What Is A Disciple? Pt. 1

It's a word often thrown around, but often misunderstood.

Take a look at this passage from Mark chapter 1.

"16 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 18 And they left their nets at once and followed him. 19 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. 20 He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men."

Am I the only one who may have read this and thought, "Why the heck did they just ditch their dad like that?" I would have been beaten blue if I ran off with some stranger!

Well, this actually all makes sense when you know a lot about what's going on behind the scenes. While there were a couple of rumors going around, Jesus had yet to openly declare that about himself. And yet, Jesus still was not some stranger. Jesus at this point was a carpenter and a rabbi. These people called "rabbis" were people who were very respected, and were given the authority and influence to teach about the Torah, the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Rabbis And Their Disciples

Rabbis had these followers who were called "disciples." In 1st Century Israel, young boys would start school at 5 years old. Now, in those days, they didn't have things such as "math class" or "science class." The only schooling they had in those regards were when they would go to the temple, everyday, and memorize the Torah. That's right, they would memorize Genesis through Deuteronomy, word for word. In their memorization they would get their history lessons (because the Old Testament is not just sacred religious texts, they are their actual historical documents. How the Jews came to be since their beginning is recorded in the Old Testament.)

After the first phase of their school, most kids would go off and learn their family trade. But the cream of the crop, the honor roll students, they would go on to the next form of schooling. Here, they would memorize the entire Hebrew Bible. Genesis, all the way to Malachi. Now, after all that was over, almost all the students would go and learn their family trade. But the top studentsthe most extraordinary ones, they didn't stop. They would go on to the next form of schooling where they would apply to be a disciple.

You can learn more about discipleship in detail here, and here, and here as well. But essentially, discipleship was the art of imitation. You were to learn how to love and honor God through the personal mentorship of a rabbi. So you would apply to be a disciple and the rabbi would quiz you, trying to figure out if you had what it took to be like him. Because as a disciple, you would think as your rabbi thinks, walk as he walks, teach as he teaches, teach what he teaches, you were to imitate him. All of this so that through their wisdom and experience, you could learn more about God and become a rabbi yourself.

If the disciple did not have what it takes, they would be dismissed and they would probably go and learn their family trade. But, if the rabbi thought the student had what it took, to be like the rabbi, they would say "Come, follow me." And when that happens, you would leave your job, your friends, your family, and literally follow your rabbi everywhere, devote your whole life to being his disciple. Now, fast forward to this truly historical event, recorded in Mark 1. Of course, Peter, Andrew, James, and John would drop everything and follow Jesus. He was a rabbi! They were just asked to become a disciple. They just went from zero to hero! What I find so interesting about this is two things:

They were "nobody's"

These new disciples were not anyone special. They were fishermen, average joe's. Most of the people Jesus asked to be His disciple were the outcasts, the ordinary people the not good-enoughs. And to top it off, they were young. If you take a look at the scripture, it says James and John were fishing with their dad. In those days, you studied the family trade until you were 18 years old.

  • Often we depict these disciples as older men with beards like this:

  • But really, the disciples probably looked more like me and my friends when we were in high school and being discipled:

  • Here are a couple more awkward ones, just for good measure.

Now, how do we know this? Well, aside from historical studies, Exodus 30:14 declares the law that 20 years old is when Jewish men would pay the temple tax. And when Jesus goes to pay the temple tax in Matthew 17, Peter is the only one who goes into the temple with Him to pay the temple tax.

So not only were they ordinary, and uneducated, but they were young. Yet Jesus said, "Come, follow me." What's he saying? He's saying, "Hey, I think you have what it takes to be like me." By inviting ordinary, uneducated, unqualified, young people to be His disciples, Jesus communicates that anyone has what it takes to be like Him when they trust in God. Is that not awesome?? To know that you can be just like Jesus when you trust in God? There is also one interesting thing I have noticed after studying discipleship for the past several years.

We don't see this type of discipleship today

At least, not promoted in any way. Originally being a Christian and being a disciple were one and the same. But is that true today? Maybe in the beginning, yes, but with how much the Church has changed since around 36 AD, maybe not. Many churches (at least in America) have removed much of the intentional relationship and sacrificial commitment necessary to reflect how Jesus did discipleship. We have become ministries of "preach and run" where we share the gospel and then leave them on the side of the road to believe that just showing up on Sunday is good enough.

What would the Church look like if we attempted to be intentional about discipleship? Where we did our best to look at the methods that rabbis used in Jesus' time and adapted them to our culture today. How different would our churches look? Would we be more effective at ministry? Would Christians actually be "Christ-Like" as the word means and be less hypocritical? Would we actually love one another as Jesus commands, the reason He says others will know He sent us? I think so. But I am just one guy, and I can't make that big of a change on my own.

 

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