SECRET DISCIPLES?

In the book JESUS AMONG FRIENDS AND ENEMIES (edited by Chris Keith and Larry Hurtado) there is a chapter in the friends part titled “Secret Disciples.” David M. Allen presents a thoughtful discussion of two interesting characters in the biblical record: the two Jewish leaders Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Allen suggests the night visit of Nicodemus to Jesus (John 3:2) indicates “someone who is potentially sympathetic to Jesus but unwilling to express that publically” (p.158).  Citing John 19:38, Allen suggests Joseph of Arimathea became a “secret disciple, one who wishes to be associated with Jesus, but seemingly not in public.” (p. 167).

When I first saw the chapter title “Secret Disciples,” and still as I think about it now, I’m not sure a person can be a secret disciple. The terms sounds like a contradiction to me. The purpose of this post is not to criticize what Allen has written. His chapter is carefully researched and written, well worth reading. I want to use his essay to challenge and stimulate our thinking.

The New Testament seems to teach that the very nature of being a disciple means one has declared allegiance to Jesus. For example, in Matthew 10:32 Jesus promised, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus used two metaphors to describe His followers that contradict the idea of being a secret disciple. While neither “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) nor “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16) demands a confession as such, it’s not easy to reconcile how a person could be both salt and light as a secret disciple. A Christian’s witness as salt and light does not have to be overt, but both do speak to a disciple’s influence.

One of my favorite New Testament teachings on this subject is in I Peter 3:15b, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks to give the reason for the hope that you have.” The instruction to be prepared to respond when asked about one’s faith suggests the believer’s lifestyle has created interest. Similar to the images of salt and light, living with an obvious hope that others take note of does not have to be overt. But equally important to the instruction of I Peter 3:15b is the manner in which the writer tells us we are to answer. I Peter 3:15c cautions, “But do this with gentleness and respect.” Too often Christians acknowledge Jesus before others and answer questions about their hope and faith without gentleness and respect. With gentleness and respect calls us not to be arrogant, or condescending, or combative, or judgmental.

To be potentially sympathetic to Jesus but unwilling to express that publically, or to wish to be associated with Jesus but not in public, hardly gives a person the opportunity to acknowledge Him, to be the salt of the earth or the light of the world, or to live in such a way that one would be asked the reason for his or her hope.

I have often told the story of a little boy answering the door with his mutt dog when a door to door salesman knocked. Trying to create goodwill, the salesman noted the dog and asked, “What kind of dog is that?” The boy proudly answered, “He’s a police dog.” Puzzled, the salesman remarked, “He doesn’t look like a police dog.” The boy responded, “He’s in the secret service.” There very well may be unique situations when it would be necessary to be a secret disciple; but generally speaking a secret disciple is an oxymoron.

What do you think?

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WHO ARE YOU FOLLOWING?

Are there people you follow on Twitter? How about on Facebook? Are there one or more blogs you follow? Do you have a favorite baseball team you follow? Are you excited about the beginning of another football season because you have a favorite college or pro team you follow? Is there a favorite TV show you follow? We have many options when it comes to who and what we want to follow, don’t we?

The person I am most interested in following is Jesus. There is nothing wrong with any of the other options mentioned in the first paragraph; it’s just that the most important person to follow is Jesus. And to follow Jesus does not mean we cannot follow someone on Twitter or have a favorite team we follow.

During His ministry Jesus called people to follow Him and explained what that meant. Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23 all record Jesus as saying, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” There is additional important teaching from Jesus that follows this verse, but this verse is the essence of it.

To be Jesus’ disciple is to follow Him—that’s what it means to be a disciple. His first disciples literally followed Him from place to place, but today we do not have that privilege. New Testament and Greek scholar William Barclay suggests a number of ways follow was used in classical Greek that adds to the meaning of following Jesus: among other associations it was used of a soldier following his commander, it was used of slave attending his master, it was used of following or obeying someone’s advice or opinion, and it was used of obeying the law.

In His own words Jesus said to be His disciple requires the denial of oneself. When He adds a follower must “take up one’s cross” He deepens the qualification of denying oneself. Those who first heard Jesus offer this challenge would have understood that taking up one’s cross meant to carry a crossbar to the place of one’s execution by crucifixion. While crucifixion was a reality for some early Christians, taking up the cross for us has to do with self-denial. It means we must completely give ourselves to the Lord and surrender to Him. Only Luke has the added word daily in connection with taking up one’s cross, which tells us it is not something that is done only once but is to be a way of life. The reality is that to follow Jesus often calls us to sacrifice.

Those first disciples who followed Jesus gave up something to follow Him. Peter, Andrew, James, and John gave up their work as fisherman (Mark 1:18 and Luke 5:11). Matthew gave up his lucrative career as a tax collector to follow Jesus (Matthew 9:9). We don’t know about the others, but we can be sure they too gave something up. And it seems consistent to conclude that those who follow Jesus today will be expected to give something up in order to do so.

Let’s ask again what we did in the title of this post: who are you following? Or, even more direct, are you following Jesus? Simply appreciating and admiring Jesus will never be enough. We are called to follow Him; and that means a denial of self and a taking up of our cross to do so. How a person responds to Jesus is the most important decision they will ever make.

Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this post.

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