Monday, April 1, 2013

Following Jesus: the Conclusion of the Matter

Narrow Path - - 1264489
This week I was reading Mark and thinking about the many ways that we follow Jesus, the paths down which he leads us and the surprising twists and turns that path might take. Tripping along past his baptism  and temptation, I tumbled over this rather innocuous sentence: "As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him." (Mark 2:14).

Brushing myself off, I went back and looked for the back story.  John 1 provides just that for Andrew (introduced to Jesus by John the Baptist) and Peter (introduced by his brother Andrew). When they are called in Mark 1 we understand why they left their nets and their livelihood behind with their father and followed Jesus.  But for Levi we have only this, Jesus said, "Follow Me!" and Levi got up and followed Him.  Bare as can be. 

Levi and the others gave up their first vocation, laid down their nets or their tax books, and without looking back, took up a new identity-disciple.  As Melissa and I have written these posts, I am discovering what being a disciple-literally a follower-might mean. My girls and I have diligently worked on the verses we are memorizing every morning.  I am learning to pray differently, thanking God for the food we eat and recognizing that my ability to resist sin is dependent on God's aid in avoiding temptation. Melissa is plunging ahead into service for her sisters. In so many ways I assumed I knew what it meant to follow Jesus but in diving back into the gospels and walking in the footsteps of the Master I was shocked to see where my feet were headed. 

I'm questioning myself these days. Down deep inside, does being a Christian mean first and foremost "following Jesus?"  Is that what it means to be "me?"

If it does there ought to be certain evidences.  For example, Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 14:15).  If I am a disciple I ought to be full of love for my brothers and sisters.  I ought to be willing to leave behind every allegiance in His pursuit, though He often gives that responsibility back to me in His service (Matthew 8: 19-22, Luke 9:57-62). I ought to be willing to put behind me every tradition and teaching and understand His new kingdom on His terms (Luke 5:36-39, Matthew 13).

That all sounds very high-minded but let's get down to brass tacks.  If I love the other disciples, I'll call and check on them.  I'll have them over for lunch, and I won't roll my eyes behind their backs.  If I've left behind every allegiance, I won't be embarrassed to speak up as a Christian at work or among friends.  I certainly won't hesitate to stand out from the crowd by my dress, speech, entertainment choices, or opinions.   If I am willing to put tradition behind me, I won't be more tied to a creed, a name, a style, a preacher, or even a familiar and beloved doctrine than I am to the actual living example of Jesus Christ.  
Disciples give up their right to make excuses, to say, "Yeah, but..."  They have to say, "Yes Lord!" instead.  I'm really bad at that. 

Following Jesus is a dangerous path because he asks for everything.  Home and family, tradition and familiar circumstance, free time and everything that makes me, "me."  All that's left is "Him." Leaving all to follow him is itself an irony.  Because he did not "consider equality with God a thing to be grasped" but "took on the form of a bondservant" to come to rescue us. (Philippians 2:6-7) Leaving all to follow him is a good trade.  In both the parable where the man sells all to buy the field with the great treasure and the parable where the merchant sells all to buy the pearl everything is traded in. For what? Magic beans in some parody of Jack and the Beanstalk?  No each traded cannily for a treasure worth far more than they paid.  

Following Jesus is a dangerous path because it's a path that leads outside the camp to the suffering and rejected Savior (Hebrews 13:12-14).  Our Lord met a violent end and he promises us more of the same. What hope do we have then? Just this, "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:10-11).

These days I am engulfed in Jesus. I've been soaked in the gospels and found them indeed good news. It seems every where I turn there is a new lesson in discipleship.  By far the most important has been Levi's lesson.  When I see where Jesus is going, I have only two choices.  Sit at my tax booth or get up and follow him!  I'm taking the plunge.  You?


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