The journey to Jerusalem began with timely ministry on discipleship. Though some of the instructions were temporary in nature (compare Lk 10.4 with Lk 22.35-36), the passage under consideration (Lk 9.51-10.24) offers important insight into discipleship.
The character of true discipleship may be taken from some descriptions contained in the passage that marks the Lord's departure to the city:
• Learners: The twelve were called 'disciples' (Lk 9.54; 10.23 – learner or pupil, Thayer). As 'babes' (Lk 10.21) they had much to learn. This is evident in the passage prior to the departure, where they learnt that Christ is preeminent (Lk 9.33-35); they were powerless (perhaps jealous – cp v40 with v49), filled with pride (Lk 9.46) and prejudicial against Samaritans (v54). We too have much to learn about the Lord (and ourselves) and the entire Christian pathway can be considered as an ongoing educational programme where we willingly adopt the position of pupil. Some subjects will be more difficult to grasp than others!
• Labourers: The twelve and seventy (Lk 10.1) were active in their ministry, hence the appropriateness of the description in Luke 10.2 ('labourers', translated as 'workman' in 2 Tim 2.15). It is always good to be busy, but especially for the Lord.
• Lambs: The reality of discipleship is that we are called to serve in a hostile world (Lk 10.3). We must remain vigilant and reliant on the Lord for protection (Lk 10.19), particularly when we remember the power of the enemy (1 Pet 5.8).
As He made His way toward Jerusalem, the Lord set the example for true discipleship. He was fixed in purpose and notwithstanding the intense suffering that lay ahead, He looked forward to His ascension (Lk 9.51; Heb 12.2). He fulfilled His own ministry for, in putting His hand to the plough, He kept to the task in hand (Lk 9.62). A key aspect of true discipleship is to keep our eye on the goal (of being with Christ in glory, Col 1.27) and especially in the context of inevitable opposition and disappointment. A good Old Testament character who exemplifies the need for focus and determination was Caleb. Though he felt the pressure of being in the minority (Num 13.30-33), it is said of him that 'he hath wholly followed the Lord', (Deut 1.36).
The rejection of the Lord by the people of Samaria (unsurprising given the nature of the Jewish/Samaritan relationship outlined in Jn 4.9), led the 'sons of thunder' (Mk 3.17) to request divine judgment. They used, as justification, the example of Elijah with King Ahaziah and his servants (Lk 9.53-54; 2 Kgs 1). However, they were subsequently rebuked for the Saviour's ministry was one of salvation rather than destruction (Lk 9.56). This display of divine grace on the Samaritans was interesting, particularly given that they were further blessed under the ministry of Philip (Acts 8.5-25). We must therefore learn that judgment belongs to God and He will exercise it in His own time (Lk 10.12-15; 17.29). True discipleship means that we will want to share divine blessing with others (irrespective of nationality, 2 Tim 2.24-26).
To follow the Lord to Jerusalem was to share in His rejection and poverty (Lk 9.57-58). Though He is equal with His Father – 'Lord of heaven and earth' (10.21) – He willingly pursued a pathway marked by deprivation. In the ministry to the three unnamed men in Luke 9.57-62, we learn from the first man that true discipleship is not marked by what we say (the man remarked that he would follow the Lord wherever He went, v57) but rather by what we do. Moreover, the passage as a whole teaches that while it is costly to follow the Lord, it is much more costly not to. For example, in counting the cost for discipleship the Lord later spoke of a rich man who was simply not prepared to decide in favour of Christ (Lk 18.18-23). Unless repentance followed, the man – and others like him – will endure eternal loss and judgment.
The two 'would-be' disciples at the end of Luke 9 differ in family circumstances (one had an elderly father ready to die, v59, and the other wanted to give a lengthy Eastern farewell, v61) but they both failed to put the Lord first. In making His offer of the Kingdom to Israel (Lk 9.60, 62), the Lord highlighted the need for urgency as time was short; Jerusalem – and His rejection and crucifixion – was drawing near. There were certain tasks that the spiritually dead could perform (eg bury their dead – though remember that Scripture is also clear on the importance of parental care, Ex 20.12; Eph 6.1-2). Such an attitude of prioritisation (as outlined in Matt 6.33), if adopted, would enable disciples to devote their time and energy into service for the Master. A vital aspect of true discipleship is therefore to put the Lord first (Lk 14.33), and realise that time is short (Rom 13.11-14; Eph 5.16) and the Gospel needs to be proclaimed.
Throughout the Gospel narrative it is clear that the disciples were wholly reliant on the Lord. Note the various aspects of their dependency below and remember that this ought to be a key feature of our own discipleship:
• Commission: The seventy were sent on an itinerant ministry but their appointment and empowerment were divine (Lk 10.1, 3, 19). They were inextricably linked to their Master (v16), and were able to perform sign miracles but only in the name of the Lord (v17). We too can only serve in the area and capacity where we are called (though with the completed canon of Scripture there is no longer the need or ability to perform sign miracles, 1 Cor 13.8-13). As the Lord taught the disciples on the eve of Calvary, 'without me ye can do nothing' (Jn 15.5).
• Communication: They were instructed in the content of the message, including what they had to say (Lk 10.5, 9). Peace was a key aspect of the preaching (particularly given its focus on Christ, Lk 2.14) but the message also carried severe warnings (Lk 10.9-15). The Gospel today carries the same balance of salvation for the repentant and judgment for the rebellious (Acts 17.30-31).
• Comprehension: As part of the divine family, the disciple is privileged to explore the character of God as Father – but this is only possible through the Son (Lk 10.21-24). The disciples may have considered their appreciation of Christ to be strong, particularly given the close proximity of their relationship as they travelled to Jerusalem. However, relative to the Father, they had much treasure to explore (Lk 10.22). We are the same and hence say/sing: 'Blessed Lord, our hearts would treasure all the Father's thoughts of thee'.
The responsibility of the disciples may be summarised by three words found in the passage. Firstly, we are to 'follow' [the Lord]' (Lk 9.59). Though the ministry was to prepare the way for Him (Lk 10.1), they were to keep the Saviour within reach! Secondly, we are to 'pray' that the Lord would send labourers into the field for harvest (Lk 10.2). In maintaining our up-reach (as displayed by the Lord Himself, Lk 10.21) we keep in regular contact with the powerhouse! Thirdly, we are to 'go' (Lk 9.60; 10.3), which is the outreach aspect of service! If we 'follow', 'pray' and 'go' then we will discharge the features of true discipleship.
The passage highlights an important feature of the disciple – 'lambs among wolves' (Lk 10.3). In short, we are vulnerable to attack with no hope for defence outside of the Lord. There is also the presence of Satan, for while his power has been broken (Lk 10.18), he remains, as outlined previously, an active and strong adversary (1 Pet 5.8).
We may feel our vulnerability as 'lambs' but the passage also teaches our ultimate protection – we cannot be harmed outside of God's sovereign control (Lk 10.19)! This is an important feature of the Lord's own pathway – for He would not die outside of Jerusalem (Lk 13.33). True discipleship looks beyond the dangers and rests in the protection of an omnipotent God (Jn 10.27-30).
The believer is indeed 'blessed' (Lk 10.23) for there are certain joys associated with true discipleship:
• Companionship: The seventy were sent out 'two and two' (Lk 10.1) – we may be in the minority, but we are not alone.
• Fellowship: The disciples were privileged to work in harmony with heaven as they cast out demons in the name of the Lord (Lk 10.17). We too have the honour of working with and for the Saviour.
• Citizenship: We are privileged to have our names 'written' in heaven (Lk 10.20 where the word 'carries the connotation of being enrolled in the citizen-lists of a city', D Gooding, According to Luke, 1987, p200). We are citizens of heaven (Phil 3.20) and that is worth rejoicing about!
• As disciples of the Lord, we should be keen pupils, busy workers and tender lambs
• An important feature of discipleship is being whole- hearted (in our service) and warm- hearted (in seeking to reach and teach)
• We display what we are by the work we do – following the Lord, praying and declaring the blessing of salvation
• We are safe and secure in Christ
• The Lord was joyful in service – we too should display the joy of salvation