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DISCIPLESHIP (5): The Disciple and His Master

Jesus, Though He is LORD, Still Serves His Disciples

Jesus, Though He is LORD, Still Serves His Disciples

The relationship between Jesus and His disciples is more than the normal teacher-student relationship, even when the student commits himself to the philosophies of the teacher. Jesus’ disciples look at Him as their LORD.

This is a major difference in the relationship between Jesus and His disciples and other teachers and their pupils. Among the Jews, a great Rabbi might have those who followed him or sat at his feet – as Saul of Tarsus sat at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 23:3). Though these would learn from their Rabbi, they did not consider the Rabbi as LORD. Jesus’ disciples did – and still do. (I put the word LORD in all capitals because this is the convention followed by most translations to identify the Old Testament word transliterated as Jehovah or Yahweh in a few others. Several Old Testament prophecies that use that word LORD are applied to Jesus in the New Testament.)

Jesus Is LORD

Since they looked to Jesus as LORD, their attitude toward Him was very different from the normal student-teacher relationship. When they considered themselves in relation to Him, they were servants or even slaves. This is the way He taught them to think. As LORD, He did not “lord it over” them – but He taught them to acknowledge Him as LORD just the same.

For example, when He washed their feet (John 13:1-16), He used the fact they accepted Him as LORD to teach the lesson that they should follow His example – and wash one another’s feet. They also called Him “Master” and “Rabbi.” As their Master, He was their LORD; as their Rabbi, He was their teacher and guide. But because He was LORD, He was much more than a mere teacher.

The Jewish Rabbi had students; Jesus had disciples. The Rabbi’s students may respect and revere him; they did not worship him. Jesus’ disciples did. The Rabbi’s protégé might aspire to become like the Rabbi – in that he would have students of his own who would look to him in the same way he looked to his Rabbi. The disciple of Jesus, though his goal is to be like his Master, knows that he can never reach that pinnacle because Jesus is much more than mere man; He is LORD.

As LORD, Jesus Is To Be Obeyed

There was never any question of who was LORD and who were the disciples. Nor was there any question of what that meant. Jesus’ words were not to be debated or questioned; His words were to be believed and obeyed. Why do you call me ‘LORD, LORD,’ and do not do what I say? was Jesus’ question to His listeners early in His ministry (Luke 6:46; cf. Matthew 7:21). It was important to do what He said because He was giving the very words of the Father – but He gave them as one who spoke with the full authority of the Author, not as one repeating what He had heard from another.

Thus, hearing and obeying His words is a matter of eternal consequence. Mere hearing is insufficient. The man who hears without obeying is like the foolish man who builds his house on the sand; the man who hears and obeys is like the man who digs deep to build his house on solid rock.

What Made the Difference?

But Jesus expects even more than full obedience. He expects full acceptance of Himself as LORD. Faith without obedience is dead – but obedience without faith is deadening. Some, who might have accepted Him as a mere teacher, were unwilling to go the full distance to accept him as the true Bread that came down from heaven.

Until someone accepts who Jesus is, he is always likely to argue with what Jesus says. Thus, in John 6:41, the Jews began to grumble about Him because he said “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Because they would not accept His LORDSHIP (the one who came down from heaven), they would not accept what He said they should do (eat His flesh and drink His blood). Therefore, they left Him (v. 66).

But the Twelve were different. When Jesus asked if they would also go away, Peter asked, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Then followed his confession: We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God. This is roughly equivalent to his confession recorded in Matthew 16:18ff where Peter confessed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

It was this faith that made them willing to accept what Jesus said they should do. In contrast, the rich young ruler would not accept what Jesus said do because he could not bring himself to confess Jesus’ true relationship with God (see Mark 10:17-22). Jesus gave him the opportunity to turn his request for what to do to inherit eternal life into a confession of the source of eternal life. But the young man would not confess Jesus as being “good” after Jesus said only God is good. That is, he declined to confess Jesus as being God – but that is what would be necessary to find the eternal life he sought. Instead, he went away because he valued his wealth more than a relationship with Jesus. Had he believed Jesus to be God, would he have turned away?

It is recognition of Jesus as LORD that is at the root of what John calls “the doctrine of Christ” in 2 John 9. Though there is debate over whether this refers to doctrine about Christ or the teaching of Christ Himself, the context is fairly clear. Verse 3 calls Jesus the Father’s Son. Verse 7 speaks of deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. Contextually, the doctrine of Christ is the doctrine concerning who Christ is.

Linguistically, either interpretation of 2 John 9-10 is possible. If you take it to be the teaching Christ brings, however, the context also identifies that teaching. Verse 5 speaks of the new command that we have had from the beginning. What is that command? That we love one another. Then verse 6 reiterates, As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

It is a real stretch to make 2 John refer to any obscure teaching that one can torturously read into something that Jesus or His apostles said or wrote. Yet, this is how some use this text to condemn any who do not agree with them on just about any issue.

When we simply believe Jesus is LORD, we will obey Him by walking in love. We will recognize that this is how He lived; we will want to live as He did.

Do We Ever Obey Men?

In wanting to grow as disciples, it is tempting for us to turn to men to get a definition of what it really means to be a disciple. The “Discipling Movement,”* popular in many congregations and in various evangelical fellowships a few years ago, was strict and definite in prescribing what it takes to be a disciple. Many became emotional wrecks because they could not meet the requirements imposed by their human leaders. [*This movement is known in churches of Christ as “The Boston Movement.”]

On the other hand, human leaders can also rationalize the radical demands of Jesus so much that His call for genuine discipleship loses its force and power.

For example, take Jesus’ statement, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:25). Many destroy the force of what Jesus is saying here by fanciful explanations. Some talk about a smaller gate in the city gate for pedestrians, which a camel could go through only by removing its load and going through on its knees. This is a pretty picture of humility – but there is no evidence such a pedestrian gate is ever called “a needle’s eye.” Others talk about the similarity between the Greek word camel and the word for cable – and say Jesus is talking about a ship’s cable, not a camel with four legs and a hump.

Jesus explained Himself when the disciples asked, Who then can be saved? What was His explanation? With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God. What happens is that by rationalizing, we try to make it possible for man to save himself – but that is impossible for us. Salvation is a work of God.

Each of these is an extreme to be avoided. Men are likely to impose human rules. This adds to the Word of the LORD. Men are also likely to relax the force of what our LORD says to us. This takes away from His Word. Both are wrong; we need to recognize that Jesus is LORD, and we are His disciples.

This is one reason the apostles warned against lining up behind men. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 more than the oneness of the body is in view. To turn from being a disciple of Jesus to be a follower of Paul, Peter or Apollos was to turn from the one who died for you and in whose name you were baptized. In other words, it was to turn from a relationship with Jesus as LORD to follow mere men.

Whether the Corinthians were actually naming these great Christian leaders as the ones they were “of” is open to question. In 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul suggests he used himself and Apollos as examples to show how futile it is to follow any man. The apostles always presented themselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake (1 Corinthians 4:5). Notice that his relationship to Jesus as LORD took priority with Paul in all of this.

Is there ever a time to listen to men? Of course. But only when they are pointing us to Jesus. The eunuch asked Philip for help to understand the Scripture – and Philip began with that very passage and preached Christ (Acts 8:34f). Paul said, follow my example – but only as I follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). We are to imitate the faith of our leaders (Hebrews 13:7), for these spoke the word of God to us. They point us to Jesus – whom the author hastens to add is the same yesterday, today and forever.

We obey men only when they lead us closer to Jesus. If they obscure him or make him more distant, avoid them like the plague! These are those whose god is their stomach (Philippians 3:19).

Disciples of Jesus avoid such men because disciples want to serve and follow none but Jesus because He is LORD.

– (6) The Disciple And His Fellows

– (4) The Cross In The Life Of The Disciple

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