Follow Me

I am fascinated by startup companies. They have the dream of a product. Some of them now get on Internet sites on Kickstarter to raise money to do research, design, and testing. They have to put together people to market their product and get a distribution center up and running. And they have to do all of this before they sell even their first item!

As we look at our text in Matthew 4:12-25 we see Jesus doing the preliminary work necessary to prepare the message of the Gospel to be delivered to the world. For the Kingdom to move forward Jesus needed to enlist men He could teach and commission to carry on His work.  Some suggest that this passage is actually around a year after his baptism.

John the Baptist had gotten the ball rolling. But John had also made some enemies. Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great (who was the Herod in the story of the birth of Jesus). When he died he divided his Kingdom into four parts. Herod Antipas had the area of Galilee. He was only 17 when he began his reign.

The Herod of our story fell in love with his sister-in-law (his half-brother’s wife, not one of the Kings). Herodias divorced her husband and Herod divorced his wife. They were married. It was quite the scandal, and John the Baptist spoke up about it. He was put in prison. Let’s just say, for now, that Herodias knew how to carry a grudge. We will read that story later in Matthew.

Because of this you might have expected Jesus to stay away from Galilee (where Herod ruled) but instead that is where Jesus went to begin His ministry. In fact, most of the ministry of Jesus took place here. (See map).

Jesus likely went to Galilee for several reasons. First, this was a good distance away from Jerusalem. The religious leaders in Jerusalem would have caused trouble much earlier if Jesus had been there. Jesus needed time to train these men. He was not running from trouble; he was buying some time. When it was time for Him to go to the cross, Jesus did not waver and “set his face toward Jerusalem”.

The second reason Jesus would have been interested in Galilee was because it was an extremely populous area. It wasn’t real big but it was fertile and lots of people lived there. The fact that he found many of his key disciples in this area may have also played a role. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that this area was comprised of 204 villages and none of them had a population of less than 15,000 people!

Galilee, because of its location, was a multiethnic area. It was a great place to begin a ministry that eventually would go throughout the world. The people who had walked in darkness were about to see a great light.

17 From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

The message of Jesus was the same as that of John the Baptist . . . at least at the beginning. He called people to turn away from sin and to instead come to the Lord for forgiveness and new life.

Assembling the Team

The importance of a good leadership team is more important than most people realize. That team will either help the organization grow or keep it from growing. Jesus needed to find men who would “get it,” and who also had the character to keep going, even in the midst of opposition.

It is interesting the people Jesus chooses for his disciples. He did not choose the scholarly or the “well-connected”. He chose men of character. They were common men. Several were fisherman. Jesus saw in these common men the potential to bring the gospel to the world. Perhaps Jesus went this direction because it is much easier to teach someone something than having to undo something before you can start the training.

Here’s the account of the call of these men,

18 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 19 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 20 And they left their nets at once and followed him.

21 A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. 22 They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind.

This account sounds on first reading, like Jesus was simply walking on the beach, and out of nowhere, called these men to follow Him, and they did. But that’s not the whole story. It appears they had several encounters that led up to this.

In John 1 we are told the story of when these men met Jesus perhaps for the first time. Andrew and maybe John were actually disciples of John the Baptist. Jesus and John saw each other a couple of days after John baptized Jesus. John pointed to Jesus and said, “This is the guy you should be following.” The two men began to follow Jesus. Andrew went to get his brother Simon and Jesus named him Peter. (The other guy who had been with Andrew may very well have been John). The next day Jesus met Philip who went and got Nathaniel.

It is likely that these men were part-time followers of Jesus for a year. They likely kept their jobs and joined him when they were able to do so. They were hungry to learn what Jesus had to teach them. What we read here is Jesus calling these guys to be part of his inner circle. This, if you will, was their formal call.

Follow Me

The summons to these men was “Follow Me.” It is the same thing Jesus says to us. Jesus did not ask them to like Him or even simply to be his Students. He called them to leave everything and follow Him. We tend to use those words rather glibly.

To follow Jesus includes several things. First, it means obedience. Following Jesus means going where He goes and doing what He tells you to do. It is not something you can do from a distance. It involves getting into the trenches with the Lord.

Dr. Boice wrote,

When we see a phrase like “follow me,” we interpret it as a mere invitation and match our evangelism to that pattern. We ask people to follow Jesus, promising that he will make them happy if they do. There may be an element of invitation in Christ’s call to sinners, of course, but it can hardly escape any thoughtful student that the words “follow me” are an imperative, a command—which is why those commanded to follow Jesus did in fact immediately leave their nets, boats, counting tables, or whatever else was occupying them and followed Jesus.

Without obedience there is no genuine Christianity.[1]

Second, following involves making a clean break with your old way of life. You cannot follow Jesus and still pursue the values of the world. In his book Loving God, Chuck Colson told the story of Mickey Cohen who was a famous Hollywood Gangster.

Apparently, Cohen attended a Billy Graham Crusade. When Dr. Graham gave the invitation to step forward and accept Christ as Lord and Savior, Mickey Cohen responded and did just that. Later, when he was told by the Billy Graham follow-up team that he needed to cut his ties with organized crime, Cohen became incredulous. “You never told me that I had to give up my career. you never told me that I had to give up my friends. There are Christian Movie Stars, Christian Athletes, and Christian Business Men. So what’s the matter with me being a Christian gangster? If I have to give all that up–if that’s Christianity–then you can count me out.”

Following Christ is a commitment to a new way of life. There must be a real break with the way we used to be.

Third, following Christ involves submission. It means acknowledging Jesus as the Lord of your life; your King. You can’t call Jesus “Lord” and give no attention to what He says. If He is our Lord, then we should be willing to do whatever He tells us to do. And what is more, we should do it enthusiastically; as those who are privileged to serve.

I love to read books about what goes on in the White House. And without exception, everyone who serves the President of the United States talks about the privilege and honor it is. They serve “at the pleasure of the President.” Those who follow Jesus should be those who serve at the pleasure of the Lord.  How can we have any other attitude if we truly believe Jesus is our true Lord and King?

Finally, following Jesus involves perseverance. Boice writes, “Following Jesus is not only a door to be entered, but a path to be followed, and the true disciple proves the reality of his discipleship by following that path to the end.”[2]

The point of all of this is that Jesus is not asking to be a “friend” on your Facebook page. He is not asking you to consider Him a person of great influence. He is not even asking you to like Him. As Kyle Idleman stated it so well, Jesus has called us not to be His FAN but to be His follower.

David Platt writes,

Many people claim to have made a decision, prayed a prayer, signed a card, walked an aisle, accepted Jesus into their hearts, but their lives don’t look any different. These people say they’re Christians, but the reality is that they’ve never met Jesus. Because when you do, everything changes.[3]

There are many people who “dabble” in discipleship. They enjoy hanging with Christian people. They like the idea of having a relationship with God. They love the notion of being forgiven. But they are deceiving themselves if they think they are following Christ.

Now let me quickly throw in a caution. It is tempting at this point to think of the people that you believe are not living out their faith. You may be hoping or wishing a certain someone was hearing this message. Don’t do that! Some people who may not be living the way you think they should, have actually made great progress in their discipleship. And some of the people who feel qualified to make these judgments, give evidence that they have not understood Jesus at all!

The task is for us to take a hard look at our lives. Are we merely fans or are we followers of Jesus? Do we have a passion for bringing people to the point of faith or are we just part of the Jesus Club? The invitation to follow Jesus is the invitation that our Lord extends to each of us.

A Reason to Follow

23 Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. 24 News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed—he healed them all. 25 Large crowds followed him wherever he went—people from Galilee, the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan River.

These verses give a summary of the ministry of Jesus. He traveled from town to town and proclaimed the Good News that the Kingdom of God had come. People understood that this meant the Promised One had arrived. Jesus showed that He is that Promised One by the miracles He administered.

When Jesus healed people it was definite and unmistakable. The person who couldn’t walk, got up and walked; the person who was blind could now see clearly; the person who was demon possessed now was sane and at peace. Matthew says “Whatever their sickness or disease – he healed them all.”

We don’t know whether this means Jesus healed every single sick person or whether He was able to heal all the different kinds of diseases. We will have to wait until heaven to know for sure.

Does the Lord still heal today? Of course He does!  Does He still do so dramatically? Again, we would say yes. Most of the time the Lord, I believe, uses the means of healing that He has already set in motion (e.g. Doctors and medicine).  On occasion, according to His sovereign will, He will act dramatically.

There are great stories of dramatic healing and people being delivered from demonic forces. Most of these stories come from places where the Gospel is just taking root. Once again the miracles serve as signs of the validity of the gospel.

One thing we know: The Jesus who healed the multitudes, can also heal you.

  • He can restore broken relationships as well as broken bodies.
  • He can heal those who have been rejected and had their heart broken.
  • He can heal those facing great emotional turmoil.
  • He can strengthen those who are weary.
  • He can provide for those who have great need.

However, this is not a side show! The Lord is not about making sure everyone has a “good time” in life. The Lord will heal those who sincerely turn to Him in trust, repentance and faith. He knows the heart of His people. He knows what is best for us.

If you are going to ignore God in your living, you should not be surprised if your prayers seem to go unanswered, or if God seems far away. He is not a good luck charm you turn to when you are in a bind. He is the Lord God Almighty, if we come to Him recognizing that fact, our prayers will be answered.

Conclusions

This simple account of Jesus working on building the foundation of the Christian community is not only interesting, it should also challenge us

First, we should be challenged to count the cost of following Christ. Jesus wanted people to know what it meant when they said they wanted to be His disciple. It is far more than signing a membership card, going to church, or being religious. It is about changing the direction of your life.

Jesus cautioned those who “put their hand to the plow and then get distracted.” He said such people were never disciples to begin with. Take this time to count the cost. Understand the job description of a disciple. I hope that once you have done so, you will recommit yourself to our Lord and Savior.

James warns us that “even the devils believe there is a God”. And, says James, they have the good sense to tremble. . . even if they are the opposition. We are called to do more than have simple intellectual agreement on the facts about Jesus. We are called to enter into a relationship with Him that will determine the direction of our lives. Remind yourself of what it means to be a Christian.

Second, we are reminded that we are part of a team. The Lord designed us to be a community of saints. He knows that the only way to grow and reach out effectively is to do so as a family of believers. The growing notion of the “lone ranger” Christian is heading in the wrong direction. You may be disillusioned by the church, but withdrawing from the community of saints is not the answer. The answer is to work with the family to return to what we have been called to do: to honor the Lord and reach out, in His name, to the world. The church is where we encourage, cheer for, and support each other. When you are down others will help you to stand again. When you rejoice there are others who will celebrate with you. We cheer for each other, we hold each other accountable, and we remind each other of what is at stake.

Third, the commission of Christ to the Church is not to go out and get decisions or to build a bigger church. The command is to go into all the world and MAKE DISCIPLES. Our task is to help people grow into a vital, transforming, relationship with the Lord. This means we must work with new believers. Our job is not to “hit and run,” it is to come alongside of people and help them to grow in their relationship with our Lord and Savior. It is a task that is a wonderful privilege and it leads to great joy.

You have been invited to be part of the most significant work there is to do. You and I have been commissioned to proclaim the message of forgiveness and new life. It is the very message that has changed my life and I hope yours. He has extended the invitation. It is up to you to decide how you will respond.

[1] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 66.

[2] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 67.

[3] Platt, David (2013-11-04). Exalting Jesus in Matthew (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (Kindle Locations 1530-1532). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

Scripture:

Matthew 4:12-25