Discipleship

Luke explains, “A large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people … had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured” (Luke 6:17–18).

Luke prefaces the sermon by distinguishing between the large crowd and the disciples, just like Matthew does. Luke says, “Turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say …” (Luke 6:20). In these words, Luke indicates that Yeshua delivered the sermon to His disciples, not to the crowds. Matthew explains that He first withdrew from the crowd by ascending the hill.

This story indicates that Rabbi Yeshua had two kinds of followers: the crowds of people and the disciples. Which kind of follower do you want to be? Are you one of the crowd that flocks around Him to receive a miracle, a blessing, or a ticket to heaven? Or are you one of His students, eager to learn His teachings and every word that comes from His mouth?

Two Kinds of Followers
First Fruits of Zion
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When I received this weekly email teaching, it was one that really challenged me to look at myself in the mirror.  Would I be one of those Yeshua turned to address? Am I one of the crowd that listens but doesn’t transition from crowd to disciple?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

Arguably one of Yeshua’s most quoted phrases by the evangelical Christian movement.  I would even go so far to say that these words have been the driving force behind global Christian growth for the last two millenniums.

Am I disciple? Am I a good disciple?  More importantly, would Yeshua consider me a disciple or part of the crowd?  If I self evaluate, I’d say I rank fairly low on the scale based on how well I follow his complete instruction, “to observe all that I have commanded you.”

The Greek text of Matthew used matheteuo.

Cognate: 3100 mathēteúō (from 3101 /mathētḗs, “disciple”) – to disciple, i.e. helping someone to progressively learn the Word of God to become a matured, growing disciple (literally, “a learner,” a true Christ-follower); to train (develop) in the truths of Scripture and the lifestyle required, i.e. helping a believer learn to be a disciple of Christ in belief and practice. See 3101(mathētēs).

~Strong’s definition listed on BibleHub.com

I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar and to claim that I am even familiar is a complete stretch.  However, I  do seek out the origin of words, at times, to search for clues of the intended meaning.  With a little reading, I found that there’s an entirely different controversy surround the Hebrew version of this passage in Matthew compared to the Greek text, but I won’t dig into that controversy here.

Notice the key words above as to train (develop) in the truths of Scripture and the lifestyle required.  If Yeshua meant what he said in the literal sense to teach others the lifestyle required, this rings a familiar tone with the familiar count the cost of discipleship passage.

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:28-33 ESV)

It seems that Yeshua had expectations for his disciples.  These expectations must have been the distinguishing factor between being one in the crowds or one he considered a disciple.

It is important to remember that Yeshua was not unique in his role as a rabbi.  As a rabbi in that era, his expectations would not have been out of the ordinary compared to any other rabbi.

Children began their study at age 4-5 in Beth Sefer (elementary school). Most scholars believe both boys and girls attended the class in the synagogue. The teaching focused primarily on the Torah, emphasizing both reading and writing Scripture. Large portions were memorized and it is likely that many students knew the entire Torah by memory by the time this level of education was finished.

The best students continued their study (while learning a trade) in Beth Midrash (secondary school) also taught by a rabbi of the community. Here they (along with the adults in the town) studied the prophets and the writings (3) in addition to Torah and began to learn the interpretations of the Oral Torah (4) to learn how to make their own applications and interpretations much like a catechism class might in some Churches today. Memorization continued to be important because most people did not have their own copy of the Scripture so they either had to know it by heart or go to the synagogue to consult the village scroll.

A few (very few) of the most outstanding Beth Midrash students sought permission to study with a famous rabbi often leaving home to travel with him for a lengthy period of time. These students were called talmidim (talmid, s.) in Hebrew, which is translated disciple. There is much more to a talmid than what we call student. A student wants to know what the teacher knows for the grade, to complete the class or the degree or even out of respect for the teacher. A talmid wants to be like the teacher, that is to become what the teacher is. That meant that students were passionately devoted to their rabbi and noted everything he did or said. This meant the rabbi-talmid relationship was a very intense and personal system of education. As the rabbi lived and taught his understanding of the Scripture his students (talmidim) listened and watched and imitated so as to become like him. Eventually they would become teachers passing on a lifestyle to their talmidim.

Rabbi and Talmidim
Follow the Rabbi
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We know that Paul was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers,” (Acts 22:3) which must have been considered a high honor since Gamaliel was a member of the Sanhedrin and a well-known rabbi.

It is easy to establish that being a disciple had expectations.  I would argue that the expectations were well beyond our understanding of being a disciple today.  It seems that students started at early school age and continued in a dedicated lifestyle of learning with the elite often leaving home to learn.  Even in reading through the gospels, we do not see the apostles visiting Yeshua.  They literally and physically followed him for the three years of his ministry.

If that is the standard of being a disciple, not just of Yeshua, but of any rabbi at the time, then, again, I can’t help but rank myself in comparison to these examples.

Am I worthy to be called a disciple? Or am I simply in the crowd?

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2 thoughts on “Discipleship

  1. Well said, Terry. Another good blog post.

    Interestingly enough, I wrote on the same topic about four months ago. Discipleship is a lot more than being a follower and a listener, it means adopting an entire lifestyle in pursuit of holiness. Not an easy thing to do and maintain. It’s always a struggle to stay on task and to become more spiritually elevated, and I know this better than most since I’m far from a perfect person or a perfect disciple.

    You might be interested in picking up a book written by Darren Huckey called The Four Responsibilities of a Disciple, which I reviewed about a year ago. It’s a fairly quick read and the cost is very affordable. Christianity today, for the most part, does discipleship quite poorly, and most believers sit in their pews on Sunday, go to Sunday School and Wednesday night Bible class, but are otherwise all but unchanged by the experience. Being a disciple involves daily devotion to your Master in everything you think, say, and do.

    This is why I like the blessings in a traditional Jewish siddur (prayer book) since they include prayers and blessings for just about every occasion. True, not all religious Jews say all of the blessings as indicated, but if you followed that sort of pattern, you’d almost constantly have God and your behavior as a disciple of Yeshua on your mind and hopefully in your behavior.

    Keep up the good writing, Terry.

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  2. Thanks, James.

    Speaking from experience, I would have hidden behind the word “legalism” in my past, claiming that to attempt to live life in the same manner as Yeshua, would have been attempting to earn my salvation. The idea of using a Jewish siddur to repeat someone else’s prayers would potentially be considered “works” in some circles, forgetting that “Faith without works is dead.”

    I have a long ways to go to be considered a worthy disciple. However, at this season in my life, I feel like I’m at least on a path that will get me closer.

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