Mark 2:14 says, “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he arose and followed him (ESV).” It is here that “Jesus summarizes His call to discipleship (p. 25).” So what does it mean to follow Jesus? This is what Jonathan Lunde seeks to answer in his book Following Jesus, The Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship.
The title of the book is loaded with meaning making a brief explanation of the words and phrases necessary. As Jesus he calls people to follow him as their leader. As Servant Jesus “has come to serve, and give his life a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45).” Throughout Jesus’ ministry Jesus is seen serving various kinds of people culminating with His death on the cross as fulfilling the role of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. As King Jesus gives commands to His disciples which “mirror the relationship God had with Old Testament Israel (p. 26).” Jesus is the promised Davidic king who rules His disciples and makes sure “God’s covenantal stipulations were upheld in the nation (p. 26).” As a biblical theology Lunde explores discipleship as the theme progressively unfolds from the OT to NT. Finally, as a covenantal discipleship, Lunde explores the overall meaning of discipleship through the lens of the covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic & New Covenant). This covenantal discipleship is defined as,
Learning to receive and respond to God’s grace and demand, which are mediated through Jesus, the Servant King, so as to reflect God’s character in relation to him, to others, and to the world, in order that all may come to experience this same grace and respond to this same demand (p. 276).
On the grand scale the book is structured around answering three questions. First, “why should I be concerned to obey all of Jesus’ commands if I have been saved by grace (p. 28)?” If Jesus has fulfilled the righteousness of the Law for me then why does He give me any commands to follow? Lunde seeks to counter both “lackadaisical” and “legalistic” disciples (p. 30). Second, “what is it that Jesus demands of his disciple (p. 29)?” To answer this question Lunde focuses on a few of the many commands Jesus gives as a means of providing examples for how to understand them all. Finally, “how can the disciple obey Jesus’ high demand, while experiencing his ‘yoke’ as ‘light’ and ‘easy’ (p. 30?)” Obeying commands seems to be such a burden so how can Jesus say his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (Matt. 11:30)?
Answering the Why Question – Why should I be concerned to obey all of Jesus’ commands if I have been saved by grace?
The answer to the Why question is found in the biblical covenants. Lunde goes through the covenants five times in order to explain the basic relationship disciples have with Jesus. After defining both grant and conditional covenants (p. 39-40), Lunde introduces the reader to the basic content of the biblical covenants. Here Lunde sets the “gracious context in which each covenant is established”, he explores “the demands that God places on those who enter into covenant with him” and he explains how “faith and works of obedience relate to reception of the blessings” of each covenant (p. 42). While explaining the relationship that disciples have with the covenants, Lunde also gives us a glimpse into how Jesus ultimately fulfills the demands and works out the tension of faith and works of obedience within the covenants. This “climactic fulfillment” is displayed in Jesus’ fulfillment of the New Covenant (p. 111). Lunde explains:
While the grace that has come through Jesus is deeper and wider and higher and better than any of the gracious provisions in the prior covenants, it is at the same time continuous with those prior expressions, even as their fulfillment (p. 111).
The ultimate implication of Jesus’ covenantal fulfillment for his disciples is that
Those who are led by the Spirit will inevitably produce the fruit of the Spirit and fulfill the law of Christ. As Spirit-enabled New Covenant partners, those who follow him ought to be continually concerned regarding obedience to all of Jesus’ covenantal commands (p. 113).
Answering the What Question – What is it that Jesus demands of his disciple?
The means through which Lunde answers the What question is by exploring the “ways in which the covenantal demands are mediated to us through Jesus (p. 115).” Here Jesus’ role as King and Prophet come to the forefront. As Prophet Jesus provides authoritative teaching (Matt. 14:15; 21:46) and acting (Matt. 5:21-48). Further, the Father Himself commands Peter, James and John to “Listen to him! (Matt. 17:5).” As the Prophet King Jesus authoritatively summons us to discipleship. Lunde states,
Jesus commands his hearers to follow him as the embodiment of God’s kingly reign over them. He is indeed the Prophet, but his prophetic cloak is worn under his royal mantel, as was David’s before him (Acts 2:30). As David’s great heir who reigns faithfully as Yahweh’s Anointed King, then, Jesus appropriately summons us to an absolute discipleship (p. 123).
To help us see how Jesus mediates the law to us Lunde employs three metaphors that “characterize the distinct ways in which Jesus has brought the law to its fulfillment (p. 127).”
First, Jesus is the Filter. That is, He fulfills certain aspects, commands and practices of the Law “rendering the continuation of their practice inappropriate (p. 128).” For example, Jesus fulfills the sacrificial system (Matt. 26: 17-29; Heb. 7-10), the Food Laws in Mark 7:19-23 (p. 132), circumcision by fulfilling the New Covenant promise (p. 137 – 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6) and the Divorce law (p. 138). That Jesus fulfills these laws is not to be seen as an excuse for a disciple to become slack in his life. “What continues on in each case is a summons to a life of righteousness befitting the New Covenant era, to which each superseded element was pointing all along (p. 140).”
Second, Jesus is the Lens. As the Lens, Jesus “brings back into focus an aspect of the law” and strips away the traditions the religious rulers made “as he reestablishes and recovers the law’s teaching so that its original intent and demand might be perceived (p. 141).” For example, Jesus brings into focus the intent of the Greatest commandments (Matt. 22:34-40) over against the rabbis quibbling over what were the weightier and lighter aspects of the law.
Third, Jesus is the Prism. As a prism, “Jesus demands the heightened righteousness befitting the era in which the covenants have come to their fulfillment (p. 154-56).” Lunde walks through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and repeatedly shows how Jesus raises the bar for New Covenant disciples in relation to the commands.
Answering the How Question – How can the disciple obey Jesus’ high demand, while experiencing his ‘yoke’ as ‘light’ and ‘easy’?
As the ultimate fulfiller of the New Covenant, Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom on earth here and now (Matt. 11-12). However, this Kingdom is not complete and so New Covenant believers look forward to the completion of the Kingdom (p. 188). There is both “this age” and “the age to come”. Though the promise of the Spirit has come and we are receiving the blessings of the New Covenant, the present state of the Kingdom is not the intended fulfillment of the completed Kingdom pictured by the Prophets (p. 190). Recognizing this tension Lunde says, “Since the kingdom has only been inaugurated in Jesus’ coming, we should not be surprised if some of the aspects of the New Covenant initiated by Jesus are similarly only inaugurated (p. 192).”
One of the key ways in which covenant disciples can fulfill the high righteous demands of Jesus is by living in the grace that He has provided prior to the demands. It is this
Prior and sustaining grace, in all of its forms, is always to be understood as the enabling context in which God’s demands are to be responded to. That is, covenant faithfulness will only be possible as disciples experience the enabling power of grace (p. 195).
We can accomplish this by living the three-fold pattern found in the Mosaic Covenant: (1) “the frequent remembrance of God’s provision” (motivation for obeying the Law – Deut. 6:12; 8:2, 7-18), “the present celebration of the reception of those provisions” (part of the purpose for Sabbath keeping – Ex. 31:16-17a; Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15) both of which lead to “the enabled response of obedience and faithfulness (part of the purpose for the Festivals – Ex. 12:15-27; Deut. 16:9-11; Num. 29:1-6; Lev. 23).
There a four concluding actions that Jesus performs that enable us to get a better picture for how Jesus fulfills the New Covenant promises as they relate to the How question. First, Jesus is the covenantal Representative. Jesus is the mediatorial New Covenant representative as he identifies with Israel through his baptism (p. 216 – Matt. 3) and reenacts Israel’s history in his wilderness wandering (p. 219 – Matt. 4). Second, Jesus is the Redeemer. Jesus acts as redeemer by fulfilling the prophecies in Isaiah, namely Isaiah 51-65. Finally, Jesus is the Restorer. As the restorer, Jesus begins the restoration of Israel (Ezek. 39:27-28; Matt. 9:35-11:1; Matt. 28:18-20). For Lunde, Jesus restores by
Reconstituting Israel without attempting to recover the former definition of its makeup. Membership in this restored nation, therefore, does not fall along tribal lines. Rather, this is determined solely by the response to Jesus’ call to discipleship. Israel is being reconstituted and redefined at the same time. In this way, God’s promises to Abraham that he would be both the conduit of blessing to the nations and the father of many nations are coming to their fulfillment through Jesus. Since Jesus is the true Son, true Israel is being defined Christologically (p. 245)!
Lunde closes his book with some implications for what it means to follow Jesus as a covenantal disciple. Disciples are in covenant relationship with Jesus. Jesus the Servant King has graciously paved the way for us to be able to live up to the demands of this relationship as the Spirit enables us. Since Jesus has inaugurated his kingdom, Jesus summons us “to enter into this kingdom (p. 279).” This has implications for our evangelism (p. 279-80), for how we actually do discipleship as a church (p. 283-85) and how we provide resources to disciples (p. 286).
First, while the book is intended to be a biblical theology of discipleship it is heavily rooted in the OT where most of the references and quotes come from. As a biblical theology I would have liked to see more interaction with the NT. Second, related to my first concern, as great as this book is, I think it provides us with more of a foundational understanding of the nature of discipleship. That is, that discipleship needs to be rooted in our covenantal relationship with Jesus. The book is more about Jesus’ relationship to us as servant, king, prophet, redeemer, restorer and representative to and for us than it is about what our discipleship looks like every day in light of those things. Finally, Lunde does take the position that what is traditional interpreted as The Abrahamic covenant in Gen. 15 & 17 is actually two separate covenants with Abraham each focusing on separate promises and yet related (p. 55, 75 & 93). Readers will have to grapple with whether or not they agree with Lunde.
I think Lunde hits a home run by rooting our identity as disciples within covenantal context. God relates to his people through covenants and it is through those covenants that he both promises salvation and accomplishes it through Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate fulfiller and mediator of those covenantal promises. God makes covenants with his people (both Israel & the Church) so it makes sense that as individual disciples we covenantally relate to God through Christ. This covenantal discipleship provides the foundation for our relationship to Jesus the Servant King as his disciples.
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