Today (12th March 2017) I preached at my home church of Becontree Avenue Baptist Church in Dagenham.
I chose to speak on the calling of the first of Jesus’ disciples and usual we start with the Bible readings:
Mark 1: 16 – 20
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Mark 2:13 – 17
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.
16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Two simple words that can change your life for ever “Follow me”
For Simon Peter and Andrew as well as James and John it means leaving behind the only job they had ever known. Probably fishing had been the family business for generations. A steady and dependable job.
Just as in this country until recently sons would follow fathers and grandfathers into farming or coal mining or ship building. In this area it would be Fords or May and Baker or perhaps Tate and Lyle.
Matthew would have been different. Nice people, religious people in Israel would not have been tax collectors. The tax collectors worked for the hated Romans who occupied and ruled the country.
The Romans would tell the tax collectors how much they expected from each person, but if the tax collector added his own percentage it wasn’t a problem. As long as the expected tax money came in, what else happened was up to the tax collector.
Many like Zacchaeus did very nicely out of it. As we can read in Luke 19:1 – 10.
Hence tax collectors were generally disliked by the people and hated by the religious leaders and of course those who fought to free Israel from the Romans – the Zealots. A later disciple of Jesus was Simon the Zealot, a freedom fighter or terrorist depending how you viewed the Zealots.
I wonder how Matthew and Simon the Zealot got on? It just goes to prove that Jesus calls all sorts of people to follow him.
Look how the Pharisees complained about Jesus eating with the tax gatherers: Mark 2:15 – 17 “ While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew or Levi as he is called in Mark’s gospel gave up a lot to follow Jesus. We are not told exactly what in the Bible but if the story of Zacchaeus is anything to go by, he was a wealthy man.
For many people wealth can be a problem. Jesus encountered a rich young man who couldn’t respond to Jesus’ invitation to give it all away and follow him. Mark 10:17 – 22.
Today Jesus challenges all sorts of people to follow him. Even those who are his strongest critics and enemies hear the call and respond.
Jesus’ message is for everyone. And indeed everywhere that the good news of Jesus is told people have the chance to follow him.
But what does it mean to follow Jesus?
Our priorities change.
We are no longer No 1 in our lives.
Jesus is No 1 and our deeds and our thoughts should reflect that.
We should become more like him in how we treat others.
It may be that we are called like those early followers to give up our present life and go on the road telling people about Jesus.
However, Jesus may call us to “follow him” by staying with our family, keeping on working and live for him where we are.
When we respond to Jesus’ call “follow me” we tend to forget that he is there leading the way. We follow where he has been ahead of us. We don’t have to find our own way through life. We follow Jesus. He knows what we are going to face on our journey and he is there to guide us, help us and support us, if only we put our trust in him.
If we think of the way Jesus described himself as the good shepherd it may help.
The shepherd in Palestine would be out front of his flock leading them. He would know the best way to go to get his sheep as safely as possible to good places to eat and drink.
Even in the dangerous places the shepherd leads and protects his sheep. Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. “
The rod was really a spear to throw at any wild animals that threaten the sheep and the staff of shepherd’s crook with its curved end was used to pull sheep out of places where they got stuck.
I’m told that in the Middle East if you ever see a man driving sheep, he is either taking the sheep to be sold or to the slaughterhouse.
In the middle east if you find an animal on its own its inevitably a goat because the sheep will follow the shepherd and the goats will go their own way.
Jesus leads us. Those from other religions drive people to their eternal destination or fate.
In John 14:6 we read “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I understand that in Jesus’ day guides would meet visitors to Jerusalem at the city gates shouting out “I am the way” or “follow me”. They would then guide visitors to their destinations.
When Gaynor and I have been abroad visiting a foreign city we have been in a tour party with a guide who would often carry a bright umbrella or something similar so that we can see him or her in the crowds and know we are safe. We just follow our guide, not any other guide because they may be going somewhere completely different.
Similarly we follow Jesus because he is the way to Heaven. No other guide will take us there no matter what they may promise.
Down at the Dartford crossing the Highways Agency police often escort fuel tankers and other dangerous vehicles through the tunnel. The lead police vehicle has an illuminated sign that says “Follow me”
God led the Israelites through the desert for 40 years. In Exodus 13:21 “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.”
Jesus still invites people to follow him. Its an invitation not an order. It is up to each person to decide for themselves whether to follow Jesus or to go their own way.
If you decide to follow Jesus and let him lead you through life, we know that he will never leave us or forsake us. We are never left to find our own way and he will see us safely to our eternal home. As John Newton put it in his famous hymn “Amazing grace” “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come, Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home”
Everybody follows someone.
If you don’t follow Jesus, who do you follow?
And if you don’t follow Jesus who is the only way to God, where are you going?
What will be your eternal destination?
Jesus’ invitation is the same now as it was 2000 years ago. Whoever we are, whatever we’ve done, Jesus says “Follow me”.