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The Call to Discipleship

Charlie Boyd - 9/15/2019

It’s a fact that we all have to face—every single one of us is being “discipled” by the digital Babylon we live in today. The primary way we make sense of our world is through our devices—cell phones, tablets, iPads, TVs, computers, Google searches—we turn to the screens in our pockets as counselors, entertainers, instructors, and even sex educators. Screens shape how we think, how we feel, far more than we realize and what’s worse—many of us are willingly held captive by them. Websites, apps, movies, TV, video games, music, social media, YouTube channels, podcasts—are the grid by which we test what’s true and real. The digital world blurs the lines between right and wrong—truth and lies—good and evil. Here’s my point—Screens disciple us. (adapted from David Kinnaman, Faith in Exile). We are all exiles in digital Babylon and we are oblivious to the fact that screens are discipling us. Now, if you’ve been around the church for a while, you know the church talks a lot about discipleship and making disciples. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and make disciples…” (Matthew 28). Not just, make converts, but make disciples. But what exactly did Jesus mean by that? Most often, our discussions about discipleship are almost always devoid of any first-century context. When Jesus said to his first disciples, “Come, follow me”—What kind of relationship was he inviting these men into? What I want to do this morning is work through this text, but I also want to set this whole discussion about The Call to Discipleship in its first-century setting so we clearly understand the kind of relationship Jesus was calling these men—and us—into.  

John 1:35-51 — Now this is a fairly simple, straightforward story. (1) John the Baptist points two of his disciples to Jesus. (2) They leave John and follow Jesus. (3) One, Andrew, goes to get his brother, Peter, who also follows. (4) They all go find another guy, Philip, who follows and then he goes to recruit Nathanael. A simple story, but a story that John the Evangelist wants to use to help us understand what it means to believe in Jesus. You remember that’s his stated purpose for his unique biography of Jesus. He says in 20:31—I write these things so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name. So every story he records in this book was carefully chosen to show us who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do so that we would believe—trust in, rely on, put all our hope and confidence in him. Ultimately, it means to swear uncompromising allegiance to Jesus. So whatever else is going on in this story, first and foremost, it’s showing us how the very first men Jesus calls to be his disciples express their faith in him.

But let me give you some background on exactly what Jesus’ call to discipleship actually meant and how these men understood what it meant to become a disciple of Jesus. Jesus was a lot of things. And almost all the ways we think about Jesus are found in this text. Jesus is—The Lamb of God (v36), Rabbi (v38), The Messiah/Christ (v41), The One of whom Moses wrote and the Prophets spoke (v45), Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph (v45), The Son of God (v49), The King of Israel (v49), and the Son of Man (v51). Most of us know him best as the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah/the Christ, the rightful King of Israel. But, if you were a first-century Jew and one Sabbath morning Jesus showed up in your synagogue and started teaching from the Torah or whatever, the odds are that the category you would have put Jesus in was that of a rabbi. A rabbi is a Hebrew word meaning "Teacher." A rabbi was a teacher who would travel around from village to village and synagogue to synagogue with his “yoke” or his set of teachings on the Torah or the Bible of his day. The word "disciple" in Hebrew is talmid. And there are all sorts of ways to translate it—student, learner, follower, but disciple is the most common. For us today, maybe “apprentice” is more understandable. To be a talmid was to be an apprentice. It meant to live your entire life under the shadow of your rabbi.

In the first century, discipleship was the pinnacle of the Jewish education system. There were three levels of education. The first was called beth sefer in Hebrew. It's a phrase meaning house of the book, and it was essentially a grade school. The textbook was the Torah and you would memorize most, if not all of it. (The Torah is the first five books of our Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—You memorized those five books. The vast majority of children were done right after that. Around age 12, if you were female, you would get married and start to bear children by 13 or 14. If you were a male, you would go into the family business. But, the best of the best moved on to a second level of education called beth Talmud, or the house of learning. This was for young men ages 12 to 14—no women. It was like High School. The school was built off of the synagogue and you would learn every single day from the local scribe. And you would memorize most, if not all of the Old Testament—think about that—having Genesis to Malachi memorized in the back of your head. Makes my head spin—And then—after that—you were done. However, the best of the best of the best would become a talmid, or an apprentice of a rabbi. But, this was really hard to get into. You would have to go out on your own volition and search out a rabbi. You would follow him around for a bit and he would grill you with all kinds of questions to see how well you knew your stuff. And if, after a few weeks, he thought you had the acumen and the intelligence, the drive, the work ethic so that he thought that one day, you could become a rabbi yourself, then he would say something to you like, "Okay. Come and follow me. Come be my disciple. Come be my apprentice." So let's say you were in that top 1% and you made the cut and you became an apprentice of a rabbi—if so—then you had two main goals. Goal one was to be with and learn from your rabbi. I know that sounds like two goals, but it’s just one goal: to be with to learn from. In Mark’s Gospel we’re told that Jesus called twelve to be with him that he might send them out to preach (3:14). That is, that they would be with him to learn from him what to preach so they could make disciples themselves. So, apprenticeship was 24/7. You would literally follow your rabbi around from village to village, from synagogue to synagogue. You would spend every waking moment with him. You would eat three meals a day at his side. You would sleep at his side. There was a well-known Hebrew blessing in the first century that went like this: May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi. Because most teaching was not done in a classroom. It was done out on the dusty roads, walking from village to village. The rabbi would walk out in the front at a slow pace and you and several other disciples would walk behind him. He would teach you, talking and asking questions in a kind of Socratic method all day long. And at the end of a long day you would literally be covered from head to toe in the dust of your rabbi. And that was an honor in that time. So your first goal was to be with your rabbi to learn from your rabbi. The second goal was to become like your rabbi. Jesus has this great line in the Gospel of Luke about how "a student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher (Luke 6:40)." That was the goal: that every disciple, would one day become like their rabbi. That was the heart and soul of apprenticeship. History lesson over. Hold all that in your mind as we step back into the text because when Jesus says to these men come and see, follow me—they heard a master rabbi inviting them into a kind of relationship they could never have imagined. These men were definitely not in that top 1%. They didn’t make the cut. Probably didn’t make it to Hebrew High School.

I want you to notice that Jesus’ invitation, his call to discipleship, differs for each of these men. Actually, I see three different invitations in these verses, but they’re all geared to bring these men into a rabbi/disciple relationship with Jesus. The first thing you notice is how Jesus meets people “where they are.” His methods are slightly different for each person, but his goal is the same for each—that they would be with him to learn from him to be like him—that’s—The goal of discipleship: to be with Jesus to learn from Jesus to become like Jesus. I think Dallas Willard said that first—to be with Jesus to learn from Jesus to become like Jesus.

First, the invitation to investigate—“Come and See” (READ vv35-39). “Come check me out. Take some time, but know my invitation is urgent.” After a short time with Jesus, Andrew and probably John, the author of this book, found Jesus to be like nobody they had ever met and they came to believe that he was the key to everything they were looking for.

Second, the invitation to follow—“Follow Me” (READ vv43-44). “I’m not looking for fans, I’m calling you to be my followers. He’s saying, “Make me your highest priority. Make me your center of gravity.

Third, the invitation to adventure—“You will see” (READ vv41-42, 46-51, cf Zechariah 3:8-10). When Jesus changes Simon’s name to Cephas (Peter) he’s telling him—“you will be” someone more than he is now. When Jesus tells Nathaniel, “You will see greater things than these. You will see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man,” he’s saying, “Follow me and you will see God work in you, around you, and through you in ways, you can’t even imagine.” Both are invitations to a lifetime adventure with Jesus.

Jesus is like nobody you have ever met and he is the key to you are looking for. Believe in him.  

Is Jesus your rabbi? …If you are uncertain, reluctant, cautious, Jesus invites you to “Come and see… Check me out.” Read the Gospel of John. Look at Jesus. Learn about Jesus. Make up your mind about Jesus. Is he who these men say he is? …Is he who he claims to be? Believe him, trust him, find forgiveness and life in him. If you have been a fan of Jesus, but not a follower, Jesus says to you: “Follow me, swear ultimate allegiance to ME. Make me the center of gravity of your life. Come, live your life with me, learn from me, so you become like Me.” And Jesus says—“If you “come and follow me,” you will see God working in you, around you, and through you in ways, you can’t even imagine.