Sermon 2018 01 14

14.01.18 AM Sermon Obeying Jesus Commands # 2 "Follow me!" (Matthew 4:19)

Now my intention on this message was to keep it reasonably to the point, a shorter message, but as I have considered Jesus command "Follow me!" I have found that scripture brings forth many facets from such a simple command. In fact, we could say that "Follow me!" is one of Jesus' simplest commands at the same time as being one of his most difficult commands. Jesus issues this command to a number of people, some named, some not, and we shall consider the different incidences, along with his general call to follow, and the implications of responding or rejecting such a command. 

1. Named

a. Peter & Andrew, James & John

Both Matthew and Mark record for us Jesus' call to the pairs of brothers, Peter & Andrew and James & John to follow him.

i. Busyness / Business

We note how they were busy at the time … Simon Peter and Andrew were casting their nets …

James and John were preparing their nets. With their father Zebedee. In the boat.

When Jesus calls us, we may be busy. We may be at a different stage of busyness - Casting, preparing.

We may be with others with colleagues, work partners, family, friends.

But are we too busy? Too busy to notice Jesus call? To busy to hear Jesus? Too busy to see Him?

"Tell him I'm too busy right now" I've got things to do. Fish to catch.

I'm preparing something. I have other plans. I'm in the midst of it right now. Later!

ii. Family

As I say, here we have a family business it seems.

And the call to follow is issued. But what about my family? What about dad? Are we just going to leave him in the boat, in the lurch? Leave him to prepare the nets all by himself?

Zebedee may have been a barrier to his sons following Jesus. You know we can be a barrier to our children, our parents, our siblings to their following Jesus. Or are we going to be an encouragement?

We don’t know what Zebedee was thinking, or said at the time?

Did he object? Did he encourage? Mark tells us Zebedee was left with the hired men.

A successful business it seems, to have hired men, and to keep the family employed.

If they were to follow Jesus, then at this very moment they are faced with the choice of walking away from what they knew and venturing into the unknown with Jesus. They were leaving several things behind: their work as they knew it, their family, their financially afloat business, their workers, employees, their boat, nets, fish, their assets. All was to be walked away from. Whether or not they were to receive it back …

iii. Follow and Fish

Interestingly, Jesus calls the brothers to follow him, at a time they were fishing, but calls them to continue to fish but in a very different way. Their following is couched in terms that they might understand.

Matthew 4:19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  (Mark 1:17)

Just as they have the skills to fish for fish, now Jesus is going to equip them to fish for people.

And elsewhere Jesus tells parables about people being like fish that are caught by God, his kingdom portrayed as an ocean. Followers of Jesus are Fishers for Jesus. The early Christian symbol was a fish!

iv. Following - At Once / Immediately

We read Matthew and Mark using the same phrases to describe the immediacy of the brothers response to Jesus. Peter and Andrew (Matthew 4:20) "At once they left their nets and followed him." (Mark 1:18)

James and John (Matthew 4:22) "immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him."

And note how Mark describes this (Mark 1:19-20) "When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him."

Interestingly the "without delay" here is attributed to Jesus call and also, it seems to their response.

Jesus does not waste his time in calling us to follow, and we must not waste our time in response.

May we be those who respond to his call to follow at once, immediately, without delay.

For these brothers it all seems to start so well. But we catch up with Peter later in the gospels.

And indeed we could have a whole sermon in itself of the ups and downs of Peter's following Jesus.

v. Following at a distance

Matthew and Luke tell us how, as Jesus is arrested in that final week, how Peter puts some distance literally, between him and Jesus : (Matthew 26:58) "Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome." (Luke 22:54) "Then seizing him [Jesus], they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance."

It was all getting too hot for Peter, all too close for comfort. He was out of his depth. Fishing in stormy seas.

I wonder if you are following Jesus, but at a distance. Don’t want to be associated too closely with him, because of the implications or consequences? The trouble with Jesus is that there is trouble with Jesus!

You may say, at least Peter was still following. Ah yes! But soon he would deny Jesus three times.

As the distance increased, so the preparedness to ally himself with Jesus grew fainter.

"I swear I do not know the man" Peter ended up turning his back on Jesus.

Don’t think that you can keep a safe distance from Jesus, to follow him on your own terms, in your own way, at your own pace, and it will be ok for you. Pulling away may result in falling away.

vi. Continued Call to Follow

Thankfully after Peter had been sifted like wheat by Satan, he was reminded of Jesus call to follow again.

John tells us how the resurrected Jesus restored fallen Peter and recommissioned him, reminding him of the cost of following - that to "Follow Me!" means death - death to self - death to our own way, to go God's way. And in some cases, as in Peter's case, actual death - (John 21:19) "Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”"

And when we compare ourselves to others; "What about them? Will they follow?"

Jesus reminds us, in his words to Peter of our individual response to him, whatever others do or do not do.

(John 21:22) "Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” MUST follow me. There is no alternative. No other whom we must follow. Must follow ME!

To whom else can we go? Jesus has the words of life. "YOU must follow me".

b. Matthew / Levi

We read next of another named individual follower of Jesus.

(Matthew 9:9) "As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him."

Luke and Mark tells us of Matthew's other name Levi (Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27) and Mark even tells his father's name; "son of Alphaeus". (Interestingly James the less / younger Mark 15 is also the son of Alphaeus.) And Luke tells us that it is his tax booth.

Again, Matthew, working away, minding his own business and Jesus passes by. And his life is transformed as he begins to follow. He "got up" to follow! What have you got up to? We can get up to all kinds of mischief. What is the reason we are to get up in the morning? "I got up to follow!" just like Matthew.

And Matthew's following has an impact on those who knew him.

Mark tell us (Mark 2:15) "While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him."

Matthew was a doorway to others following Jesus it seems. What if he had not left his booth? What if he had not got up but had remained still? Stayed put. Sat at his lucrative business? What if the Lord is calling you to follow … and others will, as an outcome, also follow on?

c. Philip

Another named follower is Philip (John 1:43) "The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” And we read how (v44) "Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida." I like the way this is phrased; "finding Philip" It is as though Jesus was searching for him. It was a deliberate decision of Jesus. He decided to leave Galilee.

You know Jesus searched for you, and calls you to follow him.

Then after Jesus found Philip, Philip found Nathanael. The Found becomes the finder. Fishers and finders.

And we also see Philip with his Greek name, is a link to the Greek community (John 12:21)

2. Anonymous

Then we have those whose names are not told, but their situation described for us

a. The Rich Man

Matthew, Mark and Luke each tell of the Rich Man who was commanded by Jesus "Follow Me!"

A Man who despite his riches, his wealth, was aware that faced with Jesus, he was lacking.

He (Mt 19:16) "came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”"

And upon asserting his keeping many of God's commandments, there is still a niggle in him : (v20) “What do I still lack?” He was a man seeking to do what was good. But would he do what was obedient?

You know, faced with Jesus, if we are not being fully obedient then we shall be lacking.

And Jesus gives a very clear command to this rich man: (Mark 10:21) "Jesus looked at him and loved him." (Luke 18:22) “You still lack one thing." (Mt 19:21) “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions (Mark "Go," Luke: "Sell everything you have") and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

How clearer could Jesus be? To fully follow Jesus, this man needed to get rid of that which was a hindrance to him, a ball and chain on his heart and life.

He had to go before he could come. He had to sell before he could gain.

He had to know what it was to truly lack in order that he no longer lacked that which he wanted and needed.

He had to let go of everything to grab a hold of Jesus. His stuff, his possessions, his wealth.

So what does he do? Mark tells us (10:22) "At this the man’s face fell.": a sudden shock of being confronted with Jesus' command deflated his initial buoyancy. He'd passed the first test it seemed, he kept those commandments that Jesus had highlighted. But now this clear command to go, sell up, to give, to follow!

Luke tells us (v23) "When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy."

And the further very sad thing was, that he seemed to not allow that sadness to prompt him into obedience.

Matthew tells us (v22) "When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth."

He became sad and then went away sad. The cogs were wiring away: should or shouldn’t I obey?

Can I let go of my wealth? So near yet so far! So rich, yet so poor!

And Jesus expresses both to the man himself and to the others gathered (Mt 19:23-24 ) "“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

And we then have an interesting exchange between Jesus disciples, and Jesus:  (v25) "When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”" You see wealth was considered to be a blessing from God. But right now it seems to be a curse, because this wealth was preventing the man from entering God's kingdom. Thankfully, (v26) "Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Who knows what happened to the rich man? Perhaps he went away sad, and made a decision to do what Jesus told him to do? Elsewhere Jesus speaks in a parable about to those who initially say they won't be obedient to their father, and then change their minds and are obedient, and commends them for it. (Matthew 21:29-31). In fact, it is in this context that he says, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you."

And when faced with this Rich Man with his fallen face, Peter pipes up. (v27-30) "Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first."

Following has a cost. But there is an even greater gain!

And we read of others' encounters with Jesus.

b. The Wherever Follower

Luke 9:57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Here was a man who was confident in his own ability and capacity to follow. He would go wherever!

No matter where you go! I will go.

Well, Jesus reminded him “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” And in fact, his journey would lead ultimately to rejection and crucifixion. Wherever? Are you sure?

c. The Father's Son

Luke 9:59-60 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” (also Matthew 8:21-22)

To put this comment in its context. It its day, the man way well have been saying, let me remain with my father until he has died. So it may be that the father was elderly, but not yet passed. Whatever the context, it seemed like a reasonable request. Here is a son who loves and cares for his father, and wants to care for him into his old age all the way to his death, or he is right then experiencing grief and loss. He had duties to his family, to his father. He had a duty to the dead. Would Jesus not have compassion upon him? Yet what is at the heart here is the timing of Jesus call. Is Jesus call to follow this man's first priority? Or do other things, however understandable, come before Jesus? "First, let me go …" He was seeking the Lord's permission to place the Lord second. But Jesus replied (v60) “Let the dead bury their own dead …"

Sounds very harsh! Uncompassionate. But hear how Jesus continues … "but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” The man may well have a duty, an obligation to his father, to the dead; but Jesus is saying that there is a greater obligation to the living - to those not yet dead. They need the kingdom of God through Christ. The living will be dead one day, and without Jesus they will be dead dead!

d. The Family Man

Luke 9:61-62 "Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Still another - another man. Or perhaps another … person - a woman?

Again, a "But first let me …" - again Jesus offering a reprioritisation. But here it is in regard to matters of the family. "Let me go back …" It is true to say that following Jesus sometimes brings a challenge to even the closest of families. When some follow and some do not. "Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus was confronting this man with his split focus, his seeking two paths. And Jesus was making it clear that the man or woman was to make their choice - are you going to be a fit follower? Fit for purpose!

3. General

I want to end briefly with considering Jesus general teaching in relation to his command to “Follow me!”

a. Crucifixion & Denial

Matthew 10:38 “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Matthew 16:24 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) - Luke 9:23 “take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Luke 14:27 “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

“Follow me!” means “Pick up your cross, every day, and die to self and live for Him”

b. Sheep & Shepherd

John 10:27 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Following is about Listening to God – to his voice, to his word. It is about being in relationship with.

c. Servant & Master

John 12:26 “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.”

Serving God goes hand in hand with following, and all that truly following implies.

And there is honour for the one who follows and serves.

d. Light & Darkness

John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

As we follow Jesus, we follow the light and live in the light. If we seek to walk in darkness then we cease to truly follow Jesus.

Dying to Self, Listening to His Voice, Serving our Master, Living in the Light.

This is what it is to respond to Jesus command “Follow me!” Amen.

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