Bonhoeffer :: Chapter 25/26 The Decision
I’d like to give you an outline this morning so that you have clearly in your mind where we have been and where we are going with opening each Sunday Morning. We have been discussing, chapter by chapter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and I want you to notice the structure of what we have talked about. We have covered three sections and are about to switch gears and enter into a fourth section.
The first section is entitled “Grace and Discipleship”. For the first few weeks we discussed the relationship between discipleship and obedience, the dangers of “cheap grace” and the necessity for each of us to take up our cross and follow Jesus on the path of discipleship.
We spent the most time in the second section where we went verse by verse through the “Sermon on the Mount”. There we explored the extraordinary quality of the Christian life: our calling to live lives of simplicity, integrity, and honesty that are characterized by love and charity towards everyone, even our enemies. We discussed the paradox that, on the one hand are good works are to be done in secret and in private while at the same time we are to be the salt and light whose character permeates everything we do and gives glory to God.
Finally, in the third section, we read Jesus’ call to his disciples in Matthew chapters 9 and 10. Jesus looks at a world of lostness with love and compassion. He expects his disciples to look at the world in the same way. Jesus sent them out into the world with a mission and gave them instructions: how to go, what to say and what to expect. While not all of Jesus’ message is comforting, ultimately it contains assurance that the Father watches over us and loves us.
Today we’re going to finish that third section and then talk about the fourth and final section in the book for just a bit. Let’s start by reading the rest of Matt chapter 10 starting at verse 40:
40 "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."
I only have two comments on the conclusion of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples. First, as we have been doing all along, place yourself in the shoes of the disciples as they hear Jesus’ instructions. Can you feel the weight of his words? He that receives you receives ME! The disciples are the representatives of Jesus… Like a royal messenger they are imbued with the power of the one who sent them. Jesus words have been discouraging; he sends them out with themes of persecution and resistance and opposition foremost in their minds. But some will receive them and that is vitally important, because in so doing they will also receive the Father himself.
Note also Jesus assurance of a reward for doing something as simple as giving a cup of water! Why does Jesus say this? Is he concerned with the thirstiness of the people the disciples will minister to? Perhaps it is that Jesus knows our tendency to make everything complicated. The disciples’ heads must surely have been filled with all that they have been instructed to do: cast out demons and heal the sick, speak in the synagogues and before rulers when persecuted, remembering to shun places that rejected them but bless those who will hear. The disciples are checking their list of things to leave: no money, check; no wallet, staff; check… Jesus cuts through our intellectualism and our confusion and simply assures us that if we will respond with compassion to the needs around us in his name we will be rewarded. What does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean to be faithful? “I was thirsty and you gave me drink… Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”
Some final thoughts for you about the next section: section four is called “The Church and Discipleship” and explores how all that we have talked about relates to us as a body of believers today. Before Bonhoeffer discusses all that, however, he asks a question. Do we have a right to compare ourselves to the apostles? Can we apply what Jesus said to them in our own lives?
Perhaps you have been thinking this yourself as we have talked about discipleship over the last six months. After all, Jesus spoke directly to the disciples: there was no doubt what God’s will was for them; they did not have to struggle with what to do or wonder whether what they were doing was what God wanted them to do, right? We, on the other hand, cannot just appropriate God’s word to them for ourselves. God hasn’t told me to give up my business to follow him. God hasn’t told me that I will suffer persecution if I am like him. And most of all, God hasn’t come down to tell me anything, face to face so that I can know it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Bonhoeffer points out that such questions are mostly a desperate attempt on the part of our humanity to avoid having to listen to the risen Lord. We are in the same spot as the disciples when Jesus first tells us “follow me”. They had no proof of his messiah-ship when he called them. Their response to that call was on the same basis as our own response must be: faith! It is, in fact, the universal experience of Jesus, by his very presence he demands a decision from us. Is he just a man? If so we can ignore him. Or is he God. And if so we must follow in his footsteps, looking to his life for our model of obedience. We can still encounter a living Lord and he still desires that we accept his call by faith.
Once we have done that, it is true that we are not to compare ourselves to the disciples or try to appropriate his call to them for ourselves. No, we are to compare ourselves to Jesus and be like him. Jesus said it is enough for the servant that he be found like his master. That must be our goal, kept before our eyes, that determines our success or failure: that in our questioning and striving we are trying to be more like Jesus.