May 11, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 24:50-53 (NRSV)
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
The Gospel of Luke teaches us that, no matter what, it’s good to follow Jesus. We learn from this gospel that following Jesus isn’t easy. And we learn that Jesus doesn’t demand perfection from his disciples, or anything close. Rather, we follow Jesus because we trust him rather than ourselves.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Today we conclude the devotional series in Luke called Following Jesus Today. When I began this series in May of 2020 (!), I did not expect to be finishing up almost two years later. All I knew was that it seemed right to begin a series focusing on Jesus and what it meant to follow him.
In the spring of 2020, as the Novel Coronavirus was still novel, I wrote a bunch of devotions that were relevant to the shocking thing happening throughout our world. Then, in mid-May, I wasn’t sure what to do next. As I thought and prayed about my options, it seemed right to do a series focused on Jesus. After all, no matter what’s happening around us, it’s always a good thing to work on following Jesus. Thus, on May 25, 2020, the De Pree Center published the first devotion in the Following Jesus Today series, called “When in Doubt, Follow Jesus.”
Almost two years later, that still seems like a trustworthy title, a wise piece of advice. No matter what is happening in your life, no matter how much uncertainty you’re experiencing, no matter what’s happening in the world, follow Jesus!
Many portions of the Gospel of Luke are found in the other biblical gospels. But Luke adds some uniquely and, I might add, uniquely wonderful elements of the story. We learn so much about the birth of Jesus in Luke 1 and 2, especially Mary’s part. We observe Jesus in ways not seen in the other gospels, such as when he preached in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth and was almost thrown off a cliff by his unhappy listeners, who happened to be his neighbors when he was growing up (Luke 4:16-30). Luke also records some of the most influential and beloved parables of Jesus, including the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).
There are many perplexing and challenging parts of Luke, such as when Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Luke 14:26 is similarly disturbing: “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.” Then there’s Luke 14:33, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
The Gospel of Luke does not suggest that following Jesus is easy. The verses I just quoted demonstrated this fact. There is much about following him that is wonderful, to be sure. We hear the wonderful part in Jesus’s message of the kingdom of God. We see it in his often-dramatic demonstrations of the presence of the kingdom. We also see Jesus’s compassion for the sick and marginalized. We watch Jesus call his disciples. We see him include women among his followers in a way that would have been utterly shocking in his cultural context. And we watch the disciples struggle to follow him faithfully. One of the things I love about Luke (and also the other New Testament gospels) is how honest it is about the foibles and failings of the disciples. If Jesus called people such as these, I figure he even has room for me in his retinue. If I can’t figure out what Jesus meant in some of his teachings, that doesn’t mean he’ll send me home in shame. And if I mess up royally, he is a royal forgiver.
When I think of how the Gospel of Luke encourages me to follow Jesus today, my mind is filled with images, stories, and sayings. Four of these stand out to me in a special way.
First, I’m struck by the call of Levi in Luke 5:27-28. Though Levi probably knew something of Jesus, there’s no way he could have envisioned what following Jesus meant. Yet, when Jesus said, “Follow me,” Levi “got up, left everything, and followed him” (5:28). What an extraordinary act of trust! O Lord, may I be like Levi, trusting and following you!
Second, I think of Mary’s astounding response to the angel when she learned that she was going to be pregnant out of wedlock, a shocking thing in her cultural setting. What did Mary say to the angel? “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). O Lord, may I trust you the way Mary did! May I be fully your servant!
Third, I remember what happened to Peter on the night Jesus was betrayed. When Peter swore that he would never betray Jesus, Jesus predicted Peter’s imminent denial (Luke 22:61). Then, hours later, Peter did exactly what Jesus had said he would do. Having denied his Master, Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (22:62). Yet Jesus did not reject Peter. O Lord, thank you for hanging on tight to me when I let you down!
Fourth, I picture the parable usually called the Prodigal Son, though the truly prodigal (lavishly extravagant) character is really the father more than the son. What touches my heart and sticks there is the mind-blowing, heart-filling image of the father, “filled with compassion,” running to, embracing, and kissing his wayward child (Luke 15:20). Jesus shows us the heart of God, not just in general, but for us. O Lord, thank you for loving me this way! Thank you for running to me in your mercy! Thank you for forgiving me and welcoming me home!
Following Jesus isn’t about figuring it all out or getting it all right. It’s about trusting God, trusting beyond our comprehension, trusting even when it feels risky, trusting in a God who loves us in spite of our failures, trusting in Jesus who, like his mother, offered himself fully and without reservation to his Father in heaven.
Yes, following Jesus means sharing in his work. We will be bringing good news to the poor and proclaiming release to the captives (Luke 4:18). We will be healing the sick and freeing the oppressed. But we will do all of this, not in our own strength, but in the strength of God. Even as the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus before he began his ministry, so the Spirit has descended on us, empowering us for the work of the kingdom. Thus, we follow Jesus in utter reliance upon him, trusting in the grace he provides and filled with the Spirit he sends.
In May 2020, I suggested that when we’re in doubt, when we’re uncertain, it’s always good to follow Jesus. Two years later, after having learned so much more about what it all means, I’m still convinced. No matter what, still follow Jesus!
In what ways has the Gospel of Luke helped you to follow Jesus?
What portion (or portions) of the Gospel of Luke is (or are) especially meaningful to you? Why?
Do you find it easy to trust Jesus? Hard? Both easy and hard? Somewhere in between? Why is your relationship with Jesus such as it is when it comes to trust?
Talk with your small group or with a wise friend about trusting Jesus and following him.
Lord Jesus, thank you for the invitation to follow you. Thank you for inviting me to be your disciple in spite of my hesitations, my confusion, and my failures. Thank you for forgiving me when I fail. Thank you for your patience with me when I’m dull. Thank you for giving me opportunities to share in the work of the kingdom. Thank you for sending to me the promised Holy Spirit. Thank you for reassuring me of the Father’s love. Thank you for modeling for me what all-out commitment to God is about.
For all of this and so much more, I thank you. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Introduction to Luke
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.