Bonhoeffer :: Chapter 23 Success
We are still in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. For the last few Sundays as we have progressed past the Sermon on the Mount and Bonhoeffer’s commentary on it, we have begun to discuss the implications, the results of being called to be a disciple. We saw that Jesus had compassion on the lost multitudes around him and and so sent the disciples to spread the news of the kingdom throughout Israel. Now Jesus is continuing to describe to his disciples what their mission will look like.
As we read this I want you to think about two questions. First, what results do you expect when God has chosen you to fullfill his mission? And second, what does it mean to be conformed to Christ? As you remember from last time, the disciples are laborers, chosen by God and sent out by him. The prayer to the Lord of the Harvest has been answered and he has sent out laborers into his harvest. This time we we will find out what the result will be.
16 "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. 18 You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21 Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 24 A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!
Notice first that we are correct in asserting that the disciples are sent. Jesus himself declares it! “Behold I send you out”. But he is sending them out into peril, as “sheep in the midst of wolves”. Jesus therefore gives them a proverb about how they should conduct themselves. The proverb is a paradox in a way. Possibly a folk saying of the time, the serpent symbolized guile and cunning and the dove was a symbol of simplicity. Jesus demands that his disciples be both wise and simple, be cunning in pursuit of their goal but also be straightforwardly fixed upon their goal. What interests me about this saying, however, is not so much the specific meaning and application of it, but rather that Jesus said it at all!
What kind of results, I asked, can we expect when God has called and commissioned us to do a task? That may depend at least in part on us! The task set before the disciples is difficult and dangerous. If they are not wise, they may not complete it. Called and commissioned by God, yes, but that does not mean that we have no responsibility for the success of the task!
Interestingly, however, Jesus tells them in advance what some of the results of their mission will be. You will brought before Governors and Kings, he says. That doesn’t sound to bad. You will be hated by all for my Name’s sake. That doesn’t sound so good! Persecution, hatred, even death, await the disciples in their mission.
What results do we expect when God has called us to accomplish his tasks? Isn’t it true that we sometimes equate success with God’s calling and blessing? Take the disciples’ mission for example: if we similarly launched an evangelistic effort that met with many converts and general success and acclaim, wouldn’t you assume that this was a sign of God’s favor? And if our efforts met with general resistance, a lack of response, and even outright persecution wouldn’t you tend to assume that it must not be God’s will? After all God didn’t call anyone to fail, did he?
And yet. Here we have Jesus telling the disciples that their efforts will lead to persecution. They will have to flee the efforts of some to harm them and stand up to rulers with the Spirit as their only defense against the ruling powers of the day. Now we don’t want to minimize that God gave great increase to the efforts of the disciples. Through their efforts the word spread throughout the known world and they effected their world in miraculous ways. At the same time, each one of the faithful disciples was eventually martyred for their faith. Each of the disciples knew persecution and resistance and hatred and defamation.
Why must it be this way? Jesus says it is because we must be like him. A disciple is not above his teacher, a servant is not above his master and it is in fact the goal for a disciple to be like his teacher. Do you want to be like Jesus? Jesus was a success. And yet he found success in hanging from a Cross and giving up his life for us! How will we find success? By being conformed to the image of Christ, by being like our master.
Today, each one of us is called by God to be conformed to the image of Christ. The Word says that we are “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son”. God wills that we be like His Son. And yet that means that on an earthly basis, our success may come in the form of persecution and rejection. Jesus says that it is enough for a disciple that he be like his master. That is the definition of success! Is it enough for you, to be like Jesus? My prayer for each of us this week is that we find ourselves being more and more successful, on God’s terms, each day.