In scanning this week’s lesson title, “Jesus Bade Them, Follow Me,” what were your first thoughts? Did you actually want to know more about following Jesus? Or perhaps you thought about the first disciples of Jesus? Maybe these words have a long ago and far away connotation and you are in the now, so perhaps they do not seem to have much implication in your present context. Let’s take a look at what these words meant when Jesus first spoke them and how they also comprise how we view the process of discipleship, or in other words, how we respond to Jesus and his bidding to follow him.
Primarily, Jesus’ words, “Go, and make disciples,” (The Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20) are intimately related to Jesus stating, “Follow me.” A historical contextual review of what discipleship encompassed when Jesus stated, “Go and make disciples,” is foremost in considering what implications this might have for our response to follow Jesus in our very own circumstances. Therefore, it is essential to know what it means to respond to the call of becoming a disciple of Jesus and going out to make disciples.
Jesus initially spoke the words, “Go, and make disciples,” to men who had experienced an apprentice relationship with him. As young people say, back in the day, agreeing to enter into a disciple-discipler relationship involved serious commitment on the part of both parties. It was commonly accepted that very few men would have this kind of desire, passion and time commitment to follow through and become the disciple of a rabbi/teacher.
In this historical context what was the process of becoming a disciple? For the would-be disciple it meant placing himself under the shaping influence of his teacher by spending day in and day out quality of time with him, watching, observing, and imitating his teacher’s actions and words. Discipleship was a process of transference of ideas, beliefs, heart and vision that came about as the would-be disciple went through the process of internalization that led to the day when he had become like his disciple/teacher and the teacher/rabbi could now say to him, ‘you are ready, go and make your own disciples.’
Note the life-upon-life dynamic and the intentional teaching/equipping process, within the framework of the purpose (becoming like the rabbi) that looked towards a completed outcome; becoming a discipler yourself.
A transformational whole life discipleship for adults today still needs to have all of the same elements that a historical disciple/apprentice relationship encompassed: passion to become a disciple, life-upon-life apprenticeship, a process of intentional teaching and equipping to make another disciple, and a stated purpose and goal.
Note that I did not mention the word program. Instead described a ‘process’ where transformation into Christ-likeness is an ongoing experience of moving the individual more deeply into the life of following Christ and becoming a discipler, that is ready to go out and make disciples.
Let’s pause and take a look at the core word in the process of discipleship and that is the word, experience. Woven into the fabric of the words, ‘go and make disciples,’ and ‘follow me,’ is another word called relationship. Following Jesus and going out to make disciples as depicted by its historical context is in essence the portrait of what an intimate relationship with another human being looks like. It could be no other as a historical disciple lived and shared their everyday life with the master discipler while surrendering their own ideas, beliefs, heart and vision in exchange for his. This is how their passion was expressed, and how life-to–life apprenticeship took place with the goal of becoming transformed into the likeness of the rabbi/teacher.
In our own present contemporary reality, this is where many of us balk, and where Jesus’ words to follow him as disciples, is difficult. We might ask if Jesus is really expecting us to share our lives with others, no matter who they are, and most of the time it seems that it is people that are difficult to love and intimately share our lives with, and yet, Scripture and Jesus do not depict any other kind of expectation in their use of the phrase, ‘go and make disciples.’
This week’s lesson began with a descriptive of the Good Shepherd portrayed in John 10. This chapter is part of John 9 and the story of the blind man. It was because of the initiative of Jesus that the miracle of sight was given to him. What ensued with the religious leaders demonstrated their spiritual blindness and in John 10, Jesus further inferred that although the religious leaders may have thought they were the spiritual shepherds of the people, they in fact demonstrated they were not, in their treatment of the blind man and their actions of throwing him out of the synagogue. In contrast his depiction of “the sheep recognize his voice,” is again a beautiful illustration of familiarity, intimacy and relationship to the point of willingness to follow.
Following Jesus is discipleship and discipleship in summary is a relationship and experience of familiarity, intimacy, and relationship, first, with Jesus and also a relationship that we are to pursue with others in our commission to make disciples.
What might the experience of discipleship really look like and feel like? A contemporary example of this might be observed in the 12-step recovery program of Alcoholic Anonymous. (I know you are surprised I said this, keep reading). When an individual has hit a ‘bottom’ experience with the consequences of addiction and they are ready to begin to climb out of the pit of despair, confusion and chaos, they seek what is called a sponsor within ‘the program.’ This is a mentor and someone who is further along in their experience of recovery. This sponsor takes this individual and begins to work with them and begins the process of ‘working’ the 12 steps of recovery.
Sometimes and many times, the alcoholic regresses and drinks again, and yet the sponsor loves him/her and continues to take the time to share of their life and experience of recovery. On the part of the sponsor, this is a time when they are willing to give up control of their very own life and time, and many times they don’t even want to go to the lengths that it takes to save an alcoholics life from the brink ‘of hell.’ Yet, they do it. They are serious about saving another’s alcoholics life. It is in the doing that recovery takes places. Let me illustrate.
Sponsor ‘Bob,’ was called by a man he was sponsoring to go with him to the hospital as his mother was dying. This man, ‘John,’ is a big burly contractor, yet at this moment, in fear, he is calling out for support. His sponsor Bob agreed to meet him there. While in the hospital room, John was noticeably agitated, and nervous. Bob came over and said, “John would you like to pray?” John nodded yes, and Bob took his hand and while he was praying for him, began to feel the tension in John’s hand lifting and dissipating as the grasp of his hand began to loosen. This is intimacy when you are close enough to another life, that you can experience their response to God, when you are living your support for them and at that moment also teaching them how to experience relationship and unconditional love. As John continues to grow in his recovery, he will down the road also sponsor another alcoholic and he will know what to do when he is called to be of support in a hospital room. He will know how to love unconditionally, he will know what relationship looks like and the experience of intimacy. He will also know that his time is not always his own in his work with others. Yet, he knows no other way of being the instrument of recovery in another alcoholic’s life.
The principles of discipleship and recovery are the same. Follow with passion, give up your life, time, and comfort in service and unconditional love for another, no matter who that other might be. Share experience that becomes familiar, intimate and relational. The goals of Alcoholics Anonymous are to restore the alcoholic to sobriety and save them from the path to sure death. The sponsor is an indispensible tool in this process.
We too, can become indispensible tools (disciples) in the life of another soul. In a shared experience of what it looks like to follow Jesus: familiarity, intimacy and relationship with the goal of re-producing the same.