The term ‘Christian’ is very commonly used in our day and I would guess that it is the name most often used in our society to describe an adherent of the Christian faith, a follower of Jesus Christ. That is why this series of sermons is called "What is a Christian?" Back in Bible times however the word ‘Christian’ was much less commonly used than it is today. In fact in the entire NT ‘Christian’ only appears three times where it first appears as a nickname for people who were more usually referred to as disciples:
So, from the very outset of the Christian era, the commonest way of referring to a follower of Jesus was to call that person a disciple. This immediately brings us face to face with an important fact. A disciple is not a word that is used to describe a particularly keen or enthusiastic Christian rather it is the normal way of describing any person who trusts and follows Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
A person who doesn’t like the demands of discipleship must not try to fool himself into thinking that he can be a different kind of Christian and still benefit from Jesus. The NT knows only one way of relating savingly to the Lord Jesus and that is in becoming his disciple. Indeed to be called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is an immense honour and privilege as I hope to show you this evening and no-
The idea of discipleship remains largely undeveloped in the OT with the word disciple only appearing a couple of times in our English translations. Where it does appear it refers to one who is taught or, to put it another way, the disciple is a learner.
When we turn however to the NT we suddenly find a great change. Rare in the OT the word disciple is one of the commonest words in the NT where it is used more than 250 times in the Gospels and Acts. After that, surprisingly perhaps, it disappears completely and doesn’t figure at all in the rest of the NT.
Reading in the NT we discover that there are different types of disciple. John the Baptist had his disciples for example and so did the Pharisees. We even find a reference to Moses’ followers being described as his disciples. And yet the vast majority of references clearly refer to Jesus’ followers and so we can safely say that "disciple" is very much a Christian word.
We have already seen that the very limited OT usage of the word disciple pointed to the fact of learning and this idea is developed further in the NT where the disciple is both a follower and a learner.
The relationship between the disciple and his master is a close one – there is no sense of distance learning here – the disciple is similar to an apprentice with his very hands-
As we look at the NT record we quickly discover that the word disciple is used in a variety of different ways:
Often used to refer to the 12 apostles – those who were closest to Jesus and who travelled widely with him in the years of his ministry.
eg. Mt.8:23 "And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him."
Take the time to look up several references to the word disciple in the Gospels and you’ll discover that the disciples are usually to be found in Jesus’ presence – what a privilege! This privilege surely explains the reaction of the Jewish leaders when they examined Peter and John following on the healing of a lame beggar in the name of Jesus:
Acts 4:13 "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus."
The word is however used more widely than the apostles:
In Lk.6:17 we read of a great crowd of Jesus’ disciples settling down ready to hear him preach the Sermon on the Plain. Joseph of Arimathea is also described as being a disciple when he approached Pilate to ask him for Jesus’ dead body after the crucifixion (Mt 27:57; Jn.19:38).
Nor are we to imagine that the term was restricted to describe only Jesus’ male followers – Tabitha too is called a disciple:
Acts 9:36 "Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity."
Again in the Acts of the Apostles we find that the word is used as a simple synonym for Christians:
Eg. Acts 6:1;2;7 "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number… And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples… And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
But so far we have not yet addressed the most important thing about a disciple which is his Master!
A disciple is not someone who can be considered independently of his Master and for the Christian that means that he must be defined in relation to his Master, Jesus Christ.
WHY SHOULD ANYONE WANT TO BE THE DISCIPLE OF ANOTHER?
Perhaps before we move on to consider reasons why Jesus make for such a wonderful Master to follow we should pause and ask why anyone would want to become the disciple of another.
God created man and gave him a position of supreme importance over the rest of God’s creation. Man’s purpose was to serve God as he carried out the tasks he had been given. Service to a master is then inherent in what it means to be a human being.
We know that it didn’t take man long before he rebelled against God and sought to cast off what he erroneously considered to be unwelcome shackles. But man’s rebellion did not bring him freedom. After all he had been created to serve and serve he must – it was simply a question as to whom he would regard as his master.
Bob Dylan understood this and sang in one of his songs:
"Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody."
Consciousness of personal need:
There are plenty of things I don’t know and need to be taught. There are plenty or areas where I am ignorant and need instruction, to pretend otherwise would be foolish and short-
There are plenty of things I can’t do and where I need help. To follow a Master who has a greater capacity than I do meets my need as he is able to bring positive things into my life.
We all must follow some leader whether we like to admit it or not. The real questions we have to ask ourselves is "What kind of leader do I really want to follow and learn from?" "Who is worthy of my trust?" Which leader can meet all of me needs?
I think we can safely say that no-
In the 1980s Ivan Lendl was the World N°1 tennis player for 270 weeks. He won 94 singles titles including 8 Grand slam titles not to mention reaching another 11 such finals. Well he was happy to be Andy Murray’s coach on two separate occasions – but what chance do you think you’d have of having tennis lessons with Lendl? Successful coaches can pick and choose who they’ll help and they usually want to choose those most likely to succeed. Not wishing to be rude but I don’t think any of us would convince Lendl to coach us – we’re simply not important enough.
The amazing thing however is that the most important, the most delightful, the most influential man of all time is prepared to take us on and not just for tennis lessons but for life and eternity.
I want to encourage to reflect for a moment what an immense privilege it is to be able to become a disciple of this man Jesus Christ. Yes, I know at times discipleship can be demanding and hard going but don’t forget the extraordinary advantage and blessing it is to be able to follow this man, to learn from this man, to benefit from this man and to serve him and his interests!
Let’s take a brief look at his credentials as recorded for us in the Bible.
Well beloved Son of God
Mt.3:17 "and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
Mt.17:5 "He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."
Rom.1:4 "and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,"
Jn.8:23 "He said to them, "You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world."
Lord of Glory
1Cor.2:8 "None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."
Ja.2:1 "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory."
This man Jesus is presented to us as an extremely important person – none is more exalted than him. He is glorious and divine, his home is heaven and his status is the Beloved Son of God!
In who else might you find another Master who could come anywhere close to this One in worthiness?
And he takes all-
It is not only his status that is impressive – and those honours just keep on stacking up – there is in addition the work that he has done and the teaching has taught! If people thought it an honour to serve Winston Churchill during WWII how infinitely more of a privilege it is to be a disciple of King Jesus.
Author/Prince of life
Acts 3:15 "and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead."
This Marvellous man is full of life too. He the source of life, its originator. He rules over life, he has conquered life’s enemy death and he gives life to whomever he will:
Jn.5:21 "For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will."
Captain and Prince and Saviour
Not only is he the Prince of Life he is also a Prince to lead us having first as the Captain of salvation, saved us from our sins!
Acts 5:31 "God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins."
Heb.2:10 "For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering."
Ruler of the Kings of the earth
Rev.1:5 "and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth."
Rev.19:6 "On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords."
Does what He sees the Father doing
Speaks with the Father’s authority bringing the Father’s message
WHAT TYPE OF COMMITMENT DOES THIS MASTER REQUIRE?
Wholehearted and not half-
Lk.14:26 ""If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."
Lk.9:23 "And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Lk.6:40 "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher." But what prospects there are held out to the disciple here too!
1Jn.3:2 "Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is."
To God be the Glory!