disciple

The Cost of Serving the King: Lessons in Discipleship

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Luke 14:28-33 (NASB)

The twin parables of the Tower Builder and the King Going to War (Luke 14:28-33) focus on the self-examination necessary to make a decision for surrendering to the call of Jesus. The ultimate commitment is demanded of every disciple. No one should make such a decision rashly. Just as cost estimation is needed to build a tower in a field and intense strategic planning is required to wage war, the one considering discipleship must weigh the cost. To complete the task successfully, one must consider each demand in Jesus’ teachings concerning the kingdom of heaven. Only after intensive self-testing should the decision be made to follow Jesus in his call to radical discipleship.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 12: The Decision: The Tower Builder and the King Going to War,” pg 222
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I can’t believe the day after I published this blog post discussing, in part, what it is to truly surrender our lives to Messiah and acknowledge him as Lord, that I should read the opening words of this chapter which address the same thing.

Many Evangelicals consider their work done when they inspire a person to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord by making some sort of initial statement. That person is “saved.” Move on to the next poor, lost soul.

Except I think the process of “salvation” may be more than a point event. I think it’s a process, sometimes a long process, before anyone actually arrives at the place where they recognize the very real cost of becoming a disciple of the Master and what it will really take to “surrender all” and to follow him. We are told to count the cost of becoming a disciple, making what, for all intents and purposes, is an irrevocable vow, and then binding ourselves in servitude to him, following our Master in all he desires from us.

D. Thomas Lancaster in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, addressed the ancient practice of teaching initiates into Messianic discipleship in two messages: Instructions About Washings and The Initiation. By comparison, what do we do today in the Christian Church to prepare those we have brought to the beginning knowledge of Christ to count the cost, leave their former lives behind them, pick up their cross and to follow him?

Not darn much, for the most part.

No disciple should begin training in the kingdom of God unless he or she has recognized fully the insistent demands of total commitment and has determined to shoulder the responsibilities with unrelenting resolve.

-ibid

How many of us, as believers, possess “unrelenting resolve,” especially in America where we are pretty much fat and happy? And if we are not prepared for the challenges of being a disciple, will be face the same consequences as one who starts building a tower and cannot finish or a King who goes into war and has his army smashed?

An ignominious defeat will ruin a king, destroy his kingdom, and cost him everything. The disciple’s defeat can be just as devastating.

-ibid, pg 223

FallingIn response to a “leap-before-you-look” kind of religious zeal that leads many people to “accept Christ” before knowing anything about him and what he requires, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his book Growth Through Torah (pg 358) responds with this advice:

“A Torah scholar should be consulted whenever questions arise.”

In the case of Christianity, the very people who are out evangelizing should be the ones urging each potential initiate to be cautious. Do not be premature. Learn. Study. Discover who this Jesus Christ is and what you must truly pay in order to follow him on his path.

For Luke these parables form a complex of teachings focusing on radical discipleship. Hating one’s parents or dying for one’s beliefs are concepts that perplex and challenge.

-Young, pg 223

Unfortunately, potential disciples are not told the truth of Messiah upfront. Often they (we) take months, years, or even decades to discover (if we are fortunate ever to do so) the cost of following the King of the Jews.

For Christianity, the cross has become more a symbol of salvation than a call to radical discipleship.

-ibid, pg 224

We tell people about salvation, forgiveness of sins as a free gift of Christ, an eternal life of bliss up in Heaven with Jesus, and all the really attractive stuff. We never tell them what they have to do once they “sign on the dotted line.”

But the danger of diluting Jesus’ radical call to action by spiritualizing his practical teachings is never very far removed from the preaching of salvation through the cross. In the teachings of Jesus, in contrast, the image of the cross was a call to radical discipleship. One must hear and obey. The stress was not on salvation but on obedience. The fear of God is rooted in the wisdom obtained through Torah learning and active involvement in fulfilling wisdom’s teaching.

-ibid

By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.
A wise man is strong,
And a man of knowledge increases power.
For by wise guidance you will wage war,
And in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Proverbs 24:3-6 (NASB)

Knowledge and wisdom are absolute requirements before beginning to design and build a structure, whether it be a tower or a house. If you go in blind, depending on taking someone else’s word that everything will work out fine if you just “accept Jesus into your heart,” the walls could end up falling down around your ears.

Young ponders whether or not Jesus had Proverbs 24 in mind as he crafted his parables and believes it is likely. I suppose it’s possible Paul also was thinking in that direction:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

Romans 10:1-2 (NASB)

In my previous commentary on these verses, I mentioned that information was not lacking among the Jewish devout, but specific knowledge about how Jesus was and is the goal, the aim, the focusing crystal and makes the meaning of the Torah so much more clear was lacking in some, just as the basic, elemental principles of Christian faith are often lacking, not just in new converts to the faith today, but people who have been in the Church for years.

It is true that works without faith is dead, but what about an uninformed faith? Can you consent to give your life to something you don’t understand? Are you held accountable to words you cannot fathom? Actually, I believe you can.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

awareness-of-godJesus connects lawlessness with those who bear no fruit, that is, they do not lead lives transformed by their faith, and there is no evidence of the Spirit in their daily lives and no obedience to God. How can this be unless they have not actually, truly surrendered all of who they are (we are) to the demands of a very demanding King and Master. If Jesus is the Lord of our lives, then he may command anything and we must obey.

For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

Luke 7:8 (NASB)

The Roman Centurion “got it,” but that’s what we can expect of a man who served in a brutal military hierarchy under the reign of an unrelenting Emperor.

Like I said, in America, in the church as well as anywhere else, we’re too “fat and happy”. We think discipline is going to the gym three or four days a week.

R. Samuel bar Nahman said in the name of R. Jonathan: By what parable may the verse just above be explained? By that of a king who lived in a certain principality. When the people of the principality provoked him, the king was angered [and would not abide in their midst]. He removed himself some ten miles from the city before he stopped. A man who saw him went to the people in the city and said: Know that the king is angry at you and may well send legions against the city to destroy it. Go out and appease him before he removes himself still further away from you. Thereupon a wise man who was standing by said to the people: Fools, while he was in your midst, you did not seek him. Now, before he moves further away, seek him out. He may receive you. Hence it is said “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found” (Isa. 55:6)…

See Pesik. Rab Kab., suppl. 7:3 (Pesikta Derav Kahana, ed. Mandelbaum, 2:472; English trans., Braude and Kapstein, Kahana, 491). Cf. the discussion of McArthur and Johnson, Parables, 194, as quoted by Young pg 227

But it is also said:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?

Romans 10:14-15 (NASB)

And yet in verse 13, Paul states, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But you can’t call on someone you do not know. And you cannot know someone unless you learn of them, spend time with them, discover the desire of their heart. You cannot commit unless you are willing. You cannot commit unless you understand and agree to the price of commitment. We’re all taught about the “free gift of salvation” but never about the “real cost of discipleship.”

Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a teacher…

-Pirkei Avot 1:6

It’s ironic that in considering the cost, some might believe it is too high and then choose not to follow. However in the end, the cost of refusing to become indentured servants of the great King is higher still.

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10 thoughts on “The Cost of Serving the King: Lessons in Discipleship”

  1. Hi James, I recently re-subscribed to your blog and enjoy the painstaking effort you put into producing this. I can relate to your tension of observing or studying Hebrew/Jewish roots and being in a congregation where interest ranges from some attention from others to down-right disinterest. Or, a theological perspective espoused seems totally off the wall. I am going through that at our church as the pastor is talking about the parables in Matthew 13. We are civil toward one another but cannot discuss matters of theology. According to him, if Jesus had not taught in parables, he would have been jailed or crucified much sooner. Never mentioned is that parable was a form of story telling then. He finds the Dr. Michael Browns of this world to be errant, homophobic, and overly judgmental. I did find some articles pertaining to parables and Jewish roots issues at sidroth.org by a Lonnie Lane to be helpful and tactfully written. Some time would you blog, or re-blog on the topic of agreeing to disagree? Do we know why the apostle Paul and Barnabas parted and was it amicable? Thanks again, and I remind both myself and you, walk and talk with the King. David

  2. I was reading part of Jeremiah 23 last night and wondering if Matt. 7:21-23 might be connected. In Jeremiah it’s written – “They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.”
    (Jer 23:17)

    But like you are saying, there is more to it than that –

    (Jer 23:18-22) For who hath stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it? (19) Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked. (20) The anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly. (21) I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. (22) But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.

  3. How merciful is our Lord, that even though we didn’t know Him enough when we begun our journey toward Him, and yet, we still are in search of knowing Him further, and still, He loves us very much…

    I’m sure many (if not all in our times) of His followers and disciples (talmidim) “accepted” Him to be their Saviour, without knowing exactly who He is… and still, He continues to teach us who He really is…

  4. Having a busy morning and don’t have the time as yet to devote to responding to comments. I’ll be back later. Thanks.

  5. “It’s ironic that in considering the cost, some might believe it is too high and then choose not to follow. However in the end, the cost of refusing to become indentured servants of the great King is higher still.”

    Amen, and point taken indeed, James.

    I have been in a place recently where the illusion of the world and a life lived for one’s own sake were pulling at me with a ferocity that I haven’t encountered in a very good while. But thanks be to G-d, and to His wisdom imparted, one can see past the world and all of its false hopes and dreams.

    I’m reminded of the Wizard of Oz, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

    The world howls, “but wait, I really can provide you with meaning, with fulfillment, with purpose, with hope,” but all one has to do is peer behind the curtain, and as Solomon so poignantly declared regarding folly and her enticing siren call, only “the dead are there, and … those who accept her invitation are in the depths of Sh’ol.”

    You only have to step back for just a moment, to realize that, the predicament we human being’s find ourselves in is an existential crisis of which can only be tamed by the laying down of one’s life for the sake of the Master. Where else can a man truly find his life but through G-d alone? I ask, truly.

    Anything else, and we’ve missed the point. The illusion of control is a powerful thing, but once one realizes that nothing other than G-d can or ever will provide a meaning and a purpose to our existence, what else, other than total devotion to that conclusion, would be the proper response?

    Or in other words, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the word of eternal life.”

    May we all be strengthened to lay down our lives and follow Him with all that we have, and in all that we do.

    My prayers for a blessed day to you and yours, friend.

  6. @David: It is Young’s opinion (and I agree) that Jesus used parables to make more complex theological topics easier to understand. He also used parables in a very predictable way, since it was common for the rabbis of that period in history to teach in this manner. I’m not sure how your Pastor would take it, but maybe you could suggest Young’s book The Parables. The original edition (used) is going cheap on Amazon.

    Blog or reblog on “agreeing to disagree”? I searched my blog posts and in part, the results were:

    https://mymorningmeditations.com/2012/01/08/fighting-words/

    https://mymorningmeditations.com/2013/03/08/separate-paths/

    https://mymorningmeditations.com/2014/06/12/is-it-for-his-glory/

    I suppose I’ve written a lot more on the topic, but maybe these examples will help.

    @Kathy: I just read in Young’s book (about the parable of the sower: Luke 8:4-15) That Jesus was trying to tell his disciples and all who heard him to study the Torah and apply its principles to their lives…that is, to understand and then do the will of God. This is why Jews esteem Torah study so much, at least ideally. You cannot do what you don’t understand. You cannot know God of you do not deeply study His Word. But having studied, you must still do.

    @Alfredo: It is said that God doesn’t grade on a curve, but if He didn’t who would survive? Even a little bit of faith and a tiny bit of knowledge, if pursued sincerely, is enough, for God fills in the vast spaces we leave empty in love, devotion, and understanding.

    @Nate: We all struggle with competing priorities, between God and the world. It’s not easy to admit that, but I suspect even the best of us isn’t completely and totally devoted to the Lord. There’s always something dragging our attention away. Many blame the Adversary, but most of the time, I think our human nature is enough to get in the way. That is why a life of faith requires discipline and perseverance. It also requires frequent repentance.

    Thank you for your prayers and kind words.

  7. *@David: It is Young’s opinion (and I agree) that Jesus used parables to make more complex theological topics easier to understand. He also used parables in a very predictable way, since it was common for the rabbis of that period in history to teach in this manner. I’m not sure how your Pastor would take it, but maybe you could suggest Young’s book The Parables. The original edition (used) is going cheap on Amazon.*

    The parables serve both purposes, making understanding harder and easier; easier, at least in a long run or after a hearer applies himself, for someone who cares to know (if not sooner for one who already is tuned in). But harder for someone who prefers to evade the truth; even today in daily life this dynamic applies.

    Think of the story when David, the king, wasn’t realising he had done something very wrong [duh — maybe admitting is the better word] and a friend/advisor talked to him about taking someone’s only sheep (cared for with diligence) [which is understating the actions]. A very stubborn person could easily disregard the attempt, maybe even — in an act of hate — accusing the person of saying impertinent or goofy/crazy things (which can go at least two ways, laughing it off or writing the person off in terms of a job, relationship, or that kind of thing, or committing him).

    Alternatively, the person(s) in power could go about figuring out a way to get this messenger completely out of the way like King David had gotten a husband out of the way. The leaders who rejected J’shua went all out, still in a sneaky way.

  8. The parables serve both purposes, making understanding harder and easier; easier, at least in a long run or after a hearer applies himself, for someone who cares to know (if not sooner for one who already is tuned in). But harder for someone who prefers to evade the truth; even today in daily life this dynamic applies.

    I don’t think I can agree that Jesus intended his parables to be both easy and difficult. For those of us reading our Bibles in the 21st century, we should have to work to derive meaning from them since we exist outside the cultural, religious, ethnic, and linguistic context in which they were spoken and written. One of Young’s big points in his book is that when the parables of Jesus are compared to other rabbinic parables in or around the same period, they tell substantially similar stories. Jesus taught very much within the rabbinic context of late second temple Judaism. His immediate audience would have picked up on wordplay, nuances, humor based on their overarching experience that we are going to miss almost completely. We “get” the parables better when we study more than just the Bible…when we access scholars with knowledge of the history, language, and larger tapestry of Judaic teaching as it existed back then.

  9. The book sounds interesting, and I agree. Also, I wasn’t commenting on the rest of what David, the commenter, said — except that it is possible J’shua would have died sooner without parables, even if not for whatever reasons his pastor says.

    The parables wouldn’t be in hopes to mislead. The parable about a precious sheep wasn’t misleading, but it wasn’t an in-your-face recounting of what happened. People with power frequently don’t want to hear the facts. David was willing anyway to draw the comparison and repent. He had ears to hear. He could have, instead, put down his friend and angrily said he never coveted anyone else’s sheep or stole anything.

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