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Following Jesus, the Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship

Following Jesus, the Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship

by Jonathan Lunde

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Throughout the Old Testament and into the New, God not only demands righteousness from his people but also showers on grace that enables them to act. Jesus, of course, provides the ultimate fulfillment of these twin aspects of God’s relationship to humanity. In biblical terms, Jesus is the King who demands righteous obedience from his followers, and Jesus is the


Throughout the Old Testament and into the New, God not only demands righteousness from his people but also showers on grace that enables them to act. Jesus, of course, provides the ultimate fulfillment of these twin aspects of God’s relationship to humanity. In biblical terms, Jesus is the King who demands righteous obedience from his followers, and Jesus is the Servant who provides the grace that enables this obedience.

So what does it mean to follow Jesus? What does God expect from his followers, and how can they be and do what is required?

Jonathan Lunde answers these and other questions in his sweeping biblical study on discipleship. He surveys God’s interaction with his people from Eden to Jesus, paying special attention to the biblical covenants that illuminate the character and plans of God. He offers Bible students and teachers—such as pastors, missionaries, and lay leaders—the gift of practical biblical teaching rooted in the Bible’s witness on the vital topic of discipleship.

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Biblical Theology for LifeSeries Series
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7.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)
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Following Jesus, the Servant King

Biblical Theology for Life
By Jonathan Lunde


Copyright © 2010 Jonathan Lunde
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-310-28616-5

Chapter One


As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. Mark 2:14

Follow me."

With these words, Jesus summarizes his call to discipleship. But what exactly does he mean by this command? What does following him involve? How we answer this question is crucially important, because the nature of our lives as disciples-what we actually do and how we live as Christians-will largely depend on our understanding of what Jesus means by these words.

Does following Jesus simply mean confessing him as our Savior, going to church on a regular basis, and giving to Christian causes? Does it entail leaving everything behind and going into full-time missionary work in some far-off land? Or does it mean committing ourselves to obey the Golden Rule throughout our lives, doing our best to love those people who come across our paths? As you know, people who identify themselves as followers of Jesus embrace these and a host of other interpretations, which leads to a wide diversity in Christian expressions, some of which are surely not what Jesus had in mind. And therein lies a significant rub. What people think of Jesus is heavily influenced by what they see in the lives of those who name his name. As recent experience demonstrates, many are turning away from him today because of what they see in his followers. One of these disillusioned people recently wrote in a book:

If the Lord is real, it would make sense for the people of God, on average, to be superior morally and ethically to the rest of society. Statistically, they aren't.... It's hard to believe in God when it's impossible to tell the difference between His people and atheists.

Since the mission to the world lies close to the center of Jesus' call to discipleship, this represents a major concern for the present state of the church.


Jesus the King

So, what does Jesus mean when he beckons, "Follow me"? We don't have to read far into the Gospels before answers begin to emerge. Those alive during Jesus' ministry who hear this call often accompany him physically, following him in his itinerant movements. Peter, Andrew, James, and John all abandon their fathers' fishing nets at Jesus' summons, and Levi's toll booth stands unmanned after Jesus passes by. What's more, as they follow Jesus, their entire life focus is redirected. The fishermen are told that their "catch" will now consist of other people. Relational loyalties are also reprioritized, privileging loyalty to Jesus even above those within the immediate family. Finally, Jesus calls on his followers to carry their own crosses-to be willing to face ignoble suffering and death because of their commitment to him. It is clear, therefore, that when Jesus calls people to follow him, he summons them to a life of radical commitment to himself and to his commands.

And what commands they are! Listen to him:

"I tell you that unless your righteous ness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20).

"I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment" (Matt. 5:22a).

"Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt. 5:28).

"If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also" (Matt. 5:39b).

"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44).

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48).

As we will see, Jesus is functioning in his role as King when he places these demands on his followers, mirroring the relationship that God had with Old Testament Israel. When God entered into covenant with his people, he required that they reflect his character as their Sovereign: "Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy" (Lev. 19:2b). Ideally, the Davidic kings would embody this command, ruling in such a way that God's covenantal stipulations were upheld in the nation (Deut. 17:18-20). It is this role that Jesus is fulfilling here. As Israel's messianic King, he summons his people to follow him, even as he follows God. When Christians follow Jesus Christ, therefore, they are following Jesus the Messiah-the King whose authority merges with that of his Father, who placed him on David's throne.

But, as any Christian will be quick to point out, this is not the only role that Jesus fills. Although he is the King, he is also the Servant.

Jesus the servant

We are most familiar with this role in relation to his death on the cross, which the New Testament authors cast in the colors of sacrifice and atonement. But this perspective does not originate with the first disciples. Jesus himself takes care to ensure that his followers understand his suffering in these categories. While on the road to Jerusalem and the cross, Jesus takes advantage of the self-seeking dispute between his disciples to interpret his impending death this way: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Then a few days later, on the eve of his death, he confirms this interpretive lens with these graphic words at his last meal with his disciples: "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:27b-28).

In these affirmations, Jesus is clearly signaling to his followers that his death will not simply be a case of his being in the wrong place at the wrong time, unfortunately getting caught up in the political realities of Roman-dominated Jerusalem. Rather, he will be in the right place at the right time, intentionally entering the capital city for the sole purpose of providing atonement for the very nation that was rejecting him. Therefore, Jesus is more than merely the Davidic Messiah; he is the one who suffers and dies on behalf of others.

In describing himself in this way, Jesus combines his role as King with that of the Servant of the Lord. As Isaiah portrays him, the Servant is the one whose righteous life is ultimately crushed so that mercy might graciously be offered to others. Jesus confirms this identification with an allusion to Isaiah 53 after his Last Supper with his disciples, immediately prior to their departure to the Mount of Olives: "It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors'" (Luke 22:37, quoting from Isa. 53:12). This, then, suggests that Jesus drew on Isaiah 53 in his post-resurrection invitations to his disciples to perceive the significance of his death in light of the Scriptures:

He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." (Luke 24:44-47; cf. vv. 25-27)

The fact that the apostles frequently use Isaiah 53 in their portrayals of Jesus' work on the cross offers implicit confirmation of Jesus' own use of this text, especially bearing in mind that it was anything but common for the Jews to identify Isaiah's Servant of the Lord with the Messiah. They most likely make this connection because Jesus himself has made it.

Accordingly, Paul testifies later that Jesus provides the righteous, substitutionary life and death for others: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteous ness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Rom. 8:1-3). The result of this is that people are saved by grace through faith, and not by works of the law:

But now apart from the law the righteous ness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteous ness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Rom. 3:21-24)

Here, then, is the tension that gives rise to some of the diversity expressed by disciples of Jesus today. As the King, Jesus summons his followers to a life of single-hearted commitment and loyalty to himself. As the Servant, Jesus provides the righteous fulfillment of the law's demands and its final sacrifice. The demand of the King is therefore juxtaposed with the grace of the Servant. Rightly resolving the tension created by these two roles of Jesus gets at the heart of discipleship-the heart of what it means to follow him. In order to resolve this tension, we must answer three significant questions. I have identified them as the "Why," the "What," and the "How" questions.


The "Why" Question

The "Why" question wrestles with the place of obedience to the King in the wake of the Servant's provision.

Why should I be concerned to obey all of Jesus' commands if I have been saved by grace?

After all, Paul makes it clear in his letters that righteous ness now is "by faith from first to last" (Rom. 1:17) because "Christ is the culmination of the law" as it concerns righteous ness (10:4).

In light of these truths, many followers of Jesus respond to his climactic fulfillment of the law on their behalf by lowering Jesus' demands to the point where they are realistic and then cloaking themselves with his grace for the rest. There is relatively little concern here about what Jesus means by his summons to follow him. Rather, those who take this path define discipleship in ways that demand little of them, lest they fall into a legalistic striving for righteous ness. They reason, since they are saved by grace and not by works, Jesus' high demand should simply direct them back to him for more grace. If they were to respond by striving to fulfill all of Jesus' commands, they would find themselves denying the gracious nature of their salvation. This is the path of compromise, and it is rampant in the church today.

To answer the "Why" question, we will need to explore the relationship between grace and demand throughout the Scriptures, preeminently in the biblical theology of "covenant." Our goal will be to discern what it means to live in the New Covenant, graced by the Servant and summoned by the King. How do these two biblical realities hold together? How can I be saved entirely by God's grace in Christ while at the same time be summoned to absolute righteous ness? And how can Jesus' teachings be reconciled to Paul's in this regard? Doesn't Paul make it clear that the law's demand has come to its end in Christ (Rom. 10:4)? Isn't it the case that Christians are no longer "under" the law's supervision (6:14; Gal. 3:25)? We will discover that the answers to these questions are to be found in what it means to be in covenant with God-a notion far too frequently absent from Christian self-perception. This gives rise to our second question.

The "What" Question

We will learn that the answer to the "Why" question opens the door to a serious consideration of what Jesus commands his disciples to do. This is the "What" question:

What is it that Jesus demands of his disciples?

We could answer this question specifically by working through each of his commands preserved for us in the Gospels. But that would be a book in itself. Our treatment must be more circumscribed, focusing our attention on specific examples that will illumine the whole. We could also approach this question rather generally by evoking Jesus' austere imagery of carrying our own "crosses." But beyond being willing to die for him, how are we to understand what this all-encompassing demand entails? To discern this, we will need to set his commands in relation to the Old Testament law.


Excerpted from Following Jesus, the Servant King by Jonathan Lunde Copyright © 2010 by Jonathan Lunde. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Jonathan Lunde (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Talbot School of Theology of Biola University. He is coeditor (with Kenneth Berding) of Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament and has contributed articles to The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels and the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Jon and his wife, Pamela, have three children and reside in Brea, California.

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