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Marks of a Disciple

The Bible frequently refers to people who follow Jesus as disciples. It’s important to realize the difference between a student and a disciple. A disciple is much more than a student.

I’ve read around five to six books about Abraham Lincoln. I am a student of Lincoln. But, if someone were to ask if I am a disciple of Lincoln, I would say, “No, I am not.”

A disciple does more than learn. A disciple listens to the teachings and practices applying what they learn in life. A disciple of Jesus will change their habits, ways of thinking, lifestyle, and perhaps their geographic location.

There are people who study Jesus, that are not disciples. They know where and when He lived, things that He said, and other things about His life. However, they do not model their life after the teachings of Jesus. Many are people Bible students, but not all are disciples of Jesus.

Being Jesus’ disciple involves a radical and continual evaluation of life. Jesus requires His disciples to follow Him in every way. Disciples say, “I need to evaluate how I blank and make changes as necessary.” The blank can be words such as: work, eat, drink, love, dress, drive, and play. In short, the blank is best filled with the word “everything.” Being a disciple of Jesus requires me to evaluate how I do everything and make changes as necessary.”

Beginning at 5:1 and continuing to 6:16, Luke’s account tells us about the calling of Jesus’ disciples. The beginning of chapter five is the calling of the first disciples.

A Disciple Listens to the Lord (5:1-2)

After the day at the synagogue and at Simon’s home, Luke gives an account of an ordinary weekday in Capernaum. People are listening to the teaching of Jesus. The people are not at the synagogue. They are standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, which is the Sea of Galilee, listening to Jesus teach the word of God.

There is no small number of people. A crowd presses in around Jesus. After healing the entire town of Capernaum, and casting out demons, of course, there is a crowd. They apparently forego what they might normally be doing to gather and listen to Jesus teach. He says He is going to move on to other cities, and they want to hear more before He leaves. They never tire of listening to Jesus speak.

Application for today

The first mark of a disciple is that a disciple listens to the Lord. Disciples of Jesus hear Him speak of the Kingdom of God, and desire to be saved from the domain of darkness. They value the teaching of Jesus.

We hear teaching all the time. We can listen to teaching on the internet. We can hear teachers at work and at school. But, when it comes to teaching about the most important issues of life, Jesus teaches like no other teacher. Jesus gives us the answers to life’s deepest questions.

Jesus teaches about having peace in a world of conflict. He tells us how to find joy in a world of sorrow. He helps us understand how we may live with righteousness and holiness in this present evil age. Most importantly, a disciple of Jesus listens to what Jesus says about being pleasing in the eyes of God.

God desires for us to listen to Jesus. Later, in Luke’s gospel, at the transfiguration, God will say, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" (Luke 9:35). A true disciple of Jesus is obedient to God’s command and listens to Jesus.

The disciples in Capernaum are listening. They are eager to hear and are pressing in to make sure they hear every word. The pressing of the crowd creates a problem. Jesus sees two empty boats lying at the edge of the lake, and He has an idea.

A Disciples give to the Lord (5:3)

The solution is for Jesus to get into one of the boats, and push a little way out from the land, so He may continue teaching. The people will hear better because sound carries well over water.

Jesus asks Simon for the use of his boat, and he obliges. Simon is willing to let Jesus use his boat so that Jesus may preach the Kingdom of God to the people. Simon loves Jesus and the people. He is honored that Jesus can use His boat for the glory of God.

On Sabbath, Simon invites Jesus to his home for a meal. On this day, Simon is willing to man the oars and give of his strength to row. He uses his boating skills. We don’t hear him complain, even though he is tired. He’s been fishing all night, but he is not going to let his tiredness get in the way. He renders his service to the Lord. Simon gives to Jesus.

Application for today

Simon sets a great example as a disciple. He is not selfish but gives to Jesus. He gives Jesus a meal. He lets Jesus use his boat. He mans the oars for Jesus.

Being a disciple requires giving to the Lord. When we contribute to furthering His kingdom, we are giving to Jesus.

Disciples are hospitable and open their homes to visiting missionaries. Disciples open their food pantry and their tables. Giving to Jesus requires opening our wallets.

Last Sunday, our church demonstrated discipleship when we hosted the men from Adult and Teen Challenge of NH. Many people came together to set-up, serve, cook, and clean-up. Our wallets were open, and the offering to the ministry was very generous. All the giving is done for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

In Capernaum, Simon is given the opportunity of serving in a way which he is equipped. “Simon, row out a little from the shore.” “I can do that. I am the best boatman in Capernaum. (I will).”

There is never an end to the ways we may give. God is wise and gives us a diversity of talents and abilities. There is an opportunity to give of our talents for teaching, exhortation, leading, and showing mercy. We are to give with liberality. Disciples are to show mercy with cheerfulness. As disciples, we need to be like Peter and willingly give for the sake of the kingdom.

A member of our church recently posted this saying on Facebook, “We shouldn’t eat at God’s table without being willing to work in God’s field.” A disciple of Jesus knows the principle of reaping and sowing.

A disciple of Jesus gives to the Lord, knowing it is more blessed to give than to receive. Simon demonstrates a giving heart in Capernaum.

A Disciple obeys the Lord (5:4-5)

After Jesus finishes speaking, He tells Simon to, “Put out into the deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.”

Simon uses nets, and most fishing is done at night because fish see the nets in the daytime. Simon is a fisherman by trade. He knows this lake and knows how to catch fish. He works hard all night and catches nothing.

Imagine how strange it is for Simon to hear Jesus. There is no lake in Nazareth. What does Jesus know about fishing? His father is a carpenter.

Simon’s reply reveals his doubts. He says, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.”

Simon does what is counter-intuitive for the sake of obeying Jesus. Notice, Simon calls Jesus, “Master.” He respectfully knows Jesus is a man of authority. His attitude is that of willing obedience because he sees Jesus as his Master. Simon puts aside what he thinks is best and willingly obeys. Simon is a disciple who obeys the Lord.

Application for today

Being a disciple of Jesus requires that we obey the Lord. Most of the time, the Lord’s commands are easy to understand. They make sense. Much of our obedience we know is right because of life experience.

For example, life experience teaches us that it is best to tell the truth. The world teaches honesty is the best policy. We know from life experience that serving others and working hard in the workplace yields a good reward.

There are many times in our Christian walk that we need to obey the Lord, even if it doesn’t make worldly sense. There are many commands which are counter-intuitive, and counter-culture. Obeying the Lord means dying to self (Galatians 2:19-20) and picking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). Disciples of Jesus are to obey the command to rejoice in times of suffering and trials (James 1:2). When a disciple is hit on the cheek, they are to turn the other cheek so it may be struck as well. Disciples love their enemies and pray for them (Luke 6:27).

There will be times we need to obey, despite that everything in our fiber says no. As disciples, we need to obey the Lord. Simon demonstrates obedience to His Master.

A Disciple is Humble before the Lord (5:6-8)

Simon obeys the Lord and casts out into the deep. The results are astounding. Simon signals to the other boat to come and help because they can’t handle the fish by themselves. They fill both boats with fish. They catch so many; the situation becomes precarious, their boats begin to sink.

The situation overwhelms Peter. He falls at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Up until this point, Peter has seen a lot. His time with Jesus begins when his brother, Andrew, says to him, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). Peter is at the wedding at Cana when Jesus turns the water into wine. He partakes of the Passover with Jesus in Jerusalem and witnesses Jesus claiming to have the authority to cleanse the temple of money changers. Peter listens to Jesus, tell Nicodemus, and then the Samarians at the well, of how He grants eternal life. Peter watches as Jesus casts out demons and heals the people of Capernaum (including healing his mother-in-law).

Simon’s words reveal his heart. He doesn’t say, “Wow, I guess You do know more about fishing than I do.” He doesn’t thank Jesus for the highly profitable catch. He doesn’t say anything about fish, boats, or nets. Peter pleads for his sinful condition.

The event amazes Peter in a way which strikes to the core of his being. It is life-changing. Peter’s life flashes before his eyes. His notions about life become suddenly trite and insignificant.

Peter’s response is much like Isaiah’s vision of God in His throne room. Remember Isaiah 6:1-7? Isaiah sees the Lord lifted high and exalted, sitting on His throne. God’s robe fills the temple. Brilliant, fiery seraphim attend to the Lord while crying out, “Holy, holy, holy.”

Isaiah confesses, “Woe is me.” His eyes are opened to see that he is a sinner. He is guilty and worthy of condemnation. He is wicked. Isaiah finds difficulty standing in the presence of God.

Peter’s experience appears to be the same. His eyes are open. Peter sees in His boat, the Lord who Isaiah sees in a vision. He sees the incarnate vision. Peter senses his utter unworthiness. He’s been a good Jew, practicing the law, going to Passover, and attending synagogue regularly. But now, in the presence of Jesus, he realizes he is unworthy.

Peter is shaking to the core of his being. It’s as if his whole life flashes before his eyes, and his only thought is, “I am undone.” Peter cries out for mercy. “Leave before I die from Your holiness.”

Application for today

Do we recognize what it means to be in the presence of Jesus? Have you really stood in His presence?

Disciples who stand in the presence of Jesus don’t think about increasing the fish in their fishing nets. They don’t think about trivial matters in life (of which everything not relating to salvation is trivial).

Disciples who stand before Jesus humbly cry for mercy. A million-watt light shines into the dark recesses of the heart and reveals every sin. What is once thought of as petty harmless sin, becomes utterly evil, wicked, and disgusting before Jesus. Every anthill-sized unkind word, covetous thought, lie, and curse suddenly becomes a looming mountain of guilt and shame. Every dust speck of sin in our eyes appears as large boulders before Christ.

Disciples are humble before the Lord. Peter is humble before the Lord.

A Disciple knows the Priority of the Kingdom (5:9-11)

Simon isn’t the only one who is amazed. The companions of Simon, James, and John are also amazed. Jesus speaks kind words, “Do not fear.”

Do not fear. Everything is going to be okay. The sudden rush of guilt and sin dissipates in mercy. Do not fear. Perhaps Peter recalls the words Jesus spoke to Nicodemus.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17)

Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on, you will be catching men.” Simon and his business partners bring their boats to land and leave everything to follow Jesus. Before, the disciples were following Jesus temporarily. Now, they are following Jesus permanently.

Imagine listening to their conversations at home as they pack their suitcase to follow Jesus. Simon sits with his wife. “I am no longer fishing. I’ve left everything. Jesus asks me to follow Him. He is the Messiah. Our people have waited centuries for the Messiah, and now He is here. There is nothing more important. I’ve never felt more honored or privileged. The Messiah of Israel, the Son of God, asks me to follow Him. I will be serving Jesus as He gathers people for the Kingdom of God. I am now a fisher of men.”

Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John leave everything to follow Jesus. Their priorities change. Each one of these disciples helps establish the church, and eventually suffer a martyr’s death. The cost of being a disciple is very high.

Application for today

Imagine reading Luke’s gospel for the first time, and hearing how the disciples leave their livelihood to follow Jesus.

The disciples who follow Jesus change their priorities. The kingdom of God becomes their number one priority.

Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man finds, and from the joy of finding it, goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. And, the kingdom of God is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and finds one pearl of great value and sells all to buy it (Matthew 13:44-46). 

Where is the kingdom of God in our list of priorities? Is God’s kingdom on our minds and in our hearts? Do we speak about the kingdom in our home, and as we walk along the way?

Jesus’ requirements for His disciples

Many people think of themselves as a disciple of Jesus. The question is not whether we think we are His disciple, but whether Jesus thinks we are a disciple.

I cannot see into your heart and determine if the kingdom of God is a priority in your life. But God’s word can. The word of God is a sword that discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

When we read these verses of God’s word, quoting Jesus, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to reveal our hearts to determine if we are a disciple of Jesus.

"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26)

Are we willing to deny ourselves? Deny our privileges? Deny our comfort? Deny our entertainment? Are we willing to pick up our cross? Is following Jesus worth losing our life? Is there anything in this world worth gaining that is more valuable than Jesus? Are we ashamed of Jesus around others? Is following Jesus our life priority?

Our Calling

Luke’s words are convicting. But, let me leave you with words of encouragement.

We will make errors in the way we practice our discipleship. We can be a child of God but fall short in areas of being a disciple.

As we examine our life, do we find ourselves listening to the words of Jesus? If so, we have the mark of being a disciple.

Are we generous toward the work of the kingdom of God? Do we support the church and missions? If so, we have the mark of being a disciple.

Do we obey the Lord, even when it’s difficult? Do we pray for our enemies and turn the other cheek? Do we strive to pick up your cross daily? If so, we have the mark of being a disciple.

Are we humble before Jesus? Are we ashamed of our sin in the presence of Jesus? Do we beg Him for mercy and forgiveness? If so, we have the mark of being a disciple.

Is the kingdom of God a priority in our life? If so, we have the mark of being a disciple.

Nobody ever becomes a perfect disciple. The Bible shows us how Simon Peter is imperfect and falls short. We will fall short. Thankfully, the grace of Jesus fills the gap and makes us blameless and complete.

Be an obedient, humble, and willing disciple for the sake of God’s kingdom.