Discipleship. What is it, really? Over the years we’ve talked a lot about discipleship, and there has been some confusion. Some have equated evangelism with discipleship. Evangelism is when we proclaim the story of Jesus in both word and deed. Though related, discipleship is different. When we are attempting to define discipleship, we are attempting to answer the question, “What did Jesus actually do to help people become his followers, so that they could take over his ministry, and make more disciples?”
That is the calling of every Christian: we are to be disciple-makers. As Jesus would eventually teach his disciples in Matthew 28:16-20, their calling was to “make disciples of all nations,” and that calling was passed on from disciple to disciple, year after year, so that it remains our calling 2000 years later. So what is a disciple-maker?
To be disciple-makers, we first need to be disciples. What is a disciple? Those are other questions that are related to my first question, what is discipleship?
For many years the evangelical church in our nation has emphasized educational opportunities as the answer for discipleship. Go to a class. Study a workbook. Learn a program. I think if you look across the evangelical landscape, you’ll find this method hasn’t worked out too well, in the sense that the evangelical church is in large part a declining mess wrapped up in celebrity worship and a desperate grab for political power, which are very unlike Jesus.
So how did Jesus make disciples? Did Jesus have his disciples over to his house once a month and go over workbook questions? Is that how he discipled them? I’m not saying educational opportunities are bad. I’ve given quite and lot of time and energy in my own life to lead people in educational opportunities. I believe that the educational approach to discipleship can be good, but that it also has its limitations. I’m concerned that we have placed our hopes in educational methods to create disciples, and I don’t think that’s what Jesus did. So what did he do?
In the passage we’re studying this week, I think you’ll see we have a wonderful answer to those questions. Turn in your Bible to John chapter 1, verses 35-42.
In verse 35, we are right where we left off in verse 34, with John the Baptist. It is the day after John has declared that a man, whom John called, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” was there where John was baptizing people in the Jordan River. John gave a testimony about this man, saying that the Spirit of God came down upon the man. In verse 29 the Gospel writer, the Apostle John, tells us that this man, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, this person upon whom the Holy Spirit rested, is Jesus. Earlier in verse 17 we also learned that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, the savior of the world. John goes on to say in verse 34 that not only is Jesus the Messiah, not only is he filled with the Spirit, but he is also Son of God. What that means is John the Baptist has declared one of the earliest affirmations of not only the deity of Jesus, but also that God is three in one. Father, Son, and Spirit.
Keep that in mind, because as we turn to verse 35, we learn something interesting. A day has passed, and John the Baptist was at Bethany by the Jordan River, with two of his disciples. Did you know that John the Baptist had disciples? I tend to think of John as a lone ranger prophet in the desert, but no, he also had disciples. As we learned last week, John’s ministry was to be the forerunner for the Messiah, and yet there were people who began following John. How will John handle this? Does he want to be a person with disciples? Will there be a competition between him and Jesus to see whose ministry will have the most success?
No. In verse 36, we see John committed to his role again. John sees Jesus, and like he did the day before, he calls out, “Look, the Lamb of God.” John remains faithful to his prophetic mission, to prepare the way to the Messiah, pointing people to the Messiah. John doesn’t want the glory. He wants to give glory to Jesus.
This will have significant ramifications for John. How so? We’ll find out as we keep studying this passage in the next post.