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Called to Discipleship

Called to Discipleship  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Consider what it means that every Christian is called to join Jesus in His work.

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Called to Discipleship
In this lesson, we continue with the general theme of discipleship – but today we shift gears to a particular focus on our call to ministry. We’re studying what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. A follower or student of Jesus Christ is a disciple of Jesus Christ. For some time now, the United Methodist Church has been using the term “life-long learner” in association with the term disciple. As in it’s a “long-term” process, like sanctification, another United Methodist core belief. We often get confused over the terms disciple and apostle; disciple – a follower or student of someone; and an apostle – who is a messenger, someone who is sent forth to carry a message, an authorized agent for someone, a missionary. My Bible commentary tells me that the word apostle became the official title of the 12 disciples after Jesus’ death and resurrection. , and support this, as the term apostle is used when referring to those who Jesus sent out.
Last week’s lesson reminded us that Matthew was trying to convince his readers that Jesus was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. And we know Jesus is the Messiah, he’s just not the one the Jews were expecting – the one who would deliver to them the Kingdom of God here on earth. The Jews were familiar with and other biblical prophecies about the Messiah. Their expectations and hopes were based on a political and military kingdom that would free them from Roman rule and bring back the glory days of David and Solomon – makes me think of the Bruce Springsteen song, Glory Days, but I digress.
The Jesus that Matthew reveals to us, our Messiah, believed discipleship was all about obedience. Obey God’s supreme law to love God and love others. The Sermon on the Mount – live by these principles, folks. Turn the other cheek, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit prisoners. So, this message was different, this message was a radical departure from the conventional wisdom of the time – it was a thought, an idea they had not heard before. It was avant-garde, it was neo, it was out-of-the-box, dare I say - it was progressive.
Which brings us to today’s lesson. First, two verses, :
The Son of God Goes Forth
12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,
John the Baptist’s bold and brave tongue had gotten him in trouble. He was arrested and imprisoned by Herod the king. His crime was that he had publicly denounced Herod for seducing his brother’s wife, and making her his own wife, after he had sent away the wife he had. It’s never safe to rebuke a tyrant, and John’s courage brought him first imprisonment and then death. We learn the details of that gory story later, in .
What’s important today is that for Jesus, the time had come when he had to go out with his ministry and his final mission – the reasons he was placed here for.
What he does here is important - He leaves Nazareth and moves to the town of Capernaum. The “sea” Matthew refers to is not the ocean “sea”, Capernaum was a lakeside village on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee – an inland lake. There’s a kind of symbolic finality in that move. In that moment, Jesus left his home - Nazareth, and was never going back. It’s as if he shut one door (his first 30 years) and opened another (his message and ministry). It was a clean surgical cut between the old and the new. One chapter was ended, and another had begun. In life, we all encounter these moments of decision. It’s always better to meet them decisively than it is to waiver between two courses of action.
Again, it’s noteworthy where Jesus goes. He went into Galilee. When Jesus went into Galilee to begin his mission and his ministry, he knew what he was doing. Galilee was the most northerly district of Palestine. It wasn’t large; it was only fifty miles from north to south, and twenty-five miles from east to west.
But small as it was, Galilee was densely populated. It was by far the most fertile region of Palestine; its fertility was indeed phenomenal and proverbial. There was a saying that it was easier to raise a legion of olives in Galilee than it was to bring up one child in Judaea. Josephus, who was at one time governor of the province, says: ‘It is throughout rich in soil and pasturage producing every variety of tree, and inviting by its productiveness even those who have the least inclination for agriculture; it is everywhere tilled; no part is allowed to be idle, and everywhere it is productive.’ The result of this was that for its size Galilee had an enormous population. Josephus tells us that in it there were 204 villages, none with a population of fewer than 15,000 people – that’s at least 3 million people, or about 2500 per square mile (Calcutta India, made famous by Mother Theresa had a population density of 63,000 people per square mile). So, Jesus began his mission in that part of Palestine where there were the most people to hear him.
But not only was Galilee a populous district; its people were unique. Of all the areas of Palestine, Galilee was the area most open to new ideas. Josephus says of the Galileans: ‘They were ever fond of innovations, and by nature disposed to changes, and delighted in seditions.’ They were always ready to follow a leader and to begin an insurrection. They were notoriously quick in temper and given to quarrelling. Yet for all that, they were the most brave and honorable people. ‘The Galileans’, said Josephus, ‘have never been destitute of courage.’ ‘Cowardice was never a characteristic of the Galileans.’ ‘They were ever more anxious for honor than for gain.’ The personal characteristics of the Galileans were such as to make them most fertile ground for a new gospel to be preached to them.
This openness to new ideas was due to certain facts.
(1) The name Galilee comes from the Hebrew word galil which means a circle. The full name of the area was Galilee of the Gentiles, and the phrase came from the fact that Galilee was literally surrounded by Gentiles. On the west, the Phoenicians were its neighbours. To the north and the east, there were the Syrians. And even to the south, there lay the territory of the Samaritans. Galilee was in fact the one part of Palestine that was inevitably in touch with non-Jewish influences and ideas. Galilee was bound to be open to new ideas in a way that no other part of Palestine was.
(2) The great roads of the world passed through Galilee: the Way of the Sea led from Damascus through Galilee right down to Egypt and to Africa; the Road to the East led through Galilee away out to the frontiers. The traffic of the world passed through Galilee. Down in the south, Judaea is tucked into a corner, isolated and secluded. As it has been well said, ‘Judaea is on the way to nowhere: Galilee is on the way to everywhere.’ Judaea could erect a fence and keep all foreign influence and all new ideas out; Galilee could never do that. Into Galilee, the new ideas were bound to come.
(3) Galilee’s geographical position had affected its history. Again and again it had been invaded and conquered, and the influences of the other nations were an undeniable part of its heritage.
So, the natural characteristics of the Galileans, and the preparation of history, had made Galilee the one place in all Palestine where a new teacher with a new message had any real chance of being heard; and this is where Jesus chose to begin his work.
The Herald of God
14 that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
toward the sea, across the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Our author tells us that it’s HIGHLY unlikely that the prophet Isaiah meant these verses the way Matthew understood them. Isaiah probably had an earthly king like David in mind. Jesus, as we discussed before, was different from any king Isaiah might have had in mind or that any Jew of the time might have imagined. Nevertheless, Jesus is the great light shining in the darkness (); and Jesus even says, in referring to himself, “I am the light in the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life” ().
Then Matthew tells us that Jesus began preaching the same message as John the Baptist, a message of repentance and forgiveness. And, repentance is at the heart of Jesus’ message. Our author points out that in , Jesus proclaims, “ I didn’t come to call righteous people but sinners to change their hearts and their lives.” This really was a radical, out-of-the-box, against the conventional wisdom message that was best suited for the people of Galilee. Repent, turn away from, change direction, change the direction of one’s life. This brief one-sentence summary of the message which Jesus brought is important. The Authorized Version and Revised Standard Version both say that Jesus began to preach. The word preach often has a negative connotation in today’s world; it is all too unfortunately connected in the minds of many people with boredom. But, the word in Greek is kērussein, which is the word for a herald’s proclamation from a king. Kērux is the Greek word for herald, and the herald was the man who brought a message direct from the king.
This word tells us of certain characteristics of the preaching of Jesus, and these are characteristics which should be in all preaching.
(1) The herald had in his voice a note of certainty. There was no doubt about his message; he did not come with perhapses and maybes and probablys; he came with a definite message. The German poet Goethe had it: ‘Tell me of your certainties: I have doubts enough of my own.’ Preaching is the proclamation of certainties, and we cannot make others sure of that about which we ourselves are in doubt.
(2) The herald had in his voice the note of authority. He was speaking for the king; he was laying down and announcing the king’s law, the king’s command and the king’s decision. As was said of a great preacher, ‘He did not cloudily guess; he knew.’ Preaching, as it has been put, is the application of prophetic authority to the present situation.
(3) The herald’s message came from a source beyond himself; it came from the king. Preaching speaks from a source beyond the preacher. It is not the expression of one individual’s personal opinions; it is the voice of God transmitted through that person to the people. It was with the voice of God that Jesus spoke to men and women. It was with God’s voice that he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well.
The message of Jesus consisted of a command which was the consequence of a new situation. ‘Repent!’ he said. ‘Turn from your own ways and turn to God. Lift your eyes from earth and look to heaven. Reverse your direction and stop walking away from God and begin walking towards God.’ That command had become urgently necessary because the reign of God was about to begin. Eternity had invaded circular time; God had invaded earth in Jesus Christ, and therefore it was of paramount importance that each man and each woman should choose the right side and the right direction.
Christ Calls the Fishermen
While he was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, casting their net into the sea, for they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed him. He went on from there and saw other two brothers, James, Zebedee’s son, and John, his brother. They were in the boat with Zebedee, their father, getting ready their nets for use. So he called them. They immediately left their boat and their father and followed him.
Jesus called on fishermen to follow him. It is interesting to note what kind of men they were. They were not men of great scholarship, or influence, or wealth, or social background. They were not poor; they were simple, hard-working, blue collar, salt of the earth people with no great background, and certainly, anyone would have said, with no great future.
It was these ordinary men whom Jesus chose.
Further, these men were fishermen. It has been pointed out by many scholars that those who are good at fishing must possess these very qualities which will make them equally good at ‘catching’ people.
(1) They must have patience. They must learn to wait patiently until the fish will take the bait. If they are restless and quick to move, they will never catch anything. To become good at bringing people in, we will have need of patience. It is but rarely in preaching or in teaching that we will see quick results. We must learn to wait.
(2) They must have perseverance. They must learn never to be discouraged, but always to try again – if they brought in fish every time they let out their nets or dropped a baited hook, it would be called “CATCHIN”, but they don’t and that’s why it’s called fishin’. Good preachers and teachers must not be discouraged when nothing seems to happen. They must always be ready to try again.
(3) They must have courage. When I retired from the Navy, one of the quotations I included in my handout was the Fisherman’s Prayer, ‘O God, protect me, for the sea is so great and my boat is so small.’ They must be ready to risk and to face the fury of the sea and of the gale. Good preachers and teachers must be well aware that there is always a danger in telling people the truth. Those who tell the truth, more often than not, take their reputation and their lives in their hands. Remember John the Baptist.
(4) They must have an eye for the right moment. Through experience, they know that there are times when it’s useless to fish. They know when to cast and when not to cast. Good preachers and teachers choose the right moment. There are times when people will welcome the truth, and times when they will resent the truth. There are times when the truth will move them, and times when the truth will harden them in their opposition to the truth. Wise preachers and teachers know that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent.
(5) They must fit the bait to the fish. One fish will rise to one bait and another will turn its nose to it. Paul said that he “became all things to all people if by any chance he might win some” (). Wise preachers and teachers know that the same approach will not win everyone. They may even have to know and recognize their own limitations. They may have to discover that there are certain spheres in which they themselves can work, and others in which they cannot.
(6) They must keep themselves out of sight. If they make their presence too obvious or even show their own shadows, the fish will certainly not bite. Wise preachers and teachers will always seek to present men and women not with themselves but with Jesus Christ. Their aim is to fix people’s eyes not on themselves but on that figure beyond.
So, it’s not what they had accomplished, or what they owned, or how much money they earned – maybe we can just call it their character that brought Jesus to them. Whatever the reason, the big takeaway has to be that when Jesus called them, they literally stopped what they were doing and followed him. Verse 20, “Right away they (Peter and John) left their nets and followed him.” Then verse 22, when Jesus called to James and John, “ immediately they left the boat AND their father and followed him.” They didn’t have a clue as to why, how, where or what the consequences might be. They just followed.
Some questions to reflect on:
1. Why am I a Christian?
2. How am I obeying His will?
3. How am I supporting His call to the Great Commission?
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
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