“Follow me”, is the word spoken by Jesus that every Christian would know, maybe more than we understand the term of discipleship. “Follow me” is also the first and last word Jesus spoke to his disciple (Bonhoeffer, 1995, p. 57). However, since the word ‘disciple’ in Greek word means ‘pupil’, we have turned discipleship into a lesson in cognitive learning where the more you know, the more advanced you are. As Cole (2008, p. 37-43) states, “We tend to think that knowing sound doctrine is all needed for godliness, but it is not only about knowledge but practical and radical obedience from a heart of love. Knowledge does not change a life in any way, it is love that transforms”. I once also understood discipleship as a training for Christians, for their own spiritual growth and for them to make other people to follow Jesus. Phillips (1981, p. 14) sums it up as a teacher-student relationship, based on the model of Christ and His disciples. This definition is correct, although I would like to add something deeper, more intimate and attached.
According to Strauss (2007, p. 197), the twelve disciples are portrayed more as a failure than success, of the four Gospels. The disciples look negative in the sense that they “repeatedly fail to understand Jesus’ teaching (4:13; 7:18) and to recognize his authorative power (6:37. 52: 8”4), can’t comprehend the nature of his messiahship (8:32, 9:32), act with pride and self-interest (9:38; 10:13, 37, 41), and are lack of faith (4:13, 40; 7:18, 9:19)”. This is interesting because from the gospel of Mark we can dig something deeper about this special relationship between Jesus and His disciples, which is very important for the church today as well.
In my opinion, there are four essential components of discipleship that can be learned in the Gospel of Mark. I divide them into two categories, inward and outward. These components are important but it seems like they are gradually fading and unavoidably mistaken these days. First, I believe that in discipleship we will face the change in ourselves (inward). One very important thing is obedience as the act of faith in discipleship. Bonhoeffer (1995, p. 60-63) emphasizes that there is no road to faith or discipleship except obedience. In Mark 2:14 we read, “As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.” According to Bonhoeffer, this is a response of obedience, not a confession of faith. Some people argue that something must have happened in between the conversation, but he argues that it is because Jesus is Christ who has authority. He speaks not as a teacher, but as a son of God. Jesus said follow me, and that’s all. This is amazing because these disciples do not question about anything, the goal, or whether it’s worth it or not; it’s just for the sake of the call. We can see that this must be faith, because as quoted from Bonhoeffer, “Only those who believe obey, only those who obey believe.” I think this is the very first crucial aspect in following Jesus.
This then leads to another important inward component which is self-denial, or in Christian term self-death. When the disciples follow Jesus, they leave their previous existence, and it is impossible to live the old life (Bonhoeffer, 1995, p. 62). Phillips (1981, p. 15) also supports this statement because he believes we cannot be a disciple without dying to ourselves and identify with Christ who died for us. This term is popular among Christians, and we believe that we have to carry our cross, which is suffering and rejection. Jesus Himself already gave the disciples instruction or warning concerning suffering and rejection in Mark 4:11, 6:11 (Eims, 1978, p. 34). According to Bonhoeffer (1995, p. 91), suffering is “the badge of true discipleship”. I think it is important to have a right understanding concerning this cross to bear in discipleship. We may end up dangerously mistaken the consequences of our sin as the cross to bear, which is not what is intended by Jesus in the beginning. Strauss (2007, p. 200) emphasizes that “true followers of Jesus must be willing to take up their crosses and follow him, even to suffering and death”. This refers to the suffering and rejection we get because of Jesus, “viewed exclusively as the paradigmatic example of loving one’s enemies and overcoming evil with good,” as also stated by Rowell (2007, p. 239). The good news is, true suffering means being cut off from God. Therefore Jesus suffers because he bears the whole burden of men’s separation with God (Bonhoeffer, 1995, p. 92). However, we will not experience that kind of suffering because we have Jesus. He promises us that He will never leave us, and as He said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Second, after what happened in ourselves, we have outward implications to our world. This is the third component of discipleship, servanthood. I personally think this is the core to Christian discipleship. Supported by Phillips (1981, p. 36), he states that the disciples concise their authority through servanthood. As stated in Mark 10:42-45 that Christ comes to serve not to be served. Love serves, and it is the highest form of leadership. Isaiah portrays Jesus the Servant as one whose righteous life is ultimately crushed so that mercy might graciously be offered to others (Lunde, 2010, p. 27). For me, servanthood means humility. There is no way to separate them. Jesus points to humility so many times in Mark, when the disciples argue about who is the greatest, and Jesus keeps reminding that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humbled themselves will be exalted.
Another outward component that I draw from my research is multiplication. This is the biggest issue in discipleship nowadays in my opinion. The term ‘multiplication’ seems to relate to when Jesus calls the first disciples in Mark 1:16-20. He explains discipleship like fishing for people. Wrong understanding about this ‘fish’ image may lead the Christians who focus more on the quantity than the quality, that as long as it multiplies, then it’s good. Of course I do not oppose the idea of sharing about Jesus to as many people as possible. It is about the good news worth sharing. The fact that He is here now ruling in our lives and changing our hearts to transform this world should be known by everyone, but it needs further steps, closer touches.
It is important to know that Jesus chooses His disciples by himself, while usually in Jewish culture it is the disciples who appoint their rabbi (Wenham & Walton, 2011, p. 187). Jesus trains them and be with them, which shows His personal attachment to His disciples. I personally think this kind of attachment is very important in discipleship, especially to avoid people turning discipleship into some kind of competition to serve their own pride. As stated by Phillips (1981, p. 31), we tend to make a mistake by trying to do “too much, too quickly, and too many”. Therefore, I think multiplication is more fruitful is we can have this kind of personal attachments which will let others to multiply by themselves and it keeps going on wider and wider. Cole (2008, p. 91-99) also addresses a very important issue. He describes that motivation is the most important part of the disciple’s life, as Paul addresses the concern of motivation. If it doesn’t come from within, it will break down. Our motivation for multiplication should come from self-less love and compassion, because this motivation can’t be stopped by the world.
These components are wrapped by one thing, grace. It can be seen through the book that the disciples sometimes do not understand, sometimes they are weak, they have little faith, but they respond to initial call (Blomberg, 2009, p. 133-134). This shows that discipleship consists of imperfections and there is need for growth (Marshall, 2008, p.30-31). According to Pratt (2009, p. 325), the humanity of the first disciples functions, both positively and negatively, to show us what is involved in being a follower of Jesus, and I believe the shortcomings portrayed in the gospel of Mark simply point out how we as human need God’s grace. As also stated by Garland (1996, p. 628), discipleship is established by Jesus’ call and can only be sustained by God’s mercy and power alone.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that these components are very important and the gospel of Mark teaches us a good understanding about discipleship. These components are sometimes avoided or forgotten these days, but they are the essence of discipleship. Having the right understanding will help us a lot in sharing the good news and reflecting Christ Himself in our daily life. However, it is important to always remember that it’s all wrapped in God’s grace only, so we know that it’s only because of Him we have faith and obey Christ, in our self-denial and suffering, in order to practice servanthood in our humbled life, and the good news may multiply so that more and more people hear about Jesus Christ.
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