Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Isa. 6:1-8; Luke 5:1-11[1]

Jesus said it first: “whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26-27). Matthew’s version puts it even more strongly: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37-38).

In another context, Jesus is approached by three followers, and one by one he turns them away. To the third, Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:62)! We might read this as a challenge that weeds out the “wanna-be’s” and the “would-be’s” and makes it so that only the truly committed bother to apply for the position!

I would imagine that it didn’t take long for Christians like you and me to begin devising ever-more-rigorous strategies for ensuring that they were “worthy” disciples of Jesus. The irony is, however, that the point of Jesus’ sayings is that none of us is worthy! None of us is “fit” for the Kingdom of God! None of us is worthy to follow Christ! None of us is worthy to serve God’s cause in the world!

In fact, in Scripture those who were most “worthy” consistently judged themselves to be unworthy! In our gospel lesson for today, Peter responds to Jesus’ preaching and miraculous display of fishing expertise by saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Lk. 5:8). Peter doesn’t volunteer to join the campaign—he tries to take his name out of nomination right from the start! He considered himself to be unworthy of Jesus!

The same was true for John the Baptist: “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals” (Lk. 3:16). And for Paul the Apostle? The same: “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle” (1 Cor. 15:9). Ditto for David and Moses, by the way.

But that doesn’t stop God from going right ahead and using “unworthy” servants just like them to carry out his kingdom! As one preacher said it, every one of the original Twelve Apostles were “amateurs and rookies” when it comes to starting a new movement or leading an organization or even preaching a sermon![2]

Jesus ignores Peter’s protest—he doesn’t even really “call” Peter at all. Jesus simply replies with a promise: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (Lk. 5:10). What Peter didn’t get is that the only qualifications we need to follow Jesus are to accept that we are accepted and then to be willing to give ourselves away for others.

The heart of the gospel is the simple truth that we are accepted by God.[3] The first qualification for following Jesus as his disciple is to accept that. Of course, that means that we recognize we can never be worthy or deserving in and of ourselves. But it also means that we don’t have to. The first step to becoming a disciple of Jesus the Christ is to accept that simple but life-changing truth.

It’s life-changing because, once we have come to that point, we are free from all the expectations and criteria and measures that simply keep us oppressed by our insecurities and keep us enslaved to the vain effort to “measure up.”[4] When we accept that we are accepted, we are freed from all that because we come to the realization that we don’t have to prove anything to anyone any more! That’s the true freedom that Christ offers us all. And as we go out with that freedom and interact with our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and our family, in a very real sense we “infect” them with the freedom of Christ and his Kingdom.[5]

The other qualification for being a disciple of Christ is to be willing to follow him in surrendering ourselves for the sake of others.[6] That is in fact the single most powerful way to demonstrate the life-changing impact of the gospel. When we know that we are accepted by God, when we are freed from all the various artificial “measures” we are told we have to live up to, then we are set free to serve others sacrificially. The bottom line is that what qualifies us to be a disciple of Jesus the Christ is our willingness to follow his path of surrender and service.

No one is “worthy” of the privilege of being Jesus’ disciple. No one is “fit” for the Kingdom of God. But then, no one has to try to become worthy. It is God who qualifies us; it is God who equips us; it is God who accomplishes the work through us. We simply have to accept that we are accepted, and be willing to surrender ourselves in service to others.

[1] A sermon preached 2/04/07 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson TX.

[2] Frederick Niedner, “Amateurs and Rookies,” The Christian Century (January 24, 2001), 9; accessed at

[3] Paul Tillich, “You Are Accepted,” in The Shaking of the Foundations, 153-163.

[4] J. Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 88-89, 98.

[5] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 104, 108, 278.

[6] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 92, 96, 97.

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