Do you desire to see God work? I don’t know of any person who would answer this question with a “No.” Even the most sincere atheist would claim that if he or she could see God at work he would no longer be an atheist. Of course we desire to see God work!
In the previous passage, after Matthew explains the purpose of Christ’s healing ministry, we saw Jesus instruct two of his disciples to give up their personal identities, livelihood, and to no longer submit themselves to the priorities of the world. We learned that those who follow Jesus are all-in. It is impossible to be a disciple or follower of Christ and really hold anything back for self. We saw that this truth is so hard-hitting, that it even means true disciples are willing to give up self image, jobs, and cultural expectations if those things, in any way, pull us from following Christ or participating with Christ. The two disciples described in the text choose to follow Jesus as Jesus leaves Capernaum and travels across the Sea of Galilee.
When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep.
And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”
He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm.
The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
Christ’s disciples follow Him (v. 23)
When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him.
In the previous passage, we saw the very things that keep people from really following Jesus. Those things, things of this world, are the very reasons most people choose not to follow Jesus. Or, they will claim to be Christian, be convinced that they have eternal life, but not really be a disciple and not really have eternal life (c.f. 7:21-29). There are many people, then, who have a false sense of salvation according to Christ’s teaching.
These true disciples have counted the cost and have chosen to follow Jesus even though one has had to leave his job and one has had to leave his father’s household. This, then, is evidence that we really and truly follow Jesus. We count these things as loss in order that we might be with Christ and participate in the things of Christ. We discovered, in the previous passage, that this doesn’t necessarily mean quitting a job or leaving family for every Christian. It does necessarily mean that we are willing if these things get in the way of our fully following Jesus. Jesus, here, calls his disciples to something quite different from the prosperity or health and wealth Gospel. He does not promise to give us the job or promotion we desire. He doesn’t promise to help us support our families or to keep us healthy. Jesus calls his disciples into the boat that, apparently, leads away from any real worldly (here meaning social or economic) security. This is not to say that he doesn’t bless some people with wealth. He does, but we understand that any blessing we have from Christ is to be used as we follow Christ, for we do not live to ourselves but to Him.
Not only does Jesus call His disciples to follow Him, but His disciples willingly choose to follow Him even after counting the cost. So, we have a way to measure whether we are true disciples or have convinced ourselves that we have eternal life even if we do not. It comes out in our actions, not necessarily in our knowledge, personal theologies, or belief statements. Whether or not we have eternal life is evident in whether or not we actually follow Christ, counting everything else as loss for the sake of knowing Him.
As we consider the text following verse 23 and the passage leading up to verse 23, I want to ask a few questions for the purpose of our own reflection and introspection. Read these slowly and sincerely think about each one. How do we choose a church home? How do we choose what we will devote our time to? How do we decide whether to prioritize work or school or participation with God’s church? How do we read the Bible? How do we participate in church? Do we participate in church? How do we lead our families? How do we do anything else we do?
When we think about these questions, we think about the fact that if we are actually Christians, we follow Christ. We don’t try to lead Him. This is a deeply convicting truth in our current society- in which we tend to prioritize everything else and, if we have time or if we can fit it in, then maybe do the church thing… or not.
What might it mean to try to lead Christ rather than follow Him? As we consider this verse in context, much is revealed about our tendencies. First, we will consider our livelihood or financial security. Second, we will consider our social security. We will consider these things because they are the things explicitly described in the text leading up to this verse.
One of the more prominent things we do is choose financial security over following Jesus. We will say things like, “God is okay with me working on Sunday because I have to support my family or pay my mortgage or whatever.” Nowhere do we see this in Scripture. When we say something to this effect, we are putting words in God’s mouth. In fact, what Christ teaches is the opposite of what we sometimes claim God would be okay with. We are, in essence, trying to lead Christ rather than follow Him.
We do the same thing concerning our education and job training. So, there is need in our current society to make a statement on these things. While it may or may not be a sin to miss church on one occasion because something comes up, it is most definitely not following Christ if we are regularly or habitually missing out on the things of Christ in favor of other stuff. It’s not a matter of convenience. It’s simply the case that if we are followers of Christ we follow Him.
When I started dating the woman I am now married to, she became a priority in my schedule. Why? It was not because I was trying to merit her love. It was simply the result of my desire to be with her. Whether or not we follow Christ is similar. We spend time with those we love. We are devoted to the things we care about. No one is too busy to follow Christ. They simply choose other stuff because they love other stuff. Those who love money and financial security will choose those things every time. Those who love Christ will choose Christ and participation with Christ as part of Christ’s body (the church) every time. So we ask, “What is it that we love?” For most people, even those who claim to be Christian, the answer is not Christ. The evidence, according to Scripture, is that they choose work, education, and financial security according to the ways of the world instead of Christ.
In a country like the United States, where people are currently protected against religious discrimination, this tendency makes even less sense since we cannot be rejected or fired because we are convicted to participate with Christ’s body on the Lord’s day. So, it really is basically a matter of choosing what we desire to do. The fact is, most people simply don’t love Christ.
We do the same thing for the purpose of social security. No, not the government program. Sunday is the weekend, so we treat it like the weekend. Rather than participate with Christ, we want to rest up for Monday, the beginning of the work week. The world we live in makes following Christ so inconvenient. One example of this tendency is athletics, especially children’s or youth athletics. Parents will keep their children from, or people will choose for themselves not to participate with Christ because there is a scheduling conflict. There is either practice or a game. When we assume that Christ is okay with us choosing other stuff instead of following Him wholly, we are guilty of trying to lead Him and putting words in His mouth that are contrary to what He teaches. In the United States, youth are protected by law against religious discrimination in school from their teachers and coaches and band-directors and art-teachers and so on. Schools can be sued if a child or youth is kept from participating because of their religious convictions. At least in the United States, people don’t even have to give up doing these things to follow Christ; yet, we are instructed to do so if we have to choose between any of these things and following Christ. Again, we see this principle. We choose what we love, and we see, again, that most people simply don’t love Christ.
This is a devastating truth in our current society. There are many people who claim to be Christians, who claim to love Jesus, and who genuinely believe that they are going to heaven who are not following Christ. As Jesus has already taught here in Matthew’s Gospel, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (7:21).
As we have seen through Matthew’s Gospel so far, the Gospel is not a system of merit. So, we do not apply this text by saying, “You had better get into church or you are going to Hell!” That would be a misapplication. Instead, we appeal to the consciences of people. We ask, “Are you sure that you really love Jesus?” If we do, the result is that we follow Him and choose Him because we want to. Following Christ is the fruit. His love is the root.
So, we desire to see God work. Next week, we will see what the response is to God’s work when we witness it. For now, we see that it is unlikely that we will see God working if we are not following Him. We would not expect to see anyone or anything else without being in the same place or looking intently toward that which we hope to see. If this is true with our physical eyes, why would it be any different with our spiritual eyes; eyes gifted to us by God (c.f. John 3:3)?