But his preaching soon was followed by a calling of men and women to be his disciples. His words: "Follow me."
He came to Simon and his brother, who were fishing in the Sea of Galilee. "Follow me," he said, "and Iíll make you fishers for people." The text says that "immediately they left their nets and followed him."
Luke chapter 8 records that Jesus also called women to be his disciples; They were named in case people later would say, "Yeah, who?!" Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna. Besides the symbolic "Twelve" there were other disciples, both men and women.
Disciple means literally "learner." There is no following without a learning, and the learning is a learning "of him," not just about him.
Dallas Willard has used the term "apprentice" to describe a follower of Jesus. He defines the term:
At one time an apprentice went to live with the master so he/she might learn everything that made the master a master. You are not just acquiring a skill; you are acquiring a life.
This is much more than an academic inquiry into the historical Jesus. Published in 1916, Albert Schweitzerís Quest of the Historical Jesus was a monument to New Testament scholarship, reviewing all that had been done the previous century. In it he said:
He could well speak the same word to us today.
Walter Bruggemann, a great biblical scholar and prophet of our time, offers a similar criticism of the Jesus Seminar and its equivalents. The historical questions rush in too soon. We use them to distance ourselves from the Word of God and the words of Jesus. We need to hold the historical questions to the side long enough to let ourselves feel the force and truth of scripture for ourselves. We need to be let alone with the sayings of Jesus.
Dale Moody was an exceptional Baptist theologian and biblical scholar. When he died I went to his house and opened the several Bibles on his desk. Nearly every page of every Bible was filled with markings: Under-linings, exclamations, questions, references to other passages and books! He told his students to read first the Bible, then the commentaries. He would say with a wink: "The Bible throws a lot of light on the commentaries."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his work on Jesus said that the major question is not "What is Jesus?"- the question of office and authority. It is not a question of metaphysical speculation into how he could be divine and human. (We argue over things like the virgin birth.) It is who is Jesus? Who is Jesus Christ to you? The personal question before the historical and metaphysical ones.2
He pondered his answer to the heart of the question as he struggled with how to be a follower of Jesus and a citizen of Germany during Hitlerís reign. Most German Christians fell into lock step with Hitlerís rule. But there was a small movement, "The Confessing Church" movement, which broke away and wrote what is called "The Barman Declaration." It confessed Jesus as the only Lord of life, and then said what that meant: Hitler could not be Lord. To call Hitler "Fuhrer" was to make him Lord rather than Jesus. Following Jesus meant civil disobedience. Such a declaration cost Bonhoeffer his life as he participated in efforts to help Jews escape Germany and as he participated in an effort to overthrow Hitler.
When early Christians called Jesus "Lord," it was a theological and political statement. In those years of the Roman empire, the title "Lord" was associated with Caesar. To call Jesus "Lord" was to say Caesar therefore could not be Lord Jesus, not Caesar, is Godís representative on earth. Jesus, not Caesar, has my ultimate loyalty.
I like the word "apprentice" as a description of disciple. It speaks to the holistic character of the learning and to its practical nature. And to the great honor of the relationship.
Imagine being a young violinist and being chosen to study with the worldís greatest violinist. It will be hard work and immensely challenging, but you will learn things in that relationship you could learn nowhere else.
So Jesus invites us to study with him, to learn with him. His is the way toward becoming fully and truly human, becoming what God created us to become. Jesus is the quintessential human, the "new creation" God is calling all of us to be. Our being is called out, invaded, transformed by "new being."
You can choose lesser guides. Why not choose him? How do we begin? E. Stanley Jones has put what it means to be a Christian in words I love to use. To become a Christian is to take this step:
Thatís the first step. And itís the step we take every day after. Thus begins the great adventure. Every day you can discover more and more of yourself you can give to Christ, and every day you can discover more and more of Christ to give yourself to.
This is the adventure of following Jesus. Little did I know, could I know, at my baptism in Winston-Salem in the mid-fifties, where this journey would lead. And who knows where it might lead the last thirty or forty, God willing, years of my life.
The New Testament church had one central affirmation of faith. It was the confession used at baptism. It was these words: Jesus Christ is Lord. That was sufficient.
But what does it mean? There was the name "Jesus," signifying the particularity of the revelation of God in this one man, Jesus of Nazareth. There was the word "Christ," or Christos, the Greek word for Messiah. It means "the anointed one" of God. We, Jews and Christians alike, affix different meanings to that word, but what it means at base is "anointed one."
Then there is the word "Lord." It causes some to stumble. It implies "God," or the divine; it sounds male. Most of our theological words are but translations of other words, and all our words are but human vessels. And when they speak of God, they try to carry more than they can carry.
Just take the word "Lord." Its journey began when God gave to Moses the holy name: four consonants YHWH, no vowels, since the written Hebrew language had no vowels. We can only guess at its pronunciation: Yahweh. But the Jews will not even say it because of its holiness. In worship and in reading of scripture, they substitute Adonai.
Nor can we easily translate it. It is a form of the verb "to be," something like, "I am who I am." God is a verb! So look what weíve done. Weíve taken the name of God which is a verb and changed it to a noun. The Jews substituted Adonai, the name of a male authority figure. Weíve translated Yahweh "LORD," all caps, in most of our English translations. Godís name: From a verb to a noun to a male authority figure!
I like Gail Ramshawís translation of Yahweh: "Living One." Thatís how I often translate it in our liturgy. It keeps the verb-like quality, and it avoids nouns, especially gendered nouns. It keeps God big rather than small.
In our language about Jesus, who he was to us, something changed at the resurrection. He was not just "Jesus," not just "anointed one"; he was also Lord, Kurios in the Greek. Jesus, not Caesar, was Kurios, Godís representative, our ultimate loyalty, The Crucified One is now "Living One," master of our lives.
What can it mean for you to call Jesus "Lord" ? We discover the meaning only in the following of him. We cannot find it in a theological dictionary, only in the following. The definition is the definition Christ writes on your life, with your life as you follow him in day-by-day discipleship, day by day learning.
Toni Craven, professor of Hebrew scriptures at Brite Divinity School, reflects on the mysterious undefinable character of the name Yahweh which God gave to Moses. By giving such a name, she says, God was saying to Moses: "My name is Yahweh. Follow me and Iíll teach you what it means."
Similarly do I believe about confessing Jesus "Lord." Follow me, he says, and youíll learn what this means.
In one orientation class, Sidney Lockaby said that calling Jesus "Lord" meant to her: Jesus is my "Center." I like that. Gerard Manley Hopkins began to see Christ everywhere: In the beauty of a flying bird, its breast shining with the reflection of the sun; when he saw justice at work - - and truth and goodness when he saw human beings becoming "Christs" as they followed Christ. In one poem he wrote:
Christ plays in ten thousand places. Even in you. As you follow.
How to follow? Four brief paragraphs. This could be another sermon. Blessedly, it wonít be now.
|1. Scripture. Dwelling in Christís words; letting Christís words dwell in you. A regular reading of scripture alone and in community.|
|2. Worship: Regular worship with others in a worshiping community.|
|3. Community: Koinonia, some small group experience where we can know others and be known and share the journey with Christ. When we baptize people here, the one baptized says, "Jesus Christ is Lord." Then the congregation says: "We rejoice with you; we will pray for you; and we will walk with you in the way of Jesus." We walk in community.|
|4. Ministry: Self-emptying service on behalf of "the least of these." There is no following of Jesus without sacrificial service to someone who needs what we can give. It is part of "the way;" it is an essential dimension of how we know him and learn what it means to call him Christ and Lord. Let us walk that way.|
1. The Quest of the Historical Jesus
(Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, Paperback Edition, 1998), p. 400.
2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center (New York: Harper and Row, 1960), pp. 27-40.
3. "as kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame," The Poems of Gerald Manley Hopkins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967),