Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Inductive Bible Study on Discipleship in Matthew 8-9 (Seminary Notes)

"Le Christ Bennissant" by Bernardino Luini
Louvre, Paris
Dear friends,

I thoroughly enjoyed my first semester at Asbury Theological Seminary (Orlando campus) this past fall, and I'm looking forward to three new classes starting in a few weeks.

One of the classes I took - and the one which drew me to seminary in the first place - was Inductive Bible Study (IBS) on Matthew. The whole goal is to be able to do an in-depth study of the text and glean directly from it. We learned how to survey passages of Scripture, break them down into units and sub-units, find major structures (recurrence of themes, cause and effect, generalization & specification, introduction to climax, etc.), make observations, and ask/answer interpretive questions. We also did word studies from Greek, as well as consulting commentaries after we had finished all of our own studies. The application phase is reserved for a more advanced IBS class. Unfortunately we did not have time to study every passage in Matthew. The weekly assignments were already quite time-consuming, taking anywhere from about 7 to 18 hours each. Now we know how to pick apart a passage and squeeze more insight out of it than we ever though possible.

A Facebook friend recently invited me to join an FB group to read through the four gospels this year. I thought that sounded like a good way to keep going, so I hit the button and now we're on Matthew 8. I recognized it as one of the passages I had studied during an Observation and Interpretation assignment. Since we had been invited to share our findings with the group, I figured I would dust off this assignment and post it to this blog.

Note that the study here is only part of a much larger process. I haven't done a structural analysis, nor an in-depth word study section. The Observation & Interpretation section is broken into three smaller sections, according to the three questions (ex. How Does One Become a Disciple?) posed by my professor, Dr. Brian Russell. The questions underneath them in parentheses (ex. What Are a Disciple’s Initial Experiences with Jesus?) are my paraphrases of Dr. Russell's questions. If I had not limited myself to these three assigned questions, I would have made many additional observations and interpretations, and I would have done the verses in order rather than by section. I'll try to post another study later on which has other features to it.

Far from being just an academic exercise, this assignment made me think deeply about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. I hope that this blog post will spark that discovery in you as well.

Matthew 8:1-9:35
Observation and Interpretation
Theme: Discipleship

How Does One Become a Disciple?
(What Are a Disciple’s Initial Experiences with Jesus?)
The crowds followed Jesus when he came down from the mountain after his sermon.
Discipleship starts with the simple act of following, which may be within the context of a group of other interested people who don’t end up becoming disciples in the fullest sense. There are social factors in discipleship. In this case, it started first with hearing about Jesus (which prompted the gathering on the mount) and then hearing Jesus himself speak to the crowd.
The leper came individually and knelt before Jesus, calling him Lord and asking him for cleansing.
Following Jesus and becoming his disciple is not just as one of the crowd, but coming personally and reverently, expressing dependence and submission.
The Gentile centurion came to Jesus with a humble and reverent request, recognizing the power and authority of Jesus as Lord. He also related his own experiences with authority.
A disciple recognizes the power and authority of Jesus to change situations. A disciple naturally brings his/her own personal experiences that shape his/her perception of who Jesus is. Disciples each have their own way of relating to Jesus.
Jesus commended the Gentile centurion for his faith and declared that many would come from east and west to his banquet table, but  many who assumed they were of the kingdom would be thrown out.
Becoming a disciple also starts with faith in who Jesus is and what he can do. It is not based on being a member of the religious elite. It is available for all, no matter their national or ethnic background.
Jesus saw Matthew at the tax booth and commanded him to follow, which Matthew immediately did.
Becoming a disciple starts with responding to his call, preferably promptly. This also often means leaving other pursuits behind, which is evidence of placing Jesus as the top priority.
When questioned, Jesus said he came to call the sinners, not the righteous.
A disciple of Jesus does not start out as a righteous person, but as a sinner. Becoming a disciple is not based on already being a devout person. It only takes a sinner who knows his/her need for Jesus.

A key word in some of these verses is “follow.”
Following isn’t just about physically walking (or driving) behind someone. It is about heeding their instruction and example, and doing the things they do.

What Are the Requirements of Being a Disciple?
(What Does a Disciple Need to Be and Do?)
When Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.
Jesus gives orders, and disciples must obey them. Discipleship often means pulling away from the big crowd to walk with Jesus. That doesn’t mean living as a solitary hermit though; the disciples were all with him, and each other, in the boat.
The scribe promised to follow Jesus wherever he went, but Jesus replied that the Son of Man had no place of his own, even to sleep.
A disciple must be willing to travel continually to places where he/she may not “belong” - and where there are few comforts. A disciple must be willing to not even have a settled home.
Another disciple said he wanted to go bury his father first, but Jesus told him to let the dead bury their own dead.
A disciple must be willing to leave behind family and its obligations, as necessary, to demonstrate the priority of following Jesus. I think I have read before that this verse doesn’t necessarily mean the father was already dead, but that the man wanted to wait until his father was dead and buried.
The disciples of John asked why the disciples of Jesus were not fasting. Jesus replied that they were like attendants celebrating with the bridegroom while he was with them, but that they would fast in mourning later when he wasn’t with them.
Sometimes disciples fast, and sometimes they don’t. This is not a rigid requirement. What is required is to be sensitive to the demands of the current situation, as when Ecclesiastes 3:4-5 says there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

A key feature in some of these verses is immediate and unconditional obedience to the call and commands of Jesus.
A disciple is required to obey Jesus without excuse or delay.

What Does It Mean to Be a Disciple?
(What Kind of Experiences Can a Disciple Expect While Following Jesus?)
Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and many other people (including those afflicted by demons and spirits) fulfilling the Isaiah prophecy: “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
Being a disciple means knowing that Jesus cares about the disciple’s family members, but that this practical compassion goes way beyond circle into in the larger community. Being a disciple means being placed in the context of the prophetic tradition, and recognizing how Jesus fulfills predictions made about him as the Messiah.
When Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.
Being a disciple means spending time with Jesus. Jesus was with his disciples in the boat, wanting to get away from the crowds. One might presume that this is because he wished to spend more intimate and in-depth time in fellowship with his committed disciples.
The disciples were distressed while they were in a boat in a storm while Jesus was asleep.
Being a disciple of Jesus means that he/she is sometimes put in uncomfortable situations where he/she doesn’t really know what is going on, but still needs to trust God and ask for help.
The disciples were amazed at the power which Jesus exercised over the wind and the waves.
Being of a disciple of Jesus often means feeling astonished to freshly discover who he is and what he can do.
The disciples watched two demoniacs confront Jesus. They witnessed him sending the demons into a herd of pigs who rushed into the lake to their death. They heard the horrified townspeople beg Jesus to leave.
Being a disciple of Jesus can mean encountering evil powers and watching Jesus overcome them. It means dealing with people who don’t understand or appreciate the work of God, and who place higher priority on material goods than the well-being of other people.

The disciples were with Jesus when he had dinner in a home with many tax collectors and sinners sitting with them.
Being a disciple of Jesus means being ready to meet and befriend people who live on the margins of society.
The Pharisees questioned the disciples about why Jesus would eat with tax collectors and sinners.
Being a disciple of Jesus means having to answer questions about Jesus from people who may be hostile and incredulous.
The disciples of John questioned Jesus about why his disciples were not fasting like them.
Being a disciple of Jesus means people asking questions, sometimes accusatory, about the nature of discipleship. The actions of disciples in following Jesus may not always measure up to the expectations of others who sincerely follow the same God from a different perspective.
Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast when he was with them, whereas they would mourn and fast later when he wasn’t with them.
Being a disciple of Jesus means that there are times for normal living and joy, and times for fasting and mourning. There is a lot of adjusting to situations.
When questioned about why his disciples did not fast, Jesus gave analogies about not sewing an unshrunk patch on an old cloak, and not pouring new wine into old wine skins.
Being a disciple has something to do with old and new. I believe there is an implication that being a disciple means that Jesus makes a fundamental change in the heart, and that what fit in with the disciple’s life before knowing Jesus won’t fit in any longer after becoming his disciple.
Jesus followed the synagogue ruler to his daughter, and the disciples went with him.
Being a disciple of Jesus means following him when he responsively and compassionately “follows” someone else. A disciple might have to go to (and with) others instead of expecting to stay in his/her own place.
Jesus traveled, taught, preached, and healed.
Being a disciple means participating in what Jesus is doing to minister to others.

Commentary Findings
Using the Strong’s Concordance, entry G3101, at Blue Letter Bible, I found that the word for disciple in Matthew 8-9 is mathētēs, which they define as “a learner, pupil, disciple.”  According to the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels,“... mathētēs ... designated adherents or followers who were committed to a recognized leader, teacher or movement.”
In reference to the two men who claimed to want to follow Jesus, R.T. France notes:In these two tantalizing scenes, therefore, we are reminded of the grey area which existed between the uncommitted “crowd” (cf. 5:1; 7:28–29) and the fully-committed Twelve, an area which will be further delineated in the range of responses set out in the parable of the sower (13:3–8, 18–23).”
Both R. T. France and Anna Case-Winters addressed the issue of whether the would-be disciple’s father was dead yet. France acknowledges that it was a possibility, but also countered that “If the father had just died, the son could hardly be out at the roadside with Jesus; his place was to be keeping vigil and preparing for the funeral. Rather, to “bury one’s father” is standard idiom for fulfilling one’s filial responsibilities responsibilities for the remainder of the father’s lifetime, with no prospect of his imminent death.”
Case-Winters, on the other hand, is more prepared to accept the man’s words at face value: “Left to stand as it is, the story lays bare the radical demands of discipleship… One must be willing to give up ‘home and security and family obligations’ to leave it all behind and cross over to the other side.” She also comments on discipleship in reference to the boat story: “This perilous crossing is a harbinger of things to come. The way will be stormy, but Jesus will be with them. The promise of Jesus’ presence and authority over storms was a needed word.” Finally, she also notes: “Tax collectors were assumed to be thieves as well as collaborators, collecting more than was required and profiting from the power of their positions… Yet here is Jesus calling Matthew the tax-collector to follow him. Jesus is calling sinners to be disciples (9:13).”
Commentary References:
Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (The IVP Bible Dictionary Series) (p. 203). InterVarsity Press.
France, R. T.. The Gospel of Matthew (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) (p. 324-330). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Case-Winters, Anna. Matthew (Belief: a Theological Commentary on the Bible) (p.149-152), Westminster John Knox Press.

Becoming a disciple is a matter of believing and following Jesus, recognizing his deity, his power, and his authority. It does not require that a person be righteous to come to him, as he says he came for sinners. He proved that by calling Matthew, a despised tax collector, as well as commending the faith of the Gentile centurion over against many who would claim to be sons of the kingdom. The requirements of discipleship are acknowledging the priority of Jesus over all other claims, and obeying him fully and promptly. A disciple’s life may involve uncomfortable, awkward, and risky situations. They will at times have to lay aside other priorities, including family, in obedience to Christ. They will be mocked and interrogated. They will encounter evil powers. They will learn to embrace marginalized people. They will have to adjust their actions and demeanor based on circumstances. Most of all disciples can expect to be continually astonished by the compassion, the healing presence, and the power and authority of Jesus.