The Thing that Changes Everything



We are not unfamiliar with rhetoric. We are no strangers to platitudes and empty praise—for sometimes, even the repetition of holy words makes them ordinary despite our best intentions. We speak of wonderful, awe-inspiring things with our limited languages, fallen minds and finite tongues—doing the best we can with what we have—yet stand no chance of seeing eternity short of an eternal intervention. We are creatures in need of our Creator’s sustaining hand, but sheep who need to hear the Shepherd. 

So when we speak of something as colossal as the Great Commission—the utterance of the King and His Kingdom everywhere—we need to remember it can’t be explained in an essay. When Bonhoeffer wrote about “costly discipleship,” he wasn’t mincing words, yet it his weighty treatise[1] still fails to fully communicate the consequences of Calvary upon a human soul. We are but bearers of the Image who gave birth to us, and we bend to His hand as He shapes the ages to stage His glory. When we talk about discipleship—indeed, conversations which shape the very and only thing we are corporately commissioned to do worldwide—we must approach the issue gingerly; what is it that makes the debased a disciple?

Fortunately, we have a cheat sheet. “Wherever this Gospel of the Kingdom is proclaimed, her story will be told,” He said, and He wasn’t kidding.[2] When we talk about the conversion of a fallen soul, the calibration of a broken mind’s theology, the resuscitation of a failing heart, we have a prototype in a young girl from a small town just outside the big city who held nothing back from the King of glory. “Don’t ridicule her,” He said. “Yes, this is inconvenient, but I won’t take this away from her,” He said. He is the Word,[3] and we must heed Him.

If His cousin’s life was one to emulate—“the greatest man born of a woman”[4]—then it is worth considering we must also follow the lead of the girl whose name is meant to be mentioned whenever we compel a sinner to bow the knee to the Nazarene. If we are to mention Mary’s story, we have to understand it. We have to live it ourselves. “From the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks,”[5] and if we don’t know what it means to break our own alabaster, it will be our platitudes that shatter upon impact rather than our worship. Yet, proverbial navel-gazing has scarcely done a man good, and thus we must life our eyes to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls[6] to find what it is we’re looking for. 

Scripture, particularly that written since the revelation of the executed King, burdens us with imperatives and encourages us with indicatives. If one were to color every Bible verse telling us what God has done for us (indicative) in blue, and colored everything we’re instructed to do (imperative) in green, we’d find the Word a world of islands dotting endless seas. He is that good to us. Years are required to sink this into the marrows of our being, jolting those of us who’ve grown accustomed to the Age of Instant. Discipleship will not come naturally to those of us who’ve scorned the King of Heaven and Earth in our innermosts, nor will a willingness to submit to it. Such requires the mercy of our Maker, for which we must wait.

And such He gives—“but God”[7]—with an immediacy we could never expect—“I once was blind, but now I see”[8]—over time we could never orchestrate—“a day is but a thousand years; a thousand years a day”[9]—to an end guaranteed—“you will be holy, as I am holy.”[10] While we may hesitate, expensive grace makes us resolute. It is a glimpse of that Man bleeding[11] which compels us to spread our own arms over our own splintery planks of bloody wood and give our wrists and feet to rusty nails. The costly end with the costly gain only makes sense in light of costly grace buying out sin on a costly cross for a generous Father through a willing Son. Mary’s liquidated life can only be reconciled to a Christ worth the cost who, through His own death, is the Lord of the resurrection.[12] The expensive extravagance of an obedient disciple cannot be parroted nor manufactured; rather, it can only erupt from a heart yoked, however unevenly in sincere immaturity, to the One who demands all because He gave and gives all.

In this world of songs and Sunday mornings, only Christ and Him crucified[13] can save us from ourselves with all our empty words. It is the sight of Him hanging on the cross, the confidence in His Lordship over the grave, and the hope of Him coming back[14] that saves us, makes us and keeps us until His appearing. Work and worship apart from this are the kind of fleshly striving that burns us out and hands us over to bitter resentment of holy things and disillusionment. Striving will inevitably tell us we should’ve kept the alabaster intact. Anemic rhetoric will inevitably create a corpse on a cross we’ve built to hang ourselves on. Worship is only worship when we’re looking at Him, and falsehoods flee at the sight of the Truth. 

As we sing, live and labor in this present evil age,[15] may we thrust ourselves headlong on His mercy and get drunk on His goodness. It is the sight of the sacrificial Savior that’ll send us; communion with Him that’ll sustain us, and the hand of Him that’ll save us when He comes.

 

 

 

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[1]  Bonhoeffer, D. (1937). The Cost of Discipleship. Berlin.
[2]  Mark 14:9
[3]  John 1:1
[4]  Luke 7:38
[5]  Matthew 12:34
[6]  I Peter 2:25
[7]  Ephesians 2:4
[8]  Newton, J. (1772). Amazing grace.
[9]  Psalm 90:4; II Peter 3:8
[10] Leviticus 20:26; Matthew 5:48; I Peter 2:21
[11] Quick, S. (2016). Martin Luther & the man bleeding. Retrieved from http://www.faimission.org/articles/2016/9/11/martin-luther-the-man-bleeding
[12] John 11:25
[13] I Corinthians 2:2
[14] Acts 1:11
[15] Galatians 1:4