Of the thirty-three years that Jesus lived on earth, He spent only three in public ministry. In those three years He placed His priority on twelve people, talking, teaching, explaining, and living love in front of them. Through these relationships the world has been changed. In the Great Commission Jesus commands us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations . . .” How then do we obey this command? He made Himself the example of how to make disciples, we must know Him to rightly obey His command.
All these principles flow from the first one; one must abide in God himself before he can disciple anyone else. Jesus’ priority was first, to abide in God. He spent time alone in prayer and fasting, focusing on His relationship with God. The Bible says, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” (Mark 1:35) He said of Himself that He depended wholly on God, stating, “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me . . .” (John 8:28) If Jesus, the perfect one of God, did nothing of Himself, how much more important for us to do nothing of ourselves?
Although Jesus had many more than twelve disciples, the twelve were set apart, not by anything they did, but because Jesus chose them. The gospel of Mark says, “And when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.” (Mark 4:34) Even though Jesus was God, and He often ministered to the masses, there were only twelve that He was intimate with. He calls us to minister to everyone we come in contact with, but invest in the few that are near us.
Jesus invested Himself by spending time that others would have considered a waste. He spent time with publicans and sinners, eating meals with them. (Mark 2:16-17) As a ruler’s child lay dying, He stopped on His way to heal her, to identify and speak to a woman who was healed by touching His clothing. When others told Bartimaeus to leave Jesus alone, Jesus took time to speak to him and heal him. Mothers brought their children to Him and the disciples rebuked them, but Jesus took time to love them, “And He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them.” (Mar 10:16) He spent his time on people. Can we spend our time in a better way?
Jesus loved each person individually. Not the gushy feel-good emotion of love, but real, practical, deny-yourself-for-others love. He loved the disciples by choosing them, a bunch of nobodies. When the rich young ruler asked Him how to receive eternal life, Mark says, “Then Jesus beholding him loved him . . .” (Mark 10:21). Then Jesus spoke to his need.
Jesus always spoke the truth. Although many rejected it, He offered freedom by it. He spoke the truth to the Pharisees by telling them what hindered them from God, revealing their hypocrisy. He spoke the truth to His disciples, not suggesting He was offering the easy way, He plainly told them, “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34) When we do less than speak the truth we hold back freedom from those who might accept it.
Jesus patiently interacted with all kinds of people. He was patient with the father doubting His ability to heal his son. In Mark 8:17-21 Jesus reminds His disciples of the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand and asks them if they do not understand. The truth is, they did not understand, but He did not give up on them. He kept patiently explaining. If Jesus was patient with people, how do we think in our pride, that we will be excused of our impatience? Is not Jesus patient with us?
Jesus taught creatively, drawing deep lessons out of life to explain to His disciples. He used word pictures, stories, and parables. If they did not understand, all they had to do was ask, and He would carefully explain the meaning. He used repetition too. Even when they could not understand in the moment, He assured that when the time came, they would remember what He taught them and they would understand.
Jesus also used discernment about what and how much to teach. He knew so much to give and explain, but they could understand little of what He taught them. He taught with patience and wisdom, just as God gently teaches us, not putting too much on us at once.
Jesus carefully showed us the way, but only those who look for it will find it. He does not command anything of us that He does not give the grace, and the direction to do it. We must first abide in God, just as He did, because He continues to disciple us as we obey and disciple others.