The Broxbourne Lent meetings have now had their second gathering and I looked with them at the call of the first disciples in Matthew 4.18-21. We noted together the significance of the preceding verses which lead into those first disciples’ call.
1. “When Jesus heard that Jesus had been put in prison . . . from that time on Jesus began to preach ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near’”
Suffering is the traditional biblical prelude to the coming of God’s kingdom. In Ezekiel the agony of warfare with Gog and Magog introduces the fantastic picture of the kingdom in chapters 40-48. In Isaiah 53 the sufferings of the Servant lead to him ‘seeing his offspring and prolonging his days’ (53.10-12); the cross cannot be avoided if the resurrection unto new life is to be experienced; it is only when a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies that it will bear much fruit.
Jesus is introducing God’s kingdom and needs disciples to introduce the kingdom to all the world. They too must be ready therefore to take up their cross.
2. The kingdom is inseparably associated with righteousness. In traditional Jewish thought the messianic kingdom will come when Israel keeps the Law perfectly. Jesus and the New Testament reverser the order. Rightness must ensue when the kingdom comes – so repent! The kingdom of God and holy righteousness go hand in hand together. In our corrupt, violent and over-sexualised world this message of righteousness and repentance is much needed. Christian holiness should stand out in stark contrast with the standards of the world.
3. The kingdom is universal. Jesus centres his early ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4.15). God’s kingdom reaches out beyond the narrow confines of Judea and the the Jewish people to bring salvation and life also to the Gentiles of all nations everywhere. This international perspective is vital for the vision and ministry of Jesus’ disciples throughout the ages. All Christians are called to have a global vision.
The call to discipleship
The call to become a disciple of Jesus involves three everyday simply understood commands.
1. “Come”. Verbs of motion carry great significance in the Gospels. Are people moving towards Jesus or distancing themselves from him? The command is to “come” to Jesus and keep coming closer and closer to him in intimate relationship. In John 1 even Jesus as God’s Word is “with” God (pros in Greek which can be translated as ‘with’, but prosparticularly means ‘towards’). Relationship involves also moving ever closer towards the other person. Somehow even in his perfect oneness with the Father even Jesus is constantly coming towards his Father.
2. “Follow”. The call to discipleship demands that we ‘follow’ Jesus.
We follow him as Lord and therefore obey him. In these verses those first disciples immediately left their nets and their boat – they didn’t refer the decision to some church committee or even have a year of prayer or training first! The call to follow Jesus is urgent and comes before the security of their fishing work by which they lived. In 4.22 they even left their father. In the conservative first century Jewish society parental obedience and filial responsibility had an immensely strong place in the religious culture, but the call to follow Jesus overrides absolutely everything else. Jesus has absolute priority.
3. “I will make you fishers of men” – and women! Jesus’ call here is not just to tend our aquariums, but to venture out into the oceans to find new fish. Of course it is important also to beautify the fish tanks, keep them well aerated and feed the fish we already have in the tank. But here Jesus is saying that discipleship in his kingdom means outreach into the oceans to evangelise and share the good news of the kingdom in such a way that new people are added to his church. International and cross-cultural mission among all peoples is an essential calling for disciples of Jesus.
Let us be obedient to his call to us to be true disciples of Jesus! Let his call have priority in our lives.