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Danny W. Davis
Table of Contents
Introduction General Biblical Concepts of Being A Disciple What It Means To Be A Disciple In Mark The Calling of Disciples In Mark Following Jesus with Mark The Disciple and His or Her Cross in Mark Applications Relationship Opportunity for Progressive Growth The Necessity of Sacrifice Works Cited Works Consulted 3 3 4 5 7 9 10 10 11 12 13 13
Introduction The paper sets out to discover the Markan concept of being a disciple. An examination of the idea will begin by looking at general principles offered in Old and New Testaments. Having considered the general idea of being a disciple the paper will move toward the specific Markan idea presented in his gospel. This paper will look at how disciples are called in Mark’s gospel, what it means to follow Jesus as a disciple and finally how the cross relates to being a disciple. Finally, some conclusions about being a disciple today will be offered. General Biblical Concepts of Being A Disciple The term “disciple” generally equates to someone who learns from a teacher. In the New Testament, “disciple” is the name given to those who follow any teacher (i.e. John the Baptist, Mt. 9:14; Jesus, Mt. 10:1; 20:17; Acts 9:26; 14:20; 21:4). The New Testament term, mathētēs (µαθητής), translated as “disciple”1 implies “total attachment to someone.”2 The term includes all who respond to Christ’s call, not just The Twelve. The Twelve, nevertheless, emerge as a model for what future disciples can expect. Those who accept the call of Christ would, like The Twelve, “be with him [Jesus]…preach…have authority to cast out demons” (Mk. 3:13-19).3 The Old Testament also provides further insight into the concept of discipleship. The IVP Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels4 asserts the only explicit Old Testament reference to the idea of discipleship is found in 1 Chronicles 25:8.5 In this verse, the Hebrew
Employed 264 times in the Gospels and Acts. Christian Blendinger, “Disciple,” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: 1971), 486. 3 Michael Wilkins, “Discipleship,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds. Joel Green, Scot McKnight and Howard Marshall (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1992), 182-189. 4 Ibid, 176-182. 5 The IVP article also suggests that some implicit examples of OT “master-disciple” relationships can be seen in 1 Sam. 19:20-24 (prophets associated with Samuel); 2 Kings 4:1, 38; 9:1 (prophets under the tutelage of Elisha); and, Jeremiah and Baruch (Jer. 36:32).
( תַּ למִידtalmid) is translated variously as “pupil” (NASB, ESV, RSV), “scholar” (KJV, ASV), and ְ “student” (NIV) and is intrinsically linked to the Hebrew Talmud meaning “instruction.” Each term points to the idea of someone (the talmid) learning (Talmud) from another through the medium of relationship. Contextually, 1 Chronicles 25:8 speaks of a “teacher” who, by the act of casting lots, is paired with a “pupil.” The “pupil,” through his relationship with the “teacher,” will be instructed in temple worship.6 The “master-learner” model illustrated in Chronicles connotes the notion of relationship. In order to learn, the pupil necessarily had to spend time with the master and vice-versa. Rabbinic tradition (prior to writing the 63 tractates of the Talmud) called for The Oral Law (Talmud, Mishnah and Gemara) to be passed down verbally through a master-teacher relationship. What It Means To Be A Disciple In Mark The Gospel of Mark presents its reader with a grand and action packed narrative of the life of Christ. Attached to Jesus’s life are those who, by virtue of His calling them, have become disciples. Some, like Simon, Andrew, James, John and Levi receive personal and specific calls. Others, not mentioned by name but nonetheless disciples, fill in the portrait of individual who choose to attach himself or herself to Christ. The Gospel of Mark does not restrict the term “disciple” to The Twelve but allocates it to several groups. The evangelist informs the reader of disciples belonging to the Pharisees and John the Baptist (Mk. 2:18). Mark’s gospel differentiates between The Twelve and other disciples grammatically. He consistently (40 times) couples the plural “disciples” with a possessive noun (Jesus’) or possessive adjective (his [own]/you/my).7 For instance, Mark 6:41 records Jesus giving thanks to God the Father for the fish and loaves to be miraculously supplied
Ibid, “Disciples,” 176. Heber Peacock, “Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark,” Review & Expositor 75(4) (1978): 554.
to the crowd. The evangelist writes, “He kept giving them [fish and loaves] to the disciples” [emphasis mine].8 In the passage Mark does not employ the grammatical connective, consequently, he implies that disciples, other than “The Twelve,” are involved in the activity of Christ. The Calling of Disciples In Mark It is not accidental that Mark enters into the calling of disciples early in his gospel. Mark records Jesus placing priority on the calling of disciples at the beginning of His ministry. After John the Baptist had been arrested Jesus entered Galilee and began preaching (Mk. 1:14). His message was profound but simple: repent and believe the gospel (Mk. 1:15). Having presented Jesus’s message, Mark moves immediately into the method through which Jesus would spread His message: disciples. The setting for the first calling narratives reveals much about Jesus’s calling of disciples. He was at the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee, a small freshwater lake, was a favorite place for Jesus. All the Gospels have him preaching at the Sea. Nearly one-half of the parables of Jesus were spoken while at the Sea of Galilee. Two of Jesus’ most famous miracles took place on the Sea of Galilee – walking on water (Mk 6:47-52) & calming the storm (Lk. 8:22-25). After Jesus resurrects from the dead we find Him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee cooking a meal for some of His disciples (Jn. 21:9, 12). It is fitting then, that a ministry revolved around the Sea of Galilee would become the setting where Christ calls His first four disciples. The first four called are not men of notable significance. They are ordinary inhabitants of the region. They are employed in an ordinary vocation for the region. There seems to be indication in Mark’s gospel that James and John may be a part of a higher socio-economic
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
standing than Andrew and Simon.9 They are Jews who more than likely had a basic understanding of the Scriptures and attempted to observe the customs of their religion. In a word, these four men were typical of the common folk who lived and worked in Capernaum. This notion makes their calling by Christ all the more magnificent. There are, however, some key characteristics surrounding Christ’s calling of disciples that should be noted. First, the call comes from Christ and is not self-initiated. There is no sense in the gospel of Mark that the four disciples or Levi sought Jesus out for the purpose of becoming His disciples. Instead, Mark records the action of Jesus calling men and women as He is moving on with ministry. Mark often uses temporal language to express movement as Jesus goes about calling His disciples.10 Another commonality in the calling of the four and Levi comes in the word “saw.” (Mk. 1:16, 19; 2:14). As Jesus is on the move he sees these men doing the work they do each every day: fishing and collecting taxes. No doubt these men were not alone when Christ came calling. Nevertheless, from the crowd Jesus sees and calls these men to follow Him. The reader gets the sense that something more than just sight is involved in the process. It appears that Christ perceives something about these ordinary men that would be of use to His mission now and in the future. The disciple’s response to Jesus may also be indicative of their perceiving something unique about Christ. Third, Jesus’s calling of the four and of Levi is reminiscent of the calling of Elisha by Elijah (I Kings 19:19-21). The call to Elisha comes suddenly and a positive response is expected. When Elijah “passed over” and threw his mantle to Elisha (1 Kings 19:19b) the response was as
Compare the lists Mark records of what each set of brothers gives up in order to follow Jesus (Mk. 1:18
Mk. 1:16 states, “As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee…” and vs. 19 records, “Going on a little farther.” The calling of Levi records similar temporal language. Mark writes, “As He passed by” (Mk. 2:14).
sudden as the call. Elisha “left the oxen,” said goodbye to his family and followed after Elijah (1 Kings 19:20). Elisha went as far as burning his oxen and plow (symbols of his dependence on his ability as a farmer) to show his commitment to being a disciple of Elijah. Similarly, the four and Levi, upon hearing the sudden call of Christ to “follow” abandoned everything in order to go after Jesus. Fourth, as mentioned earlier, the disciples are called primarily “to be with him” (Mk. 3:14). The calling of disciples has a note of relational intimacy. Christ, the Master, calls disciples to participate in learning and growing relationships with each other and Him. The idea of intimacy develops throughout the gospel. Peacock draws attention to the intimate settings of home, meals, private teaching times and even the Gethsemane scene as indicative indicators of intimate relationship.11 All of these intimate activities come as a result of the disciples choice to follow Christ. Following Jesus with Mark Implicit in the biblical and Markan concept of being a disciple is the idea of following. There are four instances in Mark of Jesus saying, “follow me” (1:17; 2:14; 8:34; 10:21). There are other examples where the idea of following is couched in the reaction of the hearer. Upon being called by Jesus, James and John leave their family and vocation to “follow him” (Mk. 1:20). Mark also provides his reader that both men and women followed Jesus. The evangelists names Mary and Martha as two who “…follow Him and minister to Him” (Mk. 15:41a). Mary and Martha seem to be part of a larger group of women who had chosen to follow Jesus (Mk. 15:41b).
Ibid, Peacock, 558.
Following Jesus, according to Mark, is more than just falling in lock step behind Jesus. Instead those who choose to follow after Christ can expect to become something they are currently not. The famous Markan passage where Jesus calls Simon and Andrew includes the phrase, “I will make you become fishers of men" (Mk. 1:17b). Joined with the call to follow (Mk. 1:17a) comes the implied promise to gradually form Simon and Andrew into something else (fishers of men). The promise to become should not read as a future oriented promise. Instead, the promise follows the kingdom motif of “already and not-yet.” Simon and Andrew’s choice to follow Christ presently makes them disciples, but also, speaks to the progressive nature of being a disciple. Following Jesus, for Mark, also means personal sacrifice. Mark does not shy away from presenting both positive and negative responses to the sacrificial nature of following Jesus. He offers several examples of positive response to the call of Christ and the ensuing sacrifice given. First, the four fishermen leave nets, family, and friends to attach themselves to the Master (Mk. 1:16-20). Levi the son of Alphaeus, a tax collector, responded to the call of Christ by getting up from his tables. Sacrificing his source of income, Levi chooses to join himself to one who has “nowhere to lay His head” (Mt. 8:20). On the heels of the rich young rulers rejection of Christ’s calling (Mk. 10:17-22), the disciples question Jesus the possibility of anyone being saved (Mk. 10:26). Jesus affirms that what seems impossible to humankind is fully possible with God (Mk. 10:27). Peter replies to Jesus’s affirmation by saying, “we have left everything and followed You" (Mk. 10:28). Peter’s response stands in contrast to the rich young rulers, but also, reveals something about Peter. He seems to infer that his (and the others) sacrifice somehow grants them the gift of salvation. His comment completely ignores the grace of God to save and replaces it with human works. It also brings to light the notion that Peter may be expecting something in return for his sacrifice. In
light of Peter’s attitude, Jesus assures him (and the others) that none of his sacrifices will go unrewarded but will not be the guarantee of his salvation (Mk. 29-31). The Disciple and His or Her Cross in Mark Mark also records Jesus giving a general call to sacrifice in Mark 8:34-38 providing the reader with a fuller perspective regarding the cost of discipleship. Prior to 8:34-38 Mark records the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Christ (Mk. 8:30). Immediately following Peter’s confession, Jesus tells the disciples He will be killed at the hands of religious leaders (Mk. 8:31). Peter’s obstinately but privately rebukes Christ for His statement. Jesus responds with His own rebuke placing Peter’s thoughts on par with Satan’s (Mk. 8:33). Jesus then calls the crowd to Him and begins to teach on the sacrificial nature of discipleship. Jesus, having rebuked Peter, turns to the “crowd” and begins to teach (Mk. 8:34). Jesus offers two expectations of sacrifice required of those who choose to “come after” Jesus. First, following Jesus means a denial of self (Mk. 8:43a). Luke employs familial terms to emphasize the price of following Jesus. A disciple must hate father, mother, sister brother and deny self to follow Jesus (Lk. 14:26). Luke then records Jesus urging the crowd to count the cost. He illustrates the idea by pointing to one who builds a tower and a king going to war. Neither character would dare engage in either activity without first calculating the cost otherwise failure will be imminent (Lk. 14:28-32). Second, the disciple must “take up his cross” in order to follow Jesus (Mk. 8:34b). The words of Jesus to the crowd cannot be divorced from His earlier passion prediction. Just as Jesus is willing to offer his life as a sacrifice, so to must those who follow after Him be prepared to do likewise. He prophetically points to the image of a cross that He will literally bear; and that His
disciples – all of them and not just The Twelve - will carry either literally or metaphorically. Witherington offers insight into how the “crowd” would have heard the speech of Jesus. “V. 34 would not have sounded like a flowery metaphor to first-century persons. Rather it would be an invitation to come and die, an invitation to martyrdom. True enough, Jesus does not inculcate a martyrdom complex, he does not insist his followers lose their lives, but he does insist they deny themselves and be prepared to die if that should be required to remain true to their faith in and following Jesus.”12 The general and specific accounts of people being called to follow Jesus may also reveal something of the nature of the crowd. Jesus’s call to sacrifice creates a dividing line between those who know Him and His works and those who have determined to follow Him with their life. Mark presents the reader with those who follow Jesus for His miracles and provision. However, following Christ to the cross places a much more difficult requirement on those who would come after Him. The cross separates the crowd from the disciples and from those on the fringe from those willing to suffer for His and the gospel’s sake. Applications It seems the life of a disciple is marked by three key elements: relationship, opportunity for progressive growth, and the necessity of sacrifice. Each of these components work together as a formative whole to create a productive disciple of Jesus Christ Relationship The call of Christ in Mark centers on entering into pedagogical relationship with Jesus Christ. Christianity, after all, is about a person and not necessarily a system. The Holy Spirit works to reveal Christ to the heart of individuals the world over. Some respond in faith to the graceful call of Christ to salvation and enter into a discipling relationship. Others, like the rich
Ben Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: 2001), 244.
young ruler, reject this call to salvation and discipleship. A positive response to Christ’s invitation brings Him joy while rejection brings sadness (i.e. rich young ruler). The believer’s relationship is based solely on faith in the person of Christ and not on our personal works. The Apostle Paul wrote that not many noble or mighty have responded to the call (1 Cor. 1:26). However, God uses those who respond to the call, whether they appear to be ordinary or not. In light of God’s mercy and His awesomeness no one can be called extraordinary. But God, because of our faith filled response to His call we have the opportunity to become something extraordinary through our relationship with God through Christ. Opportunity for Progressive Growth Christ’s call comes to us in the context of our personality and circumstances. Responding to His call does not necessarily bring immediate change to either context. Nonetheless, this does not infer a permanent or stagnant status. The Son of God wants to make believers “become fishers of men.” Therefore, certain aspects of our personality and circumstance will change in order to form us into the image of Christ. The Holy Spirit brings convicting grace to our hearts, because of our relationship with Christ, giving us opportunity to undergo transformation. Theologically this process is called sanctification. Sanctification begins with our entrance into the reign of God at salvation. God, at salvation, imputes His holiness to every believer making him or her positionally right before God. Though declared righteous through justification, the believer works out their salvation with “fear and trembling” (Phl. 2:12). God, desiring to form us into the image of His Son, brings about and/or uses the circumstance of our life to create opportunities for us to lay down the weight and sin that holds us back (Hbr. 12:1). Even in God’s desire to transform us He does not violate the freedom given to each human. Consequently, we can choose to accept the change and
grow in relationship or we can harden our hearts to the Holy Spirit and remain stagnant. One key element of sanctification comes in the form of denying self and taking up our cross, that is, sacrifice. The Necessity of Sacrifice Jesus Christ modeled sacrifice by offering Himself as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for humankind’s sin. If Jesus, the sinless servant, found it necessary to give His life a ransom for sinners, how much more should disciples find it necessary to sacrifice. John wrote, “Hereby perceive we the love [of God], because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down [our] lives for the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:16). Christ’s example serves as a model for His followers. The Markan concept of a disciple’s calling is coupled with the respondent giving something up. Specifically the four and Levi gave up family and vocation but generally Christ calls all believers to deny self and take up a cross. The believers cross may come in a variety of forms. Some may be called upon to lay down their life while others may not. No matter which end of the spectrum the foundation remains the same. Christ calls us to come and die. That is, we are to die out to our fleshly desire for the world and the lust it contains; and live for the reward of God’s reign being alive in our hearts. Each believer feels the drawing of the Holy Spirit to repent of attitudes and actions that prevent them from having an abundant relationship with God.
Works Cited Blendinger, Christian. “Disciple,” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, editor Colin Brown, 483-94. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1-971. Peacock, Henry (1978). Discipleship in the gospel of Mark. Review & Expositor, 75(4), 555-564. Wilkins, Michael. “Discipleship,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds. Joel Green, Scot McKnight and Howard Marshall. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1992. Witherington, Ben. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: 2001. Works Consulted Hinlicky, P. R. (1988). Conformity to Christ in the Gospel of Mark. Currents In Theology And Mission, 15(4), 364-368. Kowalski, Wojciech. 1994. "The Call to Discipleship : A Challenge To Personal Commitment." Afer 36, no. 6: 366-378. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 25, 2012). Manno, B. V. (1975). Identity of Jesus and Christian discipleship in the gospel of Mark. Religious Education, 70(6), 619-628. Meyer, M. W. (2002). Taking up the cross and following Jesus: discipleship in the Gospel of Mark. Calvin Theological Journal, 37(2), 230-238. Vincent, J. J. (2007). Outworkings: Disciple Practice Today. Expository Times, 118(7), 326-330. doi:10.1177/0014524607077128 Williams, J. F. (1996). Discipleship and Minor Characters in Mark's Gospel. Bibliotheca Sacra, 153(611), 332-343. Stuckenbruck, L. T. (2002). "Spiritual formation" and the Gospel according to Mark. Ex Auditu, 1880-92.
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