...being a Disciple.
Okay, I’m gonna share a couple of things with you that I learned as I was preparing to write this post. Since I was a child I’ve heard about apostles and disciples. I always associated both with Jesus’ “inner circle”, as in the twelve that he hand-picked to serve him. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered why you would need two different terms to describe the same people. Was there a difference?
To begin with, just what is an apostle? The term apostle comes from the Greek word apostollos, which means “one sent forth.” Quite simply put, and as it applies to faith, an apostle was someone appointed by Jesus to spread and teach the gospel.
When morning came, he called his disciples to him, and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Luke 6:13 NIV
Here’s a bit of apostle trivia: There were actually fourteen men that were appointed to be apostles. Matthias was chosen to be an apostle to replace Judas Iscariot, and Paul was appointed by God to be an apostle to the Gentiles.
What’s a disciple? The term disciple has its origins in the Greek word mathetes, which means a “learner or pupil.” Loosely defined, a disciple is one who subscribes to a certain belief or doctrine. In today’s society, and especially as it applies to this post, the term disciple is used to describe a follower of Christ. I feel that it’s worth mentioning here that in a military analogy, a disciple is a “foot soldier.” Disciples aren’t appointed; they enlist. They choose to be soldiers. (I’ll explain the significance of this as it pertains to me in a bit.)
So Jesus’ twelve were actually both disciples and apostles, in that order. Initially, they chose to be followers of Christ while he was here. After his death and resurrection, they were sent forth to spread and teach the message of Jesus.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20
A few years ago I flew out to Portland, Oregon to attend a three day spiritual retreat that I’d heard about from a friend. This came not long after my spiritual awakening, and I’ll be honest with you in saying that my life had undergone such a change that I was reeling from the experience. Going through a complete transformation of who I was, what I was, what I did, and most importantly discovering a new relationship with God, had shifted my world slightly off of its axis. I wasn’t afraid as much as I was, quite simply, confused.
Be that as it may, the main reason for attending the retreat was that I was hungry for more of God. I was going to church every Sunday, spending time in The Word every morning, praying, and sharing my heart for God with anyone who’d listen.
But that wasn’t enough! Something was missing; something that I was supposed to know that would give me some clarity and some peace. For whatever reason, I believed that I’d find that something in Oregon.
I came away from the retreat with a few revelations, but the first one, and perhaps the most important one, occurred on the second day I was there…
What I saw…
Having arrived at the retreat center the previous afternoon, and absolutely filled with anticipation, I rolled out of bed at 5:00 A.M. and headed for the chapel and small fellowship hall. Upon entering the still dark hall, I quickly realized that I was the first to arrive.
Off to the left of the room, twenty-five or so chairs had been arranged in a circle facing one another. In the center of the circle was a small table upon which sat a single white candle that was burning. Softly playing in the background was a recording of monks chanting to music, which is something that I’d heard when visiting a monastery many years ago as a child.
I was immediately drawn to one of the chairs. Taking a seat, I closed my eyes and began praying, and as is so often the case, my prayers eventually gave way to a deep state of concentration, or meditation.
At some point during this meditation I saw myself walking alongside a man in a forest. The forest wasn’t overgrown to the point that walking through it was a challenge. In fact, the floor was blanketed with pine needles, so much so that there was no vegetation other than the trees through which we were walking.
As we were rounding a huge boulder that was in the middle of this forest, I became aware of the fact that the man I was walking with was Jesus. We were walking side by side, in step with one another, and we were dressed in long, flowing robes. I never saw his face, but I didn’t have to; I knew it was him. I don’t know how long we had been together. It seemed as if it was only a matter of seconds, but it was long enough for me to hear him say one thing: “You’re on the right path. Go and do this.”
When I opened my eyes, which were full of tears, I immediately knew what I had flown to Oregon to discover:
I am a disciple of Jesus. I choose to be a follower, and I go out and spread the news of him and his teachings. I don’t quote scripture that often, not only because I don’t know the Bible from front to back, but because I walk it out every day. I once read something that said Your life may be the only Bible a person ever reads. How true. I was not appointed and sent out. I volunteered.
I told Jackie about my experience as soon as I returned to Birmingham. In the years that have passed since then, I’ve only shared it with a handful of people. I mean, you can’t just walk up to a group of people and say “Hey, I was walkin’ with Jesus in Oregon a couple of years ago!” But then again, I guess that’s what I’m doing right now, isn’t it? J
One of the people that I did share my experience with was a minister here in Birmingham. As I recounted my experience to her, she sat up straight in her chair and her eyes grew wide with excitement as she proclaimed, “Oh my! You were walking with Jesus dressed in white robes! That’s a sign of purity, and an anointing, and”
“Wait!” I countered, attempting to cut her off mid-sentence. “Wait!” I said again, this time a little more forcefully, as she continued rattling off her list of what my white robe signified. As she abruptly stopped talking and shot me a puzzled look, I continued. “I’m sorry, but I never said that I was wearing a white robe. It was red. And it wasn’t vibrant in color, but on the contrary, a bit faded, and very ordinary.”
“Oh, I see” she replied as she settled back down in her chair, looking as if I’d just let the air out of her balloon.
Sensing her disappointment, and reaching for something, anything, to make her feel better, I continued, “But couldn’t an ordinary, faded, red robe signify that the most common of men are worthy of being Disciples of Christ?”
The smile returned with a look of enlightenment as she replied, “Well, yes. Yes it could mean that every man, any man, is worthy of being a disciple!”
How about you?
Are you a follower of Christ? Do you feel as if you could do more for, or should do more to tell people about Jesus, but don’t because you don’t feel that you’re worthy enough, or smart enough, or special enough, or because of what people may think of you?
I challenge you to do something about it, to get beyond yourself and the self-imposed limitations that you’ve taken on because of the reasons that I just mentioned. I challenge you to step up and be, not just a follower of Christ, but one of his disciples. Step up to the challenge of making disciples of all nations, and begin with the next person that you encounter. I promise you that you won’t regret it.
One final thought…
I recall the day in August of 2006 when I had a tattoo of a self-designed cross put on my shoulder. Later that evening, I didn’t declare myself to be a follower, or warrior, or messenger of Christ. I vowed to be a soldier of Christ, to do his bidding, and to share his message with any that would listen. Perhaps that was the day that I became one of his disciples.