Jesus, the First Disciple
by Wally Armstrong
From the very first day I sat with Jesus and opened up the New Testament, keeping a notebook by my side and a pen in hand, I asked Jesus to reveal to me the true picture of who he is and the invitation he offers to be his follower and his friend. One of those first conversations with Jesus began with the question, “Who was your best friend?” I figured I could learn a lot about making Jesus my closest friend by studying the example of his own closest friendship.
It wasn’t long before I came to realize that Jesus’ own best friend was none other than his dad, our heavenly Father! As a pair, they demonstrate a picture of total oneness, don’t they? I remembered how often Jesus would get up in the earliest hours of the morning to spend time with his dad all alone. I remembered, too, how he told his disciples that everything he said to them came directly from the guidance of his Father and the conversations they’d shared together. There was a sense of deep communion between the two of them. They shared a rich fellowship that grew out of the time they spent together in real and honest dialogue on a regular basis. In fact, I have heard it said that the greatest work of Jesus’ life was the time he spent alone with his Father. During that time, he was refreshed to do the rest of the work he’d been called to do.
I came to realize, too, that this close relationship Jesus shared with the Father made him the very first disciple of the faith. A disciple is a learner and a follower, and Jesus spent time with the Father each day to learn who the Father was and what he, Jesus, was to do and say on the Father’s behalf in the world. He apprenticed himself to the Father through their relationship. And then each day, he lived, loved, and was guided and nurtured along through the companionship of his dad, who was right by his side.
Later still in this journey, I had another revelation that taught me just how close a relationship Jesus shared with his Father. It happened when I was thinking about that most difficult of all conversations Jesus ever shared with him: when he went to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. We learn in the Scriptures that Jesus was in such anguish about what lay ahead—his road to the cross—that he said to his Father that night, “If you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NIV). After this prayer, we see that an angel comes to strengthen him, confirming the Father’s will that he proceed upon this road, and Jesus begins sweating drops of blood (verses 43–44). It is as though, having received confirmation and strength from the angel, he knew he could not finish this road on his own. He needed a strength coming from beyond himself, which the Father provided for him.
I don’t know about you, but I used to have a Sunday school picture in my head of that moment when Jesus knelt on the ground, his long robe flowing out behind him, his elbows perched on a rock, his hands folded, his eyes straining skyward in prayer. I imagined his prayer floating upward to the sky to reach God in heaven, but in my mind, God was so far removed from all Jesus felt in that moment. I imagined the Father with a bit of a frown on his face at hearing Jesus’ prayer. I saw him holding out the emotionally distant expectation that Jesus should just man up, be strong, and do what he’d been sent down to earth to do.
But now, having realized their relationship was one of such intimacy—to the point that the Father was Jesus’ very best friend and even sent an angel to give him strength during his time of greatest need—my sense of that moment in the garden began to change. As a father myself, I began to imagine what it would have been like for my own son to be in Jesus’ shoes that night. If that were the case, I knew I would have wanted to be right there with my son in that garden on the last night of his freedom, throwing my arms around him, hugging him close to my chest, and letting him cry those tears onto my shoulder. I would not have wanted to let him go. I would have wanted him to know how much I loved him so there would be no doubt in his mind. I would have grieved deeply with him for what lay ahead and could not be avoided.
It would have been agony for me too.
Excerpt adapted from Practicing the Presence of Jesus by Wally Armstrong. © Summerside Press 2012