I’m going to see how much you trust me. If you have a wallet or purse with you today, please get it out. Don’t worry; I don’t want your money. Inside your wallet or purse, most of you will have a receipt. If you don’t mind, pull it out for just a minute.
A receipts good for…the answer depends on who you are. If you think a receipt is good for nothing, you throw it out as soon as you get home. How many people just throw out their receipts? How many people have some type of filing system for their receipts? There’s a personality test for you right there. What you do with your receipts tells you a lot about the type of person you are.
All of us have needed a receipt for a return, exchange, or rebate at some point, but couldn’t find it. Finding a year-old receipt just saved me a bunch of money lately.
You may not have thought about it, but we in the church have developed a sort of spiritual receipt system. If someone ever asks you if you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, most of us point to a certain time in which we made a decision to follow Jesus. It’s almost like we pull out a receipt as proof of what happened. Some of us can’t remember the exact time or day that it happened, and it’s almost like we lost our receipt.
Here’s what we believe: a decision at some point made us a Christian.
I’m going to suggest something that might be a little bit uncomfortable for us today. I’m going to suggest that a decision does not make us a follower of Jesus Christ. When you read the account of Jesus’ life and ministry, you never see Jesus trying to convince people to make decisions. Even when people ask him what to do to have eternal life, Jesus says things that would get me fired if I said them. He told one rich young man to keep the commandments. Would that ever get me in trouble if I answered that way! When the man responded by saying he had already done this, Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. It’s not at all the way that we would answer the question if someone asked us how to have eternal life.
We talk a lot about inviting Jesus to be our personal Savior. Just once I wish that Jesus did the same thing. Jesus never answered the way that we do, about praying the sinner’s prayer and making a decision. That doesn’t mean that a decision or prayer is necessarily wrong, but it does give us cause to think.
Another problem with decisions is that it’s sometimes so hard to pin down exactly when someone made a decision. For instance, when do you think the apostles became Christians? We just don’t know. The same is true for some of us. We can describe a process of becoming closer to Christ, but it’s impossible for us to pin down the exact moment at which we become his followers. For some of you, it’s easy. The Apostle Paul could take you to the road where his life was transformed, and point you to the spot. For a lot of us, it isn’t easy to point to one decision that made us followers of Christ.
Today we’re going to see what Jesus actually did say about this. If you have a Bible with you, let’s look at Luke 9 together.
Rabbi and Talmidim
In Luke 9, Jesus teaches on what it means to be committed to him. In verse 23, Jesus says, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life.” Then, in verses 57 to 62, we read what he said to some others about following him:
As they were walking along someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you no matter where you go.”
But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have no home of my own, not even a place to lay my head.”
He said to another person, “Come, be my disciple.”
The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”
Jesus replied, “Let those who are spiritually dead care for their own dead. Your duty is to go and preach the coming of the Kingdom of God.”
Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”
But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Jesus said two words in verse 23 that lie at the heart of what we’re talking about: “Follow me.” Jesus issued this call to a select group of people. In addition, people occasionally asked Jesus if they could follow him, and Jesus outlined the conditions that are required if anyone wants to be his follower. Sounds good and simple. There are two words, though, that give us some context for the invitation to follow Jesus.
The first word is one you already know: rabbi. Jesus grew up in a Jewish culture. Although his area was not highly regarded by the religious elite of Judea, the people in Galilee were some of the most knowledgeable and religious Jews at that time. In every community, the local synagogue would hire a teacher called a rabbi. Children began learning Scripture around the age of four or five. They would spend hours learning the Torah or the Law. By the time children were about ten, most students would stay at home to learn the family trade. The best students, though, continued their training under the rabbi while learning a trade. They became familiar with the prophets and their writings.
Then, a few – very few – of the most outstanding students sought permission to study with a famous rabbi, often leaving home to travel with him for a lengthy period of time. They had a name, and it’s the second word I want to teach you: talmidim (plural) or talmid (singular). Unlike the first word, rabbi, this one isn’t as familiar to us. The English translation for this is disciple. A talmid was much more than a student. He didn’t want to learn. He wanted to become just like the rabbi. Eventually the talmid would hope to become a rabbi and have talmidim himself, passing not only teaching but a lifestyle to his disciples.
Mostly, students sought out the rabbis they wanted to follow. A few exceptional rabbis were famous for finding their own students. Most were turned away, but for the select few, this would be the call: “Follow me.”
This adds a whole new layer of understanding to what we read in this passage. Jesus fit the mold of rabbi perfectly. People called him rabbi. He traveled from place to place, visited the synagogues, and taught like a rabbi. He offered new interpretations of the Law, like a select group of the rabbis. He started teaching around the age of 30, which was the age at which someone was considered ready to teach others.
Jesus’ call was that of a rabbi to talmidim: follow me. He talked about his ministry as one of replicating, so his talmidim would become just like him. In Luke 6:40, Jesus said, “A student is not greater than the teacher. But the student who works hard will become like the teacher.” So, Jesus’ call to follow him is one of a rabbi inviting a student, a disciple to become just like him.
That makes us talmidim. Following Jesus involves the same type of commitment that a talmid would have made to his rabbi: total commitment. It means living with the rabbi, learning, imitating, and becoming just like him. Everything becomes secondary to becoming just like him.
Following Jesus, then, is not primarily about a decision. In Luke 9, some people made a decision to follow Jesus, and Jesus told them that it is not enough. Following Jesus involves something much greater.
Following Jesus is more of a process than an event – Put another way, it’s not so much about a decision as it is a direction. Being a talmid isn’t something that happens one day. It’s a direction that involves every moment of every day from that point on.
This isn’t to put down the event. Some, but not all of you, will have had a moment at which you began to follow Christ. You may have had a moment with someone else in which they began to follow Christ. The moment can be a significant milestone, and we shouldn’t put it down. But a single moment is never enough. It’s part of a process.
For others, you can’t remember that exact moment. That’s my story. That’s okay. Think less decision, more direction.
Following Jesus requires total commitment – You see that in today’s passage. Verses 23 says, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.” Later, he talked with three people and told them that they couldn’t follow him with anything less than total commitment. Following Jesus involves a shift of allegiance. We follow, even when we don’t know where he’s going.
Following Jesus means becoming like him – This is what being a talmid is about. The goal is to become like the rabbi, Jesus. Everything else is secondary to this purpose.
When we become like Jesus, the result is that we live just like Jesus would if he lived at our address. We work just like Jesus was employed by our employer. We study just like the if Jesus was the student. The talmid becomes just like the rabbi.
Following Jesus means eventually making other talmidim yourself – One of the last things Jesus said was, “Go, and make talmidim of all the nations.” The talmidim eventually become rabbis themselves, and go and lead other talmidim to become just like the rabbi they resemble.
When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he’s asking for much more than a decision. He’s inviting us into a journey of living and learning from him, shifting our allegiance to him, and becoming just like him. The earliest name for Christianity was The Way. It signifies that we’re on a journey of following the rabbi Yeshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus).
If you’re looking for a headcount, a way to know that you’ve embarked on this journey, Jesus gave it: baptism. It’s the entry point of following him. It’s not for those who have reached a certain stage of maturity. It’s for those who have embarked on this journey of being a talmid of Jesus.
Jesus said, “Follow me, live with me, become like me.” That’s his call to us today.