Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Disciple Follows Jesus

What I want to suggest is that Jesus’ 3-year ministry was, on one level anyway, a ministry of discipleship. Jesus made disciples. And then at the end of his ministry, when he was about to leave this world, he gave them certain instructions, one of which was, "go and make disciples." [Matt. 28:19-20] In other words, go and impart to others that which I have imparted to you. One of the things a disciple does, then, is make disciples. It’s a fundamental task of a Jesus-follower. I want to look more carefully at what it means to be a disciple, and what it is to make disciples.

Going back to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, back before he even had any disciples, a couple of folks were profoundly curious about this man whom John the Baptizer had singled out as "the lamb of God." So they caught up with Jesus and said, "Rabbi, where are you staying?" He answered, "Come see." [John 1:35-39]

And that was the beginning. They became followers of Jesus. They tagged along with him to a wedding. They followed him from Galilee down to Jerusalem and back again several times. They watched, they listened, and they tried to understand. They weren’t always the best of students, but Jesus was always a patient teacher.

That's John's account. In Matthew's Jesus invites these same men, fishermen by trade, to follow him and thereby become fisher's of men. So one thing we can see that discipleship involves is following Jesus. In following him we give up certain trades and pastimes, and we take up others. But for now suffice it to say, the disciple follows.

Now let's turn to the last moments of Jesus' time on earth. Almost the last words of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel are spoken to Peter, who has just asked a question about something of peripheral importance. Jesus answered: "What is that to you? You follow me." [John 21:22]

So notice this: Jesus’ command to his first disciples, at the very beginning of his ministry, was, "Follow me." And his command at the very end of his ministry was, "Follow me."

The big difference between these two moments is that in the second instance there was no possibility of seeing the command in purely materialistic terms. In a real sense, it was not going to be possible to follow Jesus where he was going. He would ascend, but they would remain grounded. He would return to the Father, but they would continue in a world of rebellion against the Father.

And yet, learning to follow the crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus is the essence of discipleship. On the last night Jesus spent with his disciples, he taught them exactly what he expected of them after he was gone. He taught them, in other words, what their "following" would look like, and how it would it be possible.

It was after the meal, and the sending of Judas ("Do quickly what you are about to do..."). These were his last hours with his friends. He loved them. They were going to be, he knew, his body on earth. His hands and feet. His heart. And so, even as in another part of town blood money was exchanged, soldiers were gathered and instructed, plans for a speedy trial concocted, Jesus quietly instructed his friends.

[to be continued]


Anonymous said...

i am reading. thanks.

Phil Smoke said...

Have you read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book The Cost of Discipleship?

Bob said...

Yes, a long time ago. Perhaps it's time to reread that one. Thanks for the tip, Phil.