When Jesus spoke of discipleship, He was very precise, very demanding. He stated, “23…‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.'” (Luke 9:23-26).
This is set against the backdrop of two significant ideas: (1) Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ of God; and (2) Jesus’ prediction of His eminent suffering and death at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law. In view of who Jesus is and what Jesus is willing to do to complete His Messianic mission, the fact that He articulates precise and demanding requisites for discipleship is not surprising at all.
Just beyond these verses Jesus states: “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27). Jesus is not merely saying that some of these people will witness an event, but they would actually, literally “experience” the kingdom. This idea is brought to light in the original language, where the word for “see” is ὁράω. Three of the definitions which Thayer provides are: 1) to see with the eyes; 2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know; and 3) to see, i.e. become acquainted with by experience, to experience. Experiencing the kingdom, which is what discipleship is all about, involves a willingness to heed the King’s commands and call to commitment of our whole lives following him.
This is no small thing. Jesus’ precise and demanding kingdom call on our lives necessitates that we carefully take stock of what we really prize most in life. What are willing to give everything in gain? There is but one thing that is of sufficient worth. It is the kingdom. In order to experience a kingdom relationship with Christ, we should be willing give all. Elsewhere, Jesus discusses the fact that each one should consider the cost of discipleship in advance to beginning this kingdom journey. In the verses above we note that Jesus sets this all in context by asking what good it is if a person gains the whole world but loses or forfeits his or her soul? This is not simply a life-style choice. Deciding whether or not to follow Jesus in this life determines our destiny beyond this life.
The following verses, which spring to life in the context of Matthew’s record of Jesus’ teaching which outlines the kingdom concept, help us to see that the kingdom is of such value that we should be willing to give everything in order to gain the kingdom. These two parables, which are recorded in Matthew 13:44-46, set the stage for our further discussions:
44The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Now, let’s consider three observations brought to light in these verses:
(1) The first man apparently stumbled upon the treasure he found hidden in a field. His actions comported with the standards of the day with respect to finding hidden treasure. We note: the kingdom is of such great value that, like this man who stumbled on hidden treasure, our joy over the kingdom should prompt us to give all that we have in order to gain the kingdom.
(2) The second man, who spent his life searching for treasure, was motivated by purpose to do what he could to obtain it. He was, likewise, willing to give all in order to gain the kingdom.
(3) Both men “gave” everything to get one thing—treasure! There is a difference in these two parables, though. This is often overlooked. In the first parable the “kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field”. In the second parable the “kingdom is like a merchant looking for fine pearls”. In the first parable, the focus is on the treasure. In the second, the focus is on the treasure seeker. Do you see this? One parable teaches us that we should be willing to give all to gain the kingdom. The second parable seems to suggest that the Treasure Seeker is willing to give all in order to gain the kingdom. In Christ we see the Great Treasure Seeker who came to seek that which God treasures most, people who willing accept His kingdom, people who are willing to give all to gain the kingdom. Just like the merchant who sold everything in order to buy the one of great value, Jesus was willing to give all to make it possible for us to experience the kingdom.
Things haven’t changed much in 2,000 years…
People still seek after a host of things other than the true treasure of the Messiah’s reign in their lives. Some of these are cited below:
– Library shelves are full of books which tell stories both real and imagined of people who gave up all, even love, in order to obtain fame and fortune.
– Library shelves are full of books which tell stories both real and imagined of people who gave up all, even fame and fortune, in order to obtain love.
– The three most sought after qualities in America today: beauty, bucks and brains.
– The three most desired life-conditions are security, significance and a sense of belonging.
– The three most sought after spiritual personal affirmation, instant gratification and pacification of inner struggles with self and with sin.
What sorts of things are missing from this list?
Well, it seems that we live in a time when the importance of spiritual things is minimized. True spiritual treasure is too infrequently the focus of people’s life-pursuits. Thus, we note the wisdom of Jesus description of the kingdom as “treasure hidden in a field”. This so fittingly speaks to our lives today. In many respects it speaks to the story that unfolded in the life of a young man from Tarsus named Saul. Amazingly, the unfolding of his life-story also accounts for his enfolding into the Kingdom of Christ. You can read about the high points of the initial part of his journey in Acts 8:1; 9:1-19; 21:37-22:21; 25:23-26:18 and Galatians 1:11-17.
In the following passage we read about the inner workings at the heart of Saul’s decision to follow Jesus. His choice is a “real-life-response” to the question: What would you give everything to gain? Here the apostle is responding to those who were attempting to exert control over the kingdom by insisting that Gentile believers submit to them and their insistence that the were required to comply to the Law’s requirements in order to be followers of Jesus. Led by the Holy Spirit Paul writes:
“1Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If others think they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 3:1-14
(1) Paul had it all…privileged birth, prize-winning pedigree, personal prowess that made him peerless, political and religious ranking, purpose-driven practices par excellence, which resulted in prestige and power. Add to this list a pride filled presumption of righteousness and you have Saul of Tarsus, master practitioner of the Pharisaical way of life.
(2) Saul gave it all up . . . for the sake of Christ . . . because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. Can you imagine that! If you were to ask him what he would give everything to obtain, he would say, he did say, I would give everything, indeed, I did give everything to know Christ. In fact, his personal motto seems to have been: To live is Christ! His personal vision statement might well be: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
(3) Thus, when we read Paul’s words in Philippians 3:4-11 we gain deep insight into his rationale for doing this…
…he took stock in the value of the alternatives and found everything he was and had to be rubbish when compared to the treasure of knowing Christ;
…he became aware of his misplaced priorities and considered where each was leading him; and,
…he realized that God had higher calling on his life and wanted to win the eternal prize offered by God rather the temporal praise given by men.
For what would you give everything? Are you holding on to anything that is preventing you from gaining the kingdom? What would you give everything to obtain?
© Bill Williams
July 3, 2006