I have long thought that John 1 gives us a simple and concise example of how we are invited to follow Jesus in making disciples. In this chapter we see Jesus identified as the long-awaited Messiah. He is the Word of God incarnate, that is, in flesh and blood, who has come to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John the Baptizer points his followers to Jesus and basically says, “Go to him. He is the completed revelation of God. He is the fulfillment of the prophecies and the answer to the cries of your heart. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and Life itself!”
So two of John’s followers encounter Jesus and we see the consummate Disciple-maker in action in John 1:37-39 [NLT].
When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus. Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them. They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day.
The perfect Disciple-maker does two simple things here that we can do as well.
He asks them a question that expresses true interest. He is inviting them to share what is on their minds. He wants to truly know them. “Tell me about yourself because you matter to me!”
He invites them into his life. “Come and see, let’s do life together!” He is going to share with them the joys and burdens of his life. Jesus is committing himself to them.
This way of making disciples does not require one to be impressive, or brilliant, or have a seminary education. Jesus’ disciple-making path is truly accessible to each one of us. This is living our life with others because that is what Jesus did. It is living out our best days and also our most difficult days connecting people to Jesus, his community, and his mission.
There is an assumption about being a disciple-maker that I believe needs to be addressed. As clear as our scriptural call is to make disciples, we first need to consider what it means to simply be a disciple of Jesus.
I really enjoyed my 9th grade physics teacher. He was understandable, very relatable, and I believed that he actually enjoyed me. From 1:30-2:20 p.m. every weekday I learned from him and enjoyed his humorous style of teaching. He taught me about cool stuff like gravity and thermodynamics. But his accessibility was clearly defined and limited to his classroom during school days. There were a few times I met him after school in his classroom for a little extra help, but he never invited me over for dinner and I didn’t hang out with him. In our contemporary understanding of a disciple, we often think simply in terms of being a learner or a student of a teacher, similar to my interaction with my physics teacher.
It is correct that there was a student-teacher component, but a disciple in Jesus’ day hoped to live day in and day out with their Rabbi. This significant component of being a disciple of Jesus shows up often in John’s Gospel. We see it in 1:39 as the new disciples of Jesus “remained with him.” They wanted to be with Jesus and stay with him. They didn’t just stop in to see him for a moment.
How often am I guilty of just wanting to stop in for a brief visit with Jesus from time to time? I may call on him when things are beyond me or maybe say “thanks” when things turn out the way I want, but the Bible’s invitation is so much grander—or more invasive, depending on your perspective. Jesus wants us to abide with him always. He doesn’t want us to miss out on anything. He is continually asking us “What are you seeking?” and then declaring, “Come and see what I have for you!” This is life’s rhythm of being a disciple of Jesus.
Being a disciple of Jesus is our primary identity. It is not so much about a set of tasks or a scale of progress, as it is simply a state of BEING… in Christ. Oh, we will grow, and we will be transformed, but it doesn’t happen by looking in a mirror and measuring personal improvement. It happens by staying, abiding, and celebrating with Jesus. It happens when we are engaged in God’s living Word. God’s Spirit speaks into our hearts and minds so that we are set free in God’s perfect Law and glorious Gospel to live in and with Jesus.
It is when we are continually relating with Jesus and being influenced by him that disciple-making becomes a natural part of life. This ever-present influence on our heart, mind and soul will naturally become tangible to others as we live out our days. The love, grace and truth we see Jesus living out in the Gospels will show up in how we relate to others as well. It is in this transformational work of God that our disciple-of-Jesus relationship becomes our “state of being.”
It isn’t that we are now following Jesus perfectly, but it is a place of magnificent and consuming desperation for the things of God provided to me in Christ.
It is an understanding that I need a savior and his name is Jesus.
It is my need to be set free and knowing the one to do this is Jesus.
It is my need for peace in the midst of life’s storm and Jesus speaks to me, “Be still.”
When we find ourselves craving Jesus, we will find ourselves loving people, because this connects us to Jesus. We will find that we have been created and then redeemed to be a part of God’s Disciple-Making Church.
Rev. Nick Mundis is Director of North American Mission for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.