In the “orderly account” which Luke writes, the call to follow Jesus as a disciple is introduced in the story of the call of Peter (Luke 5:1-11). He takes a story already told in Mark’s earlier work, where two sets of brothers are called as disciples–Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John. Luke focuses the story far more on Simon Peter. He would become the leader of the Jesus movement in later years. Luke is interested to focus on what it means for him to become a disciple, one who learns from Jesus, before he tells of Peter as the leader.
The theme of discipleship then runs through the “orderly account” as the story unfolds. In chapter 6, twelve male disciples are named. In chapter 8, Luke makes it clear that women, as well as men, followed Jesus in his travels. Indeed, these women “ministered to him” in tangible and practical ways (8:3). In chapter 9, the twelve men are sent out to begin exercising their own roles as disciples, preaching to others and sharing the good news that Jesus brings. In chapter 10, a larger group (70, or perhaps 72) are then sent out with the same task. Discipleship is to be an active enterprise, comprising both words of hope (“proclaim the kingdom of God”) and proactive deeds (“heal … and cure diseases”).
The cost of following Jesus is emphasised throughout Luke’s writings—especially in the section of the Gospel where Jesus journeys towards Jerusalem. Here, he reveals to his followers precisely what it will cost to follow him (9:57–62; 14:25–33). It will mean adopting a lifestyle of radical renunciation of family (12:49–53; 14:26; 18:28–30), possessions (9:3; 10:4; 12:22–23; 14:33; 18:22) and securities (9:24; 12:22–23). It will be a costly discipleship.
Those who follow Jesus will know what it means to be “hated, excluded, reviled, defamed” (6:22); they will travel “like lambs into the midst of wolves” (10:3); and they will know the experience of arrest, persecution, trial, betrayal, hatred, and even death (21:12–19). This is hardly an enticing invitation–it is a call, a challenge, to walk a committed pathway with Jesus.
Indeed, these very challenging elements are integral to the story which is told in Luke’s second volume (which we know as the Acts of the Apostles). In this story, communities are persecuted (Acts 8:1–3), there are plots, riots, arrests, betrayals and imprisonments, key figures are brought to trial, two leaders are martyred (7:54–60; 12:2) and Paul lives in peril of his life throughout the last section of the narrative, especially on his journey to Rome. (And the tradition is that Paul himself met his death as a martyr in Rome.)
As people are persecuted, imprisoned, brought to trial, and put to death, the true cost of faithfulness is made known. The charge given to Paul summarises what all faithful followers of Jesus might expect: “how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).
In such a context, Jesus advises his followers, “do not worry” (Luke 12:22, 29) and encourages them with the words, “do not be afraid” (12:32). He reminds them of God’s unending grace of God towards them (15:3–32) and assures them that “not a hair of your head will perish” (21:18). This is the powerful good news which operates in the message and activities of Jesus. He brings a focus on God’s grace.
Paul, too, is given the encouragement of God’s gracious presence (Acts 18:9–10) and is assured of safety in the midst of danger (27:24). The cost of faithfulness is met by God’s abundant grace. That is what discipleship is all about.
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