’s capacity, for it lies within the limits of human freedom. To take this step it is not necessary to surrender one’s freedom.

Come to church! You can do that of your own free will. You can leave your home on a Sunday morning and come to hear the sermon. If you will not, you are of your own free will excluding yourself from the place where faith is a possibility.

Once we are sure of this point, we must add at once that this step is, and can never be more than, a purely external act which can never of itself bring a man to Christ. Nevertheless the external work must be done, for we still have to find our way into the situation where faith is possible.

We can only take this step aright if we fix our eyes not on the work we do, but on the word with which Jesus calls us to do it. In the end, the first step of obedience proves to be an act of faith in the word of Christ.

Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe.

“Remember who your teachers were…”
2 Timothy 3:14

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