Following Jesus Part 2

-In chapter 1 of Mark, we find that when Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John, their reaction was the same as Matthew’s, they dropped their fishing nets, and left their boats to follow Jesus.

– Like Matthew, they’d not had what it takes to be a disciple according to their torah teachers so they had followed the path that was expected of them – the family business of commercial fishing.

– BUT unlike the rabbis and torah teachers of that time, Jesus didn’t look at what they were in themselves – He saw what they would become by the work of His Spirit in them.

-Remember, the goal of discipleship is to become just like the rabbi. So when a young man began his discipleship, he picked a rabbi to follow by asking, “Who could I be like?” But most of them were turned away by the words, “You can’t be like me!”

-But when Jesus said to Peter and Matthew, “Follow Me” He was saying to them “I know that YOU can be just like Me.”

-What Jesus said to them, He says to you and I. We did not choose Jesus – He chose us! He came to us while we were going about our lives in this world, and He showed us there was a whole new way to live.

-We didn’t go to Him and plead with Him to let us follow Him. No – He came to us and said, “Follow Me – and I will make you just like Me.”

-That’s what the Spirit is doing in us – He’s making us just like Jesus. As it says inRomans 8:29 “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

-Disciples in Galilee followed their rabbi for 15 years, until they turned 30, then if they had accomplished the task of becoming like him, they became rabbis in their own right.

-But after only 3 years of training the 12, Jesus sent them forth to make disciples of the whole world. Matthew 28:19a says “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

-Jesus took the narrow doors off of what it takes to be a disciple. Before He came, only an elite few were disciples, based on their skill, talent, and intelligence. But Jesus based the invitation to discipleship, not on our ability, but on His.

-Even to this very day, Jesus comes to men and women who have been beaten down by sin, to those rejected by the authorities, crushed by parents and teachers who have told them they’ll never amount to anything, and He says, “Follow Me, and I will make you just like I am.” Then, even more, He entrusts His mission to us and tells us to go and make disciples who will be just like Him.

-There is one condition though – one necessary thing we must do. Like Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew – we must drop our current identity and occupation if we’re going to follow Jesus. Peter couldn’t follow Jesus and fish at the same time. Matthew couldn’t follow Jesus and collect customs duties at the same time. To be a disciple meant leaving his tax-booth.

– Now, i’m not saying we all should forsake our jobs and live and work in a church…what i’m saying is this, if we follow Jesus, then we must turn our backs on our identity as sinners and drop the things that make for sin…we must shed all those things of the “old life” the “old nature” and embrace the new life, that new nature that Christ offers us in Him.

-In Matthew 16:24 Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” See, the invitation is open to all – “If anyone” Jesus said.

– But the condition to following Him is to die to self so that Jesus can live in and through us. It’s this indwelling of Christ that brings the power to change us so that we become just like Him.

-Being a Christian today means we follow Jesus in the midst of our careers and vocations and family lives. What we leave behind to follow Jesus is the old man, our identity as people who defined themselves by the things of this fallen world.

-Jesus invites you to be His disciple today. He doesn’t invite us to be His student. The invitation isn’t even to be a Christian, or a deeply religious person. He invites you to become just like He is and to enjoy the closest possible relationship with Him.

-It doesn’t matter what’s happened to you in this world. It doesn’t matter what sin you’ve managed to immerse yourself in. It doesn’t matter that others have told you you’re a loser, that you’ll never amount to anything.

-Jesus stops before you today as He stopped before Matthew’s tax-booth, He looks you in the eye, holds out His hand and says, “Follow Me.”

-Just as the disciples were called to follow Jesus TOGETHER, so are we. The Body of Christ embraces men, women and children of all colors, backgrounds, and social levels. Our common bond is our relationship to Jesus, and that relationship erases all other distinctions.

-As Paul says in Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Applying that to today, we could say in Christ there is no Caucasian, Hispanic, African, or Oriental; there’s no distinction between ravers, skaters, Goths, surfers, punks, waxheads, preps, minis, silents, jocks, nerds, and geeks.

-As we follow Christ, we invite all, whatever their background, color, or ethnic group – to come follow with us in following Christ.

-And in Christ we are one.

Following Jesus Part 1

Mark 2:13-14 Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. 14As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.

-As Jesus was moving along the lakeside, he came to a building occupied by a man named Levi, aka ‘Matthew.’ Because of where Capernaum was located in Galilee, it was the first real city travelers would encounter as they came to Israel, so it was a prime location for collecting customs duties; import and export taxes.

-That was Levi’s job, to collect the 2-3% tax the rich caravans from Syria & Arabia had to pay to ensure safe passage. As a customs agent, Levi worked, not for the Romans, but for the brutal tyrant Herod, the ruler of Galilee; because of this, Levi was despised by the common people.

-Yet as Jesus passed by that day, He saw Levi sitting there in his office, and said to him, “Follow Me.” That’s all it took for Matthew “ he dropped what he was doing and went after Jesus. Now, in order to understand the full implication of this, we need to take a closer look at discipleship and what it really means. Bear with me as I’m going to delve a bit into the culture of the Hebrews of that time…but it really all does set the scene for the entire story and helps us understand why Matthew so willingly dropped all his stuff to follow Christ.

-The whole idea of rabbis who had an official group of disciples was something unique to Galilee. There were 2 kinds of rabbis: 1) torah teachers, and 2) s’mikah rabbis. Torah teachers, or scribes, as they are called in the NT, were men who had memorized the entire, Tanach (the Old Testament) and what many of the great rabbis had said about the scriptures. Rabbis, on the other hand, had also memorized the Tanach, but they had demonstrated the ability to speak with authority about the scriptures and the things of God. S’mikah in fact MEANS “authority.” So, rabbis had s’mikah, torah teachers did not.

-While torah teachers had students, only rabbis had talmidin (disciples).

-In Galilee, all children, both boys and girls, sat under a Torah teacher and memorized entire books of the OT. This schooling went on until they were 12 to 13, at which point education ended for girls. For the boys, if they had proven themselves skilled at memorization, and shown a mind for study, they would go on to another level of work with the Torah teacher.

-Those who didn’t pass to this level began their vocation, usually working in the family business or entering an apprenticeship. For those boys who did move on to the next level of education with the Torah teacher, the lessons became more intense; the entire Tanach was memorized, along with the teaching & commentary of notable rabbis.

-If after a few more years of this the young man still demonstrated a superior level of skill in his studies, then he would graduate from the Torah teacher to following a Rabbi. He would carefully consider the rabbis currently around and which he most wanted to be like.

-You see, that was the essence of discipleship “ a disciple aspired to be just like the rabbi; that was the goal, the singular aim of being a disciple, and that’s why disciples were always with their rabbi. They wanted to watch him as closely as possible, observing how he responded to different situations.

-So as a young man considered which rabbi to follow, he would ask himself who He wanted to and could be like, for his discipleship would see him become just like his rabbi. Once he picked a rabbi, he would go to him and begin following, but at that point, he wasn’t an official disciple yet; he was letting the rabbi know he wanted to be a talmid.

-After several weeks of just following him around the rabbi would acknowledge the young man and begin to quiz him on his skill with the Word of God. For example,

1) “Quote the law of the Nazarite.”

2) “How many times did Ezekiel see the Lord?”

3) “What is the middle word in the Scroll of Isaiah the prophet?”

-This kind of quizzing would go on for days. Then, after all this, the rabbi would usually say to him something like, “Look, you are a bright young man. Go home, get married, have children, and love and serve God as a fisherman. Have a nice life.” Most young men were turned down by the rabbis. Only the cream of the crop were allowed to become official talmidin.

-Now, we go back to Matthew. Where was Matthew when Jesus found him? Sitting in his tax-office. Matthew was a young man who’d grown up like the rest of the children in Galilee, memorizing the Scriptures in hopes to one day become a disciple of a rabbi. But he’d obviously not proven himself skilled in his studies enough to be declared a talmid, and had gone into the family business “ tax-collector.

-As he’s sitting there one day, he looks up to see a huge crowd coming toward him. They all seem to be following the man who’s in front; he realizes this must be the new rabbi everyone’s been talking about and who’d been making such a stir lately “ Jesus of Nazareth.

-As Jesus arrives in front of Matthew’s tax booth, He stops, looks Matthew in the eye, and simply says, “Follow Me.” Now’s where that brief study in discipleship comes in. Matthew understood exactly what invitation meant “ it was the invitation of a rabbi to a new disciple.

-Matthew immediately dropped what he was doing, and went after Jesus.

It Came to Pass

Luke 2:1-7 “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register. 4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

-God is at work in our lives in a life-long process of working our very being into the image of Jesus Christ. When it seems your spiritual life is dead and you’re not growing, it is good to remember that God is faithful and what He has begun He will complete (as verse 24 in 1 Thess. tells).

Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We Christians are God’s workmanship. We can find comfort in this fact when we go through hard times because this verse helps us remember that all things that are happening to us are just molding us more into what and who God created us to be.

-Just as God moved mountains to fulfill the prophecy of His Son Jesus Christ, so He “moves mountains” for us in our lives. In Micah 5:2, it was prophesied that Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Joseph (Jesus’ earthly father) had been born in Bethlehem too, but did not currently reside there when Mary became pregnant with Christ. It would take a census to cause Joseph to leave Nazareth and come to Bethlehem, and that is exactly what happened.

-God stirred up a crisis throughout the Roman Empire during that time which troubled Augustus and caused him to want to decree a census. This crisis was made to happen so that the prophecy of Christ being born in Bethlehem could be fulfilled. During the census, everyone had to go back to his hometown (since Mary was married to Joseph, she would be counted as a citizen of Bethlehem too). Interestingly, this call to a census happened just before Mary was set to give birth. You see, God “moved” the entire Roman Empire just because of one Jewish woman who was pregnant with the Messiah.

-Just as God was faithful in fulifilling each Old Testament prophecy about the first coming of the Messiah, so God is faithful in fulfilling His plans for YOU in your life. Just as God “made mountains move” in the Roman Empire, so too He sets the world stage so that He can fulfill His promise to you.

-Just like when John in Revelation saw the causes in heaven before the world saw the effects, so too the events that happen in heaven, we see the effects of here on earth. God is moving events in the entire earth just so He can fulfill His promises to His children.

-God’s words and promises in the Bible are like seeds planted in the soil of time. Just like seeds planted in soil, so do we know that the “seeds” of God’s future promises will sprout and grow. God’s promises and His revelations to us through the prophecies are true and sure. They WILL happen.

-He who calls you is faithful and He WILL do what He says. God calls us to do one thing, to surrender to Him, and He will take care of the rest. As Philippians 1:6 states, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

-God began a good work in you and He WILL complete it. As 1 Corinthians 2:9 states, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”. So don’t lose heart when it seems like you’re going nowhere in your spiritual walk. You are still “under construction” and the paint may still be wet. But just as God moved the entire Roman Empire to fulfill His promises to the world through His son, so too will God “move mountains” in your life to fulfill His promises to you.