Following Jesus

Matthew 4:12-23 12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 15 "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: 16 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned." 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." 18 And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 Then He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." 20 They immediately left their nets and followed Him. 21 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. He called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. 23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.


Heavenly Father, we have come to confess our sins and to seek Your mercy in Jesus. We also pray that You would increase our knowledge of You and help us to live in true obedience to Your word. In Jesusí name, Amen.


The text this morning is from the Gospel lesson, and I invite you to follow along with me as we think about what it means to "follow Jesus." The question, "Who are you following?" is a good question for everyone to consider. There are many people who would bid us to follow them. Will we be led in our life by TV personalities? media stars? friends, and our desire to fit in? Do family traditions lead us and should we stop to evaluate them? What about the power of the government? Does it lead us? Yesterday was the 32nd anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision. I was reading the actual court opinion, and I was struck by the cold, matter-of-fact decision to grant a woman the right to terminate her pregnancy anywhere during the nine months of gestation.

Itís easy to get behind the wrong person. Last summer my wife and I attended a wedding on the west side of St. Louis. After the wedding we headed for the reception, but neither of us knew exactly where it was. I thought we could follow one of the other cars. Carol thought I should ask someone. We followed one of the cars until it I realized it wasnít going to the reception. By the time I realized that I was totally lost. You can imagine the discussion that we had at that point. Needless to say it was decided that we just wouldnít be attending the reception.

Who we follow is important. Jesus urges all to follow Him. Letís think about what that meansÖ

1. The Fulfillment of Prophecy Shows that Jesus is Truly Godís Son

Look at verses 12-13 again. Jesus came to Capernaum, and Matthew tells us that He did that to fulfill what had been spoken by the prophet Isaiah. Now look over to Matthew 2.23. There we are told that Jesus lived in Nazareth to fulfill what was written in the prophets. Ten times Matthew uses this saying about the prophets. Every thing Jesus did fulfilled an array of prophecies that had been spoken hundreds of years before. This is how God would enable us to identify Jesus as His Son. Godís Son came into this world at our level. He came as one of us. He did such a good job of it that sometimes people just think of Him as a human being. Unfortunately they also tend to pick and choose what they want to believe about Him. But He is not just a human being. He is true God and true man. Thatís important for our "following" Jesus.

2. The Heart and Core of Jesusí Preaching Was Law and Gospel.

Now turn to verse 17. How would you boil down all of Jesusí preaching and teaching? This little verse does a fine job. Jesusí message was simple and two-fold: 1. Repent, 2. For the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The first is the message of the Law. Jesus shows us our sin and calls us to confess. He then gives us the divine solution to our sin problem Ė the Gospel. Jesus is the King who brings us into the kingdom of His grace and forgiveness. Many people have trouble following Jesus because they reject one or both of these messages. Remember the rich young ruler? He asked Jesus, "What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus reminded him of the commandments. "These I have all kept from my youthÖ" came the reply. Jesus knew that he had not repented, and so he challenged him to confess his attachment to material things: "Go and sell all that you have, and come, follow me." With that the young man went away sorrowful. Repentance is essentially letting go of ourselves. It is letting go of our excuses and our blame. It is a full disclosure of our sin and our need for Godís forgiveness.

Jesus came bringing the kingdom of heaven with Him. Remember the sign that Pilate placed on the cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Jesus is the King from heaven who gave His life as the sacrifice for our sins. This gives us full and complete assurance that our sins are forgiven. They no longer have power over usÖ no threat against us. We live in the confidence of the kingdom of heaven.

3. Disciples Are Those Who Follow Jesus.

Now take a look at verses 18-22. Jesus not only preached the message of salvation, He also called disciples to follow Him. Peter and Andrew, James and John were men who had heard the preaching of Jesus. A disciple is not someone who simply knows about Jesus or has heard of His preaching. The disciple is someone who allows himself to be attached to Jesus. Notice that the men "immediately" left their nets to follow. Jesus called them to give their lives to Him and to His purpose of making disciples. All of us who are called to be disciples are also called to be fishers of men. Now all that we do, no matter how insignificant it might seem, helps to further the kingdom of heaven and to make disciples.

Last week I had the privilege of listening to a radio program (Focus on the Family) about a famous test pilot. He was flying a fighter jet in bad weather and about to make his instrument approach to an airport. The air traffic controller called and asked how much fuel he had. "Plenty," he said. "Well," the controller said, "weíve got a little problem. Thereís a young pilot who is not instrument rated. Heís lost in the clouds, and we were wondering if you could intercept him and lead him back to the airport." "Sure" the pilot responded. He found the lost plane and pulled up beside it. He called on the radio and told the pilot to look out to this left. There he saw this powerful fighter jet, and the man burst into tears. As far as he was concerned at that point his life was about over. He would soon run out of fuel and crash. "Donít worry." The test pilot said, "Everythingís going to be OK. Iím going to pull in front of you several hundred yards. Do everything I do. When I turn, Iíll turn gently. All you have to do is do exactly what I do." So carefully the leader and the follower turned on the course to the airport and slowly descended. When they finally broke through the clouds at 500í, the frightened pilot saw the most beautiful sight. There in front of him was that runway, and he was perfectly set up to land.

Jesus leads us through all the darkness and density of this world. Constantly we are following Him and reorienting our lives on the course that He sets for us. All of us who follow Jesus have the privilege of leading others through the blindness and fog of this life. As we keep our eyes on Jesus, so others see us and find the right course as well. Disciples are those who follow and are followed. In many ways this is happening as you live your life on course with Jesus.

4. The Miracles of Jesus Remind Us of the Resurrection.

As we continue in verse 23 Jesus preaches and heals all kinds of diseases. I want to focus on this last part of the Gospel lesson. In addition to the healing of sin, Jesus also healed bodies of all kinds of illnesses. What is the importance of this? Every time Jesus healed somebody He gave them and us a glimpse of the resurrection. This is the ultimate end of His salvation. You may have noticed on the news the Buddhist reaction to the massive destruction of the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Unfortunately many people simply accept this as natureís way. But Jesus never accepted sickness and death. He came to save us from sin and from all the sad effects of sin. We say in our catechism: "Where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation." Every time Jesus healed showed us what we have to look forward to. Some people will experience temporary healings in this life. But all who follow Jesus will follow Him to the ultimate healing of heaven.

God grant us the grace to follow Jesus and that others will follow us in the light of the Gospel. Amen.

Pastor Michael P. Walther
The Third Sunday After Epiphany, January 23, 2005
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
/ fax 618-344-3378

Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2005