The Third Sunday after Epiphany January 24, 2010
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
129, 354, 409, 179
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus, who calls us into His kingdom:
It has been a year since we saw the remarkable sight of millions of Americans standing in the cold on the Washington Mall, wiping away tears and exclaiming what a great time it is to be alive as they watched President Obama be inaugurated. Regardless of how we might judge the politics or person of our current president, we have indeed seen something truly remarkable. We have seen a man inaugurated and now serving in the land’s highest office, and he is someone who in another era would not have been allowed to share a swimming pool or use a public rest room designated “for whites only.”
However, the euphoria of the event meets with reality as our country continues to grapple with major problems. The media seems to revel in providing a constant litany of reasons why this is really a terrible time to be alive.
In the Gospel of Mark, we are told that Jesus arrived in Galilee after the arrest of John the Baptist—which tells you right there that there were some pretty bleak conditions prevailing at that time—and began to announce: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” [v.15] In the weeks and months that followed, as Jesus went around preaching and healing, many thousands of people had their dreary impression of life turned around. It seemed as if it was, indeed, a great time to be alive.
It was a great time to be alive and still is if you know what you are looking at. Jesus’ ministry brought the Kingdom of God to bear on our world—His mercy and kindness are revealed to all mankind. Where that kingdom enters the hearts and spirits of people a change takes place—a change called discipleship. As we see Jesus call four fishermen to follow Him and be His disciples, we will learn for ourselves the compelling call of discipleship I. Discipleship comes with saving faith, II. Discipleship molds the believer for life, and III. Discipleship employs the believer for good.
When Jesus announced that the kingdom of God was at hand, He also announced the admission policy for those who would enter God’s kingdom and obtain everlasting life: “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” [v. 15] The first thing we must consider is that discipleship comes through saving faith.
The message Jesus spoke was vital and it was timeless. It is a message as important in our times as it was in His. He stands as a messenger of the Almighty God—an offended, aggrieved God who is holy and sinless and created us to be so as well—and He calls on every living being to repent. Specifically, He means we should quit patting ourselves on the back and recognize with shame the gravity of our sins and the stubborn, perverse nature of our disobedience. If we, as a people, have turned a corner on racism, let us pause from our self-congratulation long enough to contemplate that our country has approved a war against unborn children of every color. If we come to accept that we’ll need to tighten our belts for a while, that doesn’t mean that we have acknowledged our lavish abuse of the stewardship of our blessings or the neglect of God’s Word of which we have been guilty.
Those are corporate sins of our nation of which Jesus might have taken note. But there are also our personal sins which God’s Word can so painfully expose. Perhaps you chafe under His wise chastening walking about in quiet resentment for the way things have transpired in your life, harboring a bitter spirit, or casting about with a greedy lustful eye. His Word will find us out. Our conscience will gather with dark clouds and overshadow our days, unless we repent!
Repentance, in Jesus’ words, means to acknowledge the sin, to repudiate the rebellion of the heart, and to turn away from that miserable path. But true repentance also requires faith. Jesus calls on us to believe the Gospel, that is, to believe that God who is so angry over our sins has Himself provided a way of escape. He has redeemed us from sin’s power and guilt. He has overturned the kingdom of the Devil and established His own everlasting kingdom.
Believe—the very word implies resting, accepting, taking refuge in something that cannot be seen, cannot be felt. But it is a solid faith because it rests on God’s Word, on Jesus’ proclamation: the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand. Believe the good news!
On the day Jesus that showed up by the Sea of Galilee, faith made disciples of Simon, Andrew, James and John. All of these men had met Jesus previously near the Jordan where at least some of them were followers of John. John the Baptist steered Andrew and John to Jesus and they spent the better part of a day with Him. They were convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah and happy in that knowledge they went back to their fishing business.
Now Jesus happened by the sea where they were working. Jesus asked Peter to take Him out in the boat so that He could speak more effectively to a crowd on shore. After He finished speaking to them, Jesus instructed Peter to go out and put down his nets. He came up with a miraculous catch of fish and Simon Peter was awestruck. and terrified to be a miserable sinner in the presence of such power. But Jesus only encouraged him to believe and with faith to see that he is to become a disciple.
You cannot be a believer, you cannot appropriate the salvation that Jesus offers and provides without also being a disciple, without embracing the new status in life that came over Peter and his friends. So let’s explore that condition—that discipleship as we see it play out with Jesus’ first followers.
Discipleship molds the believer for life. When Jesus called these four new disciples to follow Him, He told them “I will make you fishers of men.” [v.17] They had no idea at the time how completely He would transform their spirit and mold their lives. The word “disciple” has the same root as the word “discipline.” It really means to come under the influence of a teacher or trainer. Someone who becomes a disciple isn’t like a lazy student in a 9th grade biology class just trying to pull a C on the final. A disciple is one who immerses himself in his Teacher’s doctrine, values, perspective. He strives to become like his Master. Jesus’ call to discipleship is absolute. He requires nothing less than that the disciple “deny himself” (Luke 9:23) to follow his Lord.
So, in the first place, to be a disciple means to subordinate one’s self to Jesus. Right there you know that this is not something that can occur naturally in man. It is a miracle of God’s gracious working in a sinner’s heart that compels the believer to do what goes totally against one’s nature. For James and John it meant walking away from a thriving family business not knowing what the next day would bring—simply trusting that if Jesus were with them, things would be okay. It seemed like an easy tradeoff for these fishermen to drop their nets and go off to follow Jesus. Did they know something we don’t know? Actually, most of us know a lot more than they did about Jesus, but the question is, what did they know by faith? They knew that Jesus was the Son of God and that He was calling for them and that is very compelling! But still, it is a lifelong lesson to learn to let God’s will outweigh our desires or priorities.
When Jesus calls on people to repent He implies a change in direction, a turning away from evil and a turning toward good—toward life with Him. This too is a constant process of discipleship. Some don’t understand that repentance is not a one-time thing. It is a continuous daily process as we put off the old sinful ways that constantly rear up in our thoughts and deeds and put on by faith the grace and love that God has shown us so that we might show it to others. Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, that daily the Old Man is to be drowned and the New Man come forth through repentance and faith.
In the course of their training Jesus taught His disciples about prayer which they found a very impressive concept. Jesus promised that His Father would send the Holy Spirit. Near the end of His ministry He especially encouraged His disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit acts as a “paraclete”—a counselor for the disciple. He works to bring to our mind the precious truths of our God and Savior. He imparts faith to face the situation and to go forward into battle in our lives. He makes the Scriptures a living, powerful document in our lives. He equips us to be witnesses of Christ.
But the most crucial aspect of discipleship is the cross. Jesus announced that “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). The cross, literally, was the instrument of torture on which Jesus Himself was executed. No condemned criminal would willingly choose the death of the cross over some other form of execution, but Jesus did even though He was innocent. He accepted it as the means of atonement for sins—for our sins. He went that way in love, sacrificing Himself for our eternal good. He accepted the onslaught of evil and the darkness of death so that He could overcome evil and break the power of death.
From the moment a baby is baptized and the pastor makes the sign of the cross on the head and the breast, it is the cross that marks our discipleship. The cross testifies to our willingness to trust in His righteousness, not boast and flaunt our own deeds, to a separation from sin and devotion to a life of honoring and imitating Christ.
Our joy in every opportunity is to reflect the selfless love that has been poured out upon us. Our patient willingness is to bear the reproach that the world so freely heaps upon those who believe in this God and rejoice in this Savior. The cross testifies to our patience when circumstances in this life afflict us under God’s gracious will. Nothing molds the disciple throughout life as does the cross.
Jesus shows us that discipleship not only molds the believer; it also employs the believer for good.
Jesus drew His disciples from busy men—people who worked with their hands and labored from sunrise to sunset, and He put them to work again: “I will make you fishers of men.” [v.17]
What was to be done by these men who left their boats and nets on the beach, whose lives were so dramatically changed by the call? They were to catch men. They were to labor in the seas of humanity and cultivate vineyards of souls. They were to turn the erring and the lost back to righteousness by proclaiming Christ to the world.
They didn’t seem like important men. They weren’t counted among the high achievers of their day. They weren’t educated beyond their youthful synagogue training. But they were disciples of the Lord and He had a place and a high calling for them—just not one that the world would think very glorious.
They were simply to preach Christ, to do as Jesus had done, to warn the sinner to repent, and point the repentant to the benefits of the cross. It was not sophisticated. It was not lucrative. It was not highly valued as the office of doctor or lawyer might be. But through their word souls would be saved, lives brought under the influence of the Gospel, spirits uplifted, and the kingdom of God expanded. As Jesus’ disciples discipled the nations, the Gospel would grow geometrically, the nations would come to Zion with love-offerings for the Lord in hand.
These disciples would become known to the world as Christians. It was, and still is, intended as an insult by many. But in confessing Christ today, we who live by faith have the promise that when the day of Christ’s glory comes, He will confess us to the Father. He will say “these have followed Me. These have trusted My promise. These have proclaimed My name. These have labored in My Kingdom. These disciples are My disciples.” What a great day it is to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.