Point of Reference
by Fred Price
When Jesus was gathering his first disciples, what did he mean when he said, “Come, follow me,…”? Immediately following that challenge with, “…and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 Several were already fishermen, aware of the tricks of their trade; the nuances of different types of fish, how the surrounding conditions affected their prospects for success in catching them. What kind of catch would they be trying to make as fishers of men? Would any and everyone be a candidate or should they select only certain ones? Does a person’s environment – such as their upbringing, life experiences, education, insight, personal preferences, etc. – make a difference in how we fish for them?
To answer at least some of these questions requires us to understand the Jewishness of Jesus and the nuances of Jewish thought. For Jesus’ invitations to Peter and Andrew, James and John, etc. was meant to figuratively and literally call them to follow in his footsteps. As such, he was to be their Rabbi ( Mark 9:5 & 11:21, John 1:38 & 49 & 3:2), their teacher and master. ( John 13:13,14) Which were virtually interchangeable titles of respect with slightly varying degrees of honor. Rab denoting a teacher or master. Rabbi hinting at a more personal involvement, as in my teacher or master. Rabboni being the most developed, signifying the one being followed as my Lord. ( John 20:16)
Part of Jesus’ mission was to teach those who had been redeemed how God wanted them to live. Repentance and a turned-around lifestyle – salvation – initiated by God’s extension of mercy and grace being the first step, but to save them and then neglect to reveal God’s expectations of discipleship – like stressing God’s requirement of justice while neglecting to mention his offer of mercy – would miss the fuller purpose of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
The method of His disciples’ education was for them to literally follow after him; to walk in his shadow so closely that they experienced not only the lessons he taught but witnessed firsthand how they applied to their lives. The literal translation for following him being to “walk after” him; following so closely on his heels as to be covered in the dust his feet kicked up – hence the expression “walking in his dust” – used to identify those who had committed themselves to a Rabbi and his way of living.1 Adding more depth to this concept is the Hebrew word for walk – halakh, and the word denoting a Rabbi’s interpretation of the Law – Hallakha; the root word being identical and the meaning very similar. Walking in a rabbi’s – or The Rabbi’s – footsteps causing us to walk in his “way” of teaching and eventually to take it to others. ( Matthew 28:19)
The goal of a disciple was to become as much like his rabbi as possible, the success of that relationship hinging not only on the exchange of information but the transformation that occurred as a result. The disciples’ purpose not being to merely parrot his rabbi’s words but to live them out. Which was a time-consuming process, its success dependent on maintaining a close connection with the Rabbi.2
God’s goal is to fill the world with people who not only believe the right things but who are committed to sharing those beliefs with others. Often taking what we already know and are accustomed to, but using them to move us in a radically new direction. (Such as, “You have heard that it was said,.. But I tell you…” Mat. 5 & 6) The tell-tale sign of a true disciples being, “If you hold to my teachings,…” John 8:31,32As, “Whoever serves me must follow me…” John 12:26 (If not in the flesh then through his word.) The defining characteristic of a disciple of Christ being love ( John 13:35), first and foremost for God expressed to him in worship and obedience ( John 14:15) and through him to our “neighbors.” ( Mark 12:28-31)
Will that ever be difficult? At times, Jesus described the process at one point as cross-bearing; insisting that sacrifice and self-denial are essential to our calling as disciples ( Matthew 8:34,35 & Luke 14:26,27) He goes on from there though to assure us of his presence throughout our lives and that we can have rest – not necessarily the lack of labor but the peace of mind of a job well done – in him. ( Matthew 11:29) His promise being that even when things inevitably get tough, “…he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:13 (See also Mark 12:29,30)
1 Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus , Zondervan Publishing, Lois Tverberg
2 Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus , Zondervan Publishing, Ann Spangler & Lois Tverberg
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Fred Price - married (50 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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