A disciple is a learner, follower, student, or apprentice. Jesus had seventy that he sent out on a mission trip in Luke 10 and, famously, there were twelve who were his closest associates who traveled with him for over three years. Peter, James, and John seemed have been part of his inner circle who were together with Jesus on numerous intimate occasions.
Jesus’ registration process: “Come, follow me.” His curriculum: life. His methodology: highly informal and interactive.
When Jesus was born, the people of Israel, especially, those in the region of Galilee were saturated with knowledge of the Old Testament. They memorized large sections of scripture and debated its application.
The Mishnah is the book of rabbinic interpretations and oral traditions from 1BC to 1AD. So, it helps us understand contemporary thought about spiritual formation during the time Jesus walked the earth. According to the Mishnah, at five, a Jewish boy was considered ready for the Scripture, at ten, ready for the Mishnah, at thirteen, ready for fulfilling the commandments, at fifteen, ready for the Talmud (that contained the opinions of the rabbis on thousands of subjects), at eighteen, the bridal chamber, at twenty, a vocation, and thirty, authority or teaching.
Each community would hire a teacher (rabbi) who would teach the children the Torah (the foundational first five books of the Bible). It was like a religious elementary school. At some point upon mastering the content, the children would stay home to help with the family business and their subsistence lifestyle. Boys would learn the family trade, but the very brightest boys would also continue their education with the rabbi. The most outstanding students would seek permission to study with a famous rabbi, usually leaving home and traveling with him. They were passionately devoted to their rabbi, noting everything he said and did.
Jesus was often called, “rabbi” because he fit the description of a first century rabbi, sought out by students, traveling from place to place, dependent upon the hospitality of others. When the rabbi believed his disciples were prepared to be like him, he would commission them to become disciple makers, themselves.
Jesus’ way of spiritual formation took more than a few sterile class sessions using prepackaged materials. It took over three years, involved significant travel, dependence upon the hospitality of others, and utter devotion to their rabbi. It was not neat and tidy; it was life.
But Jesus departed from the norm (as he did so often.) Instead of having a band of the best of and brightest as his disciples, he chose misfits, including a corrupt tax collector, a thieving anti-government terrorist, commercial fishermen with anger management issues, and a blowhard who was always saying the wrong thing. That’s who he trained and who he handed over his mission to. That’s who paid dearly for their allegiance to him, and who spread the revolution we call Christianity.
How can we summarize how Jesus developed disciples?
- He focused on small groups of people.
- He intentionally chose those people in whose lives he was going to make a major investment.
- He chose unlikely people, rather than individuals considered appropriate by society.
- He got burned. (Remember Judas.)
- They did life together.
- They experienced light-hearted moments together, as well as, times of intense stress.
- A lot of the time they misunderstood his teaching.
- They participated in the things he did.
- After an experience, he would ask them about it.
- They were very shaky initially, when the mission depended upon them.
- Ultimately, they changed the world.