Sermon: Trading Good For Better

If you were with us last week, we heard God call us to repentance through the words of John the Baptist. We learned that to repent is to turn from all that leads us in disobedience to God and to turn in faith to trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. This morning, the accent is different. We will hear Jesus’ call to discipleship. Repentance is the call to leave the bad for the good. Discipleship is the call to leave even good things for what is better.

We find ourselves this morning in Matthew, chapter 4, beginning in verse 18. Matthew 4, beginning in verse 18. Matthew is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew 4, beginning in verse 18. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

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 the nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and disease among the people. 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. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and the region across the Jordan followed him.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God (You may be seated)

What would you give up in order to follow Jesus? Every year our pastor’s network does a white elephant gift exchange around Christmas. At a white elephant party, you give away gifts you don’t want. It’s easy to give away stuff you never wanted and usually pretty fun to watch people figure out why I ever owned a collection of Gordon Lightfoot poems. It is easy to give up things you do not value. It is harder to give up something about which we care deeply. But sometimes that is exactly what we need to give up. To follow Jesus, we must leave behind good things in order to receive something better. As we look at Jesus calling his first disciples, we will see three things the disciples gave up, three things they gained, and then look at three practices we can begin in our journey as disciples.

First, the disciples had to leave behind their livelihood. 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. Simon and Andrew were fishermen. While they would never get rich doing it, fishing was a good, solid job. The work was steady, they could provide for their families. It would even allow them to help provide food for others. All of this was good, but when Jesus called, At once, they left their nets and followed him.

At the voice of Jesus, these two young men set aside their future, set aside their means of providing for themselves, set aside their ability to make their own way in the world, in order to follow Jesus. When we hear the word ‘Repent’ we are invited to set aside our sins and turn to Christ, but when Jesus says ‘follow me,’ the invitation includes even setting aside what is good for what is better. Work is good. God set us in the garden in the beginning to work it. It is part of the original goodness of creation. Yet, at once, they left their nets and followed him.

Would you? Would I? Do we believe that what Jesus has to offer is better even than the satisfaction of the work we do, the security that stable employment provides, or the sense of identity we receive from the work of our hands? Would we want to follow Jesus so badly we would give up even something so good?

I am reminded of Elisha who, when called to follow Elijah, went back, burned his farm equipment and sacrificed all his cattle before following Elijah. There was no going back. I am reminded of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Benedict, both of whom heard the story of the rich young ruler, sold everything, and committed their lives to serving Christ by serving others.

Second, the disciples have to leave behind their families. 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 the nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. This second set of brothers were likely younger, perhaps teenagers at the time. They were working with their father, preparing the nets. Dad had been grooming them to take over the family business, showing them how to care for the boat, the nets, how best to drag the net to get the most fish. They were his pride and joy and his retirement plan. Yet, at the voice of Jesus, James and John leave their father in the boat and head after Jesus.

At the voice of Jesus, these two young men leave behind the most important relationships in their life, leave behind their support network, leave behind their family in order to follow Jesus. Family is good. It is another one of those original gifts in the garden. Fathers, Mothers, Son, Daughters, Aunts, Uncle, Cousins. All of this is good. It is family that raises us, that shapes us, that loves us, that shows us how to love, that, for many of us, showed us how to trust in Jesus. Yet, Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Would you? Would I? Do we believe that fellowship with Jesus is better even than what we receive in our families? Do we believe that belonging to Jesus is sweeter even than belonging to our family? Would we want to follow Jesus so badly we would give up even something so good?

I am reminded of my friend, Joelle, who grew up in an orthodox Jewish home, and when she heard the voice of Jesus, followed him, even though her family would not talk to her for years. I am reminded of Muhammed and Amal who are drawn to Christ and yet know the family cost of following him. Often, conversion comes with a cost in one’s family.

Third, the disciples must leave behind safety, security, and comfort. The fishing nets were stable, the family home of Zebedee was stable. These boys knew where they would sleep, knew what they would do when they got up in the morning, and knew what future lay ahead of them. All of this was good. Yet, following Jesus meant enter a life of uncertainty and radical trust. They had to leave behind what was good for what was better.

Would you? Would I? Do we truly believe that our only comfort in life and in death is that we are not our own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful savior Jesus Christ? Do we believe that the security Jesus offers is better than anything the world can provide?

I am reminded of Gary and Denise Abbas, who left the stability and security of Iowa because they heard the voice of Jesus Christ. I am reminded of Ross and Piper who have found that every time they think they know what God has planned for them, it changes. Yet, they left behind something good for something much better.

Every time Jesus calls us to leave something behind, he offers something better. God does not tell us to say ‘No’ to something because he is stingy or a curmudgeon. That is what the serpent has wanted us to believe since the Garden: that God was holding out on us. But it is a lie. Instead, God calls us to say ‘No’ even to good things, in order for us to say ‘Yes’ to something better.

In Matthew 4, we see that disciples of Jesus receive three things when they follow him.

First, disciples receive closeness to Jesus Christ. “Come, follow me” Jesus said. These brothers likely knew who Jesus was. In small town Galilee it would have been hard not to. They may have even joined the crowd to hear him teach. But now, they are invited close. Not just admirers from a distance, but intimate followers. Jesus calls his disciples to enter into his presence and walk with him daily.

One of the questions Jesus’ call of Peter and Andrew puts before us is this: Do you believe that being in the presence of Jesus is better than whatever else you have going on? Do you believe that knowing Christ and walking with Christ is truly better than anything else? Peter and Andrew certainly did. They dropped everything in order to be close to Jesus, to be in his presence, to walk with him. Would we?

We already talked about what these two brothers gave up, but what about what they gained? They get to be with Jesus. To be near him when they lie down, to hear his voice when they get up, to walk so close to him that the dust his feet kicks up would cling to their clothes. James and John get this too. They leave even their father sitting in the boat, because they want to know Jesus. As they leave behind their family, they are given a new one, brothers and sisters.

Second, the disciples receive a mission. “Come, follow me” Jesus said, “and I will sent you out to fish for people.” Joined to Jesus who has come to fulfill the mission of God to redeem the world, joined to the one whose very life and presence is good news, joined to the one who has the name that is above every name, the disciples are given a mission. Before they cast nets to gather fish to feed their stomachs. Now, they will cast wide the good news of the kingdom of God to gather the lost and feed their souls. Jesus himself will say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” They leave everything in order to tell a lost and broken world the good news of Jesus Christ.

Do we believe that the mission is so important we would drop everything? Do we believe that there is only one gospel, and only by faith in Jesus Christ can anyone be assured of salvation? Do we believe that forgiveness of sins is what each and every person desperately needs? Do we believe that the King has come to renew all things and that we, his people, are called to proclaim it to the ends of the earth? Do we believe the gospel is worth giving our lives for?

Peter, Andrew, James, and John certainly did. Most eventually gave their lives for it, but even before that, they poured them out as living sacrifice of thanks. They knew in their own lives what it was like when the Kingdom of God came near in Jesus and they refused to keep it to themselves. Do you believe that joining in God’s mission is far better than anything we might be asked to give up?

Third, the disciples witness the work of God. After Jesus calls them and they follow, these four boys get to see Jesus work in the lives of others. They see him heal the sick, cure the lame, and even raise the dead to life. They hear him proclaim ‘Your sins are forgiven’ and ‘take up your mat and walk.’ They heard Jesus say Go forth and sin no more and Lazarus, come on out. They watched him give sight to the blind, heard him open up the scriptures, and stood as he send demons running. In every way, they witnessed through Jesus the power of God in the lives of others.

Do we want to see that? When the disciples were close to Jesus, they were able to see all that he was doing. Do we want to see Jesus work in the live of those around us? Then follow him. The disciples were not in control of when and where Jesus decided to heal, to speak, or to act with power. But because they were close, they got to praise God when he did.

Following Jesus, the disciples had to leave behind good things, for something better. They left behind the goods of work, family, and security, in order to enter the presence of Jesus, to join the mission of God, and to witness the work of Jesus in the lives of others.

What Jesus gives us better even than the good things we might give up, but it is not necessarily easier. Jesus nowhere promises that life will get easier if you follow him. There was, after all, a cross before him and he calls his followers to pick one up and follow after him. But it is better. In a way that only makes sense as it is lived, even the struggle of Christian discipleship ends far sweeter than the shallow pleasures promised by the world.

The question before us this morning is whether we believe what Jesus gives us is truly better than anything he might ask us to leave behind? If so, I want to suggest three different ways we might journey deeper as disciples of Jesus this year. All three of them follow what we see in Matthew 4 – giving up something good for the sake of something better.

First, you might want to try fasting. Fasting is temporarily giving up food in order to devote oneself to prayer. It is giving up something good (food) for something better (prayer). I like food a lot, but fasting reminds me that I am not a slave to my stomach and that, if I can refrain from satisfying this hunger, perhaps I can learn to resist other hungers as well. But most importantly, as fasting teaches me about living in my body, it reminds me of the truth Jesus spoke not long before he called these disciples, Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

So maybe this year, you want to take up fasting as a discipline. Maybe for one day a week or just one meal a week, forgo eating and instead take time in scripture and prayer. If you are considering fasting and have questions, don’t hesitate to talk to me.

Second, you might want to practice a vigil. Vigil is a fancy church word for giving up sleep in order to pray for others. We see it in Jesus himself when he prays in Gethsemane. The disciples keep falling asleep, but he asks them to stay awake with him. Again, vigil is giving up something good (sleep) in order to devote oneself to something better (prayer for others). There is nothing magical about vigil, but it does teach us about prayer.

Perhaps you are grieved by all the violence and turmoil in our world and want to gather a few people to pray through the night (with breaks for donuts and juice), or you are specifically pained by the horrors of human trafficking and want to seek the Lord in prayer. Perhaps there are situations in this community that you want people to gather to pray for through the night. These would be good situations for a vigil. Or maybe you want to start getting up half an hour earlier to meet with a friend to pray in the mornings. These are different ways to practice vigil, the giving up of sleep for the sake of prayer.

Lastly, you may want to consider practicing solitude. Solitude giving up something good (community) for the sake of something better (enterig the presence of God). Solitude is different than being alone. It would mean shutting down Facebook, logging off twitter, refusing to snapchat, and entering the presence of God. Maybe it will look like 15 minutes reading the bible and praying every morning or talking a quiet walk after work while praying. In our fast-paced world, solitude can be an antidote to loneliness, because it puts us in the presence of the only one who can truly cure our loneliness, Jesus Christ.

When Jesus called his disciples, he asked them to give up something good for the sake of something better. They gave up work, family, and security. Filled with the Spirit, they walked with Jesus, participated in mission, and witnessed the power of God in the lives of others. That is the life I want and I pray you want too. “Come, follow me” Jesus said. Will you follow?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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