Matthew 10:1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.
This passage records a momentous occasion. In verse 1 the twelve are called “disciples”. But in verse 2 they are called “apostles”. What’s the difference?
A “disciple” is a “learner” who seeks to imitate the life of the master. Up to this point in the story, that is what the twelve disciples had sought to do. They had lived closely with Jesus listening to his formal teaching, but more importantly, imitating his life. As I’ve said in this space many times, a life of faith is more caught than taught. It’s more “imitation” than “information”. So, apparently, Jesus believed the twelve were ready to enter a new phase in their development as they changed from being disciples to apostles.
The word apostle means “sent ones”. As apostles, the twelve were sent to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom just as they’d seen Jesus do many times. Not everyone who heard their message received it, but some did. Those persons were invited to follow the apostles just as the apostles had followed Jesus. This process illustrates two key objectives for the church ever since:
(1) Grow people whose lives increasingly look like Jesus (discipleship)
(2) Grow disciples who share their new life with others (reproduction)
Some of you reading this blog post are in phase one – discipleship. You are learning what it means to imitate the life of Jesus our Lord. And you probably have spiritual mentors to accompany you in that process. I can assure you that your willingness to embrace a life of discipleship pleases the Lord. You will be blessed in this process, and you will bless others.
Others have you are in phase two – reproduction. You’ve been a disciple for years, and so now the Lord is bringing people into your relational orbit so that you can invite them to imitate you. I know. It seems mighty presumptuous to suggest other people should imitate your life – but there’s really no other way to grow disciples. Are you a perfect example? No. But you don’t have to be perfect to make disciples. Even a cursory reading of the gospels reveals that the twelve apostles were far from perfect. They failed regularly, sometimes spectacularly. Yet God used them to plant spiritual seeds that would ultimately become a body of over a billion followers.
God can do the same with you. Really. Let’s pray.
Lord Jesus, thank you for inviting us to follow you, to imitate your life by imitating those who are mentors for us. And thank you for the opportunity you give us to reproduce our life of faith into others. Give us grace to suspend disbelief long enough for you to do a work in us today. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.