Following Christ

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Ephesians 2:8-22 & Mark 3:13-19
SMAS 10.30am Service
(25.3.2012)

I wonder if you realise what a big statement Jesus was making when He chose twelve disciples? The people of Israel were a family, tracing their ancestry back to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob had had twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Issachar, Asher, Gad, Zebulun and Dan. The Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible places special emphasis on the Twelve and their calling to be God’s chosen people.

They became known as Israelites because the special name that had been given by God to Jacob was ‘Israel’. When the Israelites were finally permitted into the Promised Land after wandering through the desert for forty years the land was divided out by Joshua amongst the twelve tribes that sprang from Jacob’s twelve sons.

Later on, after more disobedience the Israelites were carted off in exile to Babylon and Assyria. But the prophets had predicted that when God restored the fortunes of his people he would call the twelve tribes back into existence.

There’s no doubt that this is the message Jesus was conveying when he called twelve from among his followers. This was a renewal of Israel itself. It was a going-back-to-the-beginning move. And the fact that Jesus calls the Twelve into existence makes him not just a new Jacob, He is going even further back because it was God himself who called Abraham to be the father of His people Israel. And, just as God had renamed some of the original patriarchs: Abram became ‘Abraham’ (father of many nations) Jacob became ‘Israel’ (prince with God); so Jesus gives to some of the Twelve new names. He names Simon ‘Peter’, meaning ‘rock’ or ‘stone’. James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, he names ‘Boanerges’, which means ‘sons of thunder’. The new names carry meanings that indicate the purpose of God.

We don’t know very much about most of the twelve tribes, nor the twelve disciples but the fact that there were twelve of each of them volumes. The early Christians were quite clear that Jesus had called the Twelve as a foundation for his work; he had then built on this foundation, and was continuing to do so (Ephesians 2.20).

And it speaks right down through the ages to us as well because we too are called to came and follow Him. Jesus continues to call us to follow, to be the continuation of His chosen people. The church is the new Israel.

I don’t know how well acquainted you might be with what are called the ‘suffering servant’ passages in Isaiah (e.g.53) but they can be read on different levels: written nearly 500 years before Jesus was born they clearly speak of Him, His servant-hood, His death on the cross. But these passages can
also be read to mean Israel too. God’s chosen people called for the purpose of showing God to others around us. Chosen to suffer too for it is not an easy or soft option just as Jesus knew only too well.

What I want you to take from this is the fact that God called His chosen people Israel through the 12 tribes of Israel. He called His son, Jesus who in turn called the 12 disciples. He called the Church into being. We are part of that calling.
Will you come and follow Me, He says.

Will you?

And, if you will, what do you think following means? Because surely followers should follow His way of doing things.

I love Strictly Come Dancing and I get very frustrated when people like John Sergeant, Ann Widdecombe and Russell Grant get enough votes to keep them in each week. What they do, their ‘dance’ may be entertaining, it may be clever, but it’s not worthy of being given a good mark unless it is the particular dance that was asked for, and to be that it has to contain the element that make it be that particular dance. There are rules and guidelines that say what constitutes a particular dance. Jesus gave us rules that make up the dance He called us to.

We are called to be followers: called to be holy, to continue meeting together to hear His Word, to learn, to worship, to share bread and wine, to pray, to serve others and to continue making new disciples. Will you come and follow Me, He says. Will you take up your cross and follow Me? Will you?

He most certainly didn’t say anything about any of those activities being done on a part-time hobby kind of basis. He never once mentioned buildings or liturgy even.
We are called to be His people. Called to love and follow Him. Called to accept His love for us. Called to carry His cross: this following cannot be easy. Getting out of bed on a Sunday morning when really we would like a lie-in: having to worship sometimes in ways that don’t suit us, putting up with music that we don’t like – this on either side of the trad/modern divide; we are called to put Him and His purposes first! And it means that we must not be, like McCavity, the mystery cat whose often not there!

Just before Jesus ascended back to heaven He gave us what is called the Great Commission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” He was clearly telling those of us that He had called to go and save others, save them from eternal death to eternal life.

There’s a story of a small town of people who lived on a stretch of dangerous sea-coast where shipwrecks often occurred. Some of the towns-people decided to put some time, effort and money into rescue operations. A small rescue station was built and the devoted members of the rescue team kept a constant vigil over the sea, ready to use their little boats to search for survivors in case of a shipwreck. One stormy night there was a ship wreck, and the small team went into action and many lives were saved. When the news of their rescue was spread around, more and more of the towns’ people joined the rescue group. More funds were added and a bigger and better rescue station was built. The new building was transformed into a clubhouse with better facilities for the comfort of members as they waited for another shipwreck. Again, on a stormy night, the alarm was sounded. Sadly, very few of the new clubhouse members dared to go out into the stormy waters to save lives. A few went out and a few lives were saved. Later there was a division among members regarding the purpose of their existence. Today, the town has grown very large and there are a number of exclusive clubhouses dotting the shore line. However, none of them are interested or concerned about rescue operations.

Does this story sound a bit like the modern-day Church to you? Are some churches no longer life-saving stations for the spiritually lost and dying?

Are church members convinced enough of their faith to know that Christ’s death on the cross which has saved them must be passed on to others?

Jesus says to each one of us today ‘Will you come and follow Me’? Will you play your part in being God’s chosen people, part of that special family which is now the Church?

In the book of Revelation (2.17) Jesus promises that he will give a special ‘new name’ to all those who listen out for what the Spirit is saying to His church. This promise holds firm and good for every single one of Jesus’ followers today.

At the AGM on Tuesday we elected a new PCC, also of twelve people, to represent this church. As we pray for them I will display their names. Imagine your name up there with them. Do you want to respond to God’s calling of you to follow Him? Pray that God will enable you to hear him call you once more by name, as he called you in your baptism, and show you how you, too, can be part of his chosen people bringing new life to those around us. He never said it would be easy to do but the rewards are enormous.

Almighty God, you called Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Twelve; and, through Jesus, you called the twelve apostles. Call us afresh today; name us once more to carry forward your purposes in the world. Amen