The word disciple is derived from the Latin discipulus meaning pupil or learner. In Mark’s gospel there is reference to the disciples of the Pharisees 2:19 and the followers of John the Baptist were known as disciples. Although Jesus was not officially recognised as a teacher he was popularly known as teacher or rabbi 8:5, 11:21 and his associates were known as disciples.
The word could be used to describe all those who responded to his message but it generally refers to a select 12 named in 3:16-19, who were all called personally by Jesus. To be a disciple then meant an exclusive loyalty to Jesus and readiness to put Jesus first whatever the cost. He chose the disciples in order to train them to share in his work of preaching and healing, and to eventually carry on his mission after he had departed. In a sense he was to live on in them. Such an attitude goes well beyond a normal pupil-teacher relationship, giving the word disciple a whole new meaning.Today the meaning is watered down slightly as Jesus is not present today but those who choose to follow Jesus by becoming a priest or missionary, for example, are still required to set aside any personal wishes and commit fully to God whatever the cost. However, most Christians today are not required to undergo harsh persecution in their discipleship, as the disciples would have received in Jesus’ time.
However, discipleship can still be dangerous today: In 2000 165,000 Christians died for their faith and in the last 10 years 603 missionaries have been murdered or killed as part of war.Jesus called the disciples with great personal authority at the beginning of Mark’s gospel. In chapters 1-2 we are told how Jesus called five men to become his first disciples. In 1:16-20 Jesus calls four fishermen the first four were called. They were Simon, Andrew, James and John.
Jesus sees Simon and his brother Andrew catching fish with a net. He said to them come with me and I will teach you to catch people. They immediately left their nets and followed him. He then called James and John; they too immediately left what they were doing to follow Jesus.
Jesus means that they will catch people for God, or bring them to the faith. We see from this account that Jesus chooses ordinary people to be his disciples, they don’t have to be well educated or clever, he only chooses those who are willing to follow and who he thinks will have the qualities of a true disciple.Then in 2:13-14 Jesus sees Levi son of Alpheus, a tax collector. Jesus said to him Follow me and Levi got up and followed him. Levi was an outcast because of his profession. Tax collectors were hated for betraying the Jews by working for the Romans. Jesus also ate with other tax collectors and outcasts, when people asked why he said I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.In both of these accounts what is surprising is the five men’s willingness to immediately leave what they were doing to follow Jesus.
This shows Jesus must have been a very charismatic and powerful personality to persuade these men to leave everything and follow him with just a few simple words. The men knew nothing about Jesus yet were willing to leave their jobs, their families and any money or property behind. This must have been a very hard decision to make, they probably would have felt excited yet dubious as they didn’t know where they are going and unsure of what they would be doing.
Yet with all those emotions they chose to follow Jesus. They obviously have great trust in Jesus even though they had only just met.After these events Jesus was constantly with the disciples. He later chose twelve in 3:13-15 I have chosen you to be with me he told them I will also send you out to preach and you will have the authority to drive out demons. Here Jesus is outlining for the first time the role that the disciples will have, they will be pioneers along with him in his mission in the world.
Then, having been with Jesus constantly, learning from him as they watched him preaching and performing miracles, he sends them out so they can learn to depend on themselves and each other not on Jesus alone, and so have the experience preaching on their own. In 6:7-13, the mission of the twelve he gave the disciples several instructions and gave them authority over evil spirits. He set them three tasks: first, to preach that people should turn away from their sins and repent, secondly, to anoint the sick to heal them and thirdly, to cast out evil spirits. By doing this they would be carrying on the work of Jesus.
We have seen that he preached repentance in 1:15 the kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins. Again he is outlining the job which disciples should do; we begin to see the disciples as the beginnings of the Christian church, outlining the mission of its members.In 8:34-38 Jesus clearly outlines the cost of discipleship. If anyone wants to come with me he must forget self, carry his cross and follow me.
When Jesus says forget self he means that to follow him one should put oneself last in everything, to not care about ones status and to not want privileges except being accepted by God into his kingdom. When he says carry his cross he is saying that his disciples must be prepared to follow Jesus even when it means persecution to the point of death. Later on we see that many of the disciples eventually die for their faith. To follow Jesus is to go through suffering, persecution and death, to put Jesus and God first.But discipleship does also have its rewards, in The rich young man 10:17-31 we are told that Jesus thinks that people who give up things for him and the kingdom of God, be they family or material possessions, will be rewarded. Anyone who leaves homes or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and for the gospel will receive much more in this present age. He will receive a hundred times more houses, brothers and sisters, mothers, children and fields.
10:29Jesus is saying they will receive more in the present age because they have become part of the family of God and those who share in the faith will become like brothers and sisters. He then goes on to say that in the age to come he will receive eternal life. But he says again that there will be persecution as well. And in the request of James and John 10:35, he warns that to follow Jesus involves suffering. They ask him; when you sit on your throne in your glorious kingdom, we want you to let us sit with you, one at your right and one at your left. 10:37 they assume that Jesus is going to be a king of an earthly kingdom, and they are asking for positions of power. Jesus tells them they do not know what they are asking for. He asks them can you drink the cup of suffering that I must drink? Can you be baptised in the way I must be baptised? 10:38 Jesus role is to suffer for others, he is saying that to be a true disciple one should also be ready to suffer.
He then called the other ten disciples together and told them If one of you wants to be great he must be the servant of the rest, and if one of you wants to be first, he must be the slave of all. 10:43 Jesus means that for a disciple to be great he must learn to put others and heir needs first.From all of these accounts we have learnt what qualities the disciples possessed and what Jesus wished them to do. We see that they should be faithful, trusting, and generous.
Their mission was to follow what Jesus did, to preach, heal and to cast out evil spirits. He expected them to put him and the needs of others before their own and to serve the Kingdom of God devotedly and faithfully. The sacrifices made by the disciples were never-ending because they gave up their ordinary lives to follow Jesus and spread the good word.To become a disciple is to be committed totally and involves sacrifices.
In today’s world, people who become disciples of the Christian faith are asked to give up different things according to what form their discipleship may take. Just as Simon, Peter, James, and John gave up their fishing and Levi his position as a tax collector, for some people today such as missionaries it has meant leaving their homes, family, friends and security behind to go out into a foreign country to serve God. In the Roman Catholic Church priests are required to remain celibate and ministers of other churches choose to be celibate, as it is believed that celibacy allows a person to become devoted fully to God.Mother Theresa was an example of a modern day disciple, she was a Roman Catholic nun who, whilst serving as the principal of a convent in Calcutta was moved by presence of the sick and dying in the city. She left her post at the high school to begin a ministry among the sick.
She then extended her work world-wide and in recognition of her efforts she received the Nobel peace prize in 1979. This was a woman who devoted her whole life to God first taking the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as a nun and then in addition took a vow pledging service to the poor, whom she described as the embodiment of Christ.She showed the qualities of a true disciple by putting others needs before her own and living herself in poverty to save others, healing and preaching. She served others and was generous until she could do no more. It was only her ill health that stopped her doing so much and even then she took some time to help others. There are many others who also devote their lives to serving the poor and needy in third world countries, showing the qualities of the disciples by healing and spreading God’s message.