(First published September 5, 2011)
Twelve guys signed up to follow Jesus.
Sometimes another teacher sent them. Sometimes a friend invited them. Sometimes a family member invited them. Sometimes Jesus himself invited them. We can see all four ways in a few sentences in the first chapter of John. One big story, four individual stories. (A video version.)
What becomes clear as we read those four stories is that the five people who followed Jesus in John 1 (Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathaniel and someone who is not identified) didn’t understand who Jesus was, what his plan was, what his power was. And as we keep reading, over and over events happen and they ought to understand, but from where we sit, they didn’t get it.
In Mark 6, there is a set of stories that can be summarized like this:
Jesus, You can do miracles! Cool.
We can do miracles? Cool!
Jesus, You can feed 15,000? Wow!
Wait, who is that walking on the water? Nah, couldn’t be Jesus. That would take a miracle.
Clearly, they didn’t always understand. They didn’t always believe. Although they were following Jesus and saw him every day and were wanting to be part of this thing he was doing, they often misunderstood.
Even at the end, even on his last day on earth, after watching all kinds of cool things including a resurrection, some of them believed, but some of them were uncertain (Matthew 28:17).
Because we think that being a disciple means understanding everything, believing everything, doing everything, we talk like this:
“Are you a disciple?”
“I’m trying to be one.”
How do you try to be a disciple? How do you try to follow? At some point, you acknowledge that you are following. That you don’t understand what it means always (or often) but like the twelve, you are watching closely.