Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash
This past Easter, I started watching The Chosen, a multi-season show about the earthly ministry of Jesus and His relationships with the disciples. The representation of Jesus and the disciples is the richest and most holistic portrayal I’ve seen on screen; it has helped me to understand what it looks like to follow Jesus and name Him as Savior and Teacher.
In one episode, Jesus’ disciples come to Him with a question that Luke records in his gospel account: “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” The character who plays Jesus responds, “Now you are behaving like true students. This is what I like to see.” These words are not in Scripture, but Jesus’ delight in their request is certainly believable. He is glad they want to learn from Him and specifically know how to talk to God through prayer.
As I read Scripture, particularly the Gospels, I’m reminded that the stories of Jesus’ earthly ministry are not staged or rehearsed scenes. The disciples aren’t performing as actors but living as real people in real time. They weren’t handed a heavenly script before crossing paths with Jesus and told what to say and how to behave. When Jesus entered their lives and called them to follow Him, they had scores of questions, floundered in doubt and disbelief, and were both excited and confused about Jesus’ mission and the coming of the kingdom of heaven. In saying yes to Jesus, they didn’t magically know all the answers or have a perfect understanding of what it meant to follow Him. They had to learn.
As His constant companions, they noticed He regularly went off alone to pray to His heavenly Father. These Jewish men regarded Jesus as their rabbi, with the cultural understanding He would teach them in the ways of God, but more than that, they believed Jesus was their anticipated Messiah, the true King of Israel. The fact that Jesus was not merely another prophet or teacher, but their King and Master meant His ministry went beyond awe-inspiring entertainment. He was introducing them to a whole new way of living with God.
The privilege of being a disciple
In the middle of Matthew’s gospel, we find Jesus sitting by the sea. His disciples gather around Him along with crowds of people eager to hear His teaching and perhaps have a front-row seat to more miracles. Jesus spends much time speaking in parables––so much that we might assume everyone present is benefitting and gleaning from His teaching. But that’s not the case, and Jesus makes it clear that what He’s saying about living in the kingdom of God will not only go over some people’s heads, but it will not even penetrate their hearts. (see Matthew 13:13-15)
Jesus uses parables so that some may step into the light of understanding while others may remain in the darkness of ignorance. This is perhaps shocking to hear––why would Jesus purposefully hide the truths of God’s kingdom from people?
The short answer is because Jesus desires committed followers, not half-hearted fans. He knows His earthly ministry will draw crowds of people——some who are earnestly seeking for the truth and others who just want to witness a magic show. His purpose is to draw disciples, true worshippers of God. So He purposefully communicates through parables, in order to lead some hearers into deeper faith and leave some in hardened disbelief.
In similar language, the disciples pose the same question to their Teacher.
“Then the disciples came and said to him [Jesus], ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’” (Matt. 13:10-12)
The disciples are not perfect, but they are privileged. To His closest students and dear friends––the ones who long to know Him more and follow in His footsteps––Jesus pulls back the curtain, illuminating the truths of the parables. Their position, compared to the crowds and even the Old Testament saints, is a favored one. “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matt. 13:16-17)
The grace given to be a disciple
The grace of God that brought us to faith in Jesus is the same grace that characterizes our entire lives as disciples of Jesus. We have not been left to follow Jesus in our own strength or with all the common sense and good intentions we can muster up. God’s grace comes to us in the person of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps we get hung up on the fact that Jesus is no longer physically with us. How then can He be our Teacher like He was for the original disciples? Though He is no longer walking in the flesh with us, He sent His Holy Spirit to indwell His followers and make us more like Jesus. This is the promise He made to his disciples before He left them, a promise that cascades down to us today. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever –– the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16)
What abundant and overflowing grace we have! The Holy Spirit helps and counsels us; He is the One who continually leads us back to the truth of the gospel when we forget or struggle with sin. He illuminates the truths of Scripture––just as Jesus did!––that we may know God’s character and grasp His redemptive work with greater understanding. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit also reminds us that walking with Jesus our Teacher is relational. Everything that falls under the umbrella of our daily living––relationships at work and school, responsibilities at home, communication with friends and family––is an invitation to grow in Christ-likeness. As the disciples asked, teach us to pray, we also have constant opportunities to ask the Lord, teach me to trust You in this situation; teach me to love my family selflessly; teach me to listen with patience; teach me to speak honorably and honestly.
The humbling nature of discipleship
Understanding my Christian life as a disciple of Jesus has been a reality I’ve unpacked more in the last year and a half. While I was in school, it wasn’t hard for me to assume the position of a student, daily learning new things and growing in my understanding of a certain subject. Now as an adult outside of the classroom, it is deeply humbling to recognize and name Jesus as both Savior and Teacher. Putting myself under His tutelage is to acknowledge––as the first disciples did––that I don’t know how to live rightly apart from Him. It means I echo the response of Simon Peter to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life …” (see John 6:66-69)
To live as a student of Christ reminds me that following Jesus is not a single decision in the past but an everyday “yes” to His lordship, in every area of my life. Rather than reluctant submission or feet-dragging obedience, this daily “yes” is to be freeing; what tremendous delight we have to learn from the One who knows all things, the One whose wisdom and understanding no one can fathom. He is indeed a trustworthy Teacher.
Just as it was for the first disciples, being a student of Jesus is not an academic exercise but a transformative reality. Their entire lives were wrapped up in His. They walked with Him daily, they wrestled to understand His ways and rejoiced when they grasped the truth. All of their being and doing was hinged on knowing and following Him.
May it be so for me. May it be so for each of us who name Him Savior and Teacher.
“Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Psalm 25:4-5)