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The Path Of Discipleship

Frank Wallace

Address on Luke 9:37-62

You might say, dear brethren, that I am bringing you down from the top of the mountain, and yet this is exactly what Scripture does. At the beginning of Luke 9 we are engaged with the glory of Christ on the mountain, transfigured before His disciples and the Father's voice heard from heaven. This is a wonderful scene but then we descend from that into an area where the disciples and others are exposed. I think we all feel that the pathway of discipleship is extremely testing and the more we desire to follow Christ the more trials seem to come across our way. I believe this is of God, because we have got to learn that Christ is everything, even in the pathway of discipleship. In the realm of glory it goes without saying that He is supreme, in the pathway of practical Christianity He is still supreme because we cannot live the pathway of discipleship without Christ. He said this to His own, "without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).

In John's gospel the disciple is described by what he is, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another" (John 13:35). In chapter 8 those who are set free by the Son, by the truth, are the disciples of Christ. In chapter 15 those who bear fruit are the disciples of Christ. In the synoptic gospels the disciple is often referred to by what he is not, that is perhaps a peculiar way to express it, but I think it is true. The disciples have to give up and to avoid certain things. And, dear brethren, for a few moments I want to draw your attention to a few mistakes that occur in connection with these people that we read of at the end of Luke 9. I do not think we are wasting our time, we may find ourselves if we look closely in these verses.

"And it came to pass, that on the next day, when they were come down from the hill, much people met him. And behold, a man of the company cried out, saying, Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child. And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him, and I besought thy disciples to cast him out; and they could not. And Jesus answering said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you? Bring thy son hither. And as he was yet a coming, the devil threw him down, and tare him. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father. And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God. But while they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did, he said unto his disciples, let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying."   (9:37-45)

In this first section there was a man with a great need. He brought his son to the disciples and they were unable to deal with the matter in hand. In other words they were powerless. They could not deal with it. How often we feel this; and why is it? Perhaps one very good reason why power is withheld is that we desire power, we desire to be a sensation in this world. If we desire to be prominent in the exercise of power then you can be sure that we will never have it. But so very often we desire to have power for a good reason, we desire to help, to do something for people who are in need and yet we feel the power is not there. Perhaps the real reason is that Christ has not been sufficiently in the matter with us. We have not been thinking of him or His glory sufficiently, we have not been seeking His presence to derive power, guidance and wisdom from Himself because it is obvious that when the Lord takes over, the matter is resolved. Oh how earnestly we would desire to have more power in our Christian lives and testimony so that the glory belongs to Christ and not to ourselves.

Now the Lord, having come down from the mountain, said something to them but they did not understand. Oh, how true this is in our spiritual experience, how often we just do not understand, we have not sufficient discernment to understand what is in keeping with the Lord personally and what is in keeping with His testimony. They ought to have known, we ought to know. He had said this to them often, that He would be rejected, that He would die, and He would rise after three days, but they did not understand. I suppose we can say that at this time they had not the Holy Spirit, and that would be true, and yet it is no excuse because He had often said these things to them and they ought to have understood from the Old Testament Scriptures and from His own words that it was necessary for Christ to die. But perhaps they were thinking of themselves, perhaps they enjoyed His company so much that it was unthinkable that He should die, perhaps when they thought about His power that they had seen exerted by Him, it was unthinkable that He should allow Himself to be overcome by others; but they did not understand that the way He was taking was the way of divine wisdom and according to a divine plan.

Perhaps this is one reason why we fail to understand the things of God, because our thinking does not fit into the divine thinking. We have not adjusted our minds to the way God thinks, to His plan, to His scheme, and consequently, we make so little progress in the understanding of the divine mind.

"Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him. And he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great."   (9:46-48)

Then, what a solemn lesson. In the presence of these words, that He was going on to suffer, to be rejected, and to die, there were those who could talk amongst themselves about who was to be chief. What a solemn thing to find the disciples arguing as to who was to be pre-eminent in the presence of the suffering of Christ, and the Lord had to teach them this lesson that they were to be humble, like a little child. This is one of the things we will certainly learn if we desire to be a disciple, because a disciple simply means 'a person who is taught', and if he is taught by the Master this is one thing that he will be taught very, very effectively, that it is right for a disciple to be humble and to make much of Christ and nothing of himself. I know that as I say these things it is the easiest thing in the world for me to try and project my own image onto the eyes of the brethren and not Christ, and may even say the very best things about Christ and yet at the same time seek to draw attention to myself; this is the flesh. We all have it with us and we know its workings, but the Lord said a disciple must be humble, and oh,if we are in the company of Christ we shall be humble.

Mr Darby's books are well worth reading because his writings are full of deep instruction as to the Person of Christ and as to the path of a Christian in this world. In his 'Synopsis of the Books of the Bible' on the book of Leviticus he refers to the meal offering and among other things he says, 'who could be proud in fellowship with the humble Jesus?'[1] Is not this a test? Are we sufficiently in His company? Are we sufficiently marked by Him that we are humble? It is not like Charles Dickens' character Uriah Heep who said he was a humble man but was a rogue, it is a question of taking on the character of Christ and being like Him. This is what the Lord was teaching His own. I know, and I am sure you do also, that this is a difficult lesson to learn because the Old Testament says the Egyptian (always a type of the flesh) was an imposing man (2 Sam.23:21), and a man after the flesh always seeks to be imposing.

"And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us."   (9:49-50)

This is another solemn lesson. The disciples were divinely chosen by the Lord to be with Him. Well, they did not choose Him, He said so in John 15, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you" (v.16). He chose them to be with Him. I suppose that they were rightly proud of such a position to be chosen to be with the Lord, and then they came across persons who were casting out devils effectively in the name of the Lord and they opposed them. I suppose they said to them, 'You ought not to do this, you do not follow with us, you are not in the company', and the Lord had to teach them this very important lesson that we all need to be taught, that those who are effectively standing up and defending the name of Christ have to be thought affectionately of and not to be spoken disrespectfully of. Sectarianism is a rot that is in the human heart, that is thinking that one particular little company possesses all the features that are true and honouring to the Lord Jesus Christ. We must guard against this very zealously.

I want to guard against any idea that I have given up the truth and am thinking of a great conglomeration of believers together without any reference to the truth. I would say that is far from my mind. In the broken days in which we live there is a pathway that must be governed by the truth of God. If that pathway is plain to us we ought to follow it, but that does not mean that we do not respect and love those who defend the name of Christ who perhaps do not see eye to eye with us in walking in that path. If they do not desire to walk in it they are responsible to God and we are responsible to God to follow the pathway that we believe to be true in Scripture, but let us respect those who love the name of Christ. They are not against Christ, they are for Christ, and they do it according to the light that they have. There are enemies in this world who hate the name of Christ, let us reserve our spiritual hostility for persons of this kind, and this is what the Lord taught the disciples, that if there were those who loved His name and who defended His name and did work in His name they were worthy of respect

"And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village."   (9:51-56)

Jesus went on to a village of the Samaritans and they did not want Him because He was going on to Jerusalem. The disciples thought that they would  now act in a right spirit, the Samaritans were not for the Lord, they were hostile against Him, and so they thought, 'Well, we spoke against the other ones and we were wrong, surely we will be right this time if we ask fire to be sent down from heaven as Elijah did'. But they were wrong again because in the gospel by Luke the Lord is a vessel of grace and desires earnestly the blessing of even those who are against Him. The disciples had to learn this that they had to watch their spirits, they did not know the kind of people they were. As being in the company of the vessel of grace they ought to be like Him and desire earnestly the blessing and salvation of those who are even hostile to Christ Himself. There was certainly no excuse for the Samaritans, they were entirely governed by sectarianism in its worst form, hostile to the divine centre. They had their own form of worship and they would not receive anyone who had his face in an opposite direction to them and so Christ, the Son of God, was refused on this basis. Here is another lesson that the disciple must learn, to watch his spirit carefully.

Mr Darby rightly said that divine principles in the hands of an unspiritual man is like a 'sword in the hands of a child or of a drunken man'[2], and how true this is. What damage has been caused by wrong spirits, by hard, harsh speaking that is not of Christ and yet all supposed to be in the name of Christ Himself! And so the Lord says, 'Watch your spirits, be careful about your spirits, make sure that what you do is in accord with the One who Himself was the vessel of grace'. Oh, what a rebuke to these men. They were constantly in the company of One who showed kindness and love at every point and yet here they were, not having learnt that lesson, not having followed the Master, desiring to be cruel, desiring the judgment of others. He said to them, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." And they went to another village. I believe dear brethren that as we find ourselves in circumstances like these, the measure in which we react in this way would indicate our lack of being in the company of Christ, but if we show His spirit, if we show the features that are like Him this will indicate really how much Christ means to us. This will indicate how much we have appropriated Him when we react as He reacted in the spirit of meekness, kindness and of gentleness, yet with truth. This will indicate that we have been appropriating Him when we react in the same way.

"And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever 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."   (9:57-58)

These classes of people came to the Lord and desired to be in the pathway of discipleship and yet how they were found wanting. The first one said, "I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest". What a statement to make! I am sure we would all hesitate before we would make a statement like that, to say that we would follow the Lord wherever He leads us. We might desire to do this, but I believe it would be foolhardy to make a statement like this unless we say, "If the Lord leads us and if the Lord is with us we would be prepared to do such and such a thing". This man, of course, was exposed when the Lord said, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head". Here was the Lord saying to him by inference, 'Now look, if you are going to follow me it will mean you will have nothing here because I have nothing here and if you are prepared for that pathway - all right you can follow me'.

"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."   (9:59-60)

There cannot be any firsts if we are disciples, because the Lord must be first. Do not let us think that disciples  or the pathway of discipleship is only for a few, it is "if any man......", it is to us all, each one of us. We are all called upon to be disciples, and there can be no firsts in our lives, whether it be 'first our career' or whatever it might be, it must be the Lord first, and when He comes first you can be sure that you will get help and support in the pathway of discipleship. It was a perfectly legitimate thing to do, "suffer me first to go and bury my father". We would all say, 'Well that man had a very good reason for going and doing this'. Dear brethren, there is a time coming when all our lives are going to be judged, we are all going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ and our whole life will come under review, and it will be judged in righteousness, not according to what we call legitimate (which word is often used as an excuse to avoid the responsibilities of the Christian pathway), and when our lives are under review the Lord will determine what was right and what was wrong in our lives and He will determine that by the way we have lived it in relation to Himself and the claims of God. We might think in time, 'Well this must be attended to, it is legitimate to attend to it, the Lord understands', but it may be that by doing this we are overlooking the claim that His love makes upon us, and remember, His love led Him to give up His all, everything He had. This is the claim that He makes upon us. I would say humbly dear brethren that I do not know a great deal about it and that is why I hesitate to say very much to you, but I do know this, that anyone who desires to put Christ first and to live for Christ will never regret it. The experience of living for Christ, however feeble that experience may be, is well worthwhile and He amply recompenses us in a spiritual way for any little sacrifice that is done for Him. Never let us say there are certain things in my life that come first and if there is any time left over Christ can have it, because that so very often, although we might not use these words, is the way our lives speak.

"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."   (9:61-62)

Again the Lord is saying to this man, 'There are things that must come first, I must have the pre-eminence.' We all say, 'Amen' when we read in Colossians "that in all things [Christ] might have the pre-eminence" (1:18), and again to that wonderful list of glories that belong to Him in that chapter, 'Yes,' we say, 'how right it is, He must have the first place'. In the pathway of discipleship He must also have the first place. Christ is a test for every one of us. We rejoice in the blessings He has brought to us, but oh what a test He is! We must never test our Christian life by our own standards, the Christian life must be tested by Christ. The ark of the covenant was a test wherever it went. When it was in its normal setting the glory was there, God was there, it was the ark of His strength, it was "the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth" (Josh.3:11). When it met the waters of Jordan they had to go back, when it went around the walls of Jericho they had to come down, when it went into Dagon's temple Dagon had to bow, when unholy hands were placed upon it they had to go, the ark was a test wherever it went, and Christ is a test to us wherever we go. We used to say a long time ago amongst the saints, 'Wherever we go we carry our brethren with us'. This term was used because fellowship was stressed and the obligations of fellowship meant that if we went to a place that was dishonouring to the Lord we took our brethren with us and we dishonoured the fellowship. We do not hear these things as much as we used to, perhaps we ought to hear them more. But let us think a little higher, that wherever we go we take Christ with us - in testimony, I mean - and there are certain places He cannot go.

I am always reminded of a story an old brother told me and it is worth repeating. His old boss came in one morning and told him he had been praying to the Lord and asked the Lord to be with him, and then he said, 'The Lord spoke to me and I said, "Why do you not come with me?" and I was rebuked by the Lord because I realised the Lord might not want to go where I want to go.' But this man said, 'If I go where the Lord takes me I will not come to any harm'. Is not this true, dear brethren? In testimony we are called upon to represent Christ wherever we are. It does not matter where we are, we are Christians, we have His name upon us, we carry Him with us and we ought to be true to Him.

So may the Lord help us to see that though the pathway of discipleship is one of great blessing and favour, it is a tremendous test to us, and that test is not our idea of what a Christian should be but what Christ is. He is the test, He is the standard, and He will help us. Let us heed the Lord's instruction at the end of this chapter and never turn back because there are difficulties. There have always been difficulties, from Pentecost right up to this moment difficulties have always been with the saints of God. In the Bible we read the accounts of those who in faith overcame difficulties and lived lives of blessing and testimony for others because they were true to Christ. This is our day, our generation, and the Lord is calling upon us, young and old, that we might be disciples of His with positive features and also by refusing other negative features. May it be so for His name's sake.

[1] J.N.Darby "Synopsis of the books of the Bible" Vol.1, p.126

[2] "A glance at various ecclesiastical principles and examination of the foundations on which the institutions of the church on earth are sought to be based. In reply to various writings" J.N.Darby, Collected Writings Vol. 4, Ecclesiastical No. 2, p.76