JESUS OUR RABBI
Jesus invited disciples to come and follow Him at the very outset of His ministry. Being Jewish and living in a first century Jewish community He obviously followed the tradition of the rabbis of Israel by calling disciples and offering to them His yoke. In a significant way, however, Jesus made radical departures from the traditions. While Jesus’ invitation, “Come. Follow Me…” (Mark 2:14) and “Take My yoke upon you...,” (Matthew 11:29) was like the invitation offered by the other rabbis, His invitation differed substantially from theirs. This scriptural image of Jesus as Rabbi calling disciples provides us a tremendous insight into our relationship with our Lord and reveals what an amazing and wonderful thing it is to receive Christ’s invitation to “follow Him” and be His disciples.
It was not an easy thing to become the disciple of a rabbi. Only the crème de la crème of Jewish students could ever hope to be invited to be a disciple of a rabbi. To even be considered worthy of such an invitation, the student would have proven himself by rising to the top above all other students through the first two stages of schooling. The first stage was beit Sefer which began for all Jewish children at age of six. They memorized the Torah, led by the local rabbi at the local synagogue. Only the very best students progressed to the second stage, beit Talmud, and memorized the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Prophets and The Writings. At each stage those who didn’t make the grade simply returned to their families to learn the family business. Only the best of the best were eligible to apply to go to the third level, beit Midrash.
Rabbis were highly respected and honored men in Israel. They interpreted God’s word and will for the people of Israel. To receive the honored rabbi invitation to follow him was the highest privilege a young man could ever hope for. Very few made it through the first two stages, and fewer still were allowed into the third stage, beit Midrash.
The potential disciple, in addition to being a proven superior student, had to desire more than to just learn all that the rabbi knew, he had to deeply desire to give himself to becoming just like his rabbi and learning how to do what his rabbi did. If this was his desire, he would ask a rabbi to accept him as his disciple and then be thoroughly examined by that rabbi to determine his fitness. If the rabbi rejected him he would return home like the others to ply the family trade. But if the rabbi was satisfied that the candidate was special and really had what it took to be just like himself and do what he did, he would say to the candidate, “Come follow me. Take my yoke upon you.”
The rabbi’s “yoke” was his unique insight and interpretation of what God’s message was, as spoken through Moses in the law and through the prophets. The new disciple would take his rabbi’s “yoke” upon himself, as his own, and begin learning from him. His goal was to become just like his rabbi; to “have the mind of his rabbi.” (I Corinthians 2:16)
In light of all this, how on earth could anyone ever qualify to become a disciple of Jesus? Jesus was much more than just a rabbi like the others. More than just interpreting God’s Word, Jesus was God’s Word become flesh. Therefore, it would follow that if it was so extremely difficult to qualify to be approved as a disciple of one of the rabbis of Israel, one could reasonably expect that it would be absolutely impossible to meet the extreme standards required to be a disciple of Jesus. Yet we know the names of the disciples that followed Jesus. Who were these extraordinary people? Where did Jesus find men with the exceptional qualifications necessary to be His disciples?
Jesus’ disciples were exceptional only in their ordinariness. Jesus radically departed from the tradition of the rabbis when He called His disciples. The men Jesus chose were nothing like the ones other rabbis chose. They were not exceptional at all, but rather a duke’s mixture of tradesmen that would never merit consideration by the other rabbis. The first disciples Jesus invited were Simon and his brother Andrew, and the two brothers, James and John. When He met them they were busy plying their family’s trade – fishing. Given what we discussed above, it would be reasonable to surmise that these men had not made the cut at some stage and thus were not considered “good enough” to be disciples. They were “unschooled, ordinary men.” (Acts 4:13) Yet Jesus called each one of them, and others just like them, to follow Him and be His disciples.
It’s simply amazing that Jesus issued the honored rabbi’s invitation, reserved for only the best of the best, to these ordinary men and made them His disciples. Unprecedented. No other rabbi would ever have considered such men. But Jesus did. He called them because He was confident that they could be just like Him and do what He did. It has been said, “Jesus doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” Jesus’ had confidence in them because He would be the One to qualify them. He promised them, “Come, follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) Jesus’ invitation alone expressed His confidence that these men could be like Him and do the things He was doing. But He also said it, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12-14) Jesus’ disciples did extraordinary things that the disciples of the other rabbis never dreamed of doing.
Jesus introduced His disciples to wonders beyond anything the disciples of other rabbis could even imagine. Taking the yoke of Jesus and following Him was an adventure unlike anything ever possible before. On one occasion, for instance, Jesus gave the twelve a trial run as part of their training. “Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits… They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” (Mark 6:12-13) Wow! Just like their Rabbi, Jesus.
Jesus said, “It is enough for the student to be like his teacher…” (Matthew 10:25) They were becoming like their Rabbi and knew that they would be able to do whatever He did. So when Peter, along with the others, saw Jesus walking on the water, he shouted to Jesus, “Lord, if it is You, tell me to come to You on the water.” Knowing that he could do it, Jesus replied, “Come.” So, just like His Rabbi, Peter walked on water. (Matthew 14:28-29)
Jesus still issues the honored rabbi’s invitation to us, “Come. Follow Me. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me.” His invitation is not based upon our exceptional merit, but upon His power to make us to be just like Him. His invitation to us today to be His disciple carries with it the opportunity, the requirement and the power to become just like our Rabbi, Jesus, and do the things He does.