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The Call to Discipleship

September 8, 2013


Sermon:  The Call to Discipleship
Text:  Mark 1:9-20


This is one of those services where we have a convergence of several events, so I will try to connect the dots.  Christian discipleship begins with baptism, which is like a picture – worth a thousand words.  Our baptistery even resembles a picture frame.  Upon profession of faith, a person is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We see in baptism what Christ has already done in our hearts.  The words of Romans 6:4, “We are buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in new life,” remind us that the walk of discipleship begins with baptism.  Second, at the close of this worship service we will set aside those who have been chosen to serve as deacons, a word that means servant.  This, too, is a step along the way in discipleship.  Third, today marks the beginning of our Week of Prayer for State Missions.  When you entered the Sanctuary you received a brochure entitled “Going All Out,” which serves as the theme for this emphasis.  I ask you to read that brochure, which highlights missionaries who serve throughout South Carolina.  Please include those who serve the Lord in the mission field in your prayers.  Next Sunday during the in-gathering, we will have an opportunity to bring our gifts to support missions within this state.

Our responsibility as Christians is to be people who carry the gospel to others.  I know that for many that statement is a strange concept.  We somehow have the idea that we come to church for an hour of inspiration.  We so often think, What is in this worship service for me?  We should think instead, What is in this worship for God?  The word “worship” means “for God’s sake.”  We are here to offer to God a gift of our praise, a gift of our adoration, a gift of our commitment.   

Earlier in the service you heard the passage Mark 1:9-20, which tells about the call of those first disciples along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus issued a very simple invitation, “Follow me,” to Peter and his brother, Andrew. That invitation was simple to say but hard to follow.  These men left their nets and their boats, which provided them a livelihood.  They left the only lifestyle they had ever known to follow Jesus.  James and John, the sons of Zebedee, left their father standing in the boat to follow Jesus.  I do not know what Zebedee thought, but I do know that parents with children who go to the mission field can sometimes feel very conflicted.  They often wish their children would stay closer to home in order to care for Mom and Dad.  It is important for us as parents, however, to realize that we are not rearing people to be our disciples.  We are rearing people to be disciples of the Lord Jesus.  When our children hear the call to follow Jesus, we must encourage them to follow.

Why would Jesus need to be baptized, an account we read about in Mark 1?  You can tie your theology in a knot if you think too hard about the fact that Jesus himself was baptized.   One reason we observe the ordinance of baptism is because it is one way of following Jesus.  My dad offered perhaps the best answer I have ever heard:  “Kirk, Jesus was setting an example, showing us what he expected us to do.”

What is the purpose of discipleship?  Turn in your Bible to another passage in Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 3:13-15.  The account applies specifically to the twelve apostles, but certain parts also apply to all of us who are called to be disciples of Christ.  Verse 13 says, “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted.”  Do you ever think of Jesus wanting you?  Jesus told his disciples in those last discourses, “You did not choose me.  I chose you.”  The truth is that Christ chooses every one of us.  He has a plan and a purpose for every single person.

Why did he choose these particular men?  Verse 14 tells us, “They came to him.  He appointed the twelve that they might be with him.”  One main reason Jesus called these men is because he wanted to have a personal relationship with them.  There it is.  He wants to know us, and he wants us to know him.  He chooses us so that we can also have that personal relationship.  The call to discipleship is not impersonal.  It is not generic.  It is very specific.  It is individualized, tailor-made for every single person.

Jesus called them, as we read on, to go out and preach.  The word “preach” sounds so professional.  It sounds as though the disciples went to seminary and were ordained.  The Greek word for preach means “tell others” or “proclaim.”

Earlier in the service, we heard about an organization here in Spartanburg named Child Evangelism Fellowship.  I originally knew about child evangelism was when I was a young boy.  The very first good news club I ever heard about was in my own backyard.  Every Thursday afternoon, my mother invited all the kids in the neighborhood to come play at our house.  She told a Bible story and served cookies and punch.  She always gave the children an opportunity to accept Jesus.

To this day people come up to me and say, “Kirk, I became a Christian in your backyard.  Your mother led me to the Lord Jesus.”

Once a week members from Morningside lead a good news club for the students at Pine Street Elementary School.  All of us have the responsibility of telling others about Christ’s love.  If you found something good in your faith, if knowing Jesus Christ has been good for you, why keep it to yourself?  Evangelism, at its simplest, is one person telling another person where they found something good to eat and then sharing that news with them.

You will notice the passage says, “He called them to go out and preach.  They had the authority to drive out demons.”  Have you driven out any demons recently?  We normally do not think about preaching as driving out demons.  We think of preaching as ministering to others.  When demons of whatever name torment others, we are called to minister to them.  All of us – all disciples of Jesus Christ – are called to action.

I am concerned that in the contemporary Christian life, many generally do not understand that accepting Christ is a very important and serious commitment.  We are not just making a promise to be kind.  We are not just making a vow to limit our cussing.  Jesus makes the seriousness of this commitment very clear in Luke 14:25, a passage I return to repeatedly.  Large crowds were traveling with Jesus at this time.  This was a crowd, not just twelve disciples, not just a few people, not just a handful.  Jesus was quite the celebrity with hangers-on or groupies traveling with him.  These people were uncommitted.

Jesus called them to a serious pledge or promise.  Verse 26 tells us that Jesus used very strong language, saying, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.”  Jesus did not mean that we have to hate our blood kin.  Through the use of Aramaic hyperbole, he warned them that no person can be more important than Jesus.  Jesus must have priority among all of our relationships.  He must be first.

The second point comes in Verse 27:  “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  Does this mean that we must die for our faith?  It does mean death for some people, but that will not be the case for most of us.

What does it mean to carry our cross?  This is the way Jesus talks about our purpose in life.  Carrying the cross is a way of asking, “What is our task?”  We must find our purpose, which originates with Christ Jesus.  Following him and doing his will must be the highest goal of our life.  Jesus will tell us about the purpose he wants us to follow.  Every disciple has such a purpose though some have yet to discover it.

Verse 33:  “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciple.”  Some people have taken that imperative quite seriously by renouncing all of their earthly possessions.  Jesus actually means that no possession we have can be more important than following him.  No person, no purpose, no possession can be more important than Jesus.   That commitment is costly.  You will not skid through life without realizing that making a decision to follow Jesus requires an obligation.

Jesus gives all of us the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20.  Think for a moment about the incredible optimism of Jesus when he entrusted this band of disciples with the whole kingdom of God, entrusted them with spreading the news of the kingdom of God.  That commission is now our responsibility.  Verse 18 reads,

“All authority on heaven and in earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”

I ask you a simple question:  When was the last time you made a disciple?  Making disciples is not just for preachers, not just for professional evangelists.  Every person who has made a decision to follow Jesus has this obligation.  Jesus asks us to make disciples.  It is our responsibility.

I made the decision to accept Christ as my Savior when I was seven years old.  I had no idea about my responsibility to be a disciple.  For these past sixty-two years though, I have been trying my best to be his disciple.

If you make a decision to follow Jesus, you must understand why he called you.  You must know what he expects of you and what kind of commitment you must make.  The primary task for every single person within the sound of my voice is to know what it means to be called to discipleship.  Our invitation hymn says, “I have decided to follow Jesus; No turning back, no turning back.”  You are invited to respond to the invitation of God.

Kirk H. Neely
© September 2013

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