Sermon from Sunday 22nd January from Phil Horscroft

Matthew 4:12-23

Merciful Father, thank you for your many blessings and I pray that my words will be acceptable in your sight and fruitful for those who hear them. Amen.

In todays Gospel reading we see our Lord Jesus setting out on the beginning of His Ministry.  He has been baptised by John the Baptist; the Holy Spirit has descended upon him like a dove;  The Lord has spoken “This is my Son, My beloved in whom I delight”; He has been tested in the wilderness and not been found wanting in any measure. Now He begins His ministry and the first thing He does is He calls His disciples, which is what I would like to examine with you today.

How does our Lord Jesus go about this task, which turns out to be one of the most important for the future of His Church.  In the reading we see our Lord Jesus leaving Nazareth and going to Capernaum, which was a small town on the shores of the Sea of Galilee near the river Jordan.  It was in the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali.  These were two of the tribes of Israel.  These lands were what we would call today frontier territories.  They were on the northern border of Israel.  In fact we know from archaeological studies that there was a customs post and a military detachment there.  The tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali had been deported by the Assyrians in the past. This must have been a catastrophic blow to the people of that area.  Even though they were eventually allowed to return they would have returned to a land now occupied by those who had moved into the vacant land. These things take generations to recover from if indeed they ever do.  Verse 16 gives us a clue as to the social and economic conditions in that land at that time.  The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the land and shadow of death Light has dawned.  It was a strategic location from the point of view of the ministry of our Lord Jesus, because it was seen as an area very densely populated by gentiles.  Indeed this area was despised by the rest of Israel second only to the Samaritans.  But it may be, we cannot be certain, that this was all secondary to our Lord Jesus, because this is where He chooses His disciples. 

Now this in itself is a reversal of the traditions of that time.  At that time in Israel the disciple chose the rabbi, but here we see our Lord Jesus reversing the accepted order of things.  Something the people of Israel are going to see a lot of in the next three years. Something we see our Lord Jesus doing time after time after time.  Verse 17 tells us our Lord Jesus now began to preach.  “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. Now as a side note,  Matthew uses the term Kingdom of Heaven and Luke uses the term Kingdom of God. They both mean exactly the same thing, but Matthew as a Jew would not use the name of God in written or spoken form as this was forbidden to him, whereas Luke as a gentile was under no such restriction.  Hence the different terms, which both mean exactly the same thing.

But back to the matter in hand.  We see in the reading our Lord Jesus walking by the seashore and he comes upon Andrew and Simon.  We know from the Gospel of John 1: 35-42 that He has met them before and they had spent a day together.  Andrew commonly known among biblical scholars as the first disciple of our Lord Jesus had indeed been a disciple of John the Baptist. 
It can be assumed that, upon the arrest of John, Andrew had returned to his family and his job. So this was not a call to faith, it was a call to discipleship; to sacrifice; to hardship; to suffering and loss.  Our Lord Jesus says to the brothers Andrew and Simon follow me and I will make you fishers of men. At once they left their nets. 

Our Lord Jesus walks on and sees two more brothers.  John and James.  He called them and at once they left their boat.  Now in the reading it would be very easy to accept this as something not that important but if we look at this in context we may begin to see the reality of the situation.  This must have been a huge and challenging commitment for those disciples; culturally, economically and socially.  Culturally this would probably have been a scandal.  Young men leaving their families and jobs to follow some wandering rabbi. From an economic perspective we should be aware that being a fisherman was not a poor trade.  Fish was an enormous product in Israel.  It was sold everywhere.  It would have been sold fresh locally, but the excess catch would have been preserved by pickling or salting and sold as far afield as Jerusalem and probably in the cities of Syria and what is now Turkey.  Indeed I have read a study which stated that John was a successful, well  connected, businessman selling fish in Jerusalem for his father.  This must have been a lot to walk away from.  From a social perspective the disciples left their families behind to follow our Lord Jesus.  We know Simon-Peter was married from Matthew 8: 14-15 where our Lord Jesus cures Peters mother-in-law of a fever.  No children are mentioned but there is at least a 50/50 chance that Peter was indeed a father.  

Now, although our Lord Jesus says “follow me” these were not followers.  We know from the Gospels that thousands of people followed Jesus, but these were mostly people who were following our Lord Jesus for their own benefit.  To be cured of something or to learn something or to just be a part of things.  Something we all do even today.  But these disciples were different.  They had walked away from everything; families, jobs, futures.  This was radical discipleship. 

We know from other readings that not all who were called responded positively. There was the rich young man who was told to sell all his possessions and went away distressed and very sorrowful.  There was the man who said to our Lord Jesus “first let me go and bury my father” to which our Lord replied “let the dead bury the dead”.  Not all those who were disciples of our Lord Jesus lasted the course.  We see from John 6 that after our Lord Jesus had preached in the synagogue in Capernaum about being the bread of life  and many of them went back to their old lives and no longer accompanied Him.  They were tested and fell short. 

So, what does this mean to us today?  Can we expect a similar call?  Maybe.  Only the Lord knows.  What we can say is that our Lord tends to call us to positions we are best suited to, even if we don’t believe this to be so at the time.  The real question is, how will we respond?  This is in my view one of the ultimate tests of our faith.  Joseph responded to the instruction to marry a pregnant woman he received in a dream.  How easy would it have been for him to dismiss the message as just a dream?  But Joseph had faith.  Mary accepted the burden of pregnancy outside marriage and a child, not her husbands, destined to change the world because she had total faith in the Lord our god.  The disciples followed our Lord Jesus at once, without question and to the bitter end.  Because they had faith.  Faith is where it all starts.  Our calling, should it come, will be met with our faith.  Our faith is like everything else.  The more you practice it the better you will get at it.  The better you will get at it the more likely you are to be called.  Who finds that just a little bit scary?  But always remember Matthew 11: 28-30

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The phrase “do not be afraid” is written in the bible 365 times.  That is once a day, our Lord is telling us to not be afraid.  Each of us will or have been called to a discipleship that we probably don’t even realise we are doing as a discipleship.  In the 23 years I have been attending a church I have only seen one instance of a call to discipleship that was what I would call a severe change in the life of those called.  I have to say it was only other people who looked upon it that way.  Those who were called looked upon it as a blessing. May it be so for us all. 


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