A Christian study and understanding of discipleship must begin by focusing on Jesus' concepts and teaching about discipleship. Since our call to discipleship comes from Jesus, the foundation understandings of this call must be laid by Jesus. We must not decide what a disciple is according to our reasoning and impose our reasonings on Jesus' concepts. We must begin by focusing on Jesus' basic concepts concerning discipleship.
In a number of ways, Jesus emphasized basic understandings of discipleship. These basic understandings must be accepted by any man or woman who chooses to be Jesus' disciple. The first understanding a disciple must accept focuses on his or her relationship with Jesus.
Jesus stressed many aspects of discipleship. He knew what he wanted and expected in the men or women who followed him. Those expectations began by focusing on the nature of the relationship between his disciples and himself.
A disciple must understand that Jesus is superior to him or her. Jesus declared this fact to the twelve [called disciples in verse 1] in Matthew 10:24-33. The context is set by the limited commission when he sent the twelve in pairs to Israelite towns and villages. In this commission [the reason it is called a limited commission] they were to teach/visit only Israelites (see verses 5,6). Prior to sending them to Israelite towns and villages, Jesus gave these twelve disciples the power to cast out demons and the power over all forms of sicknesses (see verse 1).
Discipleship's basic concept immediately acquires a new perspective when a man or woman realizes he or she commits himself or herself to these two realities: (a) allowing Jesus' focus to form his or her pattern for thinking, and (b) realizing our evil society and world will reject us in the same manner his evil society and world rejected him.
Two facts easily could make them arrogant men. First, they were the twelve--hand picked by Jesus! That selection was so unique most Christians today instantly know to whom you refer if you just say "the twelve." This is 2000 years after that selection! Second, Jesus gave them extraordinary power. They could do the impossibe--cast out unclean spirits and heal all forms of sickness! They easily could say, "Look what we can do! We are special people! Only we and Jesus can do this!"
It is easy to believe discipleship is about us, our needs, and our desires. Such convictions quickly can become a destructive, self-centered arrogance. Discipleship is not about us. It is about Jesus. It is about allowing Jesus to reveal God's nature and priorities to us.
The twelve were very human. During Jesus' earthly ministry, they frequently thought discipleship was about them. Each time they thought in this manner, they became arrogant. They became "position conscious" rather than "humble servants." Jesus washed their feet!
Often people with extraordinary abilities and gifts anticipate extraordinary respect. While these disciples shared some of Jesus' power, they also shared some of Jesus' reception. Rather than emphasizing how special they were, Jesus told them to be prepared to receive the same treatment he received.
Jesus' disciples refuse to be victimized by thoughts about "how special we are." Jesus' disciples focus on how special Jesus is. Jesus is special because he is God's gift to us. Jesus is special because he is our only means of approaching God. Following Jesus results in a constructive understanding of our unworthiness and his worthiness.
Jesus' explanation is insightful. He reminded the twelve that disciples were not above their teacher and slaves were not above their master. Do not nurture a superiority attitude because of who you are and what you can do! The greatest a disciple can hope for is to be regarded on the same level as his teacher. The greatest a slave can hope for is to be regarded on the same level as his master. Paraphrasing Jesus, he said, "Before your heads swell with thoughts of your importance, look closely at me. I am your teacher. I am your master. Look at the treatment I receive, and anticipate the same treatment."
In today's America, it is strange that many Christians who follow an executed Savior and who know some of the early disciples were martyrs expect discipleship to be a certain avenue to fulfilling material and physical desires. Often letting Jesus be our teacher or master is insufficient. This distortion allows discipleship to focus on acquiring rather than following.
Jesus' warning: "If I have enemies who call me the prince of demons, my enemies will become your enemies. If they consider me demonic, they easily will call you demons!" What a dose of reality! Jesus hand picked them and gave them extraordinary powers, yet some would consider them demonic! "Rather than being impressed with who you are and what you can do, they will declare the good you do to be an expression of evil!"
Evil neither respected nor appreciated Jesus. The fact that Jesus perfectly revealed God, God's priorities, and God's purposes antagonized evil to the point of hostility. The same evil that hated and opposed Jesus will hate and oppose his disciples. Evil is never impressed with godly living or godly thinking--not in Jesus, not in today's Christian.
Jesus' reminder: "Do not allow fear of physical hurt to intimidate you. Fear is not to determine your actions. While it may seem to you that they can harm you and hide their evil treatment of you, that is merely appearance, not reality. Nothing they do to you will remain secret. Even if they secretly kill you, your death will not eternally remain a mystery. God knows everything that happens. He assures full and open disclosure. Fear must not determine what you do. God must determine what you do."
Note that Jesus did not tell the twelve not to fear. He reminded the twelve to fear the superior power. Fear of physical harm never appeases evil. In fact, evil exploits a person's fear of physical harm. Fear of God results in appreciation of God. Fear of God produces reverence of God. From the reverence of God comes strength and love.
"My task is to acknowledge you as friends before my Father [God]. If you use fear as your motivation, do not fear those who physically kill. Fear God who has power over life, the One who will kill physical death. If you are not ashamed of me, I will present you to the Father. If you are ashamed of me, I will not present you to the Father."
Though Jesus Christ must forgive us if we are to become and continue as his disciples, he is not ashamed of us. If, as his disciples, we are not ashamed of him when evil rejects us for following him, he will not be ashamed to present us to God.
The foundation understanding of discipleship: Jesus' disciple can anticipate the type of rejection Jesus endured. Evil does not respect godliness. Evil hates godliness. Societies dedicated to ungodliness (whether inhumanity, materialism, pleasure, selfishness, or such like objectives) cannot value people whose faith in God exclude such life styles. If Jesus was rejected by his enemies, today's disciple also can expect to be rejected by forces and influences that oppose Jesus' values.
The objective of being Jesus' disciple goes far beyond calling ourselves Christians. A disciple wants to surrender to God as Jesus surrendered. A disciple wants to represent God as Jesus represented God. A disciple wants to be concerned about the powerless people as Jesus was concerned about them. A disciple wants to think about God and people from the perspective of Jesus' thoughts about God and people. Those are a disciple's goals. A world filled with ungodliness and evil will never respect nor appreciate these commitments.
Jesus emphasized his relationship to those who dared be his disciples once as he spoke to a large group of Jewish people (Matthew 12:46-50). His immediate family [mother and brothers] arrived and wished to speak to him privately. Jesus was told of their presence, but responded in a shocking manner. His question: "Who is my family?" He gestured toward his disciples and answered his question. His response: "When you look at my disciples, you see my family. My family is composed of those who do my Father's [God's] will."
Jesus cherished those who dared be his disciples. To be Jesus' disciple is to be in his family. Our commitment to him [no matter what commitment to him requires of us] will never equal his commitment to his disciples.
Jesus was absolutely devoted to those who were his disciples. He expected those who were his disciples to be absolutely devoted to him.
He expects his devotion to us to be the foundation for our devotion to him.
His statement shocks us now, in this age. The statement was more shocking in his age. Family members provided other family members the only source of medicare, retirement programs, pensions, and old age insurance. While it is permissible and acceptable for a person "to do his [or her] own thing" and "live his [or her] own life as he [or she] chooses" today, that was not permissible and acceptable for many, many people in Jesus' time. The fact that Jesus' devotion to his disciples was superior to his devotion to his family was strange! [That does not suggest that Jesus neglected his family. Read John 19:26,27.] This situation had to embarrass his family! He must be crazy! [See Mark 3:20,21.]
Only when disciples understand the importance of family relationships in Jesus' age do they begin to grasp the enormous blessing involved in being Jesus' disciple.
In this world, the supreme sacrifice any person can make for others is to die for them. The last night of Jesus' earthly life, Jesus made this statement to the twelve: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). The commitment Jesus gave was greater than the commitment Jesus expected. All he asked of his disciples was that they aspire to his level of commitment. Uncommitted people cannot be the disciples of this committed teacher. The teacher's commitment is the standard for his disciples commitment.
Jesus gave everything to be our teacher and master. Nothing we can ever do for him can equal what he has done and does for us. Our goal as disciples is to aspire to Jesus' level of commitment to God and to us.
It is enough for a disciple to be as his teacher or a slave to be as his master. God could give us no greater gift than to guide us to be like Jesus.
They often expect the respect that [from their perspective] the extraordinary are entitled to. Often extraordinary gifts and abilities are accompanied by attitudes of superiority. Attitudes of superiority commonly produce the arrogance of "look who I am and what I have done" rather than the humility of "how may I serve you?"
"My enemies regard me to be demonic. They will be your enemies who regard you demonic."
"Do not permit the fear of physical rejection and hostility to intimidate you."
If we expect the ungodly and evil to respect or to appreciate us, we deceive ourselves. Those who resent Jesus for his values and principles will resent people who are committed to Jesus' values and principles. The challenge: to be servants rather than judges, or to seek to be helpers who care rather than seeking to condemn and destroy.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 3
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