“And as He passed by He saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the place of custom, and he said to him, Follow Me. And he arose and followed him.” (Mark 2:14).
“The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus. How could the call immediately evoke obedience? The story is a stumbling-block for the natural reason, and it is no wonder that frantic attempts have been made to separate the two events. By hook or by crook a bridge must be found between some psychological or historical event. Thus we get the stupid question: Surely the publican [Levi] must have known Jesus before, and that previous acquaintance explains his readiness to hear the Master’s call…
“It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, Levi follows at once. This encounter is a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus…Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and to demand obedience to his word…We are not expected to contemplate the disciple, but only him who calls, and his absolute authority. According to our text, there is no road to faith or discipleship, no other road – only obedience to the call of Jesus.” [Pages 61 – 62 – The Cost of Discipleship].
“It is nothing else than bondage to Jesus Christ alone, completely breaking through every program, every ideal, every set of laws…When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person.” [Page 63, italics added].
I’m not sure that it is a stupid question, though I can see myself using the term in frustration and perhaps Bonhoeffer used it thusly. What is it we don’t get about Jesus Christ having the Presence and Power and Authority to command obedience? Perhaps it is because we do not view Him as such today? Perhaps it is because our vision is relegated to programs and ideals and laws and traditions and marketing ploys? Perhaps we have become too religiously Christian for Jesus?
Perhaps we have become too reasonable for Jesus? After all, we are prone to apologize for Him by assuring congregants and seekers that Jesus most assuredly won’t require the same measure of denial and obedience seen in the Bible and often in history. Jesus certainly won’t command us to do things that might be misunderstood by family, friends, and society.
Perhaps we’ve so convinced ourselves that building relationships is the only way to share the Gospel and commands of Jesus Christ that we’ve also convinced ourselves that that is exactly the way He lived on earth. (This is not a knock on building relationships; it is a challenge to using this thinking as a smoke screen and excuse for not sharing the Gospel).
But perhaps the most telling reason we find it difficult to conceive of Levi or Peter or John or Philip or any number of others down through the centuries leaving their way of life to follow Jesus is that they had an exclusive attachment to his person and we do not. To us Jesus is one option among many, to us in the church He is often more figurehead than Lord; He is a spiritual consultant; a therapist, He is many things…but He often is not Lord – He does not evoke an exclusive attachment to his person. We don’t act like He does, we don’t talk like He does, we don’t make decisions within the church like He does. He may sit unseen around a table in a church board meeting but He does not occupy a throne as Lord and King and we do not fall on our faces before Him in absolute worship and obeisance.
I don’t think it is a stupid question; we may have stupid responses to the question if those responses ignore the inherent tension of the great chasm between Levi’s immediate obedience to Jesus and our own. Our responses, if we are pastors, professors, leaders, parents, may go beyond stupid to irresponsible if we ignore the force of the Gospel, if we explain away the call of Jesus Christ, if we excuse disobedience, if we apologize for Jesus.
A measure of fruitful ministry is whether those whom we serve have an exclusive attachment to Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:1ff); the benchmark of the Biblical Gospel is an insistence on this exclusive attachment – Jesus Christ is Biblical Christianity and Biblical Christianity is Jesus Christ.
Consider that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory,” the glory of Jesus is the glory of God and the glory of God is Jesus Christ – in Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells – mystery of mysteries – glory of glories. The same God who hid Moses in the cleft of a rock so as to protect him from the radiance of His glory is the God who called Levi – is it any wonder Levi immediately responded? Is this the Jesus we portray today in our preaching and teaching and witnessing? God came to earth – He continues to come to earth by His Spirit in His people and through His Word. Jesus calls us to Himself and in so doing calls us out of the world system, calls us out of the world’s way of doing and thinking, calls us out of the darkness that blinds the hearts and minds of men and women – we are not of the world anymore than Jesus is of the world (John 17), and yet we are to go into all the world (Matthew 28, John 20) in order to call others out of the world to Jesus…making disciples and teaching them to do all that Jesus has commanded us.
When Jesus comes to us today will we arise and follow Him?