Today we come to a turning point in the relationship that the early disciples – those who were destined to become the twelve apostles – had with Jesus. This was a really significant day in their lives.
Some time ago, we saw how John the Baptist pointed to Jesus declaring Him to be the Lamb of God. Some of John’s disciples followed Jesus. They got into a bit of a conversation. Jesus invited them to “come and see”. In the next day or two there were others whom Jesus likewise invited to “come and see”.
They followed Jesus around. They saw Him turning water into wine, tossing the merchants and money-changers out of the Temple, healing. They saw the results of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. But, it seems that they also went back to fishing. In today’s passage they are described still as being fishermen. They were part-time followers. Nothing was being asked of them. They didn’t have to make any decisions. They had been invited simply to observe, to see what they thought.
Scholars estimate that this phase lasted between six months, and a year. Just watching.
The things that they saw raised three main issues:
- Who was this man? Remember how the disciples concluded that they had found the Messiah and the Samaritan woman went through a whole sequence of who she understood Jesus to be before concluding that He was the Messiah. Who was this man?
- How would people respond to Him? We have seen some believe in Him and others reject Him.
- What must people do to be saved? Jesus has been quite explicit about the gospel. You must be born again. Repent.
I believe that, if we want to learn about making disciples, we should learn from Jesus Himself. If we are relating to a non-Christian, maybe the initial stages should be simply about coming and seeing – inviting someone to join you in things where he/she might see God at work and see how Christians live – see how you operate in your family, in your small group, at church, in your workplace – not asking for any commitment, just giving them the opportunity to observe, but intentionally raising those questions:
- Who do you think this Jesus is?
- Some people believe in Jesus; some reject Him. How about you?
- Explaining the gospel. Being a Christian is about a change so radical it is described as being born again. That happens by the power of God, when we trust in Jesus and repent of our sins.
Maybe we shouldn’t push for a decision too soon. Could they just watch for six months or a year? Maybe we shouldn’t try to explain too much – just enough to discover who Jesus is, know that some sort of response is required and understand the gospel.
But then comes the day when they will be challenged to make a response. Today’s reading is about that day in the life of the Peter and Andrew, James and John. This is turning point day. After six or twelve months observing, this is the day when Jesus will seek a decision. On the basis of all that you have seen, how will you respond? What conclusions have you come to? What will be your response?
We often think that todays’ incident was the first time they had met Jesus. He said “Follow me” and they did straightaway. It makes a lot more sense to realise that they have already had considerable exposure to Jesus but now a decision is required.
READ Matthew 4:18-22
The invitation changed from “come and see” to “come, follow me.” No commitment had been asked of them prior to this but now a commitment is required. Given what they had seen and learned about Jesus, would they leave everything else – leave their livelihood, their security, their families – to become followers of Jesus? This is a major, major, major decision. They had observed; they had listened; they had learnt. Would all of that persuade them to throw their lot in with Jesus? Were they persuaded that He was worth following even though that would mean leaving everything else behind?
Yes, they were! A remarkable aspect of this story is their immediate response. V.20 says of Peter and Andrew “At once they left their nets and followed Him.” And v.22 says, “Immediately, [James and John] left the boat and their father and followed Him.” They had seen. They were persuaded. They believed in Jesus. They were ready. They turned their backs on everything. The passage is specific about them leaving things behind. And followed Him.
This is an example of the repentance Jesus was preaching. This was a change of direction – a leaving behind of some things and starting a whole new life.
Phase 2 had begun. Now the relationship is different. It was part-time and casual before. Now it is full-time and committed. Before it was “I’m interested.” Now it is “I’m in.”
It is interesting to ask when the disciples were converted. Was it on that first day when they concluded that He was the Messiah? Was it at this point? Was it when Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah the Son of the living God? Were they still unbelievers at the time of the crucifixion when they had little belief and they denied Him and ran away from Him? Was it at Pentecost that they truly became believers?
I am now inclined to think that this was their conversion. Prior to this they had been weighing it up. This was the point where they decided to follow Jesus. After this, they still had a lot to learn and they failed regularly. They were not instantly mature. In fact, they frustrated Jesus with their lack of maturity, but all disciples start as babies, newly born again. Some remain babies, but God’s intention is that we grow to maturity. From that moment of new birth we are not mature and we will fail but we are disciples – followers of Jesus, learning from Him. This was the day they gave their allegiance to Jesus.
Jim Putman is an American pastor whose church puts a high priority on making disciples. In fact, some of his church members have been in Dunedin this year and last year leading seminars. He has pointed out how this invitation defines discipleship.
The three phrases in Jesus’ invitation define three aspects of discipleship.
- “Come, follow me” – disciples follow Jesus
- “and I will make you” – disciples are being transformed by Jesus
- “fishers of people” – disciples engage in the mission of Jesus
That is a useful framework as we consider our own discipleship. Are we following Jesus? Are we growing; being changed? And, are we engaged in the mission of Jesus, or at least in training for that?
It is also a useful framework as we think about making disciples. We, as a church and as individuals are called to make disciples. So, what sort of person are we meant to be making? People who follow Jesus; people who are being transformed by Jesus (by the power of the Holy Spirit); and people who become part of the mission of Jesus.
Let’s think some more about leaving things behind to follow Jesus? Peter would later say, in Matthew 19:27, “We have left everything to follow you.” Does this emphasis on leaving everything mean that we are all required to leave everything? Should we all leave our jobs – like they did? Should we all abandon our families? We are told here that James and John left their father, and travelling around with Jesus must have had an impact on their wives and children and other family members.
If that is what it means, then, yes, we should do it. Jesus requires a dedication that comes before everything else. In fact, when Peter said, ‘We have left everything to follow you”…
Matt 19:28-30 28 Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
In other words, if we are called to give up things for Jesus, He promises that we will receive much more. It takes faith to believe that we can let go of things now trusting that Jesus will give us much more later. Those who have chosen to forego many pleasures now will receive many more later. Those who cling onto their pleasures now will have nothing later.
If Jesus calls us to give things up in order to follow Him, then He has the authority to do that and ultimately, we will not lose. We can trust Him for that.
However, Peter still had a house. It seems his house became a base for Jesus’ ministry and there is still a building in Capernaum that is believed to be Peter’s house. He still had a wife and a mother-in-law. Very soon after this calling by the lakeside, Jesus, James and john went to Peter and Andrew’s house. It is not as if these disciples cut all ties with everything. In fact, Paul commands Christians to care for their families and calls us worse than unbelievers if we don’t.
Jesus’ call focused on following Him, growing and becoming part of His mission. Those things require that we give up certain other things. For the fishermen it meant leaving their occupations and their families (by-and-large although not entirely). For other people staying in their current jobs will be what is required for them to be part of Jesus’ mission. Jesus needs people in all spheres of society and mixing with all sorts of people. I could never witness to professional wrestlers as effectively as a professional wrestler! God needs Christian professional wrestlers who remain wrestlers.
Our focus should be on following Jesus, growing and engaging in His mission. The giving up is a consequence of the call. If I am going to follow Jesus; if I am going to grow, if I am to become part of Jesus’ mission team, some things will need to be given up and I must be ready to leave them behind. The fishermen could not fish for people if they continued fishing for fish. That required a completely new focus and a willingness to use their time differently and to trust God to provide rather than provide for themselves.
Al Green was one of the world’s greatest soul singers in the 1970’s with seven hit albums to his name. Then one night after a concert in Disneyland, he woke up feeling like he never had before and shouting “Hallelujah”. He says that he went to sleep one way and woke up another way. Jesus was with him. That was a conversion experience for him but he kept wavering between what he called a “million dollar career” and his call to sing gospel music. He was at the peak of his career – hugely popular. A year later, on October 18 1974, he was in his bath one night when an ex-girlfriend entered and poured boiling “grits” (like porridge) over him causing third degree burns. She then went to his bedroom and shot herself dead. After that experience he bought a church and started preaching, becoming known as The Reverend Al Green.
He continued to sing secular music but his sales fell away. In 1979 he injured himself falling of a stage. He understood that to be a message from God and turned his back on secular music and the benefits that came with it. At the time he said, “”If I must set it down – my career and the money and the popularity and the ladies – then I will… I shall be one of the greatest evangelists in the world – in the world!”
As it happens, in the late 1980’s he again began singing secular music again but, he says, that he now uses that music as a tool for mission. For Al Green it was a journey of learning to leave things behind but God clearly wanted him to do it. When he did, God gave some things back to Him.
The stages that the disciples went through are also the stages we go through. How would you describe yourself? Are you observing; making up your mind? Are you in the “come and see” stage or have you chosen to follow Jesus? Have you given up everything else and given your allegiance to Jesus. You will be still growing, still learning, but have you given yourself to Jesus?
Are you following Him, being changed by Him and part of His mission?