On the one hand, the Gospel is broad and spacious, a message with its arms wide open welcoming all to come and receive God’s grace, mercy and the gift of eternal life. The Gospel is open-hearted, it says, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).
On the other hand, the longer you follow Jesus, the narrower the road gets. It’s like the Arts Centre tower in Melbourne – broad at the base thinner at the top!
Crowd Versus Disciple
Jesus frequently had large crowds following him. Sometimes he healed them, other times he taught them. His teaching to the masses was invariably tough as he laid down the cost of what being His disciple really meant. Frequently, when the crowd got too big, he’d thin it out by teaching tough.
Consider Mark 8:34 where Jesus “called the crowd to him along with his disciples.” In other words, there’s a difference between the two. Today there are many in the Christian crowd but, when it comes to the pointy end, fewer people put their hands up to be disciples.
What does it mean to be a disciple? The Greek word is mathetes. It’s the word from which we get our English word mathematics, which means, “to apply yourself to study, learning and knowledge.” Jesus frequently encouraged people to become his mathetes, his disciples who would use their mental effort to think things through, to count the cost of what it means to be his follower: somebody who applied themselves to study, learning and knowledge of the Scriptures, and the lifestyle they require. That is, a people who wouldn’t just know the Bible, they’d learn it and then live it out in their daily lives.
A disciple counts the cost of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. They ask themselves the question, “Is it worth it?” And they answer with a resounding YES!
On one occasion, large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple … those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:25-33).
Note the three kinds of people who Jesus says, “cannot be my disciples.” Those who love their family more than they love him; those who are not prepared to suffer hardship; and those who value possessions more than him. That is, if you hold onto your money and possessions even though you’d be well able to meet the needs of others, you cannot be Jesus’ disciple. Whatever a disciple has is always on call for the Master’s use.
A Disciple Counts The Cost
It’s hard teaching that’s just as necessary today as it has ever been. The contemporary church draws big crowds, but how many in that crowd have counted the cost to become a disciple? My guess is very few, just as it was in Jesus’ day. When he faced the cross, they all deserted. After the resurrection they started drifting back, by the day of Pentecost there were 120. Where was the crowd?
I was speaking to a Christian leader this week who specialises in church health. He told me the story of a pastor who was very proud of his large church, until God spoke to him and said, “your church isn’t big, it’s fat.” It’s easy for us to look at a big church and to think all is well. But is it a crowd or is that church making disciples?
Are You A Disciple?
Jesus frequently attempted to convert crowds into disciples. Sometimes it worked, but invariably the masses moved away. So, are you part of the Christian crowd or are you a disciple? Is Jesus your Lord? Does he have control of and access to everything you are and all you have? When things get tough will you leave too?