Jesus was about to get started.
He was about to get started on a world-shattering mission and ministry that would call people to see the working of God’s grace in the midst of life. A life that was personified in Christ who, as the Son of God, came to show people the way to the Father’s eternal love and how to live that love out in their lives.
We pick up with Jesus as he has moved into a new neighborhood. He has returned from being near Jericho and the Jordan River to start out on this mission. Jesus does not return to Nazareth, which has been his home since he was a young child after his family moved to Egypt to get away from Herod’s and his attempts on their life. He is setting up his ministry base in a city called Capernaum.
At the time, Capernaum was one of several villages that lined the shores of the Sea of Galilee – which is, actually, more like a large lake – and were prominent with the fishing industry. It was also a community that was financially poor and was a contrast, in many ways, to the Galilean financial base in Tiberias. Even today, Tiberias is full of hotels, shopping malls, and a unique McDonald’s, whereas Capernaum is a quiet area reserved for pilgrims to visit and reflect upon the life of Christ.
For Jesus, though, this was home and it was the launching point. Matthew 4:18-22 picks up on Jesus’ initial ministry and calling of his initial disciples. Matthew’s narrative doesn’t include some of the tidbits we pick up from Luke or John. Luke describes this moment coming after a miraculous catch of fish. John says the early disciples came to Jesus, as we looked at last week, after John the Baptist pointed them to Jesus and said, “that’s the one.” Matthew’s account is intriguing for what it doesn’t include and for what it does show. It doesn’t include any previous relationship or conversation, but comes right after Jesus has called people to see the kingdom of God at work in their midst.
Jesus, in Matthew’s account, starts out after preaching the initial message to call people into this new life. This was the ethic and practice of rabbis, like Jesus, in those days. Rabbis would invite people to be guided by their teaching, so they could grow, serve, and learn what it means to follow God in all aspects of life.
These first disciples were invited to follow Jesus as they were living life on the shores of Galilee. Jesus sees Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John as they were all fishing. This was their career. Fishermen would load up their boats and head out early in the morning on their own boats. They would cast their nets over the side of the boat with the hopes of bringing in a large catch to provide for their families and the community. Jesus would have likely seen boat after boat in the sea. Today, it is still a prominent industry and you can see fishermen begin their day before light.
The place where Jesus, perhaps, saw this group of early disciples is quiet and serene. Jesus likely experienced the calm of the waters, the breeze of the wind, the feel of the shells and rocks as he walked along the shore. He knew what he was looking for and that was this group of would-be followers.
When Jesus catches up with Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John, he does so with the same purpose to ask them each a question. It comes as an invitational request. He even uses their careers as fishermen to highlight the benefit of what they would experience. Whereas they had caught fish that would provide sustenance for families, now they would bring new people into a deeper life in Christ. He asks them to follow him.
What is Jesus asking of them? He is inviting them in a life where they did not necessarily know where it would take them. To follow his entire life by taking on his teaching and grace and sharing that with others. It is a life of a journey of self-discovery and renewal to where their very actions and life match the very teaching, life, and grace of Jesus. He isn’t merely asking them to believe in him. Jesus is asking them to be led by him and go where he leads.
Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John all had the same response. They immediately responded to Jesus’ call to follow him. Those who would seek to follow Christ are called to respond to that invitation that Christ offers. That invitation comes when we hear the word of God proclaimed. We do not sit with the message and say, “that was nice,” and go off to eat and forget the message by Sunday evening. The word of God requires a response of our life in real ways.
The response of those who would seek to agree to follow Jesus is to leave everything to go where Jesus goes. Notice what the early disciples do when they responded. They left their jobs and, in the case of James and John, their family. They abandoned what they knew to experience what was unknown to them. They were willing to leave their careers, their families, what they knew about faith, what they knew about their community, in order to take on what they did not know. They left doing things the way they’ve always have been done, so they could experience what Jesus was offering them. That was a new and renewed life in God’s love. There is a deep faith and a willingness to learn and explore where God was leading them that is at the heart of these early disciples’ willingness to leave their nets behind and take up the road that Jesus was leading.
That is the aspect of following Jesus that we often miss out in living into. We look at following Jesus as believing in him and asking him into our lives. That is great, but there is more to following Jesus than a simple prayer and a desire to go to heaven after we die. Jesus teaches more about how to live as a faithful follower of God’s holy love in this world than he does about the world beyond. Why? Because, as N.T. Wright says, God is more worried about making heaven come on earth than he is about getting you out of this world and into heaven.
Unfortunately, modern discipleship has been reduced to simply believing in Jesus. We’ve lowered the bar of discipleship to where following Jesus is about showing up on Sunday. By Monday, though, we are more willing to follow our own selves and the perspectives of the world. It is a life of secular faith that has permeated through the church and into our faith life. Give me Jesus, but let me have my own ideas about life, the world, politics, or how I should be in community with one another. To the point that there is not much difference in our communities of faith, today, then there is in the world. This is not the faith Jesus calls us to follow. It is our own creation, apart from the life of Christ, so that we can remain in charge of our own world.
Why did this happen? For a number of reasons. Among those, we have lessened the discipleship expectations of following Jesus to nothing more than recognizing God is present. We’ve made being part of the church more about getting out of our community and into the so-called safe connection of other believers than it is about being a launching pad into our community to change lives and share hope. We have become comfortable with less-than-Christian behavior among leaders and people who sit in the pews of our churches, because we’re more worried about budgets failing and making people happy than we are living for Christ. As a result, we’ve grown more as apathetic disciples than truly engaged and transformed disciples. And, it is killing the church.
How can apathetic disciples hear the call of Christ to follow him? We have to remember what Jesus offers us. The life that Jesus calls people into is a life of grace and love. It is one of deeper connection with God, because we have seen God at work in our lives and we want nothing else but God in our lives. When we are fully immersed in Jesus’ life and love, it removes negativity, anger, and resentment and brings forth in us a life of deep hope and grace that is shared with ourselves and one another. Those are the true benefits of the life of Christ and what God calls us to share in the world with one another.
True discipleship and following Jesus require us of to leave where we are to experience that grace. We cannot remain as we are if we seek to follow Jesus. Following Jesus does not allow us to remain who we are, to keep our own perspectives on things, or to do things by our own standards and measures. It requires of us a deep commitment to the life of Christ where we abandon ourselves, completely, in order to take on Jesus’ life and to go wherever God was willing to go. To follow Jesus requires us to do what seems ridiculous to the world in order to experience the life of God’s holy love.
Jesus invites us to leave hearts of stone and feet of clay in order to go on a journey of spiritual discovery and renewal. It will not be easy, but it will be life changing. As it was for me and still is for me every day. Following Jesus, for me, has meant a life of leaving what I knew would be my preferred desires to take on a deeper and more challenging life of leading people to experience the life of God. It required of me to leave friends, a career, communities that I loved, all to take on more student loan debt than one person can handle, and, at times, to experience the pain of constant criticism, resentment, and anger from within the church that I love.
Yet, I would not change a moment of it. Why? Because through it all, as I have followed Jesus, I have seen God at work in miraculous ways. I’ve have been a witness of hope for families in times of grief, talked with people about deep questions of faith, stood up for the voiceless, experienced the miracle of new babies born, and laughed with people who needed a moment of joy. I’ve seen God at work in it all, and it has led me to see God at work more deeply in my own life and family. Even when it is hard, I have wanted to keep following Jesus because his life is more than what I could ever imagine and leads to more hope than I could ever share.
I want that life for you and this church. It will not happen if we remain as we are, stuck in our own ideas, but will only happen when we let go and let God. It will only happen when we hear the invitation to follow Jesus, leave everything behind, and go wherever God leads us.