Back in the day is a phrase many of us often use as we talk about old times. Today I want to talk to you discipleship and another old time, from an ancient world and biblical perspective.
“The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’, (which translated means, Teacher) where are you staying?’ He said to them , ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying and they remained with him that day. It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. John 1:36–39
Often times I’ve glazed over scriptures like this, not recognizing what was staring at me in the face. That verse gives us a clear indication of what discipleship looked like in the ancient world. It’s a state of being and staying. It’s not just about how we live, not just about the decisions we make, or what we believe, but it’s a state of being. We hear words in the gospels like staying, abiding and teacher that give us clues as well from Scriptures like:
“Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.” John 15:4, 9-10 HCSB
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26
In other words, what makes you a disciple is not doing-but being, remaining. This requires us being present with God. It doesn't mean showing up from time to time in our discipleship process with God. It means being a student in the strictest sense. What if we didn’t show up to class but once a week? Would we be considered students? The fact is, in the ancient world, being a disciple was taken very seriously. Rowan Williams says, “if you said to a modern prospective student that the essence of being a student was to hang on your teacher’s every word, to follow in his or her every steps, to sleep outside the door in order not to miss any pearls of wisdom falling from their lips, to watch how they conduct themselves at the table, how they conduct themselves in the street, you might not get a very warm response. But in the ancient world, it was rather more like that. To be the student of a teacher was to commit yourself to living in the same atmosphere, and breathing the same air; there was nothing intermittent about it it.”
I’m afraid we’ve lost the very meaning of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is not meant to shame or discourage anyone of us. It's to remind us and awaken us to his presence and love which Holy Spirit wants to shed abroad in our hearts as the apostle Paul reminds us. It's meant to remind us of our responsibility in the relationship.
I know we all have many things that grab our attention on any given day, things that require our focus, but may we all pause and think about the meaning of true discipleship a little more deeply this advent season. I can’t help but think that God is calling us all to a higher place of being and remaining in him this season. Maybe to a state of being which we’re always looking for and to him without interruption. Advent is meant to slow us down and disrupt the normal in our lives, the secular in our lives, and awaken us to the sacred.
Maybe abiding, staying and remaining would be an appropriate meditation for us all, as disciples of Jesus this month.
Let us each pray that Holy Spirit would make us all aware with great expectation, and anticipation, of how Jesus may be coming to abide with each of us and how we should prepare for his arrival this advent season. Amen.