By Annie Kelly
Most of the world will spend our formative years getting an education in math, science, history, and language; but when it comes to where we invest our own time in learning, how much time do we put into being a learner of Jesus?
For many of us, this question is convicting. No matter your own history with studying the Bible, every follower of Christ is also to be what the Greeks called “Mathētēs”, or a learner of Jesus.
In the first century, it was common for a disciple to seek out a Rabbi in order to train under and follow him. This is why it was counter-cultural when Jesus sought out His disciples and chose them. He said, “follow me”; not the other way around. So what did those first twelve disciples have in common that led Jesus to approach them so boldly? Ironically, not much. They had various jobs ranging from fishermen to tax collectors. They had different personalities, and diverse hometowns and backgrounds. But what they did have in common was this: they were marked by urgent faithfulness and availability.
From the very beginning of their ministry, the disciple’s faithfulness and availability was propelled by urgency. Here are the responses of the disciples to Jesus’ words “follow me”:
Immediately. Immediately they left: their nets, their father, the ship. In today’s terms, it would be immediately they left: their job, their family, their home. The disciples left everything that was important to them. They left everything that gave them purpose and identity and they did so immediately, without a second thought. The call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is urgent and it deserves an urgent response.
Not only does being a disciple require urgency, it requires faithfulness. Andrew, Peter’s brother is a great example of faithfulness. He is not mentioned much in Scripture but the times he is, he is bringing people to Jesus. In John 1 we see Andrew bring his own brother to Jesus Christ, and Peter becomes a leader among the disciples. In John 6, he brings the boy with the five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus and the result is the feeding of the 5,000. In John 12, another disciple, Phillip, is approached by some Greeks wanting to meet Jesus and instead of taking them directly to Jesus on his own, he takes them to Andrew. Even among his peers, Andrew was known for bringing people to Jesus. He was faithful to know Jesus Christ and to make Him known.
Lastly, being a disciple requires availability. God is always able; the question is, are we willing? Are we available? The answer for Philip (not the disciple) in Acts 8 was “yes”. The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is one of divine appointment. An angel told Philip to go to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza and “he rose and went” (Acts 8:27). On this road, he encountered an Ethiopian eunuch, “a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure” (v. 27). The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, reading the prophet Isaiah in his chariot on the way back. The Holy Spirit prompted Philip to go join this man, so Philip ran to him and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (v. 30). The eunuch responded, “How can I unless someone guides me?” (v. 31). Philip joined the eunuch and told him about Jesus (v. 35). The eunuch believed and then was baptized.
Philip saw the opportunity God placed in front of him and it says he “ran” (v. 30) toward the opportunity. Philip’s obedience to the Spirit allowed him to be available and recognize the urgency of the situation. The response of the eunuch sheds light on our role as disciples. He said “How can I [understand] unless someone guides me?” (v. 31) As disciples, we are to guide people to the Word of God and help them gain understanding.
We are learners of Jesus Christ as disciples and as we make disciples, we are to teach them to be learners of Jesus, too. Philip was available and obedient and the result was the salvation and baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch.
The outcome of our faithfulness and availability isn’t always instantly as beautiful as the one in this story. Many times throughout Scripture we see obedience followed by an unexpected outcome before ultimate blessing. Abraham was called to go and ended up in a land of famine before seeing the Lord’s promise fulfilled. Job, a blameless and upright man, is tested in every way and isn’t restored until long after a multitude of trials have come to him and his family. Daniel is thrown in a lion’s den for his faith before the Lord rescues him. Mary is obedient as a virgin mother to the Son of God, even when inconvenience and danger surround her. Paul faces years of opposition before seeing a fruitful ministry. Finally, the greatest example, Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, was obedient to the point of death. At first, death doesn’t seem like an outcome of hope but Jesus Christ defeated death and conquered the grave; His obedience was eternally impactful. Regardless of the immediate outcome, obedience brings ultimate blessing. No matter the circumstance or the outcome, the Word of God leaves us with a command to go and make disciples, and begs us to be urgently faithful and always available.