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Becoming a Disciple, with John Hiigel

John Hiigel from The University of Sioux Falls Philosophy of Teaching page.

By and large, you who are brothers and sisters in the charismatic movement are his best practitioners in this counter-cultural endeavor of coming together and serving and cultivating spiritual power. You have led the way, so that Jesus’ images of salt and light and yeast leavening dough describe well what you aim to be and do in our world.

Something that stood out to me as I studied Matthew was Jesus’ frequent return to the theme of humility. Humility turns out to be neither an impediment to operating in power nor a contradiction to having vision and passion to do great things with God. Rather, it is the essential character quality that Jesus nurtures in the leaders he is building. One of Jesus’ most instructive comments is when he, to whom the Father has committed all things, speaks of himself as “humble in heart” (11:27, 29). The Gospel of Matthew is a story with elements of a biography. How did you come to see it as a guidebook for discipleship?

Hiigel: Some excellent Bible commentators tipped me off. I was intrigued that Robert Gundry calls Matthew’s Gospel a “handbook” for the church. Richard Hays calls it “training for the kingdom of heaven.” R. T. France says, “Matthew’s Gospel is about Jesus – but the story is told … with an eye to those who wish to follow Jesus, and whose life as Christians … he wishes to mould to the pattern established by his life and teaching.”

Humility is the essential character quality that Jesus nurtures in the leaders he is building.

The key point is that Matthew presents his good news about Jesus – beginning, middle, and end – as a call to discipleship. Immediately as Jesus begins his public ministry and announces the arrival of God’s reign (4:12-17), he calls the fishermen to “follow me” (4:18-22). In the pivotal scene mid-way, where Peter acknowledges Jesus as Messiah, Jesus explains the commitment his kingship entails for “anyone who wants to be my disciple” (16:24 niv). At the end, Jesus commissions his disciples to go and make more disciples (28:19). In the process of narrating Jesus’ story, Matthew’s Gospel summons us and trains us to be Jesus’ disciples – to partner with him in his merciful work. What surprised you as you studied Matthew to write this book?

Hiigel: One of the biggest surprises was how essential the genealogy turns out to be at the beginning. It is so easy to skip over it, but it emphasizes something essential from the very start: Jesus the King has come to fulfill the destiny of a people, a family – a family with a mission to the world. Jesus has come to restore his people, scattered and dispirited by exile, by gathering them to himself. And he comes to fulfill global promises that God made to Abraham and to King David: “All nations will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3; Psalm 72:17). Matthew additionally points to this global reach by including some Gentile women in the genealogy.

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2014

About the Author: John L. Hiigel earned his Ph.D. from Fuller Seminary and is Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota. Previously, he served more than two decades as a pastor and musician in Los Angeles. He is the author of Leadership in First Corinthians (Edwin Mellen Press, 2003) and Partnering with the King: Study the Gospel of Matthew and Become a Disciple of Jesus (Paraclete Press, 2013).

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