As Christians, it is important that we ask questions like these: How is it that Jesus brings others into the victory he accomplished when he was walking the earth? How is it that his rising from the dead is transferred to us? What are the means by which he extends his life and freedom to others? The short answer to each of these questions is simple: he calls us to be his disciples.
The word ‘disciple’ is used hundreds of times in the New Testament to describe the men and women who were connected to Jesus. Among the first things Jesus did was to gather a group of disciples to himself, and one of the last things he said to his followers was, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). It is obviously very important for Christians to have a good understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
One of the most famous sayings of Jesus gets to the heart of what it means to be his disciple: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
There are five aspects of being a disciple of Jesus that we can learn from this passage.
First: The word ‘disciple’ refers to a learner, a student, or an apprentice who is being taught a way of life. When Jesus says, “come be my disciple,” it is another way of saying, “come to me and learn from me.” He is extending an offer to be our teacher and guide. We are being offered a remarkable privilege: God himself, the source of all goodness and the one who knows all things, is inviting us to come and “attend his school.”
An attentive reading of the New Testament will disclose that conversion is most often spoken of as a growth in knowledge, that the mind is understood to be the key arena of battle and transformation, and that ‘truth’ is among the most important words in the Scripture.
Second: To be a disciple means to have a close personal relationship with the one who is master and teacher. A disciple is not just someone who has heard about a famous teacher and perhaps has read some of his books or attended a few of his lectures. Instead, the disciple is drawn into the teacher’s life and comes to know the teacher well, by living with him, spending time with him, watching and listening to him, and joining him in all his activities. When Jesus calls us to become his learners, his disciples, he is inviting us to take him as a kind of private tutor. He wants us to know him intimately and to join him in all that he does.
Third: The words ‘disciple’ and ‘discipline’ come from the same root. To be a disciple is to take upon oneself a particular discipline, a rule of life given by the teacher. Thus, when Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you,” it is as if he is saying, "Come under my discipline; come live with me and learn the way of life I teach.” This means that being Jesus’ disciple involves more than merely adding an occasional activity to a busy life or getting acquainted with someone new and spending some time with him. It comes with a “yoke,” a way of living that touches every aspect of life.
Fourth: Although Jesus calls us to a discipline and invites us to submit to a yoke, he makes clear that those who do so will find that it is a light discipline: it is not a hard, grinding duty or discouraging bondage, but rather is a burden easy to bear. This is because Jesus is the best of masters and the wisest of teachers. He is humble of heart, and he does not take advantage of those who come under his authority and ride roughshod over them. In fact, the opposite is true: to take up the yoke of Jesus is to find genuine freedom. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
Fifth: Jesus wants to make us his disciples not for his sake, but for our own. He knows that human life is burdensome and that we are laboring under a heavy load, and he promises that all who become his disciples “will find rest for their souls.” To be a disciple of Jesus – to embrace his way of life and be drawn into a close union with him – leads to peace, joy, hope, goodness, and ultimately eternal life.
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