In Evangelical circles, the word “discipleship” is often used. Time and time again, Christians have been told that they are “disciples” of Christ, and that churches should be intentional about “making disciples”. But do we even know what those words mean?
Definition of a Disciple
What is a disciple? A disciple (mathetes) in the New Testament was a learner, a pupil. According to “Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology” the word for disciple was “the term that was used most frequently to designate one of Jesus' followers”. (Elwell, 1997). How did the first disciples begin to follow Jesus? The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus called them:
16 As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.(Mark 1:16-20, New American Standard Bible Updated)
Jesus saw these men and took the initiative to call them to come after Him. This was not a call for them to follow Jesus just this once. Coming after Jesus and learning from Jesus would be a continuing characteristic of their lives. He told them that they would no longer be catching fish, for He would make them “fishers” of men.
The response to Jesus’ call
The initial and immediate response of Simon, Andrew, James, and John is remarkable! These men left behind the business of fishing in order to accompany (to take the same road as) Jesus, to become His pupils. They went from being fishermen to becoming followers of Jesus.
There are people who seem to just suddenly, immediately leave everything behind to go off and do something else, to start a new life somewhere. Why does the response of these men matter? Because it was Jesus who called them.
Who is Jesus?
The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Mark's citation (Mark 1:2-3) of Old Testament prophecy (Malachi 3:1; Isaiah 40:3) indicates that the appearance of Jesus fulfills God's promise to His people, that He Himself would come to them. John the Baptist announced that Jesus would baptize His people with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8). At His baptism, God the Father testifies from heaven that Jesus is His beloved Son, in Whom He is well pleased (Mark 1:11). In 16 chapters, Mark makes Jesus known by narrating what He said and did.
But Mark's gospel is not simply intended to inform us about who Jesus is. The announcement of Jesus is intended to elicit a response. People are called to believe in Jesus as the great news of God's salvation, repenting of and confessing their sin, signified by baptism (Mark 1:4-5).
When they left their nets to follow Jesus, the first disciples were rightly responding to the Divine call upon their lives. If we truly are disciples of Jesus, then we must be learning from Him, following Him who has revealed Himself to us in the Scriptures.
Let us ponder these important questions:
- What have you come to learn from the Scriptures about Jesus?
- How has your life been transformed by who Jesus is?
- How would you compare your response to the way people first responded to the good news of Jesus?
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