Follow Me: A Call to Discipleship
January 22, 2023 |Follow Me|Matthew 4:18-22
So far in the Season of Epiphany we have Jesus as…
...the word, the son of God, the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, the Messiah or the Christ.
These are the terms we normally think of Jesus in.
But in addition to all of this we see in Jesus' ministry he is a personal disciple maker.
He spent much of his earthly ministry developing his followers into the future leaders of his church. As you read the gospels, you can see it clearly in his teachings, in his actions, and in his ministry. His discipling included a large group of people in the most general way, then he spent more time developing his twelve apostles, and even more with his inner three, Peter, James, and John. Interestingly enough these three were among the first followers he called.
This is what we are going to be looking at this morning in Matthew 4 where Jesus calls Peter, his brother Andrew, James, and his brother John.
Before we dig in we need to get some context, first in this particular calling and then the larger context of discipleship within Judaism in Jesus’ day.
Jesus lived in a deeply religious culture that highly valued biblical understanding. Rabbis were greatly respected, and to be a disciple of a famous rabbi was an honor. Rabbis were expected not only to have a vast knowledge about the Bible, but to show through their exemplary lives how to live by the Scriptures. A disciple’s goal was to gain the rabbi’s knowledge, but even more importantly, to become like him in character. It was expected that when the disciple became mature, he would take his rabbi’s teaching to the community, add his own understanding, and raise up disciples of his own. -Listening to the Language of the Bible: Hearing It Through Jesus’ Ears
All of this discipleship of course culminates in Jesus’ final instructions, where he officially commissions his disciples to make more disciples who would then make more disciples.
The Great Commission- Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV) “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 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
If Jesus first discipled himself and then commanded his disciples to disciple others who would disciple others, then you see that discipleship is at the core of what it means to be a Christian and therefore central to what it means to live the Christian life.
Unfortunately, in the modern church It is often misunderstood, sparingly practiced, and sometimes so watered down that it doesn’t look anything like what Jesus modeled or commanded and does not produce disciples who make disciples. Rather we have gotten really good at producing religious consumers who produce other religious consumers.
With that as our backdrop this morning I want to share three statements about the Christian life and therefore discipleship from Jesus’ own call to his first disciples.
We find this in Matthew 4 at verse 18.
Matthew 4:18-22 (ESV) 18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
The Christian life is about following Jesus
Now that should be obvious, but think about the most prominent ways the Christian life is often presented.
Get out of hell free card Christianity- This sounds like, all you have to do is ask Jesus into your heart and you will go to heaven, and often nothing further is emphasize except maybe baptism to show you really mean it and then for the most part, life goes on as usual, until they eventually fade away from the church and stay on the roll for the rest of their life, secure in the fact, that one time, often a long time ago, after a VBS, or a revival meeting, or an especially impactful sermon, they asked Jesus into their heart. For them and the people who sold them on this version of ‘Christianity’, it is about getting right with Jesus and then going on about your life.
You see why this is so appealing, I get all the benefits of being a Christian without any responsibilities.
Get what you want out of life Christianity- This sounds like, do you want a better life, do you want to be blessed beyond measure, then you need to add Jesus to your life. God has a special and wonderful plan for your life, a plan to prosper you and to bless you. This person signs up, because who doesn’t want a better life? And as long as things are going good, they are willing to give God a nod and if it isn’t, they often blame God or his church and they move on to the next thing that promises health, wealth, and prosperity.
You see why this, ‘have your best life now’ Christianity is appealing, it’s all about me getting what I want.
There are of course variations of these, but for the most part these sum up the various ways the Christian life is often presented, which is a very different approach than Jesus himself used.
When Jesus called his disciples, he said…
This call, although simple, came with an immense undertaking. To follow a Rabbi as a pupil was to leave your way of life and join with the Rabbis. You would go where he went, eat what he ate, experience the ups and downs together, it was a great honor to be accepted by a Rabbi, but to be invited to follow one was an even greater honor. But it also involved hardships. Leaving your primary source of income, leaving your home, your family, this was a call to radically abandon your way for his way. This was a call to surrender your life in order to not only learn from your Rabbi, but to become like him.
Yes, this was an invitation to spend time observing and listening to his teaching, but more than that it was an invitation to imitate him, to become like him. I mean, Jesus says as much as a factual statement in Luke 6:40 (ESV) A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.
Then when Jesus was finished discipling them he instructed them to disciple people in his name and his way. Think about the commission again.
Go and make disciples of Peter, or go and make disciples of John, no go and make disciples, in my name and teach them to observe (or live) all that I have commanded you. Their job was to make disciples of Jesus, for Jesus, in the way of Jesus. This is vital to our understanding of discipleship. It is still a call to follow Jesus.
Paul picks up on this in his encouragement to the church at Corinth when he is dealing with some of the things that are dividing them, he says 1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV) Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Follow me as I follow Christ.
Discipleship is more than just accumulating knowledge. You can spend years learning, from Bible study, from Sunday school, from sermons and not be discipled. That is not to say, knowledge is not a part of discipleship, it is. I mean Jesus highlighted teaching as part of their call to make disciples, but it is more than that.
Jesus did not preach a sermon to his disciples and then ask them to go figure out everything on their own. Imagine if at the end of the sermon on the mount, arguably the greatest sermon ever preached, Jesus got up, wiped his hands and went to the cross, leaving his disciples and subsequently us with lots of truth but no example of how to live it out. Discipleship is more than knowledge. If the extent of your involvement in discipleship is either teaching or learning, you have missed the most important part of discipleship. Following another’s example.
Teachers, more than what you teach each week, what are you modeling? Furthermore, are you even close enough to the people who sit in your room week after week that they can see how you live?
Jesus did not preach a sermon to his disciples and then ask them to go figure out everything on their own.
Help me out by finishing this sentence, actions speak louder than __________.
Words are important, but actions that emulate your words are far more important when it comes to discipleship. Could you, like Paul, invite people to watch your life in order to know how they should follow Christ?
If not, why not? After all, being a Christian, living the Christian life, is about following Jesus and encouraging others to follow Jesus as well.
What is the purpose of discipleship? Jesus answers that in this same statement. Our second statement is…
The Christian life is about being made into something
Jesus says follow me, and…
I will make you
This is even more plainly recorded in Mark’s account of their call.
Mark 1:17 (ESV) 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
Both ‘I will make you’ and the expanded ‘I will make you become’ have the same root understanding.
Jesus is the subject and his role is going to be to make the disciples something that they are not currently.
(Olive Tree Enhanced Strong's Dictionary) to be the authors of, the cause
(Olive Tree Enhanced Strong's Dictionary) to make one do something; cause one to
This tells us two very important things upfront about discipleship. One, it requires the power of God being active in our life and two, it’s purpose is to change us into something different than we currently are.
As we have already seen it is more than just accumulating knowledge, but this shows us it is more than just what we do as well. The Christian life is more than a checklist.
Does anyone remember the old baptist envelopes that had boxes to check. They were called ‘Sunday School Member Reports. I looked them up and surprisingly and sadly, you can still get them. They have the following boxes: Attended Sunday School, Brought Bible, Studied Lesson, Giving, Attending Worship, Daily Bible Reading and Prayer, Visits this week with a place to put the number of visits, and other contacts with another place to put the number of contacts.
Now, none of these are bad things, arguably, they are all great things, but for too many, they are the sum total of what the Christian life is.
If you are having a good week with checking off your boxes then you are living as a Christian well and if you are not, then you think you just need to try harder.
But Jesus didn’t call his disciples to learn a bunch of repeatable behaviors when he called them, he told them he was going to be the author of change, and that change wouldn’t be just changed behavior but a change of who they were. Then their call was to introduce people to Jesus so that he, through his Holy Spirit would change them into what he desires them to be.
The Holy Spirit, Jesus says in John 14, would continue his work as he came alongside believers in order to do what Jesus did for his disciples.
Now, here is the question that needs to be asked and answered in your life.
Are you different than when you first accepted Jesus’ call? Is who you are different, are you being changed and conformed into the image of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit?
If not, then how can you say you are a Christian, or that you are living the Christian life?
How did Christ make them? He spent time with them, instructing them, correcting them, modeling it for them. How does the Holy Spirit make us? The same way. He indwells us, walks with us, instructs us through the word, he corrects us when we need it, and he empowers Christians around us to model it for us.
This is one of the most powerful aspects of the church. As the people of God, who are being formed by God, men and women should be able to see the evidence of God’s work in our lives.
It is why we should practice meaningful membership, it is why we should be proponents of church discipline, because every person who names the name of Christ and is a member of our church is an example to the world of what a Christian life should look like.
Does that mean we will be perfect? Of course not! Does that mean we won't ever make mistakes, of course not? But it does mean that if someone observes our lives for any length of time the trajectory of our life will be increasingly Christ-like.
...if someone observes our lives for any length of time the trajectory of our life will be increasingly Christ-like.
Also, this truth that the Christian life is about being made into something is freeing when it comes to discipleship. Think about it, I cannot make anyone anything. You cannot make anyone anything.
Not only do we need to be made by God, the people we disciple need to be made by God. We are simply instruments in the hands of God to point people to Jesus. As I follow Jesus, I encourage others to follow him. I use my experience, my knowledge, my life to point others to Jesus. This is discipleship.
One of the pastors and ministries I greatly respect says discipleship is ‘deliberately doing spiritual good to someone so that he or she will be more like Christ.’ The goal of discipleship is always that the one being discipled is becoming more like Christ.
The Christian life is about following Jesus, it is about being made into something, and finally…
The Christian life is about the kingdom of God
What will Jesus make these men? These Galilean fishermen? Disciples who make disciples.
Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
Jesus takes them from where they are and tells them where he is going to take them if they follow him.
Fishing, for these men, was their lives. More than a job and more than a hobby, it was their livelihood, the family business, the way they put food on the table and contributed to society. It was what they would pass on to their own children, this was more than a career, it was who they were. Jesus says he is going to change all of that for these men.
The focus of their lives is no longer going to be building their lives, their business, or their profits. In short, they are not going to be the focus of their own lives any longer, their focus, their occupation, is going to be building the kingdom of God by bringing men and women into the kingdom.
The same goes for when he called Philip or Nathaniel, or Matthew from the tax booth.
To follow Jesus is not only to be made into his image, it is to carry on his mission.
Do you see why the ‘get out of hell free card Christianity’ or the ‘get the life you want Christianity’ falls radically short of representing actually following Jesus?
Let’s take Jesus’ word picture here and press it a little bit in its application.
As fishermen their lives revolved around what? Catching fish, right? They built or bought boats for what purpose? To get closer to the fish. They made and mended nets for what purpose? To catch those fish when they got there. They likely established relationships with markets close to the shore for what purpose? To sell the fish they had netted in their boats. We see in the gospels that they labored all night sometimes and mended nets in the morning, why? So they could catch fish.
You’re like ‘Pastor, I get it, they were fishermen’, but allow me to kick this dead horse one more time. Where they lived, who they associated with, how they spent their free time, it all revolved around the act of catching fish. They learned where the fish were, they learned their movement patterns, they learned the best time of day to fish, the best nets to use to fish, all the while fishing.
If we just use what we know about them being fishermen and apply it to fishing for men and women, what do we see?
That their lives were to revolve around it. They were to go where the people were, they were to learn from Jesus how to interact with people, how to meet their needs and expose their greatest need. They were to learn how to expose God’s truth and men’s hearts. They were to learn how to live as fishers of men, because that is what their lives would revolve around, bringing men and women into the kingdom of God as disciple making disciples.
This is what we see playing out in Acts, isn’t it?
The disciples no longer spent hours focused on fishing, they spent hours in the temple proclaiming the word of God, hours going house to house ministering to and fellowshipping with men and women, teaching them what Jesus had taught them. In turn, these new disciples devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42 (ESV)
Then they took the message and ministry of Christ to Samaria and beyond, making disciples who would make disciples.
What is the focus of your life? Is it the kingdom of God? Is it bringing men and women into it and then discipling them so that they can bring others in? Is it following Jesus and helping others follow Him?
In my studies I came across the following statement.
“If you aren’t helping other people follow Jesus, I don’t know what you mean when you say you’re following Jesus.” To be his follower is to help others follow him
“If you aren’t helping other people follow Jesus, I don’t know what you mean when you say you’re following Jesus.”
When Jesus issued his call to these four men, we see the call that he issues to all men.
Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
To be a Christian is to follow Jesus, in the way he lived, obeying the things he taught, and imitating the things he modeled.
To be a Christian is to be made into something altogether different, to be conformed into the image of Christ by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
To be a Christian is to have the focus of your life shift from yourself and your will to the kingdom and God’s will to see men and women saved and brought into the kingdom of God as disciples who make disciples.
Jesus’ call to follow him, as it was for these disciples, is a life changing call.
You cannot follow Jesus and remain unchanged. To come to him as savior is to come to him as Lord. If you find that the call you have answered is anything less than that, I pray that you see clearly, maybe for the first time what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus.
If you have answered the call and your life is changed but you are not helping others follow, I pray today is the last day that is true of you. You can start where you are with who you are with, but please start. Jesus was a personal disciple maker and he calls us to follow him in being personal disciple makers.
May God help us as we carry on the mission he has given us.