What is a disciple? In some ways it seems like such a simple question and yet the answer has profound implications for a Christian. What is a disciple? It is the job and role of a Christian, and yet that doesn’t seem to fully answer the question either. What is a disciple? A disciple is a follower of Jesus. True, but I’m not sure that gets us any closer to an actual meaning that we can use to further our understanding because then we must determine what a follower of Jesus does. And that’s where things get a little sticky.
The Gospels tell of a time when Jesus and his closest followers find themselves at Caesarea Philippi and Jesus asks them a very important question, “Who do people say I am?” Jesus has been in active ministry for over two years at this point and he’s developed an interesting reputation that is not always accurate. Jesus wants to know what the crowds are saying about him. Well, some think he’s Elijah others Jeremiah and others some other prophet. All decent answers, but none are accurate, so Jesus looks at the twelve, his very best friends and closest confidants and says, “But who do you say I am.” Peter stands up and declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It is the first time in scripture that someone finally understands who Jesus is. People have thought he was special, the apostles even gave up everything to follow him, but no one ever knew exactly who he was until now when Peter declared, “You are the Christ.”
It’s a turning point in scripture because now Jesus starts to tell them what it means to be Messiah, what it means to be the Christ. Messiah doesn’t mean prestige and honor and fame. It doesn’t mean banquets and gifts and buildings named after you. It doesn’t mean thrones and power and kingdoms. Being Messiah means death. Being Messiah means the way of the cross. Being Messiah means suffering servant for others. You see being Messiah wasn’t about being first, but about being last. It wasn’t about being served, but about serving others. It wasn’t about being happy but about doing what you could to make everyone else happy. Being Messiah meant going to the cross to solve the sin problem so that others could be free. That’s what it meant to be Messiah.
And then Jesus decides he probably better describe what being a disciple means so there is no misunderstanding. “If you want to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for me and the Kingdom will save it.” Being a disciple means following in the way of Christ, it means taking up your cross, it means denying yourself. Being a disciple means that you serve others instead of waiting to be served. It means that you place others needs and wants above your own. It means that you love your neighbor as yourself. Being a disciple is recognizing that you are not the most important person in the world, and being at peace with the revelation.
This truth can get worked out in many ways. For some it may mean volunteering “free time” at a homeless shelter to help brighten the day of those less fortunate. For some it may mean living life at a modest income level and giving the rest of your money away to help others. For some it may mean tutoring elementary school kids in the afternoon, or developing a mentoring relationship with a child who no longer has a father. For some it may mean giving away free services like tax preparations, or doctor’s visits, or lawn care to those who need but can’t afford. It’s fine if the truth gets worked out differently in your life than in mine. The point is not that we all look the same. The point is that we all follow Jesus to the cross and that we die to ourselves and start thinking more and more about others. Because when we do that, when we lose the life of seeking our wants and desires, that’s when we gain a life that is really worth living.