Need of only one thing

As an important clarification, the term “following” can be understood different ways. During the time that Jesus Christ was in His public ministry, there were swarms of followers. Yet many of those followers never actually accepted Jesus’s call to become His students. The New Testament often distinguishes disciples from members of the crowds who “followed” Jesus because of his miracles and free meals! There isn’t any indication that the commitment of most of these followers lasted any longer than the immediate circumstance. In other words, their interest in Jesus generally did not rise to the level of relationship that discipleship produces. The same is still true today.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'”
– Matthew 16:24 (ESV translation)

As we look first at this expectation of Jesus for His students recorded in the gospel letters it seems very burdensome.

Yet there is another narrative (below) related to following Jesus from Luke’s viewpoint in the New Testament. It’s a dialogue between Jesus Himself and two of His followers, Martha and Mary. According to this passage the response Jesus most desired was for them to simply come, and sit at His feet.

“Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” – Luke 10:38-42

So the burdensome call to discipleship from Jesus in Matthew 16:34 sounds quite different from his intimate dialogue with Martha and Mary, doesn’t it? At the same time we know from scripture in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) that the will of God is for all believers to follow Jesus into discipleship. Every personal encounter with Jesus to be sure was always a call to follow Him. So how do we square these two seemingly different approaches to discipleship? Let’s look closer at the dialogue in these two different occurrences. Can we roll both approaches into one call? I think we can.

Sitting at His feet

Although stated in different ways, the key component in each passage referred to only one thing: coming to Jesus, to a faith-based, abiding relationship with the Master Teacher, the embodiment of the Mystery, the Cross-Bearer. To follow Jesus was about turning, coming to Him and proverbially “sitting at His feet” just as in ancient Jewish culture students sat at the feet of their rabbi. This posture toward Jesus is what prepared His early followers to overcome the fleshy, sight-based distractions in their lives, to deny themselves and take up their crosses, in exchange for a transformed life, surrendered to the one they knew to be not only their teacher but their Savior and expected Messiah.

Many religions call for self-denial today, but these religious attempts are futile and powerless. Jesus is never impressed with self-denial and cross-bearing through our own human efforts. In fact our own efforts at self-denial are rooted in pride. If we are not engaged in an intimate daily relationship with Jesus, we have not yet chosen to follow Him and therefore won’t experience the spirit-filled life that empowers true self denial and cross-bearing. The call of Jesus to follow Him in discipleship always was, and still is, about having need of only one thing – coming to Him and Him alone.

Just come unto Me

“Do I want to get there? I can now. The questions that matter in life are remarkably few, and they are all answered by the words — “Come unto Me.” Not — “Do this, or don’t do that”; but — “Come unto Me.” If I will come to Jesus my actual life will be brought into accordance with my real desires; I will actually cease from sin, and actually find the song of the Lord begin. Have you ever come to Jesus? Watch the stubbornness of your heart, you will do anything rather than the one simple childlike thing — “Come unto Me.” If you want the actual experience of ceasing from sin, you must come to Jesus.Jesus Christ makes Himself the touchstone. Watch how He used the word “Come.” At the most unexpected moments there is the whisper of the Lord — “Come unto Me,” and you are drawn immediately. Personal contact with Jesus alters everything… The attitude of coming is that the will resolutely lets go of everything and deliberately commits all to Him.”

This quote by Oswald Chambers above reiterates the ultimate choice we all have as believers. He also expands on the undeniable fact that being a student of Jesus reduces our focus from many other things to only one – Jesus and His power to transform us from within, for our greater good. He wants the deepest, truest relationship possible with each of us, His students, if we will only respond to His call, over everything else. Over duty and obligation. Over living in comfort and ease. Over our own “self-sufficiency.” Over all kinds of religious, gold-star behavior. Over our own selfish interests or prideful works. Each of us must be able to claim that discipleship is not about me; it’s about only one thing: Jesus.

Key Takeaways:
1. Jesus calls believers to only one thing in discipleship: an abiding relationship with Him.
2. One who chooses to follow Jesus in discipleship becomes a student of the Master Teacher.
3. A believer positioned to focus solely on Christ in discipleship will receive power to overcome all else, to deny self and take up one’s cross.

Header photo by Jon Tyson

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