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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Follow Me (Matthew 4.18-22)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - September 21, 2014
Text: Matthew 4:18-22

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Faith and Hope" (arr. C. Tornquist)
Song of Praise: "Come People of the Risen King" (Getty/Townend) (audio)
Hymn of Praise: "Where He Leads Me" (NORRIS) - acapella - (audio)
Offering of Music: piano, Sharon Butler
Hymn of Sending: "'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus" (TRUST IN JESUS)
Postlude: "Revive Us Again" (J. Husband; arr. F. Bock)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? And how would you respond to such an invitation? And why do I ask?

Last week we talked about Jesus himself – his humility and obedience – and we heard the invitation to have that same attitude and that same love that Jesus lived out among us. That’s what it means to belong to God, which is what we are focusing on this fall. Another way of talking about having the attitude and love of Jesus is to follow him. So today we are going to look at one “follow me invitation” and the response to it, with others to follow in coming weeks.

What Was Spoken (vv. 12-17)

Though we are focusing on verses 18-22 in Matthew 4 today, I included some of the verses before and after in the service today. That’s because I wanted to give some context to this first “follow me invitation.” In verses 12-17, we get some of the back-story.
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
We read that after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. That geographical note is significant for two reasons.

The first reason, given by Matthew, is that in doing so Jesus fulfilled prophecy. Isaiah had spoken a prophecy about the Messiah, singling out that very region by the sea as the place where the great Light of the Messiah would shine in the darkness. John the disciple would later tell us that this Light dwelled among us. That connects us to the second significance of Matthew’s geographical note: Jesus “settled in Capernaum” – he settled! He made his home there for some time. The Light of the World moved into the neighborhood to witness to the Kingdom of Heaven.

So, having settled in Capernaum, Jesus began teaching and preaching. Matthew gives us the gist of his messages in verse 17. Jesus preached this: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” My focus this morning is not on that message, but let me take a moment to say something about it. Repentance means change of mind and heart. Set in the spiritual context, particularly with the note about the arrival of God’s Kingdom, it means changing from a mind and heart set away from God’s Kingdom to a mind and heart turned toward God and His Kingdom. It describes a focus on and love for Kingdom matters. Elsewhere Jesus will describe these matters in more detail as love of God, love of neighbor, humility, obedience, and more. But this is his starting point: “Turn around, people; God is here!”

In the Neighborhood (vv. 18-22)

I noted the significance of Jesus “settling” somewhere for a time. Notice that he didn’t just park himself in the religious center of Capernaum for several months, but he went to the true heart of the town. Jesus moved to and settled in a sea-front town and he went to do ministry among those who worked on the sea.
18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was 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 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.
So we read of the calling of the first disciples in verse 18. It begins, “Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee…” Wonder how many times he did that? Was it a daily walk? Did he pray for the fishermen he saw there? We don’t get all those details, but we do now that he was out and about that day. He went to where the fishermen were and he spoke to two of them – Peter and Andrew – and spoke to them in terms they could understand: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Did they totally understand at that moment? I doubt it. Were they intrigued? I’m sure they were. Had they seen him before – perhaps walking and praying by their stretch of water? We don’t know, but I’d like to think that he wasn’t a complete stranger to them. Or maybe he was and God’s Spirit was at work. At any rate, they didn’t delay, they didn’t discuss it first, they didn’t ask their friends. Verse 20 says “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” And moments later it happened again with two more fishermen, James and John. They also followed immediately (v. 22), leaving their father, Zebedee in the boat mending the nets.

There was some context to the “follow-me invitation.” It wasn’t out of the blue or unexpected. Jesus had been living there and speaking about the Kingdom of God. But likewise, most or all of you here this morning have some exposure to Jesus and his teaching. It’s not out of the blue to think about what it means to follow him. Jesus says, “Follow me.”

How have you responded? How do you respond? What does that look like?

To that last question, we actually get a bit more.

Settling In the Shadowland (vv. 23-25)

Jesus moved to Capernaum, a sea town. He settled there and went where the people were. He spoke to them with images and language they could understand, even if it stretched them beyond the things of earth and into the realm of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus didn’t just say “follow me.” He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (v. 19) Follow him isn’t just imitating and trotting after him like some kind of obedient puppy. He actually invites us to be a part of what he’s doing, to participate in his work and mission.
23 Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. 24 The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. 25 Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.
As we read on to verses 23-25, we get a glimpse of that work. He traveled around, teaching about God’s Kingdom and healing and helping the sick and diseased. Crowds came to hear and be healed. And in the midst of all of that, these new disciples were “fishing for men.” They were a part; and after Jesus’ death and resurrection, they kept on.

What does it mean to follow him? We are not keepers of the light huddled inside walls of presumed safety, hoarding this Good News treasure for ourselves. We are, in Jesus’ words, a city on a hill, a beacon of light in the shadow lands around us. And we, in His name, are the light of the world, sent out in and among our neighbors to speak and embody the Kingdom of God.

Jesus goes before us into this neighborhood. I remind you that there are some 10,000 people within a mile of this church. Do we yet know all their needs? Have we ventured into the shadow lands? Do we know their language to speak words of hope and truth and light and life?

That’s one run at what it looks like.

But what about the question of how you will respond? Jesus speaks the invitation to discipleship to us just as surely as he spoke it to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Will you drop what you are doing immediately to follow him? Said another way, do you hear Jesus’ question as the most important question being asked of you? We will hear him ask that question again several times over the next few weeks.

What we do hear in this text is that Jesus will teach and equip us to share in his work if we follow him. And that’s one example of what it’s like to belong to God. Amen.

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