“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
When Jesus said go and make disciples, it was a Jew speaking to other Jews within the context and culture of 1st century Judaism. Those words had a very specific meaning and were clearly understood by His 1st century Jewish listeners. Since then, those words have been translated into Greek, and then into Latin, before being translated more than 1000 years later into English. To more fully understand what Jesus said, we first need to ask how those 1st century Jews who first heard those words would have understood them. Only then are we in a position to ask what might those words mean as we apply them to our modern efforts of discipleship.
In Part 1 (https://equip412.com/2019/11/06/the-heart-of-jewish-discipleship-part-1/), I talked to you about the kind of absolute dedication and loyalty that disciples held for their Master. In our churches, Christian schools and colleges, or in our culture, there is nothing to compare that to. Imagine if, rather than just hanging out in school and having a good time, you began to imitate everything about your teacher or professor. You memorized his lectures and quoted him at every possible moment. You followed him to and from his home and often invited yourself to eat with him. Maybe you even decided to move into his basement. You began to dress and act like him. You sought to absorb every possible nuance of his behavior. Jesus said,
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone, when he is fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
Those 1st century disciples were expected to be that obsessed with their rabbi if they were going to be or remain his disciples.
If a rabbi ultimately agreed to a would-be-disciple’s request, and allowed him to become a disciple, the disciple-to-be agreed to totally submit to the rabbi’s authority in all areas of interpreting the Scriptures for his life. Each young disciple came to that relationship with a desire and a willingness to surrender to the authority of God’s Word as interpreted by his Rabbi.
Four Imperatives of a Disciple
In his book, “King of the Jews,” D. Thomas Lancaster mentions four main imperatives of a disciple that I want to share with you. Let’s take a look at those imperatives.
Imperative #1: Memorize The Teacher’s Words
The teachers and scholars of Jesus’ day didn’t write books like today. So, there were no “student manuals” for their disciples to read. In the 1st century world of ancient Israel, the only written materials were the Scriptures.The only way to pass on the teachings of a rabbi was orally, and then they were passed on from one generation to the next. So, disciples had to memorize their Rabbi’s teachings and even the Scriptures, because even copies of the Scriptures were very hard to come by. Through constant repetition, disciples memorized their master’s teaching word for word. Imagine hearing a sermon on Sunday and your pastor telling you, “You must memorize this word for word (no notes) because I want you to deliver this to our sister church next Sunday.” You listen intently, rehearse it with your pastor and go for it next Sunday. That’s not the way it actually happened then but imagine trying to do that with every teaching relying only on your memory. Got the picture?
We often think of Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount one time, but it was common practice for a teacher to repeat the same ideas over and over again. Jesus very likely repeated the subject matter of the Sermon on the Mount in different places throughout the land. Peter, James, John and Matthew would very likely have heard these sermons more than once. That was the practice of the day. And that’s why we may occasionally find a particular teaching of Jesus’ mentioned in one geographic location in one gospel, and that same subject matter is placed in a different setting and a different time frame in another gospel.
Around campfires at night, a rabbi’s disciples would practice rehearsing these teachings to their rabbi, receiving further instruction and further clarification at that time. That was their private instruction time. As they rehearsed His teachings among themselves they would ask Him additional questions. This is where we find the Twelve often asking Jesus later, “what did you mean by…?” They wanted to know how those things applied to real life situations. They were much more eager to learn “how to live” than just gaining more knowledge, which is frequently just the opposite of how we do it today.
Early on, all the disciples had were Rabbi Jesus’ teachings which they had committed to memory while he was with them. Initially, the Apostles would have been sharing the teachings of Jesus with the early believers. During those early years, they were busy making disciples of the early believers by teaching them verbally the messages that Jesus had taught them. They became a part of their everyday language and lives.
Imperative #2: Learn Their Teacher’s Traditions and Interpretations
The disciple would also carefully observe how his Teacher kept the commandments and interpreted the Scriptures. How does the Teacher wash His hands, keep the Sabbath, fast, pray, give to the needy, say the blessing over food, etc.? We find the Apostles covering much of this material in the Gospels. They passed down to us our Rabbi’s teaching on prayer, giving, fasting, etc.
The disciple also wanted to know how his teacher interpreted passages of Scripture. What meanings did He draw out? What parables did He use when teaching? How did He explain a certain verse or understand a certain concept? Details like this were not dismissed as trivial—they were vital to understanding and imitating their Master!
As disciples, we should know what Jesus’ stance was on as many subjects as possible. And not for trivia sake, but so that we can put those teachings into practice! We want to be just like Jesus in His position on a variety of topics in order to represent Him in every area of our lives! Plus, he lived what he taught. Do we?
Imperative #3: Imitate Their Teacher’s Actions
Do you know how your pastor eats his breakfast, goes grocery shopping, treats the people he encounters every day? How does he wash his car, mow his lawn, interact with his neighbor? Does he exercise? How does he manage his diet? What’s he do to keep his energy level up? Does he take a nap during the day? The disciple’s chief aim was to be a perfect reflection of His Teacher. He wanted to act, to speak and conduct himself the same way His Master conducted Himself. Which sandal did he put on first? What did He do first in the morning? What did He eat? Where did He go? How did He get there? These things may seem way too trivial for us “mature, sophisticated” disciples today. But what I have just described was the reality for 1st century disciples. If that sounds radical, more than likely we have lost sight of what true discipleship is. That would be too time consuming for us today. But that’s the way it was intended for early disciples and disciple-makers.
Imperative #4: Raise Up Disciples
A disciple, when fully trained, raised up his own disciples. He created a new generation of students and transmitted to them the words, traditions, interpretations, teachings, actions and behaviors of His Master. The goal of discipleship was to pass the torch of righteous living, according to God’s teachings, from generation to generation.
Though Jesus had many disciples who followed him from place-to-place, He only chose twelve core disciples, who would be entrusted with the responsibility of passing on His teachings to future generations. Those twelve were to go and “make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that He had commanded them” (Mt. 28:19-20).
I initially said this would be a two part article, but I’m going to add a third part because I want to keep these articles reasonable short and there is more material that I want to include. So please watch for part 3 of “The Heart of Jewish Discipleship” next time.
Lancaster, D. Thomas, King of the Jews, First Fruits of Zion, Littleton, CO., 2006