One question that came up during the Ask Almost Anything sermon series – where I received text messages and emails from the congregation during and after worship and answered those questions during the sermon time – was a question that I believe is very basic to our understanding and living of the faith: What is the definition of a “Disciple”?
Now, when I first saw this question, I didn’t notice that the word had been capitalized. My immediate (and as usual, sarcastic, response) would have been: “I don’t know…why don’t you try looking in a mirror!” 🙂
However, I think the person asking this question is looking on two levels. First, I think that they want to know what the definition of a “Biblical Disciple” was in the days shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection. There has always been some interest in identifying the “Twelve” and distinguishing them from others who followed Jesus and giving further distance to those who made up the “crowd.”
This first part of the question can be answered fairly briefly: a “Disciple” is one of the Twelve, was one of those Jesus called to follow him and who were witnesses to his resurrection.
A second a deeper part of this question, I think, has to do with what makes one a disciple of Jesus today. And the answer begins in the same way…those who are called by Jesus to follow him and who are witnesses to the power of the resurrection in their lives.
There does need to be a sense of “calling” for someone to be a disciple. Those callings come in many ways. Some hear or feel the presence of God leading them to some deeper relationship to him that is found in Jesus. Others feel some sort of void or absence in their life that only the presence and calling of Christ to become a part of something bigger than themselves can fill. Either way…a person is called. (I guess in United Methodist circles, we would call this the grace of God at work in our lives even before we are aware of it – something called prevenient grace.)
A disciple also should be able to show that they are witnesses to the power of the resurrection. (The original “Twelve” did the same, however, they were also physical witnesses to that resurrection.) I like to think about it like this…As those who have heard some call from Jesus and answered it to follow him, we discover that this man chose to give up the power of heaven to become human while remaining the very Son of God. As that person who walked, talked and taught among other humans, Jesus found himself constantly on the outside of both religious and political power by introducing us to a new way of seeing the Kingdom of God being present with those around him. Eventually, Jesus was arrested and killed on a cross for the sin of humanity – failure to see the power of God at work in the humbleness of the servant Jesus, the servant God who wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us.
In a very real and powerful way, Jesus showed his love for all human beings by allowing himself to become this sacrifice for us. God accepted that sacrifice and resurrected Jesus to show that death – the ultimate price of sin – would no longer hold power over anyone who followed Jesus. We become witnesses to the power of the resurrection not when we talk about the glory of heaven or about the gift we will receive for following Jesus, but when we do the very same thing Jesus did – love one another as he loved us.
So, the brief answer for the second way of looking at this question can be found in John 13:31-35.
You can know a disciple…by the way she or he loves. Short and simple.
Until the next question…keep heading towards home!!