Sunday, June 7, 2015

The radical nature of discipleship and Christ's Lordship

Luke 9:23-24 "And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it."

When we look at discipleship in the Bible, we understand it from two perspectives: the vantage point of the follower (i.e the disciple) and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Background and implications of what it means to be a "disciple"
First, what does it mean to be a disciple? The word "disciple" is the translation of a Greek word meaning "learner", "student" or within the context of Jesus' day, "follower". The Jews of Jesus' day would had witnessed young Jewish men following behind a traveling "Rabbi" or "Master". The Greek word we mentioned a moment ago is itself a rendering of a Jewish Aramaic word referring to students aiming to be like their master. By "learning" and "following" their Rabbi, their "Master", the Jews had a saying to describe such a way of life - namely "following in the dust of the Rabbi". That is to say, the student or follower's aim was to follow the Master so closely as to have the dust of his sandals falling upon himself. 

The above description sounds pretty radical. To hang on every word and action of a master, a "Rabbi", is surely an interesting tidbit that is no longer valid for today's "selfie" obsessed, comfort seeking 21st century life. Right? No! Discipleship is and always will be radical at its very core. Denial of self, not the promotion of one's agenda, lies at the heart of the word. Following the Lord, wherever and whenever He tells me to go or stop in His Word, defines the heart beat of true discipleship. 

Whenever we explore the description of a "follower" or "disciple" above, it is the exact same word we find in Jesus' instruction to His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even tothe end of the age.” So whenever you think of what it means to be a disciple or follower of Jesus, the above description is very accurate and apropos. 

Background and implications of what it means to confess Jesus as "Lord"
The second part of the discipleship relationship is that of understanding the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When does Jesus become one's Lord? Some people teach that Jesus becomes Savior at saving faith, followed by the believer's later surrender to Jesus as Lord. The problem with this interpretation is that it would imply that one starts out as a convert to Christianity, with the idea of become a "disciple" at a later time. The aim of Biblical discipleship is not to make "converts" but "disciples". Jesus' Lordship is just a much a part of His identity as His role as our Redeemer. When a person trusts in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, they become a disciple, a follower, from that very moment. Undoubtedly, the realization of what Jesus' Lordship means will continue to unfold over the remainder of the disciple's growth in sanctification.

Romans 10:8-9 describes the very substance of saving faith: "But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved". Further study in passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:3 suggest that the Holy Spirit's activity in conversion elicits forth the immediate confession of Christ's Lordship from the heart - "Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit." 

The Lordship of Jesus Christ begins at the same time as Jesus' Saviorship for the Christ follower. To divide Lordship from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ is to have a divided Christ. Other words are used in describe Jesus as Lord. As Lord, Jesus is the believer's Master. In the Master/disciple relationship, Jesus Christ is the disciple's "Rabbi". Hence, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is to follow Him. Luke 9:23-24 is perhaps the clearest verse in the Bible on what it means to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ - "And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." 

To confess Jesus Christ as "Lord" also refers to confessing Him as God in human flesh. Fully and uncontested Deity in humanity is captured in this title "Lord". In the first century, the Roman emperor used a Latin term translated "Lord" to describe himself as "Lord" over the Roman empire. By the days of Jesus, the Roman emperor had come to view himself as some sort of deified man to be worship and adored. Hence to confess Caesar as "Lord" meant to acknowledge allegiance to Roman and the Roman Emperor. 

As the early disciples began to confess Jesus as "Lord", especially following His resurrection, the Roman empire soon saw Christianity as a rival claimant to the cult of the emperor. The Christian confession of Jesus as "Lord" meant that Jesus, not the Caesar, was the contested Sovereign. The early Christians were avid readers of the then popular Greek version of the Old Testament - the Septuagint. In that translation, the Holy, sacred name of God, "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" was rendered into a Greek word meaning "LORD". Thus to confess Jesus as "Lord" was not only to combat the Emperor cult, but moreso to assert faith in the full Deity of the man Jesus Christ - i.e as God revealed in human flesh. (see John 1:14; Colossians 2:9) Moreover, to confess Jesus as "LORD" was to proclaim Him as Savior, since in the Old Testament, salvation was and still is from the Lord alone. (Isaiah 43:10-11; Jonah 2:9)

To truly confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ grew to meant exclusion from access to public services and ultimately to the losing of one's life in martyrdom. 
How willing would many so-called professing Christians to go in their allegiance to Jesus Christ if it meant loss of tax benefits, comforts or even life? Lordship is radical. One cannot be a disciple without the Lord to follow. There is only One worthy of the title "Lord" - namely Jesus Christ. 

Today Christians ought to realize how radical it is to follow Jesus Christ as a disciple and to acknowledge His Lordship. These thoughts represent the background and implications of the discipleship relationship that contains the disciple following after the Rabbi - the Lord Jesus Christ. 

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