While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers,
Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother,
casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he
said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of
men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
And going on from there he 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
(Matthew 4:18-22 ESV)
A disciple is someone who follows Jesus.
But what does that word “follow” mean?
Draw your attention to four implications that spring
from this word “follow” for these fishermen, and then by
extension for us. So what does it mean to “follow Jesus”?
I think this text answers that question in at least four
1. A true disciple lives with radical abandonment for His
First, to follow Jesus means to live with radical
abandonment for his glory. So, you go back to Matthew,
chapter 4, verse 17.
Jesus says, right before this, “Repent, for the kingdom of
heaven is at hand.” That word “repent” literally means to
renounce, to acknowledge, to confess your sin, to express
sorrow over your sin, to turn from your sin, to renounce
your sin and yourself.
Jesus later says, in Luke chapter 14 verse 33, “Any of you
who does not renounce all that he has, cannot be my
disciple.” This kind of renouncing is all over this passage.
If you think about these disciples and what they were
renouncing, what they were abandoning, what they
were leaving behind as they followed Jesus. Just think
about them for a minute. They were leaving behind their
comfort, leaving behind everything that was familiar for
them, all that was natural for them, leaving comfort for
Jesus didn’t tell them where they were going. He just told
them who they’d be with. There’s a whole sermon right
there. Followers of Jesus don’t always know where
they’re going, but they always know who they’re with.
We don’t have time for that sermon. So, they were
leaving behind their comfort.
Second, they were leaving behind their careers. This was
an abandonment of profession for these guys, at least
temporarily. We’ll come back to how this applies to us.
Just think through the lens of their lives. They were
leaving behind comfort, careers. They were leaving
behind possessions. They dropped their nets.
Now, these guys were obviously not the most
economically elite in their society, but the fact that they
had a boat, a successful trade as fisherman, shows that
these men had much to lose in following Christ. We find
out later that they still had a boat, still had some various
other things, but the reality is at this moment they
followed Jesus with nothing in their hands. Nothing in
their hands. Their possessions, their position… This is
huge. It was common in that day for people to attach
themselves to teachers in order to promote themselves.
That’s why you’d follow a rabbi in that day.
The problem here with these disciples is that this is not a
step up the ladder for them, this is a step down the
ladder. The rabbi they were following would eventually
find himself crucified as a criminal on a cross. They were
leaving behind their families. James and John leave their
They’re not the only ones to do this. Remember Luke,
chapter 9, where Jesus says to a man who just wants to
just go back and say goodbye to his family. He says,
“Don’t look back. Put your hand to the plow. Look
forward.” Their families, their friends, their safety. This
is a rabbi, a teacher, who would soon say to them, “I’m
going send you out like sheep among wolves.” Not good
news. “All men will hate you because of me. They will
persecute you.” They were abandoning their safety.
Following Jesus obviously meant leaving behind their
sin. That’s the core of what it means to repent, to turn
from our sin. And all of this pointing ultimately to how
they were abandoning themselves.
This is the message that Jesus would say to them over,
and over, and over again. “If you’re going to follow after
me, you must deny yourself.” In a world where
everything revolves around protecting yourself,
promoting yourself, preserving yourself, entertaining
yourself, comforting yourself, taking care of yourself,
Jesus says, “Slay yourself.”
So don’t buy it. And if you’re a church leader then don’t
sell it. So many Christians have bought it, and so many
church leaders have sold it, this idea that all you need to
do is make a decision, pray a prayer, sign a card, become
a Christian, and you keep your life as you know it. It’s not
true. You become a follower of Jesus and you lose your
life as you know it. I want to be careful here.
I’m not saying, nor could I say based on the whole of the
New Testament, every follower of Jesus must lose their
career, sell, give away all their possessions, leave their
family behind, physically die for the gospel. But the New
Testament is absolutely clear on these things. For all who
follow Jesus, comfort and certainty in this world are no
longer our concerns. Our career now revolves around
whatever Jesus calls us to do and however he wants to
use us in our careers to spread the good news of his
kingdom. Our possessions are not our own.
We no longer live for material pleasure in this world. We
forsake material pleasure in this world in order to live
for eternal treasure in a world to come. And this could
mean any one of us selling everything we have. Position,
no longer our priority. When it comes to family,
Based on the whole of the New Testament, we are
commanded to honor our parents, to love wife or
husband, provide for children. So you can’t use passages
like this to justify being a lousy son, or daughter, or
spouse, or parents, or whatever. Our love for Jesus,
according to Matthew, chapter 10, should make love for
our closest family members look like hate in comparison.
Wherever he says to go, we go, knowing that because self
is no longer our god, safety is no longer our priority.
I think about two families that we just sent out last
month. One moving to the heart of the Middle East, the
other to the heart of Central Asia, both among extremely
difficult, dangerous to reach people groups. One of these
husbands tells our church, “Some of you think that we
are being reckless.” He’s sitting there with his wife and
his two young kids, going into the heart of Muslim
Middle East. He says, “Some of you think we are being
reckless.” And he looked at our church and he said, “I
think we’re in far greater danger of being safe then we
are reckless in contemporary Christianity.”
And I agree wholeheartedly. Followers of Christ, we do
not bow at the altar of safety in this world. We die to self.
We die to sin. We risk our lives in obedience to Him. This
is what it means to follow Him. To follow Jesus is to hold
loosely to the things of this world, comfort, careers,
possessions, position, family, friends, safety, ourselves, to
cling tightly to the person of Christ and the mission of His
Now that’s… It may sound extreme to some, but don’t
forget who the “me” is here. To leave behind, lay down
and abandon everything in your life doesn’t make sense
until you realize who Jesus is. When you realize who He
is, when you realize who Christ the King is, leaving
behind, laying down, abandoning everything in our lives
is the only thing that makes sense.
Look at Matthew 13:44. Jesus tells a story of a man
walking in a field who stumbles upon a treasure. Nobody
else knows it’s there. This guy knows that, “This treasure
hidden in a field is worth more that everything I’ve got
put together.” So what does he do? He goes, covers it
back up, goes, he sells everything he has. The text says
with gladness he sells everything he has. People come up
to him and say, “You’re crazy. What are you doing? Sell
everything you have?”
He says, “I’m going to buy that field over there.” They say,
“You’re going to buy that field? You’re nuts.” He smiles
and says, “I’ve got a hunch.” He smiles. He’s doing this
with gladness. He’s abandoning everything with
gladness. Why? Why is he smiling? Because he knows
he’s found something that’s worth losing everything for.
Brothers and sisters, we have found in this King someone
who is worth losing everything for.
To follow Christ, to live with abandonment for His glory.
Now, some might say to that, “Are you saying that
Christianity then is based on what we must do, what we
must let go of, extreme things we need to do in order to
become a follower of Jesus?” No. So follow with me.
2. A true disciple lives with joyful dependence on His
Here’s the second reality. In Matthew 4, to follow Jesus,
yes, is to live with abandonment for His Glory. But right
along side that, to follow Jesus is to live with joyful
dependence on His grace, to live with joyful dependence
on His grace. So, behold the beauty of God’s grace. And
these words follow me. Feel this, the wonder of this.
Jesus taking the initiative to choose his disciples. This is
huge. I mentioned it was common in first century
Judaism for disciples to attach themselves to a rabbi to
study under. But the beauty of what we’re seeing here is
that these men don’t come to Jesus. Jesus comes to them.
Jesus initiates the relationship.
He does here, at the beginning of the New Testament,
what God the Father has done all throughout the Old
Testament. God choosing Noah, Abraham, Moses, David,
choosing the prophets, choosing Israel to be His people.
And just as the Father chose in the Old Testament, we’ve
got Jesus saying to His disciples in John 15, “You did not
choose me. I chose you.” And he didn’t choose these guys
because of any merit in them. He chose these guys solely
because of mercy in Him.
So, it’s this point in commentaries or sermons on
Matthew 4 that I sometimes hear people start to describe
all the reasons why Jesus would choose fisherman to be
his disciples. Because they have this or that skill. They
have this perspective or that perspective. If that’s the
direction we go, we’ll miss the point from the start. Jesus
did not call these guys because of what they brought to
the table. These four guys and the other guys that
followed after them, did not have many things at all in
Lower class, rural, uneducated Galileans, commoners,
nobodies, not well-respected, hardly the cultural elite,
not the most spiritually qualified for the task,
exceedingly narrow-minded, ignorant, superstitious, full
of Jewish prejudices, misconceptions, animosities. This is
who Jesus chose. You say, “Well, you’re being kind of
hard on them.” The reality is it’s not just them, it’s us. It’s
you and I, in this room, that have nothing to draw Him to
us. Sinners, rebels to the core, running from God and the
stunning reality of the gospel is that Jesus comes running
after us. Jesus, this Jesus, takes the initiative to call us to
My wife and I struggled for years to have children. The
Lord led us on a journey of adoption. We put a map on
the table and said, “Lord, where are you leading us to
adopt.” And he led us, internationally, to the country of
Kazakhstan. I don’t think I knew Kazakhstan existed
before that process. But after months of praying, we put
in an application to adopt a Kazakh child. I remember
somebody we ran across, when we told them we were
adopting a child, their first response was, “A real one?”
No, a plastic one. We’re going to put it on our mantle and
look at it. Of course we’re adopting a real child.
So, there’s a variety of things you don’t say to parents
that are adopting. That would be, I think, at the top of the
list. So, we’re walking through this adoption process,
which is long and grueling in so many ways. Some of you
have been there. Forms, fingerprints, home studies,
background checks, physicals. We were trying to meet a
particular deadline and had a physical, at one point, that
we had to get checked off on.
So we went to the doctor together and everything was
going smooth, my wife and I were there, until we got to
the eye chart deal. And I still maintain that the light in
this hallway was dim. I went up first. She said, “Cover
one eye and start reading.” I got, maybe, two rows down
and I start struggling and I start thinking, “I can’t do this.
I can’t miss this. We’re going to miss our deadline. It will
set us back.” And so I’m stressed out, and she can tell that
I’m getting stressed out, a little flustered. So she says,
“Why don’t you try the other eye.” I said, “Okay, I’ll do
But, in my nervousness, I’ve been pressing down so
much on this eye, that when I took it off everything was
blurry. I couldn’t see the top letter. I went, “Oh, no.” And
she said, “Sir, why don’t you step aside and let your wife
come up and do it, and then you can try again.” So, all
right, I’ll do that. So, I’m over here trying to get my eyes
right and then finally I get my eyes right. My wife is still
going, so I look down and I memorize the letters.
So, I step back up and just start acing the thing. I’m like,
“Ma’am, I can do this with two eyes closed if you want.”
So, checked that off. We went through this whole process
over a year. And then one day, sitting at a computer, I
receive this email with a picture of a 10-month old little
And six years ago this last month, the day after
Valentine’s day, we walked into an orphanage in this
small, obscure city in Kazakhstan and we held this baby
boy in our arms. Not long thereafter, he became our son,
Caleb. I share that with you. So, picture here, see a
parallel with adoption here. Adoption begins with the
parents initiative, not with a child’s invitation.
Before Caleb was even born, before he was ever
abandoned in that children’s hospital in Kazakhstan, he
had a mom and dad who were planning to adopt him.
And while he was lying alone at night in an orphanage in
Kazakhstan, he had a mom and dad who were working
to adopt him. One day, when Caleb was placed in the
arms of mom and dad, he had no idea of all that had
been done completely apart from him to bring him to
that point. This orphan boy became our cherished son,
not because he pursued us, but because we pursued him
before he was ever born.
So, in light of that picture, I remind you of Ephesians,
chapter 1. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every
spiritual blessing in heavenly places, even as He chose us
in Him before the foundation of the world. In love, he
predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ,
according to the purpose of His will to the praise of His
glorious grace.” Oh, Christian, just feel this. Right there.
Some people are saying, “I don’t know about this predestination
stuff.” I’m not saying I can explain this, but I
am saying that I don’t want to take Ephesians 1 out of
the Bible. Just feel this, feel this right where you’re
Before the sun was ever formed, before a star was ever
put in the sky, before mountains were put on the land
and oceans poured out between them. Before any of that,
God Almighty on high set his sights on your soul. And he
purposed to save you from your sin. Gracious initiative.
So nothing in the Christian life is born out of our merit,
everything is born out of His mercy. He takes initiative to
Then he provides us with the power to use us. “Follow
me,” he says, “And I will make you fishers of men.” Not,
go make fishers of men. “I’m going to do this in you. My
grace in you is going to transform you.” There’s no way
these disciples could carry out the commands that Jesus
would give them.
He would have to do this in them. Why does He design it
that way? So that He gets the glory through them,
through us. You think about these guys. You’ve got Peter,
the disciple with the foot-shaped mouth, who would one
day preach the first Christian sermon. And just like that
3,000 plus people are saved.
All throughout, you can go and all these other guys,
Andrew, James, John, Matthew, all these guys… In our
lives, God do a work in our lives and the churches we
lead for which You alone can get the glory, for which You
alone can get the glory. I told the story recently… Just
been deeply impacted by some time in India a few
months ago. Two guys, Oneal and Hari, chicken farmer
and a school superintendent, who three years ago on one
of the most unreached, darkest places on the planet,
began to share the gospel in one village. Three years
later, there are 350 different churches in 350 different
villages that have come about from a school
superintendent and a chicken farmer. I asked them,
“What’d you do?” They said, “Only the hand of God could
have done this.”
And my heart leapt inside, and thought, “I want to be a
part of something in my life, in this country, for which
only God can get the glory for.” Disciples being made,
churches being multiplied.
3. A true disciple lives with faithful adherence to Jesus
Third thing to follow Jesus is to live with faithful
adherence to His person. Jesus is not saying, “Follow this
path, follow these rules.” He’s saying, “I’m the path. I’m
the life. I’m the way. Follow Me.” He’s inviting us into a
relationship with him where He is our life. For followers
of Christ, Jesus is not part of our life. He is our life.
Period. Which then leads into the last truth.
4. A true disciple lives with urgent obedience to His
Fourth, to follow Jesus is to live with urgent obedience to
His mission. “Follow me,” Jesus says, “and I will make you
fishers of men.” So, see it, see it, see it. A proper
understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus
inevitably leads to making disciples of Jesus. I wrote a
book that came out a couple of weeks ago called “Follow
Me”, and I don’t mention that because I’m trying to sell
books. I don’t make any money off those books.
The reason I want to even mention that is because I set
out to write on disciple-making. I was writing chapters
about, “Here is what we need to make disciples. Let’s go
and make disciples.” But as I was writing it, I felt like I
was trying to cajole people to go out and make disciples,
which seems foreign to the New Testament.
When Jesus stood with these disciples on the mountain
in Matthew 28, at the end of this book, he didn’t have to
cajole these guys to go and make disciples. He had to tell
them to stop and wait, that they’d blow if they didn’t
have the Holy Spirit. So, what had happened in their
understanding of what it means to be a disciple? They’d
seen Jesus. They’d lived with Him. They’d seen Him die
on a cross, rise from the grave.
They were ready to go. Their understanding of what it
meant to be a disciple was leading them to go and make
disciples. So, then I began to think, “What if, what if one
of the primary reasons, if not the primary reason, why
we have this spectator mentality in the church, and why
so many people are sitting passively by when people are
on their way to hell around us, and we’re just soaking it
in the church as spectators on the sidelines, why is this?
Could it be because we’ve misunderstood what it means
to be a disciple in the first place? Could it be that we,
even as church leaders, have so minimized the
magnitude of what it means to follow Him?
And as a result, we try to cajole people into going and
making disciples. When if they understood what it
means to be a disciple, we wouldn’t have to do any kind
of superficial cajoling. They’d be supernaturally
compelled to give their lives to this. It’s impossible to
believe this gospel and to know this Christ and be silent.
A privatized faith and a resurrected Christ is practically
impossible. So, yes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer has taught us
well, that the cost of discipleship is great.
To live with radical abandonment for His glory, faithful
adherence to His person, urgent obedience. This is costly.
This could cost us and the people we lead our lives. But I
submit to you this morning that the cost of nondiscipleship
is far, far, far greater. The cost of nondiscipleship
is great for scores of people in the church
who are sitting comfortably right now under the banner
of Christianity, but have never counted the cost of
following Christ. Many eternally deceived.
There is great cost for all who settle for casual
association with Jesus and miss out on the abundance,
and satisfaction, and joy that He’s designed for us.
There’s a cost that comes to monotonous routine
religious Christianity. So, don’t do it and don’t lead
churches like that. We’ll waste our lives away like that,
and the cost will be great for us in the church, in our
lives. The cost of nominal Christianity will be great for
those who are lost in this world, for people in our
communities, in our cities, for people groups around the
world who will go on without the gospel, because we are
content with not making disciples of all the nations.
Because in our casual approach to Christianity, we are
leaving them on a road that leads to an eternal hell. The
consequences of casual, cultural Christianity in the world
are tragic, eternally tragic. So I urge us, from the
beginning of this conference, in view of the majesty of
the King who’s called us, let’s follow Him with
abandonment for His glory, with dependence on His
grace, with adherence to His person, and with urgent
obedience to His mission.