Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in troublesome times. He was one of the few clergy in Germany—before Hitler and the Nazis rose to power—to publicly and actively opposed Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) ideology; and after Hitler became Führer he challenged Nazi policies against the Jews and the subjugation of all churches. He was one of but a handful of church leaders who stood in courageous opposition to Hitler’s plan to unify the Church in Germany under one banner—controlled by Nazi ideology and policies—to integrate Nazi racism with the Christian gospel.
Bonhoeffer steadfastly refused to surrendered Christian precepts to political ideology. In spite of being told by many of his clergy peers to ‘tone down’ his opposition to the Nazis (for his own good and safety) he refused; despite the constant threat of arrest and execution he continued to publicly speak out on the social and political injustices and atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. His classic book, “The Cost of Discipleship” a Study on the ’Sermon on the Mount’ was written as a response to Hitler and his intrusion upon the sacred in the church.
Bonhoeffer was alarmed that large numbers of fellow Germans were abandoning the church and embracing a new gospel preached by Nazism. He wrote that “The Sermon on the Mount” contains some “Hard Sayings.” Most of these hard sayings point to discipleship. Discipleship means more than giving lip service to God. There is a “personal cost” involved in being a disciple. The words of Christ recorded by Luke—whosoever of you that forsakes not all that he has, cannot be my disciple (14:33)—are hard and sobering especially to people living in the Modern Western World!
Jesus lived during a time of great social, political and religious unrest in Israel. Most Jews loathed Rome and its heavy handed taxation and oppression, its continued interference in the religious appointment of the High Priest and its occupation and administration of Palestine. The Jewish people had no voice as only ‘citizens of Rome’ had any legal standing (Acts 22:25-29). Israel was bustling with revolutionaries inflaming unrest, civil disobedience and armed rebellion (Luke 13:1, Ac 5:36-37).
Jesus was aware of the political landscape of his day and …some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you. He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal (Luke 13:31-33). King Herod (the same Herod who beheaded John the Baptist) regarded Jesus as a political threat and attempted to frighten him out of his province in Galilee. Jesus was not frightened by Herod or Rome; he was on a mission to preach ‘the kingdom’ (John 12:27). On the road to Calvary Jesus said… anyone wanting to be my disciple must take up their cross and follow me (Lk. 9:23, Mt 16:24). The cost of discipleship is steep: So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple (Lk. 14:33).
Picking up one’s cross or abandoning all wealth and affluence is easier said than done! Jesus met many people who wanted to follow him but were distracted. One man said to Jesus…I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God—the cost of discipleship (Lk. 9:61-62).
Christians—as said St. Augustine—are citizens of two kingdoms: the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God. These two kingdoms are in a constant state of tension and diametrically opposed to each other; Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king and Jesus replied… Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If it did, my servants would fight so that I would not be handed over to the Jewish leaders. No, my kingdom is not an earthly one.” (John 18:36).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s lived what he preached—Those who try to keep the life they have will lose it. But those who give up their life for me will find true life (Mt 10:39)—the Cost of Discipleship. He was arrested in 1943: first for helping Jews escape to Switzerland and later for treason and other crimes against the state. On April 9, 1945, he was executed on direct orders from Hitler and hanged at Flossenbürg concentration camp.
‘These are the times that try men’s souls,’ wrote Thomas Paine during the dark days of the American Revolution. We too are living in trying times. The good news is —Jesus triumphed over trying times and so will every believer in Jesus Christ. “I have told you these things so that you can have peace in me. In this world you will have troubles. But be brave! I have defeated the world!” (John 16:33).
—God’s Peace and Blessing,
© 2016 Curtis
W. Bond All rights reserved