"3R's of Discipleship: Repent, Relinquish, Retool"
Feb.27, 2011 Mt.4:12-25
NEW NEEDS, NEW R'S
This past week it was my privilege to serve as one of the judges at the public speaking contest at Blyth Public School. It's always interesting to find out what topic a student has chosen - what the next generations concerns and interests may be. One contestant told how a great-grandparent maintained the Great Depression was the best school our country has had. Another focussed on bystander apathy - people's reluctance to get involved, or interfere with a crime underway. A young girl advocated protection for dolphins, while an older one talked about Facebook.
The environment is a major concern for the younger generation. One girl talked about the 3R's, but they weren't the ones a Great Depression generation would be familiar with (reading, writing, 'rithmetic); this age's 3R's are Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (probably what our seniors would know as 'making do'!). A new era calls for new R's.
Today's passage in Matthew features the start of Jesus' ministry. He commences by heralding a new era - the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this new era, Christ invites people to follow Him by adopting another set of 3R's: Repent, Relinquish, and Re-tool.
INVASION OF THE MARGINS
Let's look first at the context in which Jesus chooses to launch His ministry - and what this might suggest for us today in the church in where we focus our efforts. V12 says, "When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee." Jesus' ministry was not strategically focussed in a politically-savvy way on the power centres of His day (Rome or Jerusalem). "Galilee" is mentioned 5 times in vv 12-25. A map of His ministry [GRAPHIC - EXPLAIN] shows clearly that most of His miracles and parables come from the northern part of the country, not the area around the capital. The Hebrew word 'Galilee' means 'circuit' or 'district' and refers to the 20 towns originally given by King Solomon to King Hiram of Tyre in payment for his work in conveying timber from Lebanon to Jerusalem; however, after Hiram inspected the towns, he rejected the gift. Wouldn't that make you feel special if you lived in those towns - to be given away by your own king, then rejected by the recipient as no good?! Hiram called them 'Cabul' meaning 'how little! / as nothing' or good-for-nothing, a term of contempt (1Kings 9:11-13).
The area was not entirely successfully invaded by the Israelites, so still contained many of its original inhabitants - hence became referred to as v15 puts it in quoting Isaiah, "Galilee of the Gentiles". Today's equivalent? Where do we sequester the original inhabitants? 'Indian reservations'. Perhaps it's a bit like, if Jesus were to begin today, leaving us good white folk and starting out on the reserves with the aboriginals. Would we kind of turn up our nose at that?
V16, "the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." In Isaiah's time, 'darkness' may have referred to pagan idols of the Gentile occupants. 'Shadow of death' may be a reference to the devastation this buffer-zone of the north experienced when the Assyrians invaded in 734 and 732 BC. Many Jews in the south held a definite contempt for Galilee, where the accent was broader and more guttural. (Remember Peter after Jesus' arrest being accused on account of his accent; have you ever heard someone make fun of the way some American southerner might drawl?) When Nicodemus protests his colleagues' rejection of Jesus without even going to hear Him, they reply scornfully, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee." This despite the fact that Jonah, Elisha, and possibly Nahum and Hosea came from Galilee. Alford comments, "Their contempt for Galilee made them lose sight of historical accuracy." They were so biased against Galilee, it could be called contempt, despising it.
Yet, this is where Jesus chooses to go and stay for the majority of His ministry! He opts to minister among the marginalized, the rejects, those held in contempt. Is this where church folk are active, or do we prefer our 'holy huddle'? To use Harvey's metaphor from Wednesday night, do we like it too much in the 'hot tub'?
On other occasions, the esteemed religious types of the day (Pharisees) criticized Jesus for eating with tax collectors and 'sinners'. Jesus explained His philosophy (Mt 9:12f): "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick... For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
That is good news - if you're feeling marginalized / spurned / humbled / a failure in God's eyes. Cheer up! Jesus specializes in those at the margins. And does He get a response! V24, "News about Him spread all over Syria..." and those who have any kind of ailment or demon-possession are brought to Him for healing. Jesus' ministry goes from zero to ninety in just 9 verses; v25, "Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him." So many that He couldn't even enter a town openly any more, He had to stay out in remote places where the crowds would come to Him. Robertson comments, "Jesus had a moving hospital of patients from all over Galilee and Syria."
Our Church Council approved a couple of initiatives this week which may help make Jesus' grace available to those on the margins. The Wingham small group requested Council's blessing to conduct a Christmas Dinner on Dec.24 at the Adult Day Centre in Wingham. And we're having another Free Community Breakfast on Good Friday in combination with a brief service to follow. We also responded to a benevolent need for a family currently without heat. In Youth Group we've had kids from homes with less-than-ideal situations. Those delivering care-tokens encountered some individuals that it may seem society has forgotten. Through these avenues and our personal contacts, we can keep sharing Jesus' goodness with those on the margins.
REPENT: REVIEWING THE SITUATION
"Repent" is not a common word today - may have something to do with the word 'sin' likewise going out of style! To 'repent' means to re-think, to have a change of mind; some new factor has appeared which makes you realize you need to take a different view or approach. In the movie Oliver, the old reprobate Fagan who runs the pickpocket crime school sings, "I am reviewing - the situation...I think I'd better think it out again." In repentance, we respond to the Holy Spirit's conviction in our conscience by turning from our old sinful patterns and seeking God's mercy and help.
Jesus begins His ministry with the same words used by John the Baptist: v17, "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near." John may have been silenced by imprisonment, but One even greater picks up the tune and carries on; the Kingdom has drawn all that much nearer in the person of Christ. Same words, but fresh content as they come from Jesus' mouth: in Him, the Kingdom is present and active. As Jesus said elsewhere, "...if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you." (Lk 11:20) It was really happening then and there, no more small talk.
Still, today, the church's dominant word in preaching must be calling sinners to repent. We need Jesus' surgery to remove our spiritual cataracts so we can see what life and eternity are really about - how far we have drifted from God and His purpose for our life. Easton's Dictionary notes: "Evangelical repentance consists of (a) a true sense of one's own guilt and sinfulness; (b) an apprehension of God's mercy in Christ; (c) an actual hatred of sin (Ps 119:128 Job 42:5,6 2Co 7:10) and turning from it to God; (d) a persistent endeavour after a holy life in a walking with God in the way of his commandments.The true penitent is conscious of guilt (Ps 51:4,9), of pollution (Ps 51:5,7,10), and of helplessness (Ps 51:11 109:21,22).Thus he apprehends himself to be just what God has always seen him to be and declares him to be.But repentance comprehends not only such a sense of sin, but also an apprehension of mercy, without which there can be no true repentance (Ps 51:1 130:4)." Have you really repented, in that sense? Then you'll start to appreciate, not just how depraved you are, but how wonderful is God's grace and love.
LEFT BEHIND: CHRIST'S CALL TO RELINQUISHMENT
The second 'R' is 'Relinquishment'. To 'relinquish' means "to surrender or resign (a right or possession); give up or cease from (a habit, plan, belief, etc); relax hold of (an object held)." Comes from a Latin root meaning 'to leave'.
Jesus doesn't call us as disciples to do what He hasn't already done Himself. He relinquished so much to become our Saviour! He left the throne room of heaven to be born as a helpless baby in a smelly stable. V13, "Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum..." He left the comforts of home to go to the margins, to be accessible to the most people. The Greek word for 'leave' here means "leave behind, forsake, abandon." Capernaum may have become His headquarters (a rolled-up rug in Peter's living-room?), but in leaving home Jesus gave up any guarantee of a roof over His head. Another time He cautioned a potential disciple, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Mt 8:20)
Jesus leaves - and calls others to follow in that leaving. Simon and Andrew, casting their net into the lake: v20, "At once they left their nets and followed him." They left their livelihood. Don't forget, Peter had a wife, and mother-in-law to support, perhaps other family members; did his wife have a few words for him when he got home that night and tried to explain the day's events? In a way, by calling him, Jesus assumes responsibility for their upkeep (hence the disciples shared a common purse). Discipleship is not an excuse to avoid one's responsibilities to one's wife and children; Paul reminds Timothy, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (1Tim 5:8) But Peter had to trust that somehow God would provide - that following Jesus would mesh miraculously with disciples' needs being met. He had to relinquish the right to decide how that was going to happen. Apart from Christ's call, Simon would likely have been standing there casting the net at age 55, but God had better plans for him.
Likewise with the 'sons of thunder' in v22: Jesus called them, "and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him." Leaving the boat and tedious work repairing nets is one thing; leaving your father is another. But sometimes family opportunities need to be laid aside when God calls in a different direction. James and John had to trust God would look after the situation, somehow. Later on we see their mother interacting with Jesus, so the parents must have kept in touch (20:20).
Relinquishment ties in with putting all on the altar as a living sacrifice - being willing to leave behind anything that would get in the way of faithful obedience to Christ's call, be it livelihood, family ties, house, fields, wealth, or other comforts and securities. What 'nets' do you find it hardest to let go of?
A WAY-BETTER CATCH: RE-TOOLING
The 3R's again - Repent, Relinquish, Re-tool. We're called to relinquish (or leave behind) so we can have our hands open to receive something better. Jesus promised, "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." (Mt 19:29) All He calls us to leave is 1% worth by comparison! "A hundred times as much."
"Repent of your sins and turn to God," He says, "for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." The Kingdom of Heaven: a new reality, new power. After Pentecost the disciples finally latched on to what this kingdom-living was all about, for they had God Himself within. Peter invites others in Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." See the parallel? The 'near Kingdom' is now 'the gift of the Holy Spirit.' Check out Acts 3:19 for another way of putting it: "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord..." We relinquish so we can receive the Spirit's refreshing, God's re-tooling, be made new people with special God-given gifts.
Contrast Peter the night of Christ's trial, huddling in fear warming his hands at a fire, being spooked by a maiden's accusation - contrast that cowardly denying traitor with the Peter that confronted the same religious authorities that condemned His Lord in Acts 4(12f): Peter declares, "'Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.' [what's the response?] When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus." What had changed Simon to Peter? Being with Jesus; discipleship; Jesus had said, 'Come, follow Me,' and was forever different as a result. Peter's affirmation of faith became the 'rock' on which Christ built His church (Mt 16:18). When Peter steps away from the net, God's Spirit begins a process of transformation which re-tools and equips Peter to 'step up to the plate' as a leader in the early church.
Like the Master had said - v19, "Come, follow me...and I will make you fishers of men." A way better catch than just ordinary fish.
A DISCIPLE - OR JUST ATTENDING LECTURES?
Today, Jesus calls you and me to follow Him; to Repent deeply and in a way that results in reversal of old sinful behaviours. To Relinquish possessions and livelihoods and relationships that would interfere with God having free rein in our life to shape us for the Kingdom. To let Him Re-tool us by the Holy Spirit for new and effective service, probably in ways and with talents we hadn't dreamed of. It all starts with discipleship - following Jesus, moment by moment.
William Barclay writes, "It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple; to be a camp follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one's weight.Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man.He said, 'So and so tells me that he was one of your students.' The teacher answered devastatingly, 'He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.' There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in the Church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples."
Amy Carmichael was a Protestant missionary in India who served 55 years up to her death in 1951. She laboured to rescue hundreds of Hindu children dedicated to the gods who would otherwise have lived a life of forced prostitution. Amy dressed Indian-style and darkened her own skin with coffee to better blend in. She wrote this poem in which true followership leaves its indelible mark on the disciple.
"Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar?
Hast Thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers, spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned;
Hast thou no wound?
No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole: can he have followed far
Who has nor wound nor scar?"