In the gospel of Mark, Peter, Andrew, James, and John were the first disciples to say yes to Jesus. The story of their calling is found in Mark 1:16-20 as Jesus invites them to follow him by leaving their fishing nets behind.
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Levi was the next disciple to say yes to Jesus. Also known as Matthew, the story of his calling to be a disciple is found in Mark 2:13-14 as Jesus invites him to follow by leaving his tax table behind.
13 Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14 As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
To understand what it meant for these first disciples to follow Jesus, you need to understand what “disciple” means in the Bible. In the Bible, the word for “disciple” is mathetes, which means “learner.” In the time of Jesus, Rabbis, or teachers of the Law, would invite people to be their mathetes by saying “follow me.” Saying yes to a Rabbi’s invitation to follow was a great honor and a life-changing event. It meant that from that time forward, the life of the person who was invited to follow would change drastically as that person would leave behind the old life and begin to live a new life as the follower of the Rabbi. If you were called to follow a Rabbi, you would be taking that Rabbi’s set of rules and teaching upon you, with the idea that one day you would perpetuate the Rabbi’s ideas to future generations.
Jesus’ calling of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Levi meant that Jesus was telling them, “I believe you can be like me and I believe you have potential, you have what it takes. I believe God can use you.” One of the statements associated with saying yes to a Rabbi was “May you be covered with the dust of your Rabbi.” This meant that a disciple would follow a Rabbi so closely that the dust from the road that came from the feet of the Rabbi would cover the disciple.
(“May you be covered with the dust of your Rabbi”, Tim Bartee, Sidney Daily News, October 19, 2016)
Edward Sri explains that to say yes to a Rabbi … meant living with the Rabbi, sharing life with him, and taking part in the rabbi’s whole way of life. A disciple might accompany a rabbi on all his daily routines: prayer, study, debating other rabbis, giving alms to the poor, burying the dead, going to court, etc. A rabbi’s life was meant to be a living example of someone shaped by God’s Word. Disciples, therefore, studied not just the text of Scripture but also the “text” of the rabbi’s life.
(Edward Sri, Into His Likeness: Be Transformed as a Disciple (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), 25.)
Focus Discipleship Resources states that the goal of a disciple was not to master the rabbi’s teachings; instead, it was to master the rabbi’s way of life: how he prayed, studied, taught, served the poor, and lived out his relationship with God day to day.
In his book, Thunder from the Mountain, John A. Stroman writes about what it means to be a disciple who says yes to Jesus:
The story is told that in 1939, as the Nazis were moving into the Netherlands, Henry Kramer, a Dutch theologian, was asked by a group of Christians, “Our Jewish neighbors are disappearing from their homes. “What must we do?” Kramer answered, “I cannot tell you what to do. I can tell you who you are. If you know who you are, you will know what to do.” These persons became part of the Dutch Resistance Movement.
Stroman interprets this story with these words, “If we remember who our God is and that we are God’s people, this will determine and define our conduct and personal relationships.”
(28-29, Thunder from the Mountain, (Nashville: Upper Room))
In today’s scripture reading, Mark records Jesus extending an invitation for the person who is kneeling before him to follow him. Mark tells us that this person sought out Jesus. Mark tells us this is a person whom Jesus loved. Mark tells us this is a person who said no to Jesus.
There was only one requirement for discipleship as Jesus invited the rich man to follow him, “You lack one thing; go sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Lest you think this requirement was unique to the rich man, I invite you to hear the instructions Jesus gave in Mark 6:7-9 as he sent the twelve on a mission for discipleship.
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belt: but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
When we hear Jesus inviting the rich man to follow by commanding him to sell what he has and to give it to the poor, it is tempting to think of this requirement is being extended to the man because he was rich. This would be incorrect. This requirement was made of all of Jesus’ disciples. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were not rich, but Jesus had the same requirement for them as he told them to leave behind their nets and define the value of their lives through him. It does not matter if you are rich or poor, Jesus’ invitation to follow is the same.
When you say yes to Jesus, you are saying that the identity of your life will be shaped by the identity of Jesus. Whatever defined you prior to following Jesus was now left behind in the past. What matters now is how Jesus will define your identity in the present and future as you become a mathetes by leaving behind all that hinders you from walking ahead with Jesus. Whether it was Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Levi, leaving behind their nets or the rich man selling what he had, the requirement was the same: to walk as a disciple of Jesus, you must be willing to say yes as you leave behind what has defined you in the past and say yes to Jesus defining your future.
Mark reports. that upon hearing Jesus’ teaching about following him, the rich man’s “countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.” Jesus was offering the rich man the opportunity to learn the true value of life by following him and he said no.
This is not the last time Jesus will hear someone saying no to him. Prior to today’s scripture reading, Jesus had begun to teach his disciples about the rejection he would experience as he walked to the cross of Calvary. Mark 8:31 records Jesus’ new teaching about the rejection of the cross in this way:
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
The story of the rich man saying no to Jesus is only the first of many times Jesus will experience the rejection of his call to follow as he walks to the cross. On this path, Jesus will be rejected by the religious leaders of Israel and by his disciples who had said yes to following him.
Thank God the story of Jesus’ invitation to follow does not conclude with the rich man saying no or the religious leaders saying no, or even his disciples saying no. Thank God the story of Jesus’ calling us to be methedes continues because Jesus said yes to the cross. Thank God, the story of our Savior saying yes to us continues even when we say no to Jesus.
Saying No to Jesus
by Pastor Marc Brown
October 10, 2021
Accompanying Scriptures: Mark 10:17-31
(full online service video below)
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for October 10, 2021
Opening Music “Lord, I Want to be a Christian in My Heart” arr. Robert Thygerson
Call to Worship (Psalm 27:13-14)
One: I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
All: Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.
Scripture Lesson Mark 10:17-31
The Good News “Saying No to Jesus”
Prayers of the Community
Closing Music “The Gift of Love”
Though I may speak with bravest fire, and have the gift to all inspire, and have not love, my words are vain, as sounding brass, and hopeless gain.
Though I may give all I possess, and striving so my love profess, but not be given by love within, the profit soon turns strangely thin.
Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control, our spirits long to be made whole. Let inward love guide every deed; by this we worship, and are freed.