Discipleship is not about our excellence as followers. It’s about the excellence of the one we follow.
November 18, 1978. Cult leader Jim Warren Jones led 909 of his followers to their deaths by mass suicide in the jungles of Guyana. Those who didn’t drink the deadly concoction of cyanide and Flavor Aid were forcefully injected this poison by other frightened and blind followers of their crazed leader. The drug-addicted and paranoid Jones, after leading nearly a thousand people to their brutal ends, had one of his followers shoot him in the head, noticeably unable to personally endure the visible suffering caused by the poison that he led his followers to take.
Discipleship is only as good as the one being followed. It’s ultimately not about the excellence of the follower, but rather about the excellence of the one being followed. In the frequently-cited case of Jim Jones, we see that the actions of a leader can spell disaster for their followers. They followed someone who was merely a man, and that led to the needless pain and death of a thousand.
But what happens to those who follow Jesus, a man whom we believe to be fully God as well? What happened to the twelve apostles (Jesus’ closest disciples) who were mentioned in this passage?
The resurrected Christ appeared to the men mentioned in Luke 6:12-19 in such a powerful way that all of the remaining eleven apostles dedicated their lives to telling people about Jesus, and ten of them were brutally executed for it (John was exiled after a failed attempt to execute him). Make no mistake, these men accomplished “great things.” They evangelized to a majority of the known world at the time and planted the Church in places that it hasn’t left in 2,000 years. Their influence ripples throughout history, yet not one of them would claim that what he did was his own doing. The same God who had risen Jesus from the dead, who had lived among them and discipled them for years, and who had gifted them with the power of the Holy Spirit continued to work through His faithful apostles to make His love known throughout the world. It was the message of love and life that gave the disciples a cause worth dying for, not the demands of a maniacal human.
We as Christians are called to be disciples- not disciples of a fallible man, but disciples of an everlasting and all-powerful God. Discipleship is not about our excellence as followers. It’s about the excellence of the one we follow.