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Serving Jesus through discipleship

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What is Discipleship?


It occurred to me that before beginning the study on The Cost of Discipleship, it would be beneficial to answer the question “What is discipleship?” This may be harder than it would at first seem! The best definition I could find is, “Christian discipleship is the process by which disciples grow in the Lord Jesus Christ and are equipped by the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts, to overcome the pressures and trials of this present life and become more and more Christlike.”

That definition seems sort of circular “discipleship is the process by which disciples grow”. So, what is a disciple? The following is from the Holman Bible Dictionary:

Follower of Jesus Christ, especially the commissioned Twelve who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. The term “disciple” comes to us in English from a Latin root. Its basic meaning is “learner” or “pupil.” The term is virtually absent from the OT, though there are two related references (1 Chron. 25:8; Isa. 8:16).

In the Greek world the word “disciple” normally referred to an adherent of a particular teacher or religious/philosophical school. It was the task of the disciple to learn, study, and pass along the sayings and teachings of the master. In rabbinic Judaism the term “disciple” referred to one who was committed to the interpretations of Scripture and religious tradition given him by the master or rabbi. Through a process of learning which would include a set meeting time and such pedagogical methods as question and answer, instruction, repetition, and memorization, the disciple would become increasingly devoted to the master and the master’s teachings. In time, the disciple would likewise pass on the traditions to others.

Jesus’ Disciples In the NT 233 of the 261 instances of the word “disciple” occur in the Gospels, the other 28 being in Acts. Usually the word refers to disciples of Jesus, but there are also references to disciples of the Pharisees (Matt. 22:16; Mark 2:18), disciples of John the Baptist (Mark 2:18; Luke 11:1; John 1:35), and even disciples of Moses (John 9:28).

The Gospels often refer to Jesus as “Rabbi” (Matt. 26:25,49; Mark 9:5; 10:51; 11:21; John 1:38,49; 3:2,26; 6:25; 20:16 NIV). One can assume that Jesus used traditional rabbinic teaching techniques (question and answer, discussion, memorization) to instruct His disciples. In many respects Jesus differed from the rabbis. He called His disciples to “follow Me” (Luke 5:27). Disciples of the rabbis could select their teachers. Jesus oftentimes demanded extreme levels of personal renunciation (loss of family, property, etc.; Matt. 4:18-22; 10:24-42; Luke 5:27-28; 14:25-27; 18:28-30). He asked for lifelong allegiance (Luke 9:57-62) as the essential means of doing the will of God (Matt. 12:49-50; John 7:16-18). He taught more as a bearer of divine revelation than a link in the chain of Jewish tradition (Matt. 5:21-48; 7:28-29; Mark 4:10-11). In so doing Jesus announced the end of the age and the long-awaited reign of God (Matt. 4:17; Luke 4:14-21,42-44).

The Twelve As the messianic proclaimer of the reign of God, Jesus gathered about Himself a special circle of 12 disciples, clearly a symbolic representation of the 12 tribes (Matt. 19:28). He was reestablishing Jewish social identity based upon discipleship to Jesus. The Twelve represented a unique band, making the word “disciple” (as a reference to the Twelve) an exact equivalent to “apostle” in those contexts where the latter word was also restricted to the Twelve. The four lists of the Twelve in the NT (Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13,26) also imply from their contexts the synonymous use of the terms “disciples”/“apostles” when used to refer to the Twelve.

A Larger Group of Followers The Gospels clearly show that the word “disciple” can refer to others besides the Twelve. The verb “follow” became something of a technical term Jesus used to call His disciples, who were then called “followers,” (Mark 4:10). These “followers” included a larger company of people from whom He selected the Twelve (Mark 3:7-19; Luke 6:13-17). This larger group of disciples/followers included men and women (Luke 8:1-3; 23:49) from all walks of life. (Even the Twelve included a variety: fishermen, a tax collector, a Zealot.) Jesus was no doubt especially popular among the socially outcast and religiously despised, but people of wealth and of theological training also followed (Luke 8:1-3; 19:1-10; John 3:1-3; 12:42; 19:38-39).

The Twelve were sent out as representatives of Jesus, commissioned to preach the coming of the kingdom, to cast out demons, and to heal diseases (Matt. 10:1,5-15; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6). Such tasks were not limited to the Twelve (Luke 10:1-24). Apparently Jesus’ disciples first included “a great multitude of disciples” (Luke 6:17). He formed certain smaller and more specifically defined groups within that “great multitude.” These smaller groups would include a group of “70” (Luke 10:1,17), the “Twelve” (Matt. 11:1; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1), and perhaps an even smaller, inner group within the Twelve, consisting especially of Peter, James, and John—whose names (with Andrew) always figure first in the lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:16-17; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13), whose stories of calling are especially highlighted (Matt. 4:18-22; John 1:35-42 and the tradition that John is the “Other”/“Beloved Disciple” of the Gospel of John—13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20), and who alone accompanied Jesus on certain significant occasions of healing and revelation (Matt. 17:1; Mark 13:3; Luke 8:51).

All Followers of Jesus The book of the Acts of the Apostles frequently uses the term “disciple” to refer generally to all those who believe in the risen Lord (6:1-2, 7; 9:1, 10, 19, 26, 38; 11:26, 29). In addition, the verb form “to disciple” as it appears in the final commissioning scene of Matthew’s Gospel (28:19-20) also suggests a use in the early church of the term “disciple” as a more generalized name for all those who come to Jesus in faith, having heard and believed the gospel.

Conclusion We have seen that, as references to the Twelve, the words “apostle” and “disciple” could be synonymous. However, just as the term “disciple” could mean other followers of Jesus than the Twelve in the time of His ministry, so also after His resurrection the term “disciple” had a wider meaning as well, being clearly applied to all His followers. Whereas the term “apostle” retained a more specific meaning, being tied to certain historical eyewitnesses of the resurrected Lord, the word “disciple” tended to lose its narrower associations with the Twelve, and/or those who followed the historical Jesus, or who saw the risen Lord, and became a virtual equivalent to “Christian” (Acts 11:26). In every case, however, the common bond of meaning for the various applications of the word “disciple” was allegiance to Jesus. See Apostle.

Robert B. Sloan, Jr.

It seems that the definition of disciple can include anyone from a new convert, knowing little and behaving like a heathen, to a person mature in the teachings and ways of Christ. My question is “Are you still a disciple if you permanently stagnate in the process?”  If you quit learning to obey the commands of Christ you exit the discipleship process and are no longer a disciple.

The discipleship process includes:

  • Transformation and repentance, making God your priority
  • Learning the written word of God and living by it with commitment
  • Loving, edifying, and serving others as God leads
  • Focusing on living righteously, being fruitful
  • Accountability with godly authority
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Questions Concerning Discipleship


This morning I read the Introduction to “The Cost of Discipleship”. The first thing I noticed is that many questions are asked. I assume that the rest of the book answers those questions. I will list the questions later, but the most pressing question for me is: “If discipleship costs, and according to Jesus, it does, (Luke 14:27-29) how is the yoke easy and the burden light?” 

The second sentence talks about slogans and catchwords of ecclesiastical controversy. While reading this I thought about slogans popular today: Jesus Saves; Jesus is Lord; Jesus is the answer; etc. I believe these slogans were meant to be used as rallying cries to the unbeliever as a reason to come to Christ. However, they have been so over used and typically lack context so that they are meaningless.

The questions that I will try to answer in reading this book are:

  • What did Jesus mean to say to us?
  • What is His will for us today?
  • How can he help us to be good Christians in the modern world?

Earlier today I received an email from Sonny. After reading chapter one, he asked:

  • What is Grace?
  • What is Discipleship?
  • What does discipleship look like?

I think the word discipleship is another term from the Christian lexicon that is poorly understood by most pastors, at least if it is understood, it isn’t explained very well!

The introduction also postulates that often the denominations that are supposed to present Christ to the world have rules and dogmas that act as obstacles to Jesus and his word. It is also true that each of us filter the Scriptures and sermons through years of ideas and expressions that are hard to understand.

Hopefully, this book is able to cut through all the accumulated clutter and lead us to an accurate interpretation of Christ’s word.

The Cost of Discipleship


I have recently been challenged to engage in a study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “The Cost of Discipleship”. It has been a while since I read the book, however I remember that the first section is difficult to understand.

With that in mind, my intention is to put my notes on this blog. Maybe someone will stumble across my musings and contribute. If that happens, it will encourage me to dig deeper into the book and scripture to better understand what discipleship is.

My friend Sonny is the person challenging me. I think we are doing this study together. This will be an online study as Sonny is a traveling missionary and I am recently retired and enjoying staying in one place.

The Faith to Follow


Jesus Walks on the Sea

Jesus Walks on the Sea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a rabbi, Jesus prepared His disciples for everything. The way used to prepare His disciples was that they followed Him everywhere. They lived with Him, they watched as He met with friends, acquaintances, officials and enemies. It was the disciple’s (singular: talmid; plural: talmidim) responsibility to watch everything that the rabbi did in order to emulate him. The disciples consuming passion was to be like his rabbi.

An example of this can be found in Matthew 14:22 – 33 where Jesus walks across the sea of Galilee. You will recall that when Peter discovered that it was his rabbi walking on the lake, he said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to you on the water.” Do you believe that Peter thought he could walk on water? Peter, after all, was a fisherman. He had been in and around the sea all his life and every time he got in the water he sank like a stone. Yet, he wanted to be like his rabbi so much that he was willing to risk drowning to walk on water like his rabbi. So when Jesus said to Peter, “Come”, he had the temerity to get out of the boat. Peter actually succeeded in walking on the surface of the sea. But, seeing the wind and the waves, he became afraid and began to sink. He cried out to Jesus to save him. Jesus reached out His hand, took hole of Peter and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Who did Peter lose faith in? He was walking on the water; he did it! Did he lose faith in Jesus? I submit that is not the faith that Jesus was talking about. After seeing that he could walk on water, Peter’s faith should have increased. I submit that Peter lost faith in himself. He did not trust that he, a lowly fisherman, could have the ability to walk on water. And so he began to sink.

I believe that we are like that. God has promised that His power is perfected in our weakness. So why don’t we see displays of God’s power in our daily lives. It is because we are even too afraid to get out of the boat. We have been called. Jesus has told us “Come”. Still we are too afraid of the embarrassment of failure, or even more of success. What will people think of me if I behave in this manner?

“Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Think about this. The Jews in Galilee generally had access to the Scriptures only in their local synagogue, so they memorized Scripture throughout their lifetimes because they were determined to know and live by the word of God and pass on their faith to their children. They were intensely spiritual people, and even those who did not advance to further study and interpretation of the Torah and the Prophets already had memorized far more Scripture than most Christians know today.

Because of technology, we do not need to memorize Scripture. We can carry printed versions of scripture with us. We can put the Bible on our smart phones so that it is with us all the time. We do need to be familiar enough with Scripture so that we know what it says and where to find it. We have all had that moment where a certain passage applies and we can’t find it. Remember, Satan deceived Eve by questioning the word of God; “Has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” He also tempted Jesus by misapplying Scripture. Keep in mind God’s command to Joshua, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

Remember also the words of Jesus in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give it to you.” You can say, “I will not be a disciple of Jesus.” But Jesus believes in you and your potential to be His disciple. That is why He chose you!

The Rabbi as Shepherd


The image of the shepherd and his sheep is frequently used in Scripture as a metaphor for the relationship between God and his people. Not only that, God often chose shepherds to lead His people. Abram, Moses and Davie for example were all experienced shepherds. This image sent a powerful message to the people of Israel because even to this day, a flock of sheep in Israel is dependent on the shepherd for survival. Israel is not a land of knee high grass and abundant water. The shepherd must lead the sheep daily to graze on short tufts of grass an hillsides and to drink from widely scattered sources of water. Without the shepherd’s leading, the flock would die.

The shepherd/sheep image describes the intimacy, dependence, obedience and faithfulness that characterize the rabbi/disciple relationship as well. The rabbi walks ahead and leads his disciples by his voice. Just as sheep follow their shepherd without understanding why the shepherd leads where he leads, disciples follow the rabbi by faith, trusting him to lead them in the right way to the right place. Following the rabbi is just as much a matter of life and death for the disciple as it is for the sheep that follow the shepherd.

Shepherd

Shepherd (Photo credit: AfghanistanMatters)

In contrast to sheep who follow their shepherd, goats often wander on their own, away from the shepherd’s chosen path, the “path of righteousness.” Goats require extra attention from the shepherd because they think they know a better path.

In light of this, consider what Jesus taught in Matthew 25:31-46, particularly verses 32-34, 41: “He will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on His right, “Come you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire.” The key difference between the sheep and the goats is that the sheep obeyed the shepherd; they did what He would do. The goats on the other hand, had no interest in what concerned the shepherd.

Practicing Faith in Community


They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one having authority, not as the teachers of the law. – Mark 1:21-22

Originally the synagogue was not a specific building but a place where God‘s people gathered in His presence around His Living Word. It was sometimes called a place of prayer, because in the Jewish mind the verb translated pray means worship as well as prayer. Synagogue began before Solomon’s temple was destroyed, but the practice became essential to the Jewish faithduring the exile.

Ruins of the ancient synagogue in Kibbutz Bar'...

Ruins of the ancient synagogue in Kibbutz Bar’am in Northern Israel. The ruins are located within the site of the ancient village of Kfar Bar’am, about three kilometers from the Lebanese border. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As exiled Jews returned to the land of Israel, they brought synagogue – the practice of coming together as a community to study and worship in God’s presence – with them. by the first century in Israel, larger community buildings were built to serve as meeting places for synagogue. Soon the name synagogue was applied to the buildings where community study and worship of the Scriptures took place. So, during Jesus’ time, the synagogue was both a place and a group of people engaged in seeking God through the study of Scripture and prayer.

Synagogues played an important role in the lives of religious Jews who lived along the north and northwestern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Although the Jews traveled to the temple in Jerusalem to worship three times a year, they worshipped regularly with family, friends and neighbors in the local synagogue. The Torah scrolls were kept in the synagogue, so people went there to read and study the scriptures and listen to the rabbis proclaim their interpretations of the text. Their children attended synagogue schools where they learned to read, write and memorize the text. Thus the community worship, expressed in a handful of small synagogues in Galilee, contributed greatly to the disciples’ preparation to follow Jesus, their Rabbi and become like Him in every way.

Christians today tend to think that the theology and teaching of the Pharisees was all wrong, but it was not. The Pharisees were faithful Jews who worked hard to obey God in all they did. That’s why they had so many applications of Bible texts: they were trying to obey God! Jesus called some of the Pharisees hypocrites because they didn’t practice their own teaching (and some of their own writings criticize this as well). Some other Pharisees were so set in their interpretations of the Scriptures that they refused to consider the interpretations of others – including the interpretations of Jesus. Despite their imperfections, the Pharisees made knowledge of the Scriptures and obedience to God top priorities in life.

Although many Christians today think that Jesus called His disciples away from the Jewish faith and community, that is not the case. Jesus and His disciples continued to participate in community life, including synagogue worship, throughout His ministry. Even when His disciples went out into the world beyond Israel, they sought out and continues to be a part of the faith community of the synagogue. This is not to suggest that you must join a synagogue to follow Jesus, but active involvement in a faith community is necessary.

Living by the Word


Jesus came to people who knew the Scriptures. They expended great effort to study and memorize the text, to debate its meaning, to teach it to other people, and – above else – to obey it. As you take a closer look at Jesus Ministry, consider how essential the text was to all that He did and said.

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Tes...

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Testament manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew. Most likely originated in Egypt. Also part of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (P. oxy. 2) Currently housed in: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the Jews in Galilee, knowing and obeying the Scriptures was as essential to life as food and water. They memorized significant portions of Scripture in synagogue schools. They heard it read aloud during synagogue prayers and when the rabbis read and discussed it. After all, how could one rightly interpret and obey God‘s commands without knowing the text? How could one walk with God without knowing what He said? Not to know the text was unthinkable!

A study of the Gospel of Matthew reveals that in that book alone, Jesus quoted the Hebrew Scriptures at least thirty-eight times. Read the following passages and notice how easily the text flowed from His lips as He spoke: Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43, 9:10-13, 12:1-8. Could Jesus have shared the Scriptures effectively if He had not memorized them?

In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish then but to fulfill them.” In the statement, Jesus used technical rabbinic terminology. Abolish meant to interpret Scripture so that it would not be obeyed as God desired. Fulfill meant to interpret Scripture so that it would be obeyed as God intended. So when Jesus used these terms, His audience would have heard Him say, “I did not come to misinterpret Scriptureso you would not keep it correctly. I came to interpret it so that you will know how to keep it correctly.”

Jesus came from a community that knew the Scriptures, and He expected His disciples to follow His example and become like Him. He expects no less from His followers today. Yet many of us do not know much about the text He knew and loved, and we have memorized even less of it.

How can we do what Jesus commands if we do not know His word?

Is it time to dedicate yourself to knowing your Bible and using it as the foundation for your life and witness? How will you begin?

How would memorizing Scripture reinforce your desire to live by its truth in your daily life?

If you are serious about being a disciple, ask God to fill you with His Spirit and give you a desire to become more like Jesus who knew and loved the Word of God.

The prophet Jeremiah memorized so much scripture that he literally could not stop mentioning God or speaking His name. How passionately do you want God’s word to burn within you. A good place to startmight be to memorize the following:

But if I say, “I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name,” His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. – Jeremiah 20:9

Pray for the same love for the word as Jeremiah had!

Profile of a Rabbi


English: Rabbis Brown and Mayer talking with R...

English: Rabbis Brown and Mayer talking with Rabbi Aharon Feldman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Jesus day, a rabbi was not the head of a formal religious community or a synagogue as we think of a rabbi today. Instead, rabbi was an honored termof respect given to one who interpreted and taught the Hebrew Bible. Rabbi meant “my superior” or “my master” and came from a Hebrew root meaning “great” or “many”. Disciples and others used this term to refer to great scholars and teachers of the Scriptures who were also known as “sages”. After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, rabbi became a formal title for sage.

Rabbis played an important role in the Jewish spiritual culture because there were no formal seminaries at the time of Jesus. Each rabbi taught his disciples how the Torah should be interpreted and obeyed, and his disciples willingly submitted to that interpretation. A rabbi then was an honored teacher who was well versed in the text of the Hebrew Scriptures. He was highly respected for his knowledge, interpretation, and teaching of Scripture as well as for his personal righteousness. Following a rabbi required a deep commitment on the part of the disciple who would live with and follow the rabbi day in and day out for years in order to learn to be like him and live in obedience to God as the rabbi did.

For the Galileans, walking with God took priority over everything. So a rabbi and his disciples were highly respected by others in the community. A family or extended family group usually provided housing and food for a rabbi and his disciples. Because of the high respect for the study of the Torah, and the fact that the rabbi was leading other people to the kingdom of heaven and the life to come, each disciple was expected to honor his rabbi even more than his own father. It is difficult for Christians today to imagine such love and commitment to a human teacher, but that was the norm in Galilee.

All teaching by the early rabbis attempted to explain, interpret, and apply some portion of the Hebrew Bible. To the audience, the validity of the teaching depended on the rabbis ability to use a variety of passages in new and creative ways to illustrate the teaching with parable or metaphor, and to ground the teaching in text. whether they wanted to or not, people who heard Jesus teach recognized that He taught with authority.

In fact, Jesus best fit the type of rabbi believed to have s’mikhah, the authority to make new interpretations of the Torah. Most of the teachers of the law could only teach accepted interpretations. Teachers with authority, however, could make new interpretations and pass legal judgments.

Educated as a Rabbi

The Mishnah describes the educational process for a young Jewish boy during Jesus time.

At five years old [one is fit] for the Scripture, at ten years the Mishnah [oral Torah interpretations], at thirteen for [the fulfilling of the commandments], at fifteen the Talmud [making rabbinic interpretations], at eighteen the bride chamber, at twenty pursuing a vocation, at thirty for authority [able to teach others].

This passage clearly describes the education of a n exceptional student, because few students became teachers. It also indicates the centrality of the Hebrew text in the education of Jews in Galilee. A comparison of this description to Jesus’ life shows that He closely followed the customs of his time and place.

Why Galilee?


Sea of galilee, near Capernaum

Sea of galilee, near Capernaum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After being tempted by Satan for forty days, Jesus returned to civilization and discovered that John the Baptist had been taken into custody. Upon hearing this, He withdrew into Galilee; leaving Nazareth He settle in Capernaum, which is by the sea in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

We know that Jesus came, not to the Gentiles or to the Samaritans but to the Jews. His message included healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons. When the Canaanite woman approached Him near Tyre and Sidon, He admonished her saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

When Jesus’ message was not received, He denounced the cities that he was in and described a horrible fate for them.

Knowing that the people in the land of Galilee were religious people and that Jesus’ message to them was repent, What do you think His message to us would be today?


The Call of Christ


By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:
the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 1 John 2: 3-6

These verses out of 1 John clearly identify the need for discipleship. If you don’t agree with me on that, I’ll have more on that later. For now I want to answer the question “Why did Jesus choose His disciples and start His ministry in the region of Galilee? What was it that captured his attention above all other places in Israel?

Cities in Contrast

Some of the cities in the region of Galilee are Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, Bethsaida, Capernaum, Jezreel, Scythopolis and others. Let’s first take a look at Scythopolis in southern Galilee. Scythopolis was a city about 15 miles from Nazareth. It was a city of temples, stadiums, theaters, and university. It was a city of wide streets, sewers and running water. Yet Jesus didn’t choose any of His disciples from here.

A first century insula

In contrast, Jesus recruited His disciples from a small fishing village in northern Galilee called Bethsaida. This is the area that Jewish religious folks lived in the first century. People that were passionate about following God. Passionate about obedience. Passionate about the text of Scripture. Bethsaida in contrast had narrow dirt roads if any streets at all, no running water, no temples, no theaters and no university. The people lived in large family units called insulas, a Latin word for island. An insula could be compared to an apartment building today. Most of the lower and middle class people lived in insulas. It was from this village that Jesus chose five of His disciples: Peter, Andrew, John, James and Phillip.

The Building Blocks of Discipleship

  • Community

There were several building blocks for discipleship in Jesus day. The first was Community. The common people of that day relied on each other. Imagine, if you can, an extended family unit (brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, etc.) living in an insula. They ate together, worked together, played together and worshiped together. Their life with God was a community life! Coming from this type of background, it was only natural that the people wanting to be disciples would live with their rabbi in a community of disciples. But not every person living in the community was a disciple.

  • Scripture

The synagogue was a central part of the lives of the people living in Galilee in the first century. It was a community gathering place. A place to worship, a place to come and hear the rabbis teach. It was the place where the Torah (the books of the Law) and the Tanakh (the books of the prophets and the writings) were kept and taught. The Tanakh, as the Bible today, was considered the very words of God and was revered and loved on a par with God. The second building block of discipleship then is Scripture! In order to obey the law one must know the law. The better you know the law, the more likely you are to correctly apply and obey that law.

  • Beit Sefer

An important part of the synagogue was the school (beit sefer, literally, ‘house of knowledge’). This is where the children came to learn to read and write. Obviously, the text they used was the text of Scripture. So by the time that the children were 11 or twelve years old, they could recite large parts of the Torah. They had studies it, they knew how to interpret it and they knew how to apply it.

Upon finishing beit sefer, most children started working at the family business if they were boys and the girls would start learning to become a good wife and mother.

Some of the children (men typically), after finishing beit sefer, if they had the ability and the passion, would continue their scriptural education at beth midrash (literally ‘house of interpretation’). It was here that the Tanakh was learned. By the end of this part of their education, the student could recite large parts of the Tanakh. It was at this time that the really passionate could become what was called a talmid (tal MEED) or disciple. It is important to know the connotation of the word talmid. A talmid is a person who wants to be what the rabbi is! This person wants to be like the rabbi at any cost. He has an all consuming passion to be like the rabbi. He would give up everything to follow his rabbi.

The Cost of Discipleship

As a Christian, are you willing to be a talmid? Is your passion for Christ such that you are willing to give up everything to follow him? (Does this sound familiar?) I will bet that the required scriptural knowledge in most of us is severely lacking and thus preventing us from becoming a disciple.

After acquiring the building blocks of discipleship, the aspiring talmid searched for a rabbi that was willing to disciple the student. The talmid lived with the rabbi, studied under the rabbi, observed all that the rabbi did in order to become like him. Usually this required committing the entire scriptural text to memory, being able to correctly interpret and apply it. This required an unbelievable level of commitment and passion.

Most people, could not find a rabbi willing to accept them as talmid. Once you did find a rabbi willing to accept you, you could still be rejected because you did not possess the requisite level of passion.

Jesus, unlike other rabbis, chose ordinary people, fishermen, tax collectors, etc. to be His disciples. Many of the people that Jesus called were rejected by other rabbis. Many more were not willing to pay the price to become like Him. The price? Self denial, total devotion. This is what the rabbi asks of us. Have you come to know Jesus? (read 1 John 2:3-6). The only way that we can get to know Jesus is by His words. Where are His words? The Bible!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ ” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses ; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time ; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. – The Gospel of John

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