Topic: Discipleship Passage: Matthew 9:9–9:13
I’d say once or twice a month at least I get a notice that I have someone new following me on Twitter. Last week Michael Fackerell began following me. I have no idea who Michael Fackerell is, but I always feel a little bad when someone new follows me cause in Twitterland, I’m not going anywhere. My last post was a response two months ago to a friend in MD who was going out for a special meal and I tweeted urging him to have a great time and eat a steak for me. No one’s life is going to be changed by that…
But following Jesus is a very different thing, cause He is going somewhere and to follow Him calls for total commitment. Following Jesus calls us into a radical life of faith, dependence, risk, and obedience. For the next several months we are going to be contemplating what Jesus means when He calls us to follow Him as His disciples in a series called Following Jesus.
Matt. 9:9-13 (Pray)
Jesus had a habit of calling people to leave everything to follow Him. Matthew left his booth to follow. Peter left his nets and father’s business to follow. The rich young ruler wanted to add Jesus to his life, but couldn’t loose his grip on his wealth when Jesus called him to sell all he had, give to the poor and “come follow Me.” He chose his money and the Bible says he went away sad.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? This is an important question today because it is so easy (and if we’re honest, probably so common) to reduce Christian discipleship to something that looks very different New Testament Christianity. We live in a culture that glorifies our right to “have it our way”. I was in a Burger King the other day and they had this large sign on the wall urging the customer to have it their way. It said, at Burger King there are no wrongs, only rights. You, the customer are king: go ahead, hold the pickles, ask for extra ketchup, exercise your sovereignty.
I don’t mean to be sarcastic when I say that we can carry this same philosophy into the church: Following Christ the King can look more like pulling up to the drive through at Burger King: I’ll take the eternal life, heavy on the grace, light on commitment, hold the sacrifice.
We can make following Jesus what we want it to be, what we’re comfortable with it being. And as a pastor I know the temptation that it can be to make church a comfortable place to be. Now a church should be a warm, loving, grace-filled place full of patience and mercy and hope for sinners. But I am not sure Jesus ever meant it to be a comfortable place, in the sense that we “have it our way” rather than be challenged to the core of our being with what it means to be a Christian and what it means to follow Jesus Christ. Either Christ is king, or we are, and I for one find my will always wanting to take back the throne and I need to be reminded – only one King in my life – Jesus. As we contemplate what it means over the next several months to be a disciple, let’s begin by accepting the fact that we will all be challenged. In fact, let’s insist upon it.
See, while there can be a tremendous temptation in our hearts to reduce following Christ to something requires very little of us, and changes very little in our lives, there is also in the heart of every Christian – and I believe in the heart of every person alive – a desire to give our lives to something worth giving them to, to sacrifice for something much bigger than us, to commit ourselves to something that deserves everything we have, to leave a comfortable but dead end little tax booth to give our lives for that which will make a glorious difference in this world – just as Matthew the tax collector did.
I. Following Jesus means He leads, we follow
Two words – follow me – but they carry tremendous authority. It is both a command and an invitation. It is an invitation to leave the paths that we would choose and the life that we would choose, for the path and the life that He chooses. It is an invitation that can be rejected. The rich young ruler was given a tip on how to exchange his earthly treasure currency into heavenly treasure currency and then Jesus ended by saying, come, follow me. It was an invitation to a radically different life – a life following Jesus instead of following greed and the life it promises. The rich young ruler counted the cost and didn’t want to pay it. He declined the invitation and went away sad.
But it’s also a command. Jesus isn’t trying to market himself, sell himself, convince you that following Him is what you, the consumer, really want to do. Those two words speak to our will – and call for us to bow our knees to His Lordship. Call for us to yield our wills and our lives to Him in obedience to His will.
That’s why an essential part of Jesus’ ministry and message – and an essential part of the gospel – is the call to repent. We are all going on the wrong road going in the wrong direction when Jesus finds us. Repentance speaks to our will to choose to turn around and go the other way. The Christian life begins with repentance – the choice to abandon the road of sin and rebellion - the road that crowns us as king and we have it our way - and choose to follow Jesus as our King and our Lord.
So in this series we’re going to be emphasizing obedience – because discipleship emphasizes obedience. Discipleship includes learning – the Greek word for disciple – mathetes –means learner, but not so much in a scholastic sense, but in a “follow the master on dusty roads learning to do as He did, think as He thought, be as He is” sense. We don’t need to learn 10 new reasons why we should read our Bible. We need to read our Bible. We don’t need to learn 5 keys to unlocking the power of prayer. We need to pray and pray fervently. We pray fervently and with faith and God will move and that’s all the power we need. So may the Lord dismantle all our lame, wimpy excuses for not obeying and cause us to obey! Following Jesus means He leads, we follow.
II. Following Jesus means a risk-taking life of faith
Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell Matthew where He’s going, He just calls him to follow. Matthew leaves the security of the tax booth for the uncertainty of he knows not what. Risk-taking is an
important part of faith. Paul summed up his ministry as “going, not knowing”. Peter left what he
knew – fishing for fish, for what he did not know, fishing for men.
Risk can often be glamorized into things like climbing Mt Everest, bungy jumping off of some bridge, taking some huge business venture where you either make millions or lose millions. Like most of us live in those situations every day! Dave Harvey points out that risks of the heart and home just don’t get much airtime, but that’s where most of us live our lives and where most of us take risks of faith.
I’m not a big risk-taker. I’d like to grow in the kind of faith that takes (wise) risks. Obviously there are foolish or unbiblical risks that we can take and regret. But we’re talking about prayed about, biblically sound, but risky steps of faith. When I look back, so many of the blessings that I have experienced in my Christian faith and my experience in the church have been when I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone. I want to share a few – not to call attention to myself or because I think I’ve been such a courageous example of risk-taking faith, but as I look back most of the blessings have involved risk.
• Started writing songs and felt the Lord wanted me to share them with the church. Only problem: I’d get so nervous my voice and hands would shake.
• I left home and a secure job to go to a Christian ministry not knowing what they would ask me to do there.
• While attending a local church I was asked to lead a Bible study by a group of young people in that church. I had never led a Bible study in my life. One night I was so paralyzed by fear I stopped in the middle of a sentence and said I can’t go on.
• I was asked by a pastor to consider assisting him in the ministry – which I did – and three years later he asked me to consider becoming the senior pastor. There are guys thirsting for that opportunity – I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t want to be a pastor. When he asked me to consider it we had just sat down to an all you can eat lunch – and I got so upset I couldn’t eat much!
• After nine years there as senior pastor, while the church was growing and my paycheck was very secure, Janice and I felt the Lord call us to leave to go to Covenant Fellowship where I sold cars for a living for several years.
• We weren’t there more than four or five months when Janice and I were asked to lead a care group – we didn’t want to. We were enjoying the CG we were in and enjoyed being ministered to. Then the group had some issues and our first night we felt less like leading it than ever. But we stepped out – and God met us and blessed us and others through that.
• Then to the unknown at Pastor’s College and eventually unknown of planting a church in Corning, NY.
Do you feel called in a direction but are uncertain about what will happen? God’s design in that is to drive you to dependence on Him. Haven’t you noticed how your desperation for God increases with the uncertainty in your life? The new job, the new child, that new ministry – all of a sudden we’re desperate for God…God delights to put us in this position because it postures us to depend on Him and to exercise faith toward Him. It’s part of how He rescues us from misplaced security. – Dave Harvey in Rescuing Ambition pg. 180.
If you’re life is full of misplaced security, you’re probably not stepping out of your comfort zone much. Your Christian walk and involvement in the church your will grow dull and predictable. Get involved! Step out in areas that you’re not comfortable in. Take a risk – talk to a ministry leader about jumping in with both feet. Scared? Good. Don’t feel adequate? Even better. Did you want to come forward to give a word earlier but were afraid to? Don’t let fear stop you – ask the Lord to use you. Is there someone you’ve been wanting to witness to but were afraid to risk their rejection? Have you been wanting to be intentional in how you lead your family but were afraid you’d fail or they wouldn’t take you seriously?
Following Jesus means a risk-taking life of faith.
III. Following Jesus is for sinners only: the righteous need not apply
It’s interesting how Matthew’s first act after following Jesus is to try and connect his friends with Jesus to. Problem is that Matthew is a low-life outcast in society and all his friends are low-lifes too. And the Pharisees notice this and ask why in the world would Jesus eat with such sinners. Jesus’ answer always used to puzzle me a little bit: Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick…for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
I couldn’t believe Jesus was calling the Pharisees righteous. Now I know he wasn’t. But they thought they were and so they wouldn’t come to him for spiritual healing just like someone who thinks he is physically healthy won’t recognize his need for a doctor.
But look at Jesus’ last line: For I came not to call the righteous but sinners. What call is Jesus talking about? The call to follow me. Only sinners can hear the call to follow Jesus. Only those who know their desperate need to be saved from sin, only those who look up to heaven and say, God have mercy on me, a sinner are called by Jesus as followers. Discipleship isn’t the winners in life deciding to take this Christian thing by the horns the way we do everything else and succeed as world-changers, difference-makers, and motivational speakers. No, it’s for sinners. It’s for losers who need God.
We will emphasize action and obedience, but never separate from the grace of the Lord Jesus who makes It possible to obey and do for Him. Discipleship does have a healthy emphasis on what we do, but it’s strong foundation isn’t what we do, but what He did.
• No matter how much we seek to grow in obedience, we will at times disobey.
• If we take risks, there will be times we will fail
• Though we may grow in righteousness, we will always have the presence of sin.
None of this negates the challenge to obey, to yield our lives to His Lordship, to take risks. It protects all of these good things from legalistic pride by reminding us of our need for grace. Only sinners, not righteous need apply.