What Does It Take to be Jesus’ Disciple?

A sermon on Luke 5:12-6:16 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 2/5/2006

Our passage for study this morning contains eight scenes, eight vignettes in the life of Jesus. Let me read the last: Luke 6:12-16:

In these days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Jesus spends all night in prayer, and then picks twelve of the men who have been following him. He wants these men to see Him and learn from Him so that He might send them out. They are His twelve disciples.

What does it take to be a disciple of Jesus?

In the section immediately prior to today’s passage, Jesus tells fisherman Simon Peter to spread his nets to catch fish. Peter thinks Jesus is no fisherman, asking him to try to catch fish in the middle of the day, but he humors him. He casts the nets, not expecting anything to happen. But then immediately the nets are full of fish – indeed, they begin to break.

How does Peter react? He falls down before Jesus, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" Jesus tells him not to fear; from now on he will be catching men. The fishermen then leave everything and follow Jesus.

We see something similar in vignette 3, Luke 5:27-28:

After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, "Follow me." 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

So stories concerning the gathering of Jesus’ disciples appear immediately prior to the beginning of today’s passage, in the middle, and at the end. This is a major theme of this section of Luke.

There is much else worthy of detailed study in our passage:

But this morning we’ll focus on this one major theme that links all eight vignettes together: The nature of a disciple. I pray that each of you will ask yourself: Am I a disciple?

We’ll consider this theme under 2 headings: Wrong criteria and right criteria for judging whether or not you are a disciple.

Wrong Criteria

Let’s read vignette four, which takes place immediately after Levi leaves his tax booth to follow Jesus.

And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" 31 And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

The Pharisees ask the disciples – not Jesus – why they are eating and drinking with sinners. What is the implied characteristic of a disciple? “Don’t mess with sinners! Stay away from sinners! Keep yourself pure!”

Clearly Jesus doesn’t agree with their judgment. But is there truth in this characteristic? If we just change two words in my paraphrase – indeed, if we just drop eight letters – we would have a true statement: “Don’t mess with sin! Stay away from sin! Keep yourself pure!”

We know this from other Scriptures. Paul tells the Corinthians, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:14) and, “Flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). He instructs Timothy, “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22). We are to run away from sin.

Furthermore, clearly fleeing sin sometimes means fleeing from sinners or avoiding sinners: Joseph tried to avoid Potiphar’s wife and then ran away from her when he couldn’t avoid her. Similarly, if you are tempted by gambling, you know you are not called to witness in casinos. You are to stay away from those particular sinners, for they will draw you into their sin.

But the fact that you avoid some sinners does not imply that you stay away from all sinners. In verse 32 Jesus says,

“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

We can’t serve as His ambassadors, His disciples, unless we do the same. A disciple does not avoid sinners. A disciple is cognizant of his areas of weakness, and so avoids tempting situations. But like Jesus, a disciple is engaged. A disciple goes out. A disciple seeks the lost. A disciple lives a holy life before those who need Jesus.

We see this further in vignettes five and six:

And they said to him, "The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink." 34 And Jesus said to them, "Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days." 36 He also told them a parable: "No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'" 6:1 On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. 2 But some of the Pharisees said, "Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?" 3 And Jesus answered them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?" 5 And he said to them, "The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath." Luke 5:33-6:5

In both vignettes, the Pharisees complain about Jesus’ disciples: First, that they are not fasting, and not offering the prescribed prayers on fast days. The Pharisees fasted two days a week, though there is no such explicit command in the Old Testament. Even John’s disciples fast. So, they ask, what’s wrong with Jesus’ disciples?

The second complaint is that Jesus’ disciples are not observing Sabbath properly – that is, that they are not observing the Pharisees’ interpretation of Sabbath law. Observing the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments:

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,  10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work. Exodus 20:8-10a 

Threshing grain – that is, separating the grain from the chaff – was a lot of work. Today in this country machines perform that task; in biblical times, all threshing was by hand. Clearly, Exodus 20:10 would forbid threshing. But what is included in threshing? The Pharisees had declared that even what the disciples were doing - taking a few heads of grain when passing through a field, rubbing them in their hands while they walk so they could eat the grain – was threshing, and thus work. According to them, this was a violation of the Sabbath.

So what was the overall idea of the Pharisees? A disciple must do religious acts; a disciple must follow religious regulations.

Is there truth in this statement? As in the case of avoiding sinners, there is some truth here. Jesus will say later,

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15 

Jesus’ disciples follow Him, love Him, and obey Him. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law of God, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

But the Pharisees were fundamentally mistaken in their view of the Law. In these vignettes, Jesus says the Law is all about Him! Fasting is about Him! A fast is a fast for His presence, as we long for Him; desiring Him, we withdraw from anything that might distract us from Him. The Sabbath is about Him – resting in Him, hoping in Him, leaning on Him. Listen now:

Those are not characteristics of a true disciple – though a true disciple may well do both.

The Pharisees were mistaken. They exalted the form of Judaism, and forgot the main point.

True religion is to recognize Him, to respond to Him – that’s what a true disciple does.

We see this even more clearly in vignette 7:

On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. 8 But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, "Come and stand here." And he rose and stood there. 9 And Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?" 10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, "Stretch out your hand." And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. Luke 6:6-11

The expression “filled with fury” is literally “filled with a lack of sense.” That is, they are so angry that they can’t think straight. And indeed, they are not thinking straight. They think the point of the Sabbath is, “Don’t work.” But not working on the Sabbath was never the goal; it was a means to an end. The point of the Sabbath is: “Rest in God! Believe Him! Follow Him! Rest in His Savior!”

Do you remember how Jesus summarizes the Law? He says that the entire Law depends, or hangs, on two commands:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  38 This is the great and first commandment.  39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:37-39 

So the Sabbath Law depends on these commands. That is, the Sabbath Law helps us to love God and love man.

Now, think: Is their implementation of the Sabbath Law helping them love God or man? Quite the contrary. They keep the external form of the Law – and have no mercy on the man with a withered hand. They don’t violate their own Sabbath regulations – yet they hate Jesus and begin the plot that will end in His murder. They righteously state that they are upholding the Law when in fact they are violating its very essence.

How do we fall into this trap?

Consider: You can stay away from every gross sin; you can do religious acts – attend services, walk the aisle, be baptized, take the Lord’s supper, fast, attend prayer meetings – and all of that will be of absolutely no value unless you know the true Messiah, the true Savior.

Being a disciple thus does not consist of avoiding sinners. Being a disciple does not consist of performing religious duties. What, then, are the right criteria for being a disciple?

Right Criteria

1) A Disciple Must Know he is a Sinner

We already saw in vignette 4 - verses 31-32 – that Jesus says He did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Of course, no one is righteous. Paul tells us that. But the true disciple must acknowledge his own sinfulness; he must admit, “Yes, I am a sinner” – which, for the most part, the Pharisees did not do.

This seems like a simple statement. But don’t skip over it. We must do more than simply give intellectual assent to the syllogism, “All men are sinners, I am a man, therefore I am a sinner.” We need to see the depths of sin in our hearts.

Many of you know how God opened my eyes to the depth of my own sin. Two and a half years after our wedding, our marriage was about to fall apart. One night I at long last had to acknowledge that I was an active agent in its destruction. I wanted a close marriage more than anything else in the world, and yet I was destroying it. Furthermore, the woman I had idolized was also destroying it. There was no hope for us apart from God’s grace. I did not yet see sin as fundamentally an affront against God, violating the purpose of my creation – to glorify His Name. But in opening my eyes to my role and Beth’s role in the destruction of our marriage, God let me see the ugliness of sin in a vitally important way.

The first vignette, Luke 5:12-16, provides a picture of the depths of sin. A leper comes up to Jesus, falls on his face, and begs Him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean!” Leprosy is a horrible disease that destroys the nerves, so that its victim loses the sense of touch. Gradually its victims lose all contact with others. Under the Law, a leper was unclean. He was not allowed into the temple. He had to live separate from God’s people. Indeed, when a non-leper approached, the leper had to call out, “Unclean!” so that no one would accidentally come near and be defiled. Furthermore, leprosy was incurable. There was a provision in the Law for ceremonies to take place for the cleansing of a cured leper (Leviticus 14). But these ceremonies did not cure the disease; instead, they pictured the restored relationship between the leper and God, and thus between the leper and the community of God’s people.

What, then, does leprosy picture? The leper is a picture of being lost. Being without hope. Being caught in sin that no human agent can change.

So the leper comes to Jesus, crying out, “You can make me clean!” Note that he asks to be made clean, not to be cured. This is an important distinction. The disease is terrible, and surely this man desires the end of his disease. But most of all he desires to be able to worship God! He desires to part of God’s people! He desires to be cleansed, so he can approach God! He knows He is separated from God, and asks to be allowed to come into His presence.

Just so with all of us: We each must realize and acknowledge that we are unclean. Sin has separated us from God. We must see the depth of our sinfulness.

Every disciple must know he is a sinner.

2) A Disciple Must Depend on Jesus for Healing and Cleansing

As we just saw in vignette one, the leper knows Jesus can make Him clean. He can’t cleanse himself. But Jesus can cleanse him. “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Vignette two makes a similar point:

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, "Man, your sins are forgiven you." 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, "Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, "Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"- he said to the man who was paralyzed- "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home." 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, "We have seen extraordinary things today." Luke 5:17-26

As Jesus teaches on the Sabbath, the Pharisees are there, with the express purpose of seeing if Jesus will heal, so that they might accuse Him of violating the Law. Friends bring a paralyzed man for healing, but the crowds are so large they can’t get near the door. They then carry their friend onto the roof of the house, remove some tiles, and lower him down through the hole.

Why did they go to all this trouble? The paralyzed man and his friends are all convinced that Jesus can heal. He is their hope. So they go to every effort to come into His presence.

We too must have that same faith. We must say, “I am sinner. Jesus can heal me. Only Jesus can heal me.” We too must go to every effort to come into His presence. So seek His face. Seek His Word. Seek His people. Don’t rest. Climb on the roof, remove the tiles, embarrass yourself, get dusty, risk falling – all to be in His presence.

You are a sinner. Jesus is the only one who can cleanse you. So don’t worry about what others will think. In the end, none of that matters. He has the cure. Seek His face.

3) A Disciple Must be Cleansed by Jesus

Again, vignettes one and two show us this. Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the leper. Probably years have passed since anyone other than a fellow leper has touched this man. Strictly, Jesus becomes unclean by that touch. But the Law points to Him – instead of being defiled Himself, His touch heals and cleanses the leper clean.

My friends, coming to Jesus, acknowledging your sin, is not enough. The healing of your disease is not enough. Jesus must act, Jesus must cleanse, Jesus must forgive your sin - or you are still isolated, separated from God.

In vignette two, Jesus sees the faith of the paralytic and those who carried him, and says, “Man, your sins are forgiven” (verse 20). Note that the man is not yet healed of his disease. But Jesus cleanses Him, He forgives Him, He breaks down the barrier between this man and God.

This prompts the Pharisees to ask two questions in verse 21:

 “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

What do you think of those questions? The second question implies a right answer: Only God can forgive sins. But the first question is wrong. Jesus is not blaspheming. Only God can forgive sins. But Jesus is God.

Jesus then heals the paralytic to prove to the skeptics that He has authority to forgive sins. The outward healing shows the truth of inward, invisible cleansing.

So in both of these first two vignettes, Jesus commits two acts: he heals the disease and he cleanses the man. The two vignettes present these actions in different orders, making clear that the healing of physical disease is secondary.

To become a true disciple, a sinner must be cleansed by Jesus

4) A Disciple Must Value Jesus Above All

In Luke 5:11, Peter, James, and John leave everything to follow Jesus. In verse 28, Levi does the same. They value Jesus above all.

Consider vignette five once again, Luke 5:33-39. We said this vignette shows that the true disciple is not the one who goes through the form of religious rituals, but the one who seeks the face of Jesus. Fasting and Sabbath observance are means to an end. The end is loving God.

Note the language Jesus uses in verses 34 and 35. Jesus’ disciples are the wedding Guests – He is the bridegroom. He is the focus. He is purpose of their rejoicing. When He is taken away, they will fast. But since He is the object of their fast, it makes no sense to fast in His presence!  

In a true fast, we say that Jesus is worth more than food. Food can get in the way of seeing and savoring Jesus. So we set aside food for a time, because we want Him!

Jesus is of ultimate value. True disciples are willing to leave all to follow Him.

5) A Disciple Becomes Like His Master

As His disciples, we are to become like Christ in numerous ways. This passage highlights two: Becoming like Him in sharing the Good News, and becoming like Him in prayer.

In Luke 5:10, Jesus tells Peter, “From now on you will be catching men.” We normally think of this as speaking: proclaiming the Gospel with words. But sometimes we proclaim the Gospel through actions – such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  

In verses 14 and 15 Jesus tells the leper not to speak about what has happened. He instead says, “Make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Do you see? The Leviticus 14 offerings for the cleansing of a leper were His testimony! Those ceremonies likely had not been performed for centuries. Now, the Messiah to whom all those ceremonies point is with them. These ceremonies will display aspects of the Gospel that the leper doesn’t understand. Furthermore, the leper’s words can easily be misunderstood as exalting his physical healing (indeed, this is what happens when the leper disobeys Jesus and talks about the healing). The ceremonies were to be the proclamation of the Gospel (for more on the specific of these ceremonies, see this sermon).

We are to be like Jesus. We are to proclaim the Good News. Our methods of proclamation will vary. But all disciples are become the aroma of Christ to the world around us.

Second, we are to pray like our Master. We see two examples of Jesus’ prayer life in this passage. First, after the leper talks about his healing, huge crowds come to Jesus seeking healing. Although Jesus left Capernaum in order to preach, he knows that he is not primarily a healer. Yet there are all these needy people. What does Jesus do? Verse 16 tells us He would “withdraw to desolate places to pray.” Similarly, the night before He chooses His disciples, Jesus spends all night in prayer.

If Jesus, the Son of God, made time to pray, how much more must we? If we are to be His disciples, we must devote ourselves to prayer. Prayer must undergird all we do as a church, all we do individually.

Note: one of the objections of the Pharisees to the disciples was that they were not offering prayers (5:33). But there is all the difference in the world between formal, ritualistic prayers and Jesus’ prayers alone with God. Our prayers are to be like those of Jesus.


Consider yourself: What does it take for you to be Jesus disciple?

Have you thought of discipleship as a set of requirements?

Forms are means to an end. They are not the end. Each of these mentioned is marvelous, and can be marvelously productive in our lives. But they are means.

Are you making use of means, while keeping your aim firmly fixed on the goal? Follow Jesus! Become His disciple!

So know you are a sinner. Seek His cleansing touch. Ask for His miracle of grace. Value Him; seek Him above all. Take on His character.

Jesus is still choosing disciples to be those He sends out. He will send you.

Are you ready? Are you willing? Will you be his ambassador?

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. So under His power, by His authority, go – so that He may be glorified in your life.

This sermon was preached on 2/5/06 at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC.

Copyright © 2005, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

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