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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

Follow Me

Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20

Matthew 4:18-22

Mark 1:16-20

(Mat 4:18-22 NIV) As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. {19} "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." {20} At once they left their nets and followed him. {21} Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, {22} and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

(Mark 1:16-20 NIV) As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. {17} "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." {18} At once they left their nets and followed him. {19} When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. {20} Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

We hear very little these days about “the call.” It is a term which seems to belong to the nineteenth century, not the twentieth. Most of us do not thing of ourselves as being called by God for anything, and we have in mind the idea that a call of God is something which happens to other people -- usually ministers and evangelists. Somehow this is a mystical something, and it happens only to specially qualified people (which of course lets us out). We shall see that this is not so, by asking and answering three questions:

·         Who is called?

·         What is the nature of the call?

·         What is the life of the one who is called?

The answers to these questions show that the call is an ordinary thing, which happens to ordinary people, calling them to a life which is extraordinary.

Who is called?

If there is any one thing which is most clear about the call of Jesus, the “follow me” of this passage, it is that He calls ordinary people. The facts are rather overwhelming: Jesus, in person, calls ordinary people. He does not seek out the genius, the talented ones as a rule. When He does (for example, Paul) He does so with a specific plan in mind. In Paul’s case this meant unlearning everything he knew.

Why does Jesus call the ordinary man? Why is it that the work of the kingdom is carried by such men? There are many possible reasons:

·         By using the ordinary man to bring the extraordinary to the world, God provides the hearer with a unique testimony. It’s one thing when a learned man is eloquent and profound; it’s entirely another when the ordinary man is so profound. Here’s an example:

(Acts 4:13 NIV) When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

You see the point? The learned ones were astonished at what these rubes could do -- until they remembered these men had been with Jesus.

·         As a way of corollary, the use of the ordinary man teaches the disciple that it is God’s strength which counts, not his own. Indeed, the point is clearly made that in our own strength we can accomplish nothing; His strength is what matters:

(2 Cor 12:9 NIV) But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

·         A third reason is this: by the use of the ordinary sinner he calls ordinary sinners. The testimony of the expert is useful; the testimony of the eyewitness is much easier to understand. That’s why Jesus himself ate with the sinners. As He explained it,

(Mark 2:17 NIV) On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Sometimes he does pick an expert for the call. When He does, you can be assured it is not going to go well for the learned one. As Christ revealed about Paul,

(Acts 9:16 NIV) I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

The variety of individuals whom Jesus chose as disciples is indicative of this. We do not know too much about too many of them, but consider their occupations. James, John, Peter and Andrew were fishermen, as we see in the passage today. Matthew, also known as Levi, was a tax collector. Recall that a tax collector at this time was considered as a quisling, a man who collected taxes for the Roman government -- and was paid by how much he could extort out of the people. One of his fellow disciples was Simon the Zealot -- a man whose party platform was based on revolution against the Romans. In our way of doing things today, Matthew would be a well placed IRS bureaucrat, and Simon would by a right wing, assault weapon toting extremist. The first four disciples would probably be union members.

The nature of the call

There is one very striking thing about the call of Jesus: it is so ordinary. Two words: follow me. No code of ethics, no traditions to learn, just “follow me.”

Personal

The call is personal. It is the call of a person, Jesus, to another person. Its goal is not one of education or training but of lifestyle. Indeed, as Paul puts it,

(1 Cor 11:1 NIV) Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

This is the classic view of education. We view education today as training. Students run from class to class, picking up bits of specialized knowledge. They viewed education as a process by which a student becomes like his master. We have an example of this in the Old Testament>

(1 Ki 19:20-21 NIV) Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. "Let me kiss my father and mother good-by," he said, "and then I will come with you." "Go back," Elijah replied. "What have I done to you?" {21} So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.

The students “sets out to follow.” It is a personal kind of education, and the result is that Elisha inherits the mantle (we still use that expression today) of Elijah.

There is something more in this passage, however. Note the phrase, “What have I done to you?” The inflection in Elijah’s voice is lost, but I suspect it means something like this: Consider the kind of life I’ve had, kid. I don’t deserve the sacrificial offerings you just made to God; I am the least of his servants, and frankly don’t think I’ve been too confident in my faith. And you’re following me?

The point is this: such personal following is too great for any ordinary man. Only God deserves the personal devotion that such actions imply.

Call to follow

The call is not to come along side, nor to join the work, nor to enlist in the cause -- it is simply to follow. We are not called as equals; we are called as those who know who the leader is. The Apostle John gives us a ready test to see how we are doing at this:

(1 John 2:3 NIV) We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.

The test of a true follower is this: he has learned enough at Jesus feet that he now obeys his Lord’s commands.

What is that to you?

One aspect of discipleship, of following the way, that is often missed is this: We are called to follow him. That call excludes any possibility of our meddling in other Christians’ ways of following him. Peter learned this lesson after the Resurrection:

(John 21:20-22 NIV) Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") {21} When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" {22} Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."

Thomas a Kempis gives us a perspective on this. A monk, familiar with the ways of community living, he pictures Christ talking to him and say, “MY CHILD, do not be curious. Do not trouble yourself with idle cares. What matters this or that to you? Follow Me. What is it to you if a man is such and such, if another does or says this or that? You will not have to answer for others, but you will have to give an account of yourself. Why, then, do you meddle in their affairs?”

This also means that I have no choice in my traveling companions on the journey to heaven. He calls; they respond; what is that to me?

Life of the called

Depend upon it: if you want the highest morale, the toughest troops, you must assign them the most difficult of missions. That is just what our Lord has done for those who answer his call. He puts it this way:

(Mat 16:24 NIV) Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

This is the narrow road, the rocky and difficult path. The easy path is just that: easy -- but it leads to hell. Thomas a Kempis (who is quite the best writer on this subject, at least) puts it this way:

TO MANY the saying, “Deny thyself, take up thy cross and follow Me,” (Matt. 16:24.) seems hard, but it will be much harder to hear that final word: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” (Matt. 25:41.) Those who hear the word of the cross and follow it willingly now, need not fear that they will hear of eternal damnation on the day of judgment. This sign of the cross will be in the heavens when the Lord comes to judge. Then all the servants of the cross, who during life made themselves one with the Crucified, will draw near with great trust to Christ, the judge.

Why, then, do you fear to take up the cross when through it you can win a kingdom? In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of spirit, in the cross is highest virtue, in the cross is perfect holiness. There is no salvation of soul nor hope of everlasting life but in the cross.

Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you shall enter eternal life. He Himself opened the way before you in carrying His cross, and upon it He died for you, that you, too, might take up your cross and long to die upon it. If you die with Him, you shall also live with Him, and if you share His suffering, you shall also share His glory.

Make no mistake. The “follow me” of Christ demands all that you have. Christ himself put it this way:

(Mat 22:37-38 NIV) Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' {38} This is the first and greatest commandment.

The obedience implied is so complete that even the Apostles had no choice in their own work. The men we meet in our passage today were fishermen who became fishers of men. But even in the early church an Apostle could not even choose the geography in which he would serve:

(Acts 16:6 NIV) Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.

Note the phrase “kept by the Holy Spirit from...” Paul wanted to preach in Asia (modern Turkey) but was prevented from it. Even Paul couldn’t go where he wanted to go. He was under the leadership of his Lord. C. H. Spurgeon puts the point this way:

You have not the making of your own cross, although unbelief is a master carpenter at cross-making; neither are you permitted to choose your own cross, although self-will would fain be lord and master; but your cross is prepared and appointed for you by divine love, and you are cheerfully to accept it; you are to take up the cross as your chosen badge and burden, and not to stand caviling at it. This night Jesus bids you submit your shoulder to his easy yoke. Do not kick at it in petulance, or trample on it in vain-glory, or fall under it in despair, or run away from it in fear, but take it up like a true follower of Jesus. Jesus was a cross-bearer; he leads the way in the path of sorrow. Surely you could not desire a better guide! And if he carried a cross, what nobler burden would you desire? The Via Cruces is the way of safety; fear not to tread its thorny paths.

“Take up your cross” says the One. When he tells us to follow him, he tells us that He, and He alone, is the way, the truth and the life. As the inevitable Thomas a Kempis then tells us:

Without the Way, there is no going.

Without the Truth, there is no knowing.

Without the Life, there is no living.

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