By Kieran Murphy
Jesus came into the world in order to save it (cf. Jn. 3:16-17; Lk. 19:10; 1 Tim. 1:10; 2:3-6). It is not surprising, therefore, to see him appealing to mankind to come unto him so that they could have rest for their souls. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my load is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
Sooner or later every human being will find himself caught by unexpected changes in life that leave him sorrowing, burdened, anguished and frustrated” (Harold Fowler, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 572). This invitation, then, is truly an invitation to us all. Jesus invites us, the “weary and heavy-laden” to come and learn from him. He promises that those who respond to this invitation will find rest for their souls.
As a result of this invitation many followed him, seeking to become his disciples. Even today as the invitation continues to be made, the down trodden and those burdened with sin are flocking to him; and this is good! For who but Jesus can give rest to the soul?
But as the multitude was coming, seeking to attach themselves to him as disciples, Jesus warned them that they could not be his disciples without cost to themselves.
“Now great multitudes were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. . . So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions'” (Lk. 14:25-27, 33; cf. Matt. 10:34-39; Lk. 9:23-26).
The Lord wanted men to follow him. But he did not want anyone to rush into this without first counting the cost. In these verses he informs all would-be disciples that their loyalty to him must be absolute. When a choice must be made between his will or . . . Jesus must always come out first. If one is not willing to be totally committed to Jesus he cannot be one of his disciples.
The Lord spoke first of the choice that he expected his people to make between their families and him. “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father . . . he cannot be My disciple” (14:26). Even with Matthew’s commentary on what it means to “hate” one’s family (i.e., to love them less than Jesus – 10:37), this saying scarcely loses any of its severity. For it still demands that when a choice is to be made between the will of our family and the Lord’s will, the disciple must always choose the Lord.
“But didn’t Jesus understand the natural affection that people have for their families?” Of course he did! It was for this reason that he said what he did. Even before circumstances demanded that they choose between him and their families, the Lord wanted these would-be disciples to know what he would expect of them. They were to put him first; they were to love him more than they loved their families. Those not prepared to do this disqualified themselves from being his disciples.
In Luke 9 Jesus gives another condition for discipleship. He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (v. 23).
The Greek word translated “deny” (arneomai) has several shades of meaning. Yet each time that it is used in the Scriptures the underlying thought is that something has been rejected or repudiated. Thus, when Jesus says that one must “deny himself” he means that one must reject self; he must no longer live a selfish life, a life where he puts his own personal interests first.
By his own life Jesus teaches what it means to deny self.
1. John 12:27f: He did not asked to be delivered from the most difficult aspect of his work, instead he submitted himself to God’s rule.
2. John 7:16: His teaching was not even original. He taught only what his father authorized him to teach.
3. John 17:4: Jesus glorified the Father because he did the work which the Father had sent him to do.
Paul also spoke of Jesus’ self denial when he wrote: “For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written. ‘The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me'” (Rom. 15:3).
Jesus lived a life of self denial. He stepped down from life’s throne, laying both crown and scepter at the Father’s feet and submitted his whole life to his control (Fowler, Vol. 3, p. 566). This is what Jesus demands of those who would be his disciples. They must give up self rule. They must deny themselves the right to be their own master and submit entirely to his lordship, even if such submission is unpleasant and/or inconvenient. If one “serves” only when it is convenient and pleasant he has not denied himself; neither is he the Lord’s disciple.
Jesus informs those desiring to be his disciples that they must remain in his word. It is only as men do this that they are “truly” his disciples. “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). Paul reveals that it was for this that Jesus died, so that those who “live” as a result of his death might stop living for their own pleasure, but for the pleasure of him who died on their behalf (2 Cor. 5:15).
One who is not willing to give Jesus the full control of his life cannot be his disciple. For “whatever” the true disciple does, whether “in word or deed” he does “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).
Being a disciple of Christ is not without cost. It is not always attractive to follow him. Sometimes it is even unattractive (cf. 1 Cor. 4:9-14; 2 Cor. 11:23-27). But for those willing to pay the price the blessings make the sacrifice seem as nothing.
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18; cf. Rom. 8:18).
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 8, pp. 239, 247
April 21, 1988