What if we could really make disciples today like Jesus did when he was on the earth? There is no question that was what He planned for in working with the people He taught and trained everyday of his three plus years of ministry. He started with choosing the twelve men that would be with him every day, watch him perform powerful miracles and lead people from all backgrounds to salvation. One of the things that stands out as Jesus called those twelve men as ambassadors for him was that it would began with a simple challenge, “Follow me”. With the fishermen he expanded it slightly by saying, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.’ But with Matthew the tax collector it was simply “Follow me.” We aren’t given the details of his calling most of the twelve. We simply assume he used the same method with them that he did with the ones we are told about.
Jesus often attracted huge crowds, even in the thousands to listen to him teach. Many would come for the whole day and on at least two occasions Jesus felt for them and told the disciples to have them sit down and he miraculously feed, 5,000 one time and 4,000 the next with just a few fish and loaves. Each time the disciples picked up far more after the thousands ate the meal than was there at the beginning from which Jesus multiplied the small meal to feed the multitudes. He taught great lessons, such as the sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain that Luke records to these massive crowds. But He was never satisfied with working with the multitudes. At times it almost seemed that He was trying to drive away many in the crowds. In John 6 he taught them some hard lessons on what it required to be a disciple of his that led to many of the disciples turning back and no longer walking with him. Instead of Him trying to bring them back he turned to the twelve apostles and asked them if they also wanted to go away. It was in response to that question that Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Jesus after spending time with the twelve apostles or ambassadors or missionaries if you prefer, sent them out on a limited commission both to train them for the work they were being called to do and to show them what it would be like. They came back thrilled that the demons were subject to them. He told them not to rejoice about that but to rejoice because their names were written in heaven. Later he sent out 72 of the disciples on a similar commission demonstrating that his efforts to train people to be real disciples who made other disciples wasn’t limited to the twelve. I do wonder how many of the final 120 that remained true to him even after he was crucified and were with the eleven apostles to gather in prayer waiting in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended were from that group of 72. It would seem natural that the more involved people had been in the mission of reaching others for him the more likely they were to remain faithful and true even in the lowest times as when he was crucified on their behalf.
Jesus loved and worked with the twelve in powerful ways. He was constantly looking for ways and opportunities to take them aside from the crowds to have the private time to train them and prepare them for their future work. Yet it is amazing that among the twelve there were three that were in a closer relationship with him. Think of all the times he took Peter, James and John aside from the others to go with him. When he went up on the mount of transfiguration he took Peter, James and John. It was the same three that he took in for a closer stand on the night he was arrested.
A huge lesson stands out from all of this. It is fitting to work with the huge crowds to teach and help people learn the will of God and hopefully lead some to salvation. But it takes more than the crowds to really change people much. It takes time, training, personal relationships and working together. Just as a coach has to be with the team, spend special time with those who may lead the team and give them training assignments so they can learn and even critique them on what was done well and what needed improvement for anyone to succeed. Jesus is the master coach, trainer and teacher. He made disciples who became so devoted to Him they were ready to live and die for him.
Today, the church must imitate Jesus in making disciples. The gathering of the church for a great time of worship is vitally important. But it takes personal time with people to train them and work with them, to even say, “Follow me as I follow Christ” for people to become real disciples. Great disciples aren’t made in group classes for an hour or so a week. Discipleship demands involvement with others regularly in serving and sharing with others. God help us to be his disciples and to be able to make more disciples every day.