One of the questions we ultimately ask ourselves in the process of our human development is, what difference is my life making in this world? It is a question of significance and what psychologists explain as part of the journey through the ‘mid-life’ crisis. If we are living simply for ourselves and this world that is constantly changing, we may find that when the storms come, our lives are shattered. However, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that if we build our lives on obedience to His word, then when those storms come, including the ‘mid-life’ crisis and the questions regarding the meaning of significance in our personal life, we will be able to realize that we have been living with eternal values and have a life of eternal significance.
Using a play on words, Jesus challenged four fishermen: Peter, Andrew, James and John with a new purpose for living that would give them eternal significance. It is a challenge that each believer also faces.
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.
‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.
At once they left their nets and followed him.
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, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.[i]
While the word Christian is only used three times in the New Testament, I was amazed to discover that the word disciple(s) is used nearly three hundred times to describe a person of faith in Him. So what does it mean to be a disciple? The simplest meaning is a person who follows. That is what the early disciples did, they followed. Another idea expressing what it means to be a disciple is someone who is a learner. In Jewish tradition, a disciple would choose his teacher; however, as we just read, Jesus chose His disciples, and He is still choosing His disciples today. The question is always, how will we respond? Are we following, or more importantly, learning not only who Jesus is, but what it means to develop as a disciple? How closely are we following? All of these things determine the impact of our lives in our world. If we are going to live a high impact life, we need to not only follow closely, but learn what Jesus wants to teach us.
God is interested in what we become and what we do as a result of what we become. Not only are we called to be ‘disciples’ but also ‘disciple-makers.’ Do we understand how a person becomes a disciple and then goes about making disciples? If Jesus expects us to make disciples, the obvious question to me, is how are we doing? Are we making disciples? We are going to focus on two critical aspects of living a high impact life of discipleship.
THE FIRST ASPECT OF HIGH IMPACT DISCIPLESHIP IS HOW WE RESPOND TO CHRIST’S CALL IN OUR LIVES
We need to understand how Jesus goes about making us His followers. This incident from Matthew 4 has always fascinated me. Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee, calling some of his earliest followers to come after Him. Whenever I read this passage I am struck with the incredible response of the disciples to Jesus. What made these men leave what they were doing to follow Jesus? It is obvious from reading the gospels that they had no idea what they were getting into. Their future would never be the same. This decision would not only change their lives, but ours as well.
There are a number of possible reasons why the disciples followed Jesus. Bill Hull in his book, ‘Jesus Christ – Disciple Maker,’ gives us five possible suggestions as to why they responded the way they did.
1. One reason is that they had already been with Him and had witnessed some incredible things.
Matthew gives us the impression that Jesus had no previous contact with these men, but a careful study of the gospels, particularly John’s gospel, reveals that these men had already met Jesus.
During this period, these men experienced life-changing discussions with Jesus. They saw him perform miracles, clear the temple, witness to both a religious leader and an immoral woman, and challenge the religious establishment.[ii]
The first thing we can learn from this is that the better we come to know Jesus, the more we see how He is working in ours and others’ lives. This fosters a greater degree of trust and willingness to follow Him. We will see miracles happen, the greatest of which is a changed life.
2. Secondly, these men had the opportunity to go home and consider what they had heard and seen.
Jesus gives us a choice. We are not forced into serving God. People make better decisions when they are given options and have time to make solid decisions. Too often we are in a hurry to see people become followers of Christ, and then we wonder why there are so many superficial decisions, with lack of real commitment. When people make the decision without pressure, they are the ones who have to live out the ramifications of that decision. We need to realize that once we choose to follow Jesus, changes becomes a part of our life. He starts by changing us from the inside out. The conversion experience speaks of change. That is one reason why people resist. Change is difficult because we can only grow as we move outside of our comfort zones, but then once there, we become comfortable with it. No sooner are we comfortable, then God begins the process again in our lives. That’s how God keeps growing us, from discomfort to comfort to discomfort again. One word to describe change is metamorphosis. We know that caterpillars change into something entirely different. They become beautiful butterflies. But the process of change is painful. There is a time of great struggle. As the caterpillar cocoons, it is being changed into something entirely different. This is a picture of the process God utilizes in making disciples. There is a realization on the part of a person that they are in desperate need of change. The struggle that goes on to acknowledge need, and finally to come to Christ, is important in the process of becoming a disciple of Jesus. Too often in our eagerness to help others, we want to eliminate the struggle, but just as a person helping the caterpillar out of the cocoon will actually destroy its life, so we too must be sensitive in allowing God, the Holy Spirit, to work deeply in the heart of the person whom He is calling and bringing them to newness of life.
3. A third reason why these men immediately followed Christ is that they were given an invitation rather than a responsibility.
With the invitation, it leaves the decision in our hands. Jesus also made it easy to say no. There are those in Scripture that said no to Christ. He allowed them to walk away from His incredible call on their lives. He respects us and allows us to respond to Him. Some, unfortunately, turn away from the greater life for a lesser life. From the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life and was then challenged to place his trust completely in Christ rather than trusting in his riches and left sorrowful, to a number of unnamed people who made excuses for not responding.
He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’
Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.’
Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’[iii]
However, being called, we need to respond. When the opportunity comes our way, we need to seize it. “When Jesus calls a person to discipleship, there is no excuse for delay or disobedience.”[iv]
4. A fourth reason is the promise Jesus gives.
It was an invitation with a promise. Jesus told them to follow Him and He would make them fishers of men. We can be assured that when Jesus calls, He enables and gives us the grace to do what He is asking of us. If these early fishermen would follow Him, Jesus said, He would make them fishers of men. Jesus took the responsibility for training his disciples and he continues to take that responsibility seriously today. We must ask ourselves the question, am I available to be trained? Will I give Him the opportunity to teach me how? The early disciples became fishers of men as they followed Jesus and witnessed how He went about it. His passion and concern was evident to them.
5. The final reason they responded to Jesus call is that “He called them to a vision, and not to a job.
As one disillusioned executive once lamented concerning his career, ‘I have learned much in the last forty years; unfortunately, most of it is about aluminum.’ Nearly anyone can hold a job; precious few can live for a dream. One of man’s greatest fears is that his life will not count, that he will look back at his investment of time and effort only to conclude that it was a waste. People’s hearts are not set aflame by the mundane. People are not motivated by the prospect of building a monument to mediocrity.[v]
People need a vision that is greater than themselves. We all need to know that our lives are being lived for a greater purpose, an eternal purpose. Not only is discipleship all about how we are responding to God in our lives: Are we living for Him, living for His will and purposes to be fulfilled through our lives? We need to know that each of us, as believers, are called to be disciple-makers.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.[vi]
THE SECOND ASPECT OF HIGH IMPACT DISCIPLESHIP IS THAT WE REACH BEYOND OUR LIVES
Not only are we disciples and growing as a follower of Jesus, but we are concerned about the people around us. What will it take for us to be effective disciple-makers? What will it cost us to reach out beyond ourselves? I am convinced when we live a life for God and others, rather than diminish us, it enriches us, even though there is a cost involved.
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?[vii]
It is true there is a cost in following Jesus. While we do not work or earn salvation from sin, as it is the gift of God; discipleship requires that we give our entire lives to God. Here we see what the early disciples were willing to give up in order to gain the kind of life that Jesus gives to those who follow Him. Peter and Andrew abandoned their nets to follow Jesus. James and John left their father and boat to follow Christ. We see the picture of leaving something behind in order to move ahead with Christ. It means leaving a former way of life in order to embrace a new life with new direction. There is something radical about following Jesus.
A. Following Jesus, in this case, meant a career change.
Mark gives us an insight into what James and John gave up.
When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.
Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.[viii]
These brothers who were in partnership with their father, also had hired hands to help them. They gave up their business to follow Jesus. Peter must not have been doing too badly either. Notice that they were from Bethsaida, yet Peter managed to have a home in Capernaum. We may not have to give up our livelihood to follow Jesus but following Him will mean a life change. This is one of the problems today. We think that following Jesus means that nothing changes, and therefore nothing does. When we truly surrender our lives to Christ, He will challenge the status quo and start addressing attitudes and issues in our lives.
Unless we are involved in a vocation that’s illegal or immoral, we normally are not called to another vocation. However, there are many who were serving humanity in an amazing vocations whom God called into vocational ministry.
The ready response of the fisherman here and in v.22 indicates the authority of Jesus’ summons. It was not their first meeting, but it was the first time Jesus had demanded their literally leaving home to join him in his itinerant ministry. It did not involve disposing of home and property or a severing of family ties, but it would bring a complete disruption of their normal way of life…Matthew emphasizes the extent and the readiness of their renunciation.[ix]
What are we willing to give up in following Jesus? One of the significant areas in our lives is control of our agenda, our time, our goals. There is a progression in our relationship with God. He comes to us, and calls us into a place of greater reliance and trust in Him. The result of this renunciation of our rights for His will is that we become more like Him. Robert Coleman expresses it this way.
…in time obedient followers invariably take on the character of their leader. The simplicity of this approach is marvelous if not astounding. None of the disciples were asked at first to make a statement of faith or accept a well-defined creed, although they doubtless recognized Jesus to be the Messiah….
For the moment all they were asked to do was to follow Jesus. …No one will follow a person in whom he has no trust, nor will he sincerely take the step of faith unless he is willing to obey what his leader says.[x]
So following Jesus is all about trust. Jesus calls each of us to place our trust in Him. To believe that He knows what is best for each of our lives.
B. True discipleship reaches out to where people are at.
It is not about waiting for people to come, but rather it is about us reaching out to where they are at in their lives. It is interesting that Jesus came to the disciples’ place of business and called them into ministry. That was true of Peter, Andrew, James and John. It was also true of Matthew, who was sitting at his customs seat when Jesus called him.
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.[xi]
So what do we learn from this? Jesus comes to where we are at and leads us to where we need to go. It also shows us that we need to go to where people are at in order to reach them. The church, which is you and I, need to reach out to where people are living, working, and playing and challenge them to follow Jesus through both our lifestyle and our words. Not only did they receive a call to follow Jesus at their place of business, but they also gave up a lot to follow Him.
C. Why would they be willing to give up what they knew for what they saw in Jesus?
No one will give up something unless what they are receiving in its place is better or greater than what they are giving up. The little bit they had previously witnessed of both what Jesus said and did convince them that what He was offering was greater than what they previously had.
Not only did they leave what they knew to fulfil their calling to ministry, they also left behind the central place of their family. We who have rightfully emphasized family in our generation must also realize that we must not place our families ahead of our relationship with our Heavenly Father. This call to ministry also meant the forsaking of some of their immediate family. James and John left their father’s business practice to follow Christ. One of the problems facing mission organizations today is that we want the children of others to be the ones to answer the call. We do not want our grandchildren growing up in some foreign place.
Then Peter spoke up, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’
‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields— along with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.[xii]
We are not talking about the forsaking our immediate family responsibilities, but rather placing our relationship with our Father in heaven above every earthly relationship. What we will discover is that our earthly relationships will be far richer.
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.[xiii]
This is an expression of comparison. It is not that we hate our families but is a comparison to how much more we love God. In short, they were willing to take a risk because of the preeminence of their love for God. We are challenged by Scripture not to just live for our personal security. Our security is found in a person called Jesus. There is no such thing as security in our temporal world. Faith challenges us to venture out for the sake of others.
Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. The NIV study notes state regarding this verse, “Be adventurous, like those who accept the risks and reap the benefits of seaborne trade. Do not always play it safe.”[xiv] I have often thought that businesspeople have more faith than many believers as they are willing to risk in order to gain.
D. Following Jesus means that each of us has a new responsibility to our society.
Jesus said he would make us disciples and then disciple-makers.
The term ‘fishers of men’ was not new. For centuries, Greek and Roman philosophers had used it to describe the work of the man who seeks to ‘catch’ others by teaching and persuasion. ‘Fishing for men’ is but one of many pictures of evangelism in the Bible, and we must not limit ourselves to it…
Jesus had four and possibly seven men in the band of disciples who were professional fishermen (Jn 21:1-3). Why would Jesus call so many fishermen to His side? For one thing, fishermen were busy people; usually professional fishermen did not sit around doing nothing. They either sorted their catch, prepared for a catch, or mended their equipment. The Lord needs busy people who are not afraid to work. Fishermen have to be courageous and patient people. It certainly takes patience and courage to win others to Christ. Fishermen must have skill; they must learn from others where to find the fish and how to catch them. [Reaching people for Christ requires skill]. These men must work together, and the work of the Lord demands cooperation. But most of all, fishing demands faith. Fishermen cannot see the fish and are not sure their nets will enclose them. Reaching people requires faith and alertness, too, or we will fail.[xv]
We can find all kinds of excuses as to why we are not involved in the greatest ministry possible, the ministry of reconciliation. Paul says we are ambassadors with a message.
That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.[xvi]
Jesus said, I will send you out to fish for people. Maybe a better way to define Christianity is what a Christian really is. He or she is really a follower of Christ. Unfortunately, there are times in our lives that we follow from a distance. It is this distance that gets us into trouble. Matthew records that on the night Jesus was arrested we see Peter facing a test of faith.
Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled.
But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome [bold and italics, mine].[xvii]
Are you following Him? Are you making disciples? Maybe the question that needs to be asked of us is, how closely are we following? If we are following from a distance, we are susceptible to great spiritual failure just like Peter. If we have become merely a spectator in the Christian arena, the outcome we will experience will also prove disastrous for us. If we are following closely to Christ, we will be engaged in the things that He is engaged in. We will be involved in the process of making disciples.
[ii] Bill Hull, Jesus Christ: Disciple-Maker: Rediscovering Jesus’ Strategy for Building His Church, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1984), 67.
[iii] Luke 9:59-62.
[iv] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary, (Nashville, Tn: Broadman Press, 1992), 91.
[v] Bill Hull, Jesus Christ: Disciple-Maker,70.
[vi] Matthew 28:19-20.
[vii] Mark 8:34-37.
[viii] Mark 1:19-20.
[ix] R. T. France, Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans Publishing Co.), 104.
[x] Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism, 43-44.
[xi] Matthew 9:9.
[xii] Mark 10:28-30.
[xiii] Luke 14:26.
[xiv] New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 1984 notes, 1001.
[xv] Warren Wiersbe, Meet Your King: Discover the Excitement of Knowing the King of Glory, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 30-31.
[xvi] 2 Corinthians 5:19-20.
[xvii] Matthew 26:57-58.