By Jim Tune
Luke ends his Gospel with the promise of power from on high (Luke 24:49)—a promise quickly fulfilled with an exclamation mark in the book of Acts, as the Spirit descends on Jesus’ disciples at Pentecost. Mark’s Gospel, at least in its longer form, ends with a dramatic promise of signs, of poison swallowed without harm, of snake handling and tongue speaking.
So you could be forgiven for harboring expectations of dramatic spiritual ecstasies when the resurrected Christ, invested with all heavenly and earthly authority, promises his presence to the end of the age. Yet the charge Jesus gives his followers in Matthew 28 is decidedly unspectacular.
What does he commission the eleven to do? Perform inspired signs, such as trampling snakes and drinking poison, as in the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel? No. Gather megahordes of listeners together to experience power on high through spellbinding sermons, as in the book of Acts? Again, no.
Instead, Jesus tells his disciples to teach newly baptized disciples “to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Simple, but hard. The disciples are to go. They are to go baptizing others into Christ. They must create learners, disciples. Then they must teach them to follow the commands of Christ, not with clever speech, inventiveness, or awesome miracles.
Before anything else, the eleven are called to teach their own disciples to obey everything Jesus commanded. Seriously? Everything? Some translations choose to use the word observe instead of obey. Perhaps that rendering modifies or somehow softens the scope of Jesus’ expectation. I honestly don’t know.
One thing is certain: the demands of discipleship are not easy. In Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, Donald Miller says, “The trouble with deep belief is that it costs something. And there is something inside of me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn’t like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them.”
I wonder sometimes if I understand discipleship at all. I’ve read Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the classic works. I’ve preached sermons on discipleship—entire series in fact. I’ve made lists of the marks of a true disciple. Still I find myself revising the lists frequently while wondering what kind of disciple I actually am.
It probably has to do with my general unease with reducing discipleship to a checklist of daily habits. I think it’s more about learning to live like Jesus, to implement not only his habits and teachings but his ideas too.
I like how Scot McKnight puts it: “Those who aren’t following Jesus aren’t his followers. It’s that simple. Followers follow, and those who don’t follow aren’t followers. To follow Jesus means to follow Jesus into a society where justice rules, where love shapes everything. To follow Jesus means to take up his dream and work for it.”
Yes, this is a daunting task, but a wonderful one as well—one for which we receive power from on high.