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LSB St. Matthew Day Sermon – Matthew 9:9-13

September 22, 2014

September 21, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And he rose and followed Him.”

“So I’m working at the tax booth in Capernaum, finishing up this fisherman’s account, and a guy walks up and says, ‘Follow me.’” That might not be exactly the way that Matthew would recall the day’s events, but it is the basic point of his call by Jesus to be a disciple. The call of Matthew receives one verse in his gospel account, just as most of the apostles’ calls do. They all basically have the same format: Jesus approaches them; Jesus speaks to them; Jesus begins to lead them. That is so for Matthew: “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ And he rose and followed Him.”

Matthew’s call is to be an apostle and evangelist. That is what the Church recognizes on September 21. But Matthew’s call to be an apostle and evangelist was not the first call that he received from Jesus. Yes, Matthew would be sent out with the command that he records in his account of Jesus’ words and works: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” That instruction along with all the other commissions would make Matthew an apostle. But the first call that he received from Jesus was to be a disciple: “Follow Me.”

“Follow Me.” The command is quite simple in terms of grammar and syntax. An imperative verb is followed by a direct object. Jesus calls Matthew to follow in the way that He will set. That is the heart of discipleship. Discipleship is an active enterprise. It requires movement. There is no such thing as an inactive disciple. A person either follows in the way that Jesus sets—is a disciple of Him—or acts in opposition to Jesus—is not a disciple of Him.

Discipleship is a relationship of subjection. An individual who will be a disciple takes up a role of being inferior to the one whom he follows. Disciples are never greater than their teacher. It is a matter of the disciple being led by the teacher. That is part of the “Follow Me” command that Jesus gives to Matthew. Jesus does not tell Matthew to lead Him. No, Jesus gives the instruction for Matthew to be led by Him.

That command “Follow Me” is the same instruction that Jesus gives to all of His disciples. This is the foundational statement that Jesus gives to His Church. To each believer individually and to the Church corporately, Jesus says: “Follow Me.” Included in that command are all sorts of actions that make up what is necessary to follow Jesus. So when hearing those words of Jesus, you can also hear Him say: “Listen to Me. Trust Me. Imitate Me. Love Me. Obey Me. Hope in Me.” This makes it possible to follow Jesus as a disciple. When they are lacking, then the life of discipleship starts to disintegrate; the following Jesus turns into deviating from His way, resisting Him, even abandoning Him.

This great truth needs to be heard and reheard among all who are or would be Jesus’ disciples. You are counted among such people. You have been called by Jesus. He has said to you: “Follow Me.” That command has come from the Gospel which you have heard, the accounts of Jesus’ words and works which deliver the salvation He has won for you. The command which Matthew fulfilled was to bring those words and works of Jesus to people. Through the generations of the Church’s existence, the same has happened over and over again. The words and works of Jesus have been brought by those whom He has appointed: “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

This has happened for you. And it is necessary that it did. Paul’s explanation of why Jesus appointed such people to bring His words and works includes the negative results that happen when this is not done. Without the bringing of Jesus’ words and works to individuals to hear and believe, there is no work of ministry, no building up the Church, no unity of faith or knowledge about Jesus, no stability, no ability to withstand the schemes and deceptions of this world. None of the actions included in following Jesus would be done: no listening to Him, no trusting in Him, no imitating Him, no loving Him, no obeying Him, no hoping in Him. There would be no disciples of Jesus at all.

Though no one really wants to admit it, the description of the house of Israel in Ezekiel’s prophecy is not only limited to them: “all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.” That hard forehead and stubborn heart is a very apt description of human nature. It is part of the sickness and disease that plagues humanity’s hearts and souls. It shows up when the call to discipleship comes to individuals. All would rather be a leader than a follower.

So the bringing of Jesus’ words and works to you is not a one-time deal. There is to be an ongoing hearing of them. That is what continues to deliver the salvation that He has won for you. That sustains your belief in Him. That invigorates you so that you can be led by Him. Jesus’ command to follow is spoken over and over again to you. It is done to overcome your hard forehead and stubborn hearts. The One who speaks it is even greater than Ezekiel, with a face as hard as yours and a forehead as hard as yours. He is the One who calls sinners to Himself and makes them righteous.

That is what Jesus has done for you who are His disciples. You have been called to this identity. Jesus has issued the command for you to follow Him. He has summoned you away unrighteous idleness and from being bound to a ruler who is opposed to Him. He has brought you to share in the benefits that His death and resurrection have achieved. You no longer collect what benefits a tyrant; you serve a benevolent Lord. That is all part of the “Follow Me” that Jesus has issued to you. This is a word that brings about what it says. It transforms hard foreheads and stubborn hearts into minds that are willing and a soul that is devoted. Then the listening, trusting, imitating, loving, obeying, and hoping in Jesus all come to pass. You are counted among the tax collectors and sinners whom Jesus moves from sickness to health, from unholiness to righteousness.

On this day that commemorates Matthew, the Church, which includes all of you who have been called by Jesus to be His disciples, has again asked for the speaking of Jesus’ words and works to take place. You have called for the transforming call of Jesus to be sounded again for you: “Through [Matthew’s] faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches.” That is part of the “Follow Me” charge that Jesus has issued to you.

The portions of Psalm 119 recited on this day put into your hearing what discipleship is all about. The “Follow Me” that Jesus speaks is expounded on. Look at the words of the psalm again and notice the actions that the LORD is to perform for you: “Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes…. Give me understanding…. Lead me in the path of Your commandments…. Incline my heart to Your testimonies…. Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things…. Confirm to Your servant Your promise…. Turn away the reproach that I dread…. Give me life!” This is what the LORD does for you. But it only happens when you hear the faithful and inspired witness about Jesus. You are not left to your own thoughts to determine what is right. You are not given to determine your own way or path. You are not to be distracted by all anything that is worthless. No, you are to follow Jesus. And that happens when it is Jesus who is teaching, preaching, and speaking about Himself through Matthew and all the other apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers whom He has appointed.

The whole focus today has been on the call to discipleship that Jesus issues. Some of you have known it for a long time. Others may be new to it. But after you have heard the Scriptures for today, it can no longer be a foreign concept to you. Jesus says: “Follow Me.” And you know that means Jesus has also said to you: “Listen to Me. Trust Me. Imitate Me. Love Me. Obey Me. Hope in Me.” If you have cut yourself off from hearing the faithful and inspired witness of Jesus’ words and works, now is the time to put that to an end. If you’ve been deviating from His way, resisting Him, or even abandoning Him, now is the day that Jesus again calls you to turn around and follow.

Jesus says to you: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” He desires you to receive the holiness that He brings and the new life of discipleship that He assigns to you. Let this be a day that you can recall: “So I was sitting in Mechanicsburg and this Jesus came and said, ‘Follow Me.’ So I rose and followed Him all the way to life everlasting.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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