Matthew 4:18-22

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Matthew 4

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is 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 And 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.

I miss Dallas Willard. He died a few years ago. He was ordained a Southern Baptist minister but is best known as a philosopher at the University of Southern California who wrote powerful books on Christian spiritual formation. One of the great themes of Willard’s life was the need for those who profess Jesus to actually be disciples of Jesus. I think one of the most painful books I have ever read is Willard’s book The Great Omission. The title is a play on words with the Great Commission (i.e., Matthew 28:18-20). By The Great Omission Willard meant that the church had omitted something very important: discipleship. Let me share with you a number of statements from different places in the book that illustrate Willard’s great concern.

Who, among Christians today, is a disciple of Jesus, in any substantive sense of the word “disciple”?…[T]he governing assumption today, among professing Christians, is that we can be “Christians” forever and never become disciples.

            So the greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heart-breaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as “Christians” will become disciples— students, apprentices, practitioners—of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.

            For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership – either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or local church. I would be glad to learn of any exception to this claim, but it would only serve to highlight its general validity and make the general rule more glaring. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional.

Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have never decided to follow Christ.

The disciple is one who, intent upon becoming Christ-like and so dwelling in his “faith and practice,” systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end.

“Discipleship” is a term that has pretty well lost its meaning because of the way it has been misused. Discipleship on the theological right has come to mean preparation for soul winning, under the direction of parachurch efforts that had discipleship farmed out to them because the local church really wasn’t doing it. On the left, discipleship has come to mean some form of social activity or social service, from serving soup lines to political protest to…whatever. The term “discipleship” has currently been ruined so far as any solid psychological and biblical content is concerned.[1]

Wow. Ouch! My goodness. Is he right? Has the church omitted actual discipleship from the Christian life? To answer that we should consider how the Bible itself defines discipleship. To do that, we should consider the way in which Jesus called his first disciples and how they responded when He did so. The text can be found at the end of Matthew 4:

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is 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 And 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.

What does this reveal to us about the nature of discipleship?

Discipleship is the prioritizing of Jesus and His path.

One of the ways to approach this is to try to spot words that are frequently repeated in this text. See if you can find the repetition in these verses:

19 And he said to them, “Follow me…

20 …they left their nets and followed him.

22 …they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Yes, “follow me” or “followed him.” That is, following Jesus is at the very core of what it means to be a disciple. Disciples follow Jesus.

Now, did Jesus pick these men out because he thought they were likely to follow? In The Catcher in the Rye, a book, admittedly, not frequently quoted in sermons, Holden Caulfield speaks of a conversation he had with a friend of his named Childs on this question.

Old Childs was a Quaker and all, and he read the Bible all the time. He was a very nice kid, and I liked him, but I could never see eye to eye with him on a lot of stuff in the Bible, especially the Disciples. He kept telling me if I didn’t like the Disciples, then I didn’t like Jesus and all. He said that because Jesus picked the Disciples, you were supposed to like them. I said I knew He picked them, but that He picked them at random. I said He didn’t have time to go around analyzing everybody. I said I wasn’t blaming Jesus or anything. It wasn’t His fault that He didn’t have any time.[2]

How gloriously fascinating and strange! The idea of a time-pressed Jesus who did the best He could by grabbing random folks He otherwise would’ve “analyzed” simply must be rejected. No, however we seek to understand the great mysteries of why God chose these specific disciples, He did indeed choose them. And however we seek to understand the great mystery of how human responsibility interacts with God’s sovereign call, these men did indeed follow. And however we might view this, we can certainly trust that this was not random in the way we think of it.

Jesus called these men but He called them specifically to “follow.”

To be a disciple is to prioritize Jesus and His path. Have you done that? Are you following?

We live in a day of nominal Christianity in which, as Willard said above, many claim to believe but never actually follow. This is a great tragedy.

We are not truly followers until we actually prioritize Jesus above all else, until He is truly the most valuable thing to us.

John Stott has wisely written:

One wishes in some ways that the word disciple had continued into the following centuries, so that Christians were self-consciously disciples of Jesus, and took seriously their responsibility to be “under discipline.”[3]

This is a great point. Perhaps we should reclaim the word in our evangelistic efforts. Perhaps instead of saying, “Will you believe in Jesus?” we should ask, “Will you become a disciple of Jesus?”

Think of how the reclaiming of that word could reshape our understanding of the Christian life! Are you a disciple? Am I? Are we following?

Discipleship is immediate, radical obedience.

The way that the disciples respond is also telling and powerful. Notice, again, the repetition.

20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

It is not just that they “left their nets” and “left the boat and their father.” It is also that they left these things “immediately.”

Think of that word: immediately!

What does this tell us about discipleship? It tells us that discipleship is a relationship of immediate, radical obedience.

The disciple does not stop and count the cost of each command. No, he or she has already counted the cost when they took up the yoke of discipleship, of followership.

The disciple does not ponder.

The disciple does not delay.

The disciple does no avoid.

The disciple has already “put her yes on the table,” as the saying goes.

The disciple has already determined that this Lord and this path will determine his or life and that nothing will be allowed to compete.

Are you at a point in your walk with Jesus where your obedience is immediate and radical? When the Lord Jesus calls you to a task, do you shuffle your feet in disobedience or do you say “Yes!”?

John Stott again astutely observes:

Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective: choosing those areas in which commitment suits us and staying away from those areas in which it will be costly. But because Jesus is Lord, we have no right to pick and choose the areas in which we will submit to his authority.[4]

This is true! This must be understood. But it is more than that: we also have no right to pick the time in which He calls us to this or that task. He called the disciples in the midst of their work. I mean in the very middle of their vocations! He called them to stop what they were doing and follow Him.

And they did. This is why we remember them two thousand years later as “the disciples.” They stopped immediately. They followed immediately. Their path was given a new trajectory!

Discipleship is the reorientation of your life and giftings toward the Kingdom of God.

This new trajectory meant the reorientation of their lives and giftings toward the Kingdom of God. The specific language of Jesus’ call is really fascinating:

19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

“Fishers of men.” He calls fishermen not to stop being fishermen but to change the way they viewed and thought of fishing in light of the presence and coming of the Kingdom. That is, Jesus meets us where we are and takes us as we are—with our distinct personalities and giftings—and calls us into His and the Kingdom’s service! He does not strip us of our personalities or talents or abilities. Rather, He reorients them Godward. He shows us what all that we are might look like when given to the King of Kings.

So fishermen do not stop being fishermen. Rather, their fishing takes on a higher and more noble aspiration: the glory of God and the expansion of the Kingdom

Do you know that God in Christ wants you as you? He wants to forgive and transform you, it is true: but it is always you He is redeeming and transforming!

Have you decided to give all that you are to the Christ who loves you and wants to lead you in the fullness of all that you can be?

Stanley Hauerwas has passed on a sad and interesting story of a man who was not willing to let God reorient his life and vocation for His service and glory. Let us let this serve as a cautionary tale:

A story that James McClendon tells about Clarence Jordan, the founder of the Koinonia Community, an interracial farm in Georgia, wonderfully illumines the difference between being a disciple and those who simply admire Jesus. In the early 1950s it is said that Clarence asked his brother, Robert Jordan, who would later be a state senator and a justice on the Georgia Supreme Court, to represent Koinonia Farm legally. His brother replied.

“Clarence, I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations. Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”

            “We might lose everything too, Bob.”

            “It’s different for you.”

            “Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me that you and I joined the church the same Sunday, as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same question he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say?”

            “I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”

            “Could that point by any chance be—the cross?”

            “That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”

            “Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer not a disciple.”

            “Well now, if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”

            “The question,” Clarence said, “is, ‘Do you have a church?’”[5]

That is the question: if you are not willing to take up the cross and walk with Jesus do you even have a church? If a lawyer cannot lawyer for a Kingdom cause has he truly turned over all that he has to Jesus? If we go with Christ to the cross but are not willing to be put on the cross for Him, have we ever truly gone to Him?

Disciples are radical, immediate followers of Jesus whose lives have now taken on a new purpose.

If you come to Jesus to “get saved” but not to learn how to live life, have you really come to Jesus?

Have you omitted discipleship from your Christian experience?

Is it even Christian if you have?

These words are likely familiar to most of us: “Come follow me!” But can we step back for a moment ask ourselves this all-important question: have we really ever decided to do so? Have we decided to follow Jesus in such a way that it represents a reorientation for our whole life?

Are we disciples or merely admirers?

May we be disciples!

May we follow.


[1] Dallas Willard, The Great Omission (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2006), xi, xv, 4, 5, 7, 53.

[2] J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1951), p.50.

[3] John Stott, The Radical Disciple (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), p.14.

[4] John Stott, p.14.

[5] Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), p.31.

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