Kingdom Come Week Four - "Follow Me"
This week, as part of our effort to live in the rhythm of the Church calendar, we'll be celebrating the Third Sunday after Epiphany. Interestingly, this is also known as the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time.
It's weird church-y stuff, but hear me out. Regardless of what we call this particular season of the Church, we have to be aware of where it's located: sandwiched between Advent and Lent. The pause between signs and wonders--between Nativity and Resurrection.
Which teaches us something about what it means to be a Christian.
I am almost positive that the Church fathers who came up with this whole season thing knew exactly what they were doing. There is something about this strip of ordinary in between the extraordinary celebrations of Christmas and Easter that helps us understand what it means to follow Christ beyond the signs, beyond the wonders.
This whole being a disciple of Jesus thing---it's about more than just Christmas and Easter, in other words. Being a Christian means that you follow Jesus in and out of "season," so to speak--when it's easy... and when it's not so easy.
And the passage of Scripture that we'll be studying this week speaks right into this very idea...
But first, I have to tell you a story.
It's a story of when my wife and I lived in Tallahassee, or as some might call it: "Almost Heaven." Okay. I call it that because when we lived there we sort of had it made. First, it was Florida State country so that meant that everywhere I went I was greeted with signs and symbols of my beloved Seminoles---and hardly any Gator heads. So there's that.
But more importantly, we had a great house in a great neighborhood near great schools. I was sort of an up and coming youth director in the community, and was working on my Masters Degree in History with a full scholarship that also paid me $15,000 a year---to go to school. My wife was working for a serious law firm and actually making serious money. I wasn't breaking the bank, but I had two jobs, and we could actually afford to go out to dinner, go on vacation and stuff...
Then God intervened. A year earlier I had given up what I believed was a call by God to go to seminary in the big city of Chicago. Only I didn't really give it up, it sort of stuck with me like a big lump in my throat that wouldn't go away.
And one day I stood in our bedroom across from my wife--I actually think we were making the bed. I said to her, "I have something I need to tell you." She got this look on her face that made me add, "It's nothing bad!" I said to her, "I know this sounds crazy, but I think I am supposed to go to seminary, and I think I'm supposed to go in Chicago."
She looked at me and her eyes got all misty. "I haven't said anything to you," she said, "but I have been thinking the exact same thing. You need to go to seminary, and I think it's supposed to be Chicago."
Everyone thought we were nuts.
We were. But Jesus had asked us to follow him. So we did.
We sold our house--miraculously. We sold my car--literally the week we left. We sold just about everything we knew we wouldn't need in the big city, and we loaded the rest into a huge truck, and Merideth and I started driving one night after our last youth group meeting--leaving all of our church family waving to us from the church parking lot...
Maybe you've been at that kind of crossroads, too. You know, that moment when you feel like something is about to happen... something that you've been waiting for, but you can't quite put your finger on why.
Perhaps you've felt that mysterious pull toward something that scares you. Some decision that you feel like you should make--to move, to let someone go, to try something else, to take a leap of faith... And you wonder where it comes from, and maybe how you can make it stop.
St. Augustine once wrote as a prayer to God, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee..."
What if I told you that the answer to the restlessness in your heart lies in the way you respond when Jesus calls you to follow him?
You see, The two most transformative words in the entire Bible are: "Follow Me."
Let's read Matthew 4:12-25 to see the very moment in the story of Jesus where he used those words for the very first time...
12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”[a]
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
This little fishing village on the sea of Galilee became Jesus' hometown. In fact, almost all of his ministry took place in a three mile radius, what has been called "The Evangelical Triangle." You can walk the entire space where Jesus preached, performed most of his miracles and lived in the space of a couple of hours.
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
A few years ago when there was a bit of a drought in the Galilee region, a boat was discovered that had been resting in the mud just off the coastline--a boat that was over two thousand years old. That boat, which has become known as "The Jesus Boat" is on display in a kibbutz not far from where it was found.
This actual boat from Jesus time gives us a clearer vision of what it was like to be a fisherman two thousand years ago. The boats that Jesus' disciples used were not large, and fishing in them was not easy--particularly when the storms would come up suddenly on the sea of Galilee.
But their lives were mostly secure...though hardly luxurious. They had a trade, they had security and walking away from these things was akin to suicide in the ancient world.
The word that's used to describe how they respond is fascinating, though. The Greek word used here is "eutheos" or immediately, but it means that they dropped everything and followed Jesus without hesitation, consulting anyone, getting an opinion, journalling about it, reading self-help books...
It has been said that Jesus summoned them with "irresistible authority" and they responded with "radical obedience."
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
I need to say something about these people that Jesus called. First, they were the religious school dropouts. They never made it past high school, so to speak. In those days, young boys would be taught the Torah, memorizing it, studying it, learning it by heart. If they showed an aptitude for learning they were advanced to the next level, and so on until they were able to finally go find a rabbi who would be willing to let them be his disciple. Rabbis didn't go out seeking disciples. They came to him.
Jesus wasn't like any other rabbi. He not only went out to seek his disciples, he called the worst possible guys to follow him. Unlearned, uneducated, un-everything.
He chose them.
For these men, it was almost as if they had been waiting all their lives to hear this voice, to hear this call. And so they dropped everything and followed.
Who knows, maybe there was a moment after this where they went, "I can't believe what I just did... this is nuts.... what are we doing here?"
Which is why I love how this passage reads. Immediately after calling his disciples, Jesus immediately begins to throw down some serious wisdom, healing and straight up miracles. Things got very, very real for these new followers of Jesus--and all that they saw happen right after they dropped their nets and followed... confirmed it all: they had made the right choice.
Signs and wonders... it cemented the whole thing for these guys.
Let me ask you a question... Are you longing for something more? Have you found your heart to be restless? Do you think that maybe what you are longing for is to finally, once and for all respond to those two words from Jesus...?
Is it so hard to believe that He would pick you?
I get that. Which brings me to Part Two of my story...
So we drove to Chicago. But before we drove there we experienced a miracle. You see, we had enrolled my son in the only Christian school that we could find downtown that didn't cost a zillion dollars.
Then we tried to find a place to live that wasn't too far from it, but we had no idea where anything was in the city. We found this condo that was for rent--pretty cheaply, as downtown condos go. So we sent a deposit in to secure it. Our check beat the check of another prospective renter by one day, so we got it.
Merideth asked the agent over the phone if she had any idea where my son's school was--Daystar Christian School. The lady said that she did, in fact know where that school was. "It's in this building," she told us "where you will be living."
I needed a job, and had no idea where to look. Months before we left, I sent resumes to several churches in the Chicagoland area, trying to see if they needed a slightly older, seminary student to work part time in youth ministry. I got no response.
Then one day after we had been in Chicago for a month, I got a call from a pastor from the nearby town of Evanston. It seems he was at a denominational meeting, and ran into this pastor from the suburbs and they got to talking. The pastor from Evanston asked the pastor from the suburbs if he knew of anyone who was looking for a youth ministry position. The pastor said that he did, in fact, know of someone--a guy from Florida who was going to seminary in Chicago and had sent him a resume months earlier.
So, I got that job. And a few months after I did, I found out about this scholarship they had for seminary students, and I applied for it. They paid for my seminary, school and books for two years---in addition to promoting me and giving me a full time job.
Signs and wonders, people. Signs and wonders...
This is what it is like when Jesus calls you to follow him. It's like when your spiritual center of gravity moves to an unknown zone, and you don't know exactly why, but you just have... to go where it is...
It's that moment when you realize that the voice calling out to you and telling you to follow is the very voice that spoke you into existence... and you just know... you have to follow...
Beloved, will you follow him? He calls to you even now. This is the moment that you have been waiting for. Drop your fear, your past, your guilt, your doubts... and follow.
Because the two most transformative words in the entire Bible are: "Follow Me."