A well-trained, empowered missionary band

I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.[1]

The Christian faith began when Jesus called a small group of disciples.  The list of men might leave one unimpressed.  None of the original disciples occupied prominent positions or hailed from prominent places.  They did not possess academic degrees nor were they born into the Levitical priesthood.  They merely responded to the invitation offered by Jesus: “Come, follow me.”

The Greek word translated as “disciple” (mathetes) appears 262 times in the gospels and Acts.  The word’s use is distributed in the following manner: Matthew (73x), Mark (46x), Luke (37x), John (78x), and Acts (28x).  It means “learner” or “apprentice.”  Yet, inside the New Testament, the word takes on much more significance.  Disciples are not students learning from a teacher or apprentices learning from a skilled practitioner.  Rather, they are men sitting at the feet of the Messiah.  Jesus devoted most of his earthly ministry to investing in his first followers.  As AB Bruce describes the disciples:

These twelve … were to be something more than traveling companions or menial servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They were to be, in the meantime, students of Christian doctrine. And occasional fellow-laborers in the work of the kingdom, and eventually Christ’s chosen trained agents for propagating the faith after He himself had left the earth.  From the time of their being chosen, indeed, the twelve entered on a regular apprenticeship for the great office of apostleship, in the course of which they were to learn, in the privacy of an intimate daily fellowship with their Master, what they should be, do, believe, and teach, as His witnesses and ambassadors to the world.  Henceforth the training of these men was to be a constant and prominent part of Christ’s personal work.  He was to make it His business to tell them in darkness what they should afterwards speak in the daylight, and to whisper in their ear what in after years they should preach upon the housetops.”[2]

The world could be indifferent to Jesus and still not defeat his strategy.[3]  When Jesus ascended into Heaven, he left behind a well-trained, empowered missionary band.  These ordinary men had become courageous preachers through a three-year apprenticeship.  The Book of Acts provides testimony to this fact: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer highlighted the core of discipleship when he wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”[4]  May we learn from the first group who answered the call.  May we resist the temptation to hail them as heroes who demonstrated faithfulness beyond our ability to imitate. 

(This is the introduction to Stained-Glass Disciples: Jesus’ First Followers and the Rose Window of the First Baptist Church of Sulphur Springs, Texas. you can order a copy here.)

[1] “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” by Simon Kama Marak.

[2] A.B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve (Pantianos Classics, originally published in 1871), 23.

[3] Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism (Revell, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993), 25.

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2003), 81. 

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