A few weeks back, we talked about an accessible working definition of discipleship (see here). By way of Matthew 4:19, we said that a disciple follows Jesus (head), is being transformed by Jesus (heart), and shares in Jesus’ mission (hands).
It’s worth narrowing in a bit on that final competent: a disciple shares in the mission of Jesus. In fact, I think that this may be exactly Matthew’s point as lays out his gospel in chapters 4-10.
In Matthew 4:23 and 9:35, Matthew gives two parallel summaries of Jesus’ mission: Jesus went about teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and affliction. Remember, Matthew didn’t write with chapters and verses. He relied on literary devices to divide his work into smaller sections – or to show the relationship between sections. Matthew uses these two parallel summaries as bookends of sort (the technical term here is “inclusio”). And what’s in between these bookends? We see Jesus doing just what Matthew describes. Jesus is teaching, proclaiming the Kingdom, and healing. It’s almost as if Matthew is using that classic public speaking formula: “telling them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; and then tell them what you told them.” Matthew summarizes Jesus’ ministry (4:23), shows Jesus in ministry (4:23-9:35), and then summarizes Jesus’ ministry again (9:35, which shares the almost identical language of 4:23).
This isn’t just a description of Jesus’ ministry though. This informs our purposes as disciples. In fact, I think that Matthew draws a straight line from these summaries of Jesus’ ministry to what Jesus, in turn, asked His disciples to do as He sends them out. What do I mean? Immediately after these bookend parallel summaries of Jesus’ ministry, we see Jesus commissioning the Twelve. What exactly does Jesus send these Twelve out to do?
The disciples are sent out to do just what they have been seeing Jesus do. The language of Matthew 10:7-8 (where Jesus commissions His disciples) is very much the language of Matthew 4:23 and 9:35. Jesus tells them to do the very things that they saw Him doing: proclaim the kingdom, heal the sick (the teaching is absent here, but picked up in Jesus’ final commission to His disciples, Matt. 28:20). Not only did Jesus preach and heal… He asked his disciples to do that same thing. That’s the point here. Disciples join the mission of their leader. We are about His purposes.
Catch this: Not only do we learn something here about the “what” of Jesus’ disciple-making process, but also the “how.” In effect, when we see Jesus here doing ministry (the teaching, proclaiming, and healing of 4:23-9:35), it’s a two-fold Kingdom work: there is of course the actual teaching/proclaiming/healing of Jesus here, but at the exact same time, Jesus is providing an example to His disciples of what their ministry will look like. When Jesus sends them out to proclaim the Kingdom, they’ve already seen what that looks like in practice. As Jesus is healing, at the very same time, it’s a teaching moment for His disciples looking on. When Jesus is teaching the crowds, at that very same moment, He’s giving the Twelve their very own personal ministry seminar.
This is apprenticeship. And it’s the same dynamic that is needed in our discipleship (whether one-on-one or in a small group context). Don’t just lecture… be an example, bring other’s alongside you, talk it through, debrief, wonder aloud, evaluate together. Don’t just make your ministry about your ministry, follow Jesus’ lead here: make your ministry an apprenticeship opportunity.
While our contexts will certainly be very different from the disciples’ in Mat. 10, the principle remains: Disciples share in the mission of Jesus. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are certain aspects of Jesus’ mission that are unique to Him. Jesus does the work of salvation. But what was Jesus message? “Follow me.” Jesus alone can be so boldly (and rightly) self-centered. Jesus points people to Himself as the source of healing and salvation: “Follow me,” He says; “The Torah is fulfilled in me;” “I am the Passover Lamb. Come under my protection,” Jesus declares; “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus pointed people to Himself. And as His disciples, we join Jesus in that ministry by pointing people to Him. Part of being a disciple, then, means joining Jesus in His Jesus-oriented, Jesus-exalting, Jesus-centered mission!