3rd Sunday after Epiphany (A)
January 26, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
If you’re on any of the social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or even if you’re not, you’re probably familiar with the term “follower”. A follower is someone who uses social media to keep track of the activities of an individual or a company. Being a follower doesn’t require a lot of commitment; you can check in as often or as seldom as you wish and while the updates are interesting, they don’t have any affect on your life. It’s just information, nothing more. If Jesus was on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, I have no doubt He’d have a bunch of followers. But would He be satisfied with millions of social media followers? Of course not! To be a follower of Jesus means more than just checking in with Him occasionally. When Jesus says, “Follow me”, He’s calling you to be His lifelong disciple.
When Jesus came into this world, He came to a dark world, one lost to the darkness of Sin and Death. Jesus is the Light that this sinful world desperately needed, and still needs! Matthew tells us that Jesus fulfills the promise made by Isaiah, “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” The Savior comes to shine God’s light of love and salvation on a world trapped in the darkness of Sin and Death. The total blackness of Sin seemed impenetrable, but like the darkness that gets scattered when you light a candle or switch on a lamp, the darkness of sin was lifted when Christ shined His light. Oh, there are people who like the darkness of sin and see no need for a light. They may not even realize that they’re trapped in the darkness of sin. That’s why the first public words of Jesus we hear in Matthew’s Gospel are “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent! Open your eyes and realize you can’t see! Repent! Hear Christ tell you that He has come to lead you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
When Jesus called Andrew, Peter, James, and John out of their old lives as fishermen, He didn’t tell them it was okay to come as they were. They were to repent by acknowledging their sinful condition. In Luke’s Gospel we hear Peter say to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” This is repentance and before we can follow Jesus as disciples, we repent. Repent! See all that God is doing for you right now through His Son. Repent and hear that your sins are forgiven.
Jesus tells us that He didn’t come into the world to condemn the world but to save the world, and you know when He did this, don’t you? To save this suffering world meant suffering for this world. To save this dark world meant dying at the hands of the sinful darkness. All of creation was plunged into darkness for three hours on Good Friday as the Light of the World was extinguished for you. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand”, and that is God coming into this world to save this world. This is God coming to you and telling you that He has heard your prayers of repentance and has forgiven you.
When Jesus said to the disciples “Follow me”, they got up and followed Him. They didn’t follow Him though because it sounded like a good idea. They followed because Christ’s call is powerful. He called and they responded. Jesus had given them faith because they couldn’t follow Him without it, and you can’t either. As Martin Luther says, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” As Christ calls you to be His disciple, He bestows faith on you. When you were baptized, the Holy Spirit made His home in you. When you hear His Word, the Holy Spirit renews and builds up your faith. The disciples followed Jesus because they heard His Word and believed. You too follow Jesus because you’ve heard His Word and believed. You didn’t choose Him, He choose you, and for that we praise Him and follow Him as His disciples.
Matthew tells us that the Andrew and Peter were casting a net into the sea when Jesus came along. Their co-workers had to have been shocked when Andrew and Peter immediately stopped in the middle of the job to follow Jesus. We don’t know what Zebedee must have thought when James and John took off after Jesus, although it had to have been surprising. The call of Jesus instilled in the four men, and the others that Jesus would call as disciples, a sense of urgency. The kingdom of God was at hand and now was the time.
Maybe in your own lives you’ve experienced the tyranny of the urgent; there’s always something to do and somewhere to go. Or maybe you’re relaxed enough that you can mosey through life unhurriedly. Either way, the Kingdom of God is at hand for you as well and you’re to obey the call of Jesus with urgency. Disciples don’t hem and haw or drag their feet. You cannot just wait for a better time to have that sense of urgency. We need to have the resolve to follow Jesus now because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. It’s unspoken but when Jesus says, “Follow me” He means, “Follow me now.”
To obey the command of Jesus and to hear His invitation to follow Him is not just a matter of urgency, it’s a matter of never looking back. The hard truth is that you cannot be a part-time disciple. You can’t hold onto your earthly desires and your desire for God. Disciples are wholly committed to Christ because we know His commitment to our forgiveness and salvation. Think about the disciples they probably didn’t have a lot, but they gave it all up to follow Jesus, and they followed Jesus with no idea what waited for them. From Scripture we know what happened to them. James was beheaded just six years after Jesus’ left them. It would’ve been tempting for the disciples to scatter and give up after that, but they didn’t. With the power of the Holy Spirit, they followed Jesus, and all except one followed Him to martyrdom.
God willing, we won’t ever have to face the executioner because of our faith. However, to be a disciple means we must expect suffering. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Christians are despised by this dark world, and that hatred is bubbling out into the open. The world often says that conservative Christians are radical, and we are. We’re radical because we stand rooted in the teachings of Christ, consequences be damned. As a disciple, you protect the unborn. As a disciple, you defend God’s design for marriage. As a disciple, you speak the truth when confronted by lies of those trapped in darkness. It’s not easy, and it’s not meant to be. Jesus says, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” The world hates the Word of God, and it doesn’t matter who says it. You don’t have to fear this persecution though! The disciples pressed forward because they knew what waited for them – eternal life in the presence of the Savior. They could endure because the Holy Spirit sustained them. You too can face disparaging remarks about your faith and lifestyle, you too can face hostility, you too can look into the future and not be afraid because the church is going to lose it’s tax exempt status because the same Holy Spirit who aided the disciples, helps you. We go forward propelled by God’s forgiveness and grace.
The disciples were blessed to sit at the feet of Jesus for three years. For three years, they sat with God as He taught them and then they went out as His messengers. They were unique in this regard, and yet, I’d wager that they continued to study the Old Testament and be immersed in what God had to say. As disciples, we’re called to follow Jesus in His Word. As disciples we’re blessed to read the Word of God where He teaches us, encourages us, and enables us to maintain a lifelong discipleship. And that’s what it means to be a disciple. It’s not a short assignment, not is it temporary, rather by God’s grace we follow our Lord all the days of our lives.
Martin Franzmann, a Lutheran scholar from the 1930’s into the 70’s, wrote “When Jesus says ‘Follow me’ it is God confiscating man for Himself.” What a powerful description! God calls you and makes you His and His alone. He separates you from the darkness and brings you into the light of the Son and by doing so transforms you into a disciple of Jesus. The followers of celebrities or companies don’t receive much in the way of benefits, they usually don’t receive anything. Those who follow Jesus receive all the benefits that come from Christ and His death on the cross. Sure, the way of discipleship is never easy, it never will be, but by His power and forgiveness you will endure as you follow Christ wherever He may lead.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen