Friday, March 6, 2015

Following Jesus and Discipleship in Matt 4:18–22

NIV Matthew 4:18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

What does Jesus do in this text?  If his first public action was to proclaim the message of the Kingdom (Matt 4:17), then his second one was to call to himself disciples.  This suggests that to repent involves entering into the community of Jesus’ disciples. 

What is the mark of a disciple?  Here a disciple is clearly marked by one central image: following Jesus.   

Discipleship involves fundamentally the issue of following Jesus into the world on mission and learning to embody his character:

1) Discipleship is initiated by Jesus.  This is a simple but profound truth in this passage.  Jesus calls two sets of brothers to “follow him.”  It is Jesus (and not the brothers) who initiates the relationship.  Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is portrayed on the move.  God through Jesus actively seeks out those who will respond to his invitation.  This has implications for our ministry efforts today. This text suggests that it is God and not we who seek out new disciples for Jesus.Even in the Great Commission when God sends forth his disciples into all the world to make new disciples, Jesus himself promises his presence on the journey.

This is not a argument for predetermined election. It is recognizing that God builds God’s people. We are simply vessels and ambassadors. Note also that the text assumes a human response. The brothers follow Jesus. There is no indication of Jesus compelling them. They respond. The human element remains but it is in response to Jesus invitation.

2) Discipleship involves following Jesus.  Becoming a disciple of Jesus implies an authentic relationship. It is not a matter of giving intellectual assent to a set of propositions; it is a commitment to the person of Jesus. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, “follow” language is used of those who become disciples (e.g., 9:9, 16:24, et al). This is a personal relationship but it is much more radical than the domesticated version peddled too often in our day. Following Jesus involves an allegiance to Jesus in which the follower turns away from a life of self-centeredness, embraces the cross as the central vocation and chief metaphor of the Christian life, and walks moment by moment in the footsteps of Jesus (Matt 16:24). When the brothers follow Jesus, they commit themselves to the imitation of Jesus as Jesus teaches them to fish for people. Jesus becomes their rabbi and his habits/actions/attitudes becomes theirs.

3) Discipleship involves participation in the mission of Jesus.  Jesus invites Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow him, and he promises to transform them from fishermen to fishers of men and women. In other words, mission is central to the call to discipleship. As far as the Gospel of Matthew is concerned, there is no true discipleship apart from an active participation in the mission of God in the world (Matt 28:16–20).  Mission is the chief purposes of the new community that Jesus is creating. In Matthew’s Gospel, this means “Making disciples.” This is the component that is missed far too often in our modern appropriation of the term “discipleship.” In too many churches, this is a code word for “Christian education” or “accountability groups” or “spiritual formation.” It is one option among many in local communities of faith. Yet, in this text, Jesus links mission with the very call to discipleship. Every follower of Jesus is expected to function missionally in the world.  Mission and evangelism are not to be relegated to a special committee of the Church; mission and evangelism are core commitments of the whole church.

4) Discipleship involves the instantaneous participation in mission. Jesus connects following himself with mission. We just noted this. But it is important to emphasize that there is no time lag. Jesus immediately leads his followers into the world on mission. They learn to “fish for people” by accompanying Jesus as he “fishes for people.” Then Jesus sends them out on their own in (9:35–11:1).

5) Discipleship involves a radical change of allegiance with cost.  Becoming a follower of Jesus is not a risk free proposition – rather it is a bold and daring move that calls for a radical life makeover.  Simon and Andrew leave their nets to follow Jesus; James and John leave nets, a boat, and their father.  These items point to two key areas that are impacted by a commitment to follow Jesus: economics and family.  All of these men leave their means of livelihood, and James and John leave their father.  Jesus is clearly not against employment or family, but he is clearly suggesting that a commitment to his person supersedes economic self-interest and relationships with families.

6) Discipleship involves missional community.  Jesus calls disciples in order to form a new community for the people of God.  There are no solitary Christians. Followers of Christ live and grow in community with others. It is a poignant observation that Jesus’ first invitations to discipleship are extended to brothers. There is never a time when the new community of faith exists around only a single Christ-follower. But this is community with a mission. Jesus' new community exists to announce God's kingdom and embody its values to/for/in the world.

© 2015 Brian D. Russell

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