Presupposing Good News

Matthew 4:21-22 is a great text to test yourself with if you are a pastor, teacher, parent, or anyone else who plans to share Christ with others.  So I would ask you as you read the text to take about 15 seconds before you read on, just to think about the critical point that should be shared from this text.  

And going on from there [Jesus] 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. (Matthew 4:21-22 ESV)

Seriously take a few seconds to consider what you would teach from this passage.

The common teaching on this text focuses on the immediate response of the disciples to Christ's call.  The teachings I am accustomed to hearing exhort us to hear the call and respond immediately like the disciples did.  We hear of the sacrifice that the disciples made to follow Jesus, and the amazing leap of faith they took to follow this preacher.  Most preaching I have heard is a very man centered, and man exalting view focusing not on the calling of Christ, but on the response of the disciples.  This approach takes this passage to be Law, a calling to immediate obedience, to be willing to lay it all down.  I hear preachers ask questions like "What is keeping you from dropping your nets", or "Are you willing like Zebedee to let your children drop all to follow Christ."  This type of preaching on this text is an utter failure to give the congregation anything.

Of course on the flip side the Calvinist is likely to take this text and lay out the case for irresistible grace, and use this text to speak of the effectual call of Christ.  I definitely think the Calvinist approach is better in that it puts Christ and His will front and center, but it still falls short in offering good news to anyone.  If you take this approach you will give your people wonderful evidence for the truth of your system of theology, and I do think this text makes a good case for irresistible grace but if it is preached this way it falls short of actually offering that irresistible grace to anyone.  Reducing this text to a diatribe about effectual call removes the fact that this story is news for you.  This is the place where the Calvinist preacher needs to be careful, the tendency is to explain the details of the Gospel, but failing to actually deliver that Gospel to the people as something done for them.

How I would approach this text to preach it?  First as I preach I am called to feed the sheep, and to give good news.  So I approach every text knowing that it is either directly proclaiming good news, or pointing to good news, and it is my job to make that connection and give it to the people God has entrusted to me.  Often times, especially if the text is a heavy law text, I must walk the people down a very dark road to bring them to grace, nonetheless I know approaching the text that the end goal is to arrive upon the good news of Christ who lived, died, and resurrected for us.  I know that is where I am going, but the text I preach determines the route I take.  So as I approach Matthew 4:21-22 I am looking for good news.

This approach almost immediately eliminates the possibility of preaching that "you better drop your net right now if you plan on ever being Jesus' disciple".  At the very least it eliminates the possibility of that being the main point. So begin to look at the text, find a few good commentaries and try to glean some historical context looking for good news.  Here is what you find.

It was always an honor to you and your family if you followed a prominent rabbi.  You would also note that Jesus had been gaining prominence in the Synagogue since as early as 12 years old.  Jesus was already rising in fame as a teacher and for a Jew to be asked by him to be a disciple would be a tremendous honor both to him and his family.  The word 'immediately' in our text speaks not to the greatness of the disciple, but to the greatness of the Christ whom they would immediately follow.  Moreover you would learn with a little study that the reputation of a rabbi was tightly related to the prominence of his disciples. The best rabbis would select the brightest and most promising of disciples because their students reflected them.  It is the same reason ivy league schools will court the most intelligent high school students for their university.

Put this together, Jesus a rabbi growing in prominence reaches the age where he is going to call his disciples.  He calls common fishermen.  He sacrifices his own reputation as a teacher to call those who would not likely ever be called by anyone.  What is the message here?  undeserved GRACE.  The greatest of all teachers stoops down to call the common men as His disciples.  That is the message here.  The point is not that God is so sovereign that his grace is irresistible, the point is that he is so good to me the lowliest of low that I cannot resist this good grace.  The point is not that the disciples were so obedient in the immediate response, the point was that they received an offer they never in a million years would have expected to receive.

Take it further, Jesus knew the people he was choosing.  He knew one would betray, he knew the others would run and hide, He knew the weakness of them.  Yet he still chose them.  Jesus condescended in so many ways on this earth, and this passage is a prime example of his condescension for people like us, yet we strip this passage of all of its goodness when we make it about OUR immediate response, or the irresistible effectual call.

If you are ever placed in a position where you are called on to preach or teach, make sure that you are presupposing that your text leads to good news.  Mine the text for precious gems of grace and deliver that grace to your people.  The sheep in America, and I imagine around the world, are starving for the good news of a good Christ that condescended for them.  When people hear this news, and it is impressed with reality upon their hearts, then they too will drop their nets and follow immediately, not because of their great courage, but because of his great offer.

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