Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Epiphany 3

Diverse Disciples

Matthew 4:17-23

January 26, 2014

What comes to mind when you think of the word "disciple"? How do you picture our Lord's disciples? Are they all somber, pious looking guys with prayerful attitudes? What if I told you that you've got it all wrong? Who were the disciples? They were ordinary guys. They were just like us. They came from a variety of backgrounds and each had a distinctive personality.

Matthew 4:17-23." From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 

Who were these guys called the twelve disciples? They were a diverse group of personalities and backgrounds. Today's Gospel reading tells us about the call of four of them, Peter, Andrew, James and John into full-time discipleship. These four were fisherman on the shores of Galilee. Not all of the twelve were fishermen. Who were they?

Simon Peter was impetuous, hot-headed, and loyal. He seems to have been a natural leader and is often considered the spokesman for the group. His boldness often got him into trouble. Because he claimed at the Last Supper that even if the others deserted Jesus, he wouldn't, Jesus told him that before the rooster crowed he would deny his Lord three times.

Andrew was Peter's brother. He seems to get lost in Peter's shadow. Andrew was first a disciple of John the Baptist and was the one to whom the Baptist was speaking when he pointed to Jesus as the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Andrew seems to be the quiet one with the heart of an evangelist.

James and John were sons of Zebedee, also known as the Sons of Thunder. No, this wasn't an early motorcycle gang. They were named that because they had tempers and were ambitious. They were the ones who asked Jesus to be seated at His right and left (positions of greatest importance) when He came into His kingdom. John was the only disciple to stand watch at the cross and Mary was given into his care by the Lord. James was the first of the twelve to be martyred.

Philip seemed to have a quiet confidence about him. He was practical and knew that arguing with his obstinate friend Nathaniel wasn't going to get him very far. Nathaniel /Bartholomew was a skeptic but once convinced embraced the truth. Matthew was a tax collector. Most of these guys were arrogant, greedy and unscrupulous.

Thomas was out-spoken and enthusiastic. Although he urged the others to follow Jesus to Jerusalem that they might also die with Him, we remember him most as doubting. Tradition has him traveling as far as India in his missionary journeys.

Simon the Zealot was a member of what the Romans considered a terrorist group. The Zealots were like al-queda or the IRA. Their emphasis was political not religious although they used religion as a means to win the favor of people in their efforts to overthrow Roman rule. Like terrorists today, they advocated the use of violence to achieve their goals.

James son of Alphaeus and Jude we don't know much about. Judas Iscariot was often angry, petulant and seemed depressed a lot or maybe it was just because he was a sneaky thief. He was the one who betrayed Jesus and later hanged himself in remorse.

After our Lord called these guys into full-time discipleship, they began their apprenticeship. "And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people." Think of the things they heard and saw. They heard an explanation of the Scriptures that was illuminating and profound. They saw miracles of every kind. People flocked to Jesus and they were often envied for being in His circle.

These twelve squabbled amongst themselves. They played one-upmanship games with each other. They jockeyed for positions of prestige and power. 

I often laugh at these American Christians who demand to you to know the day, hour and minute you came to faith. Where do they get that? These twelve guys were called by Jesus to follow Him but does that mean they had an instantaneous faith "aha" moment? I don't think so. Although they walked with the Lord during His earthly ministry, how often did they simply not "get it."? How often did Jesus congratulate them for their deep faith and understanding? Not once. How often did he chastise them for their little or lack of faith. Many times. 

On the night our Lord was betrayed, they all deserted Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter denied Jesus three times and only John stood near the cross as He suffered. Are these the kinds of friends you would want to depend on in thick and thin? Now, when you picture these twelve, do they look like pious, goody-goodies with halos? Do their lives seem so different from yours that you couldn't possibly identify with them? Of course not, they are like you and you are like them.

Nevertheless, our Lord is compassionate and forgiving. He restored Peter. He gave proof to unbelieving Thomas. On the day of Pentecost, these men were empowered and emboldened to preach the Gospel. In the end, it was by God's grace that they planted churches, shepherded the flock and lived the faith. Like these twelve we hear the Word of forgiveness and receive that same forgiveness in the holy supper.

As you think about, how are they so different from you and me? The twelve were ordinary people like us. It was only after their encounter with the Lord that they later did extraordinary things. We are like them. We all share their many and varied personality traits. We all have different talents, skills and abilities. The Lord calls us as ordinary people into His church. He will mold and shape us according to His will to do the things He has planned for us.

The Lord calls us to live in community with one another. As a congregation, we share our various talents, skills and abilities to the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbor. We, like the twelve disciples, are simply ordinary people called by the Lord to be His witnesses to the world. Amen.


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