Discipleship Series IV: Made in…“Whose Image?”

Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me – Mark 9:37

Background

In our last lesson, Jesus had just driven out a spirit that had tormented this young man for most of his life. It was a teaching moment for the disciples, both from the standpoint of understanding what the people around them wanted and expected, and the life they needed to live in private and public to fulfill those wants and needs. As they continued on their journey, it was clear that the command “Listen to Him” was still not fully resonating with the disciples and that they had more to learn from the teacher.

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. – Mark 9:30-32

Jesus and the disciples could have stayed in the place they were. He could have spent time with the newly delivered boy and his father and used that as a teaching moment with the disciples. Surely that would have reinforced the command to “Listen to Him”. Jesus however took a completely different path in the evolution of the disciples: he left it all. The recognition, the accolades, the new found followers, all of it gets put aside so he can focus on his goal of molding the disciples into his image – and his image is not his. It is the image of the Father.

Stuart Discipleship

On the show MadTV, there was a sketch about a boy named Stuart who, when he felt he was not getting attention would cry out “Hey! Look at me!” immediately followed by some crazy kid move that would, if effective, cause those around to focus only on him. The disciples were having Stuart moments among themselves as they jockeyed for position with the master.

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. – Mark 9:34

3 disciples with a command to listen to the teacher… 9 disciples bested by the teacher in dealing with a foul spirit, and yet they still were looking for their own recognition. They still wanted to feel important, to have a Stuart moment where people would stop what they were doing to “look at them”. This is one reason Jesus pulled them away and went somewhere private. It was not enough for Jesus to say what he wanted to teach them, he had to demonstrate it. They needed to see that, for the teacher, it was not about being known, not about the accolades, but about allowing people to see through him to the Father.

As disciples, the desire for importance can become intoxicating, especially in a world that thrives on self-promotion and stature. We have to have the courage to “leave it all” in order for people to see the greater purpose – the Father’s love and desire for them.

See Me… Be Me

The disciples figured that they were being trained for leadership. They saw Jesus as eventually taking the throne and they, having followed him for these many years, would obviously take positions of authority and recognition. If they were going to be leaders, they would obviously need followers. There is an Afghan proverb that says

 “if you think you’re leading and no one is following you, then you’re only taking a walk”.

Jesus had to teach the disciples about true greatness – about true leadership

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be the first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” – Mark 9:35

For Jesus, leadership was not about gaining followers. It was not about recognition. It was not even about being in front. Jesus didn’t heal the boy so he could prove he could do it. He did it because he had dedicated himself as a servant to his Father and to those who he encountered. Jesus didn’t stop there though. He took it one step further, using an object lesson to both drive the point home, and demonstrate what the life of the disciple was truly supposed to be

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” – Mark 9:36-37

Family dynamics are interesting, especially families with small children. There is a phrase in Black households you would hear from time to time: “Shhh… grown folks is talking”. When adults were in the room, children were to be seen and not heard, and often times not seen. This was very similar in Jesus’ time.

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate – Galatians 4:1

Children, as children, had no importance, influence or ability to lead anyone. They certainly were not to be an example of the type of person to emulate if you wanted to be recognized.  Jesus however brought a child in the middle of this adult conversation to illustrate a point – “it is not your personal importance that is the focus: it is who you point to”. It is interesting to note that even in this context, Jesus doesn’t ultimately point them back to himself as teacher.

“Whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me”.

Jesus pulled the disciples away from the crowd, the success and recognition and showed them that to really be disciples, they had to be willing to be nothing in the eyes of those around for the sake of pointing them to the Father. As disciples, we also have to learn how to be like children and servants whose sole purpose is to point people toward the teacher

Are You My Mother?

This is a title of a children’s book from 1960 where a young bird hatches while his mom goes to look for food. The bird goes around to anything that moves and asks, “are you my mother?” to which everyone responds, “No”. The book illustrates a biological phenomenon known as “imprinting” where birds in particular attach themselves to the first thing they see. Discipleship can follow similar patterns where we latch onto the one who led us to Christ or gave us our first source of growth or opportunity as a Christian.

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ”. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? – I Corinthians 1:11-13

Paul had to deal with the tendency for disciples to imprint upon their teachers. The tendency however brought fights, jealousy and division into the body, because they were not focused on the true end result. The Corinthian church was using the identification with their “leader of choice” to do the same thing Jesus’ disciples were doing on the way Capernaum: figure out who among them was the best. They were looking for their own image to be exalted, and one way to do that was to “wear the colors” of their choice teacher.

My Way or the Highway

Jesus’ disciples heard what he was saying to them, saw the object lesson of the child, but still didn’t get it

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of [following] us. – Mark 9:38

The disciples wanted this person to imprint upon them – to take his lead from them, do what they did, and become followers of them. They wanted it to stop with them, to effectively make the man in their image. “Even though he is using Jesus’ name, he is not following us, so we can’t allow that”. Jesus showed them that their concept of the way to follow Jesus needed some adjusting. Being a disciple is not about being controlled by another or molded into their image, but rather being freed to learn, to grow and to experience what the teacher has to offer. It is interesting that they would bring up stopping someone from succeeding in something they had just failed to do because he wasn’t locked into who they were.

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.” – Mark 9:39-41

The disciples had been looking for greatness, position, recognition, but Jesus taught them that all of that comes only by letting all of that go. To be something, they had to be nothing. To be a leader, they had to point people to a reality greater than themselves. To be in control, they had to allow for people to do it all differently.

The life of a disciple is not an exalted position. It is a place of learning in secret, of deferring greatness, of being like a child. It is pointing people to the Father, and rejoicing when they get there, even if they don’t do it our way. It is giving it all away so the image others see is not us, but the one who sent us.

Meditation

  • What position or place of importance do you expect from following Jesus?
  • Are you willing to “leave it all” – to give up all rights to recognition for people to see the Father through you?
  • Have you found yourself having “Stuart moments”, where you are looking for attention? Do you have Stuart moments with God?
  • Are you looking for followers to establish yourself as a leader?
  • How do you feel about being compared to someone who has no importance?
  • Have you ever tried to control another person’s expression of faith?

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