What Is A Disciple? A Reflection on Luke 24:36-49

by | Apr 30, 2024 | 3 Meek

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:36-49).

The gospels were written for disciples. In telling the story of Jesus, they serve as  narrative companions for disciples living the life after Jesus’ ascension. They conclude with episodes that bring his followers’ vocation into focus. 

This is Luke’s concluding story. What does it say not only about the life of the 11 gathered there, but about our lives? After all, we, the baptized, are thereby disciples. As a college student, I recall searching the gospels with the question, Can one be a Christian but not a disciple? 

I raised this question after studying Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and seeing how he challenged disciples to live a life of radical faithfulness that made them the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Yet, this emphasis differed from that I heard from most Christians I knew. They talked more about getting into heaven. Christian faith offered fire insurance and a nice room at the heavenly hotel. By justifying faith which requires no works, can one declare belief, call oneself a Christian, bypass discipleship, and just cash in at the pearly gates even after living a perfectly worldly life? 

Well, I’m older now. I have experienced grace. God has helped me to absorb the hard knocks and forgive people I could not forgive on my own, including myself. But most importantly, I have experienced enough grace that I don’t really care for a room at the heavenly hotel unless it means I get to continue the journey of knowing Christ and seeing God’s face. 

If one could be a Christian without being a disciple, no one who experiences amazing grace would opt in. And for the record, I could find no biblical evidence for being a Christian apart from discipleship. 

So what is a disciple? See verse 48: “You are witnesses to these things.” A disciple is a witness. Being a witness means much more than showing up in court to verify that you saw the defendant heal a blind man on the Sabbath. 

It means you saw someone and entered that person’s story yourself. It means engagement with that person changed you, shaped you until that person’s story absorbed yours. In time, you scarcely need words to tell the story. You are a living version of it yourself.

When that person is divine, reappearing alive from nowhere after death, the story exceeds words. The power of his presence so overwhelms you, literally scares the hell out of you. At the same time, his beauty attracts you so that you would never want to be anywhere but with him. Such is the fear of the Lord. You must tell it with words, but words alone will not do. You must tell with your life the story of his.

Jesus summarized the story, reminding them that it is really eons old: “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (vv. 46-47). Notice that the story is only beginning, and it continues in the proclamation that God changes lives and offers mercy for all takers. The story continues with the witness of disciples, with what you and I say and how we live.

Discipleship is not an escape from this life into another. Jesus did not come as a disembodied phantom visiting the material world. He came with scars. And he came hungry. They ate fish together. For some of them, fishing was their livelihood; for all of them, fish was a delicious main course. We eat fish together if someone fishes, someone else cooks, someone sets the table, while somebody else patches the hull for the next fishing expedition.

We live out our discipleship as we survive and get along, take care of each other and ourselves in our growing and dying bodies. We love each other and put up with each other. So discipleship bears witness to God with us on earth as it is in heaven.

Christ calls us in the flesh, invites us to learn from him. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus interrupts the miraculous healings, hard lessons, and disputations with a song:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11-28-30).

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me. A disciple is a learner, a student, from the Latin, discipulus. Disciple, this Gospel was written for your lifelong learning. Spitting and making mud that heals the blind, feeding thousands with a few loaves and fishes, driving demons from a madman into a herd of pigs and into the sea, arguing with pious people who objected to healing on the Sabbath, retreating to quiet places to pray, dining with tax collectors and prostitutes, telling what mustard seeds and little children and nagging widows teach us about God’s reign, forgiving his executors from a cross: It all adds up to a story of how he saved us from ourselves and from sin greater than ourselves. 

Also, we learn from the story to be who we are, to be who God invites us to be. Jesus does not make a lesson plan or deliver a lecture. He bids us learn in the loving and living through which he leads us, as a church and as individuals. Into this story he invites us, a story we carry on just by sharing it with each other in church and living it in the way his Spirit leads in whatever context we are given. And when we do, we are disciples. Through some of us, he may scare the hell out of people. Through all of us, in ways we may never recognize in this life, we will draw all people into his beauty.

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Image: Christus Ravenna Mosaici in Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). This is one of the eight Beatitudes with which Jesus portrayed and blessed disciples. For the full text, click here.


  1. Michael Parnell

    I heard this reference from 1 Thessalonians 4 in a sermon. I think it fits what you are saying:
    Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.
    To be a disciple is to model Jesus. Jesus lived a life we are called to emulate. Sadly, many believe that all they have to do is go down front of church and cry with preacher, and that is that.

    • J. Marshall Jenkins

      That is lovely, Mike, a fitting addition to the post.

  2. Frank Dew

    Well said and well done! Blessings!
    Frank Dew

    • J. Marshall Jenkins

      Thank you, Frank! That’s high praise coming from an exemplary disciple in my life.


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