Called to Jesus
Reading: Matthew 4:18-22
The word ‘disciple’ was a common word in the Greek world for an apprentice who bound himself to a master to learn a trade or a philosophy. At the time of Christ people who wanted to become rabbis (teachers of the Jewish religion) would bind themselves to a rabbi of their choice, so that, through him, they would gain an understanding of the Scriptures and the traditions that had been handed down and eventually become teachers themselves with their own disciples. Being a disciple was a big commitment: it meant leaving home and any previous occupation and staying close to the rabbi all the time until you were qualified to be a rabbi yourself.
In the New Testament the word ‘disciple’ is given to followers of Jesus. As with the rabbis’ disciples, Jesus’ disciples left their previous lives to stay close to him. However, unlike the rabbis, we find that Jesus chose his disciples, often when they were engaged in their normal occupations. We also find that Jesus chose the most unlikely people, such as a tax collector whom no rabbi would allow near them. Another difference with the rabbis was that whereas the rabbis’ disciples wanted eventually to leave the rabbi and start up as teachers on their own, Jesus’ disciples would never become independent; their discipleship was a life-long commitment. The rabbis’ disciples looked for objective teaching. Jesus’ disciples learnt how to live the way God wants – and how that way had to be focussed on Jesus himself.
Jesus’ last words recorded in Matthew was the command to the eleven closest disciples to go and teach all nations (the word for ‘teach’ is almost the same as ‘disciple’) what they had learnt from him. Yet those who listened became disciples of Jesus, not the apostles. That includes us.
a) By God. 1 Corinthians 1:9 reminds us that we are ‘called’ by God: the implication is that God has called out to us, ‘Come to Me!’ Jesus often if not always took the initiative in calling his disciples to follow him in his earthly ministry; it is God who takes the initiative in calling us to follow Jesus today.
b) For a purpose. This calling is more than an invitation to a meeting or a party. It is an invitation to a life-changing relationship, with the ultimate goal being a life in the presence of God himself.
c) As a priority. Jesus told a parable about guests refusing an invitation to a king’s wedding feast. The message was that we cannot treat God’s call as if it were not important. In the gospels the one who wanted to delay (Matthew 8:21) was left in no doubt that he should not. Yet those who refused his call were allowed to go (Matthew 19:21,22).
1 Corinthians 1:9 also reminds us that we are called by God ‘into fellowship with his Son.’ It is by coming into fellowship with Jesus that we come to God.
a) Why Jesus? Who is he? The carpenter, who says he can teach experienced fishermen to fish? The inspirational rabbi, who will teach his disciples how to live God’s way? The prophet, who speaks God’s words and works wonders by God’s power? The Messiah, who will bring to fulfilment God’s purposes for Israel and for the world? The Saviour, who by his cross and resurrection saves people from evil? The Son of God, who introduces us into the family of God? Yes! Jesus is all of these! This is the Jesus we are called to follow and learn from, but above all to be with.
b) Why follow him? ‘I will make you fishers of people’ (rather than of fish – Matthew 4:19). Not, ‘I will teach you what to believe.’ Nor, ‘I will teach you to love God and your neighbour.’ Not even, ‘I will give you eternal life’.
Fishing for people meant taking people out of their environment, to gather them into the kingdom of God, to be God’s own. God’s people will have a new way of thinking and behaving, will live in the promised land; but first they need to be gathered. That’s what Jesus came for; but it can only happen through his disciples sharing the good news about him. But first we need just to be with him.
TO THINK ABOUT
1) Jesus called the first disciples to be ‘fishers of people’. Was that just because they were fishermen, or are we all called to be fishers of people?
2) How much are you willing to be a ‘disciple’ of Jesus?