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What is a disciple?

Fri September 22nd, 2017

These days we think of a disciple as someone’s follower. Culturally, in Judaism, a first century disciple was someone who followed a rabbi, took his teaching on board and propagated it. In the Greek the word is ‘mathetes’ which means ‘one who learns from another’. It was used in the secular Greek world of an apprentice to a tradesman. A disciple wasn’t just a follower but an adherent (a ‘sticky’ one)– someone who submits himself to the discipline (teaching) of that leader or way.

Discipline

When you think about it ‘disciple’ had to have something to do with discipline! To think of a disciple as a disciplined one is very helpful to a clear understanding of the term.

For three and half years, those first dozen disciples lived with the words of Jesus. They ate with him, slept nearby, walked with him and ministered to his needs. They were absorbing his teaching. For a typical Rabbi, Jesus had a few more disciples than would be normal – it wasn’t unusual for a Rabbi to only have a couple of disciples; the idea being that when he died there would be twice as many to propagate his teachings.

The teachings of Jesus were never intended to be academic, or simply debating points, but rather practical ways of living 24/7. Christianity was therefore always intended to be a life time of discipleship, not a couple of hours on Sunday, but an all week exercise.

Teachings

Jesus said to us at the end of Matthews gospel

28:18 Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Giving his disciples his final charge he reminds us of his authority, in which he sends us, tells us to make more disciples, welcoming them into the faith by the rite of baptism, invoking the Trinitarian names of God and then teaching them all that he taught us. He also reminds us that he will not leave us alone.

The issue of authority is an important one, because we cannot just go teaching people any old thing – we go with the authority of the voice of the rabbi who spoke these words. Jesus not only has a credible pedigree as a teacher, but he has all authority in heaven and on earth – he is both God and man, has overcome death and hell and always stands for us in the presence of God to speak for us. He stands by what he has said too!

The key point in this through is that fact that as disciples we are entrusted with the teaching of Jesus and we must communicate it as we are able to those begin to follow Jesus with us. 

Words

For each disciple, we should live by the words of Jesus, thinking of them, meditating on them and seeking to put them into practice.

Consider the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. V35-36. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.

These words should not be a discussion in our heads but activities in our lives! I appreciate that some things have changed since those words were first written, but in principle Jesus is still looking for us to care for people.

We are curators and ambassadors for the words of Jesus. We should value what we have learned and be willing to share them with others – that does not necessarily mean to ‘have a bible study’ with someone else, but rather to let the words of Jesus overflow into our daily conversations and impact others through our lives.

Willing

Being discipled needs a willingness on our part – we have to submit to the Lordship of Jesus. We are saved by our allegiance and our respect for Jesus should be evident in our speech and actions. Instead of seeing how we can adapt the teachings of Jesus to our lives we should rather see how Rabbi Jesus wants us to adapt our lives to his teachings! Jesus is looking for willing servants, not for those who will simply speak well of him.

Learning can be a very academic term, but if we truly learn from Jesus we will alter our lives, our behaviours and in doing so will truly represent him in this world. If we treat learning like many of us do school, then we have the potential of missing the benefits of genuine discipleship and walking with Jesus.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to live in those times with Jesus for 3 ½ years – picking up on every comment, every interjection? Today, we can have a lifetime sat at the Rabbis feet, but we must always remember that he is watching us and expecting us to live his teachings and also communicate them to others.