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Matthew 4:17-25 by Robert Dean
Do you picture disciples as somehow being bathed in a holy glow? Listen to this lesson to learn what being a disciple actually means and how it's a possibility for all believers. Analyze the difference between being a casually curious student of the Bible or becoming profoundly committed to studying and applying the Word of God. Realize that while salvation is a free gift, discipleship always involves a cost that can't be sugar-coated. If you're ready to come on-board, accept that a disciple's life isn't always going to be smooth sailing but that it's ultimately a life of great gain.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:52 mins 9 secs

Snapshots of Jesus' Messianic Credentials - Part 2: Discipleship
Matthew 4:17-25
Matthew Lesson #016
December 15, 2013

Matthew is the book of presenting Christ as the messianic King. As the messianic King He came to offer Himself to Israel. It is that offer of Himself to Israel that is the offer of the kingdom. That is why we see in Matthew the message of John the Baptist, of Jesus, and of His disciples to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It was near because the King was present. That is the sense in which the kingdom was near and Jesus was presenting Himself to the Jewish people.

This morning we sang a great Christmas hymn: Joy to the world. It was one of many hundreds of hymns that were penned by Isaac Watts. If we think too literally, let's say—and I always want to couch this in the right terms … In literal interpretation we also recognize that in areas of poetry there is a broader use of language. It is not that it denies the literal sense but there are aspects of poetry that we see in the Psalms, that we see in other wisdom literature of the Old Testament where the words have a little bit more of a figurative sense, and often a writer in the Psalms puts himself in a future position. He is not talking necessarily about present realities but future realities. This is part of good literature. That is what Isaac Watts does in this hymn.

If we read the second, third and fourth verses it is easy to ask: Is he a bit amillennial here? Is he talking about Jesus ruling and reigning from heaven now and somehow there is a present kingdom? If we study the life of Isaac Watts we find that he was a pre-millennialist. He had an early form of dispensationalism. Dispensationalism didn't really get systematized and organized until the early 1800s by a British clergyman and lawyer by the name of John Nelson Darby. What has been discovered in recent years is that many of the ideas that are present in dispensationalism, the distinction between Israel and the church, a futuristic interpretation of much of prophecy and even a pre-Tribulation Rapture were present in Puritan theology. They were present in British conservative evangelical theology as early as the early parts of the 1600s.

It was at the end of the 1600s  and into the 1700s that Isaac Watts lived, so he is very much like us in his theological perspective. When he pens this first verse he is writing it in terms of the first advent, the first coming of Christ as the King. But, of course, we know that His offer of Himself as King was rejected. The next three verses reflect upon how the Messiah will rule when He is ruling in His kingdom. So there is a certain proleptic sense (writing something in terms of its future fulfilment) to it. They talk about when the Messiah, the King reigns. The second verse begins, "Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!" He is not reigning today. He will reign when He comes and establishes His kingdom; He is not reigning today. Isaac Watts didn't believe He is reigning today, he was writing that in light of what it will be like in the future.

There is the hymn Crown Him with many crowns. We are not calling upon God to crown Jesus with many crowns right now. The crowning of Jesus only comes just before His return to the earth. We do the same with the hymn All hail the power of Jesus' name, which also talks about crowning Him. But it is not talking about doing that today in the church age. It is looking forward to that time when He will be crowned and then return to the earth to establish His kingdom.

After the days of temptation Jesus came back to the Jordan River where John was baptizing. And it was there that He first picked up some disciples, formerly disciples of John the Baptist. That was approximately a year prior to the events that we study here in Matthew chapter four.    

Matthew 4:12 NASB "Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee." If we compare this with the description of Jesus' early ministry in the Gospel of John, John and his disciples and Jesus and His disciples are both baptizing in Judea in the beginning of John chapter four. So from the events of John, the initial calling and introduction of those five disciples, the wedding at Cana of Galilee, He goes up to Jerusalem where He talks to Nicodemus. Then He goes back to the north. He seems to be in Jerusalem for approximately a year and then John the Baptist is arrested. So He heads north through Samaria, He meets the woman at the well (John chapter four) and He has a group of unnamed disciples. We are not told who they were. He doesn't start calling the twelve until about a year later. That doesn't mean they are not with Him but it emphasizes that there sort of gradations of commitment for these disciples. He doesn't approach them, which is what a lot of people think, right off the bat and ask them for a one hundred per cent total commitment. There is a gradual inclusion of them in His ministry until we get to the events we will look at now.

He went north to Nazareth where He read from Isaiah 61:1 and the first part of v. 2, and the people rejected it. So He leaves Nazareth and moves to Capernaum where He takes up residence. So what we see in Matthew following the temptation is a series of snapshots, little pictures of what is going on between the temptation and the Sermon on the Mount. This is not necessarily organized chronologically; he approaches this more topically. In the first snapshot Jesus moves from Nazareth to Capernaum. The second snapshot looks at Him as Light in the darkness. This is fulfillment of prophecy from Isaiah 9:1, 2. And what we are going to see in this section of Matthew is a foreshadowing of Jesus' eventual inclusion of the Gentiles. He is offering the kingdom only to the house of Israel and the house of Judah at this point, but there are these elements here where He indicates a future involvement of the Gentiles. So it is foreshadowed here, that He goes to Galilee of the Gentiles and the people see a great light.        

The third snapshot emphasizes the messianic message of Jesus. Following the arrest of John the Baptist Jesus picks up the message of His forerunner.

Matthew 4:17 NASB "From that time [the time of John's arrest] Jesus began to preach and say, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"

What is important in looking at this structure that we have is to look at some of the key words that show up again and again in particular books or epistles. And what we see here is a picture of Jesus doing certain things. He is preaching and He is teaching the people. There is a proclamation of the message that the message that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. His preaching and teaching will come in in verse 23. This is part of what He is doing to make disciples. At the center of this passage in His call of the disciples and how Jesus is training them. The way this fits together in Matthew is remarkable because as He calls the disciples here there is an emphasis on His calling an teaching them and then in chapters five through seven He is going to be explaining to them what the character qualities of a disciple should be. There we get into one of the most difficult sections of Scripture to interpret, the Sermon on the Mount.

But here we just see that Jesus is just plugged into the message of proclaiming the message of the kingdom of heaven. The word translated "preach" is the Greek kerusso. It is not what we think of sometimes as preaching. In English preaching is a particular rhetorical or oratorical style. But that is not what the Bible refers to as preaching. In the Bible kerusso is the announcement of something, simply the proclamation of an event, of telling people that something is about to happen. It is not tied to a certain format; it is just simply announcing something. That is what preaching is, it focuses mostly on making an announcement and in many cases the content of the preaching [kerusso] was simply the gospel. Here it was the gospel of the kingdom and the message was simply, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand".

The word "repent" also is one of those abused words today. In English the word is often translated in the sense of remorse or feeling sorry for something. That is not the idea of the Greek word. It means to turn. In the New Testament we always have to go back to the Old Testament context, and this really goes back to the idea present in Deuteronomy chapter thirty. After Moses had identified the fact that there would be various blessings that God would bring to Israel, but that Israel would reject Him and this would lead to divine discipline on the nation and they would be scattered and dispersed throughout all the kingdoms of the earth. Then He promises in the first couple of verses in chapter thirty that there would come a time when they would turn back to Him. The Hebrew word is shub, and is has the idea of conversion, of turning to God. It is simply turning back to God from disobedience to obedience. And God said: "When you turn back to me then I will restore you to the land from all the nations where I have scattered you." That is the focal point, and we have to contextualize this message in the message of the Old Testament.

The King is coming, saying, "I will fulfill the promises, the prophecies of the Old Testament to restore the kingdom to Israel, but first you have to turn back to God." That is what He is announcing. Why? Because the kingdom of heaven is near. The word engizo has the idea of near or approaching, and it is present in the form of the King. He is offering not the kingdom but He is offering Himself as the King. If they accept Him the kingdom will come. That is our third snapshot. This is Jesus' message at the first part of His ministry. Remember there are three components to Jesus' ministry. The first is His initial message that the kingdom of heaven in near. Then at the center there is a crisis point that He reaches with the religious leaders where they reject Him and accuse Him of performing His miracles in the power of Satan. And then there is a period near the end where He is specifically focused on teaching and training His disciples for what will come afterwards because Israel will be going out under divine discipline and there will be a new entity called the church that will come in to existence following His ascension to heaven. So it is as this point that He is announcing the proximity, the contingency of the kingdom, but it is dependent upon their response to the message.  

Then we shift to the fourth snapshot in this section which is a snapshot related to the calling of the disciples. In John chapter one He had already met these disciples. There we read of His initial contacts with Andrew, John, Peter and Nathanael. Here He is addressing Peter, Andrew, James and John.  

Matthew 4:18 NASB "Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen."

Matthew is giving us a very general snapshot of the event. The parallel to this in Luke chapter five says He is doing more than just walking by the Sea of Galilee.  He comes and teaches the people. But Matthew is not focusing on the details. It is not a contradiction to Luke 5, it is simply a broad generalization without getting in to all of the details of the context. Only Luke gives that.  

Matt 4:19 NASB "And He said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.'"

Mark says what is almost identical and Luke gives us more of the context.

Matt 4:20 NASB "Immediately they left their nets and followed Him." 

Often the way this is taught and viewed by many people is that Jesus has no contextual relationship with Peter, Andrew, James and John, and that Jesus is just walking by the Sea of Galilee and sees them for the first time and says to leave everything behind and follow Him. They just drop it all and follow Him. But that is not what was going on and that is not what Matthew is trying to communicate. Matthew is setting up something for us. First of all his emphasis in the Gospel of Matthew is going to be on the concept of discipleship from the very beginning. He starts not with year down in Judea but with the call of these disciples. Because Matthew is going to focus on discipleship as a fundamental theme in his Gospel. So he begins with the call of these disciples, and then when we come to the end of his Gospel the last thing that Jesus is going to say to His disciples is what is known as the great commission. He said: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…"

When we read Matthew we see that sandwiched between chapter four and chapter twenty-eight are five great discourses or teaching events in the life of Jesus. In Matthew chapters 5-7 we have the Sermon on the Mount. In chapter 10 we have His instructions to the disciples. We have three other major discourses that comes as we progress through the Gospel. So the focal point of Matthew is how Jesus made disciples. How did Jesus make disciples? He made disciples by teaching them, by instructing them. The focal point of ministry therefore is not on fellowship, not on encouragement or motivation; it is on instruction, teaching, giving information—not just as information but as information that is to challenge and change people from the inside out. That is what Jesus is going to emphasize here and so we need to understand some things about the doctrine of discipleship.

"Go" is the Greek word poreuomai and it is in a participial form. Many time people will want to translate this as a temporal participle: when you are going. And then make the application that what Jesus is saying is that as you are going through life you are to make disciples. That is true, but I don't think that is the proper way to interpret that participle. A point of grammar is that when you have a participle preceding an imperative the mood of the participle often picks up the mood of the main verb. That is why in many English translations the participle is translated as if it is a command, because the command is to make disciples. So that initial participle really absorbs the mood from the command there to make disciples.

The concept of making disciples is also a kind of tricky translation. The verb there also means to teach. Disciple and discipleship have become really significant buzz words in modern evangelicalism, and whenever biblical words start to be used and overused they often lose their significance and meaning. Coming out of World War 2 there were a number of campus ministry organizations that developed, trying to reach out, to evangelize college kids and prepare them for a life of service as mature Christians. One of those groups emphasized this idea of discipleship that was one on one type of training. They often used a very well-known book called The Training of the Twelve by A.B. Bruce that tried to narrow the concept of discipleship down to this sort of small group type of ministry.

However that is not what we see in the Scriptures. That is taking one format, the format of Jesus training His twelve as the model for all training. But that is not the model that is followed in the book of Acts. Sure, the apostle Paul had three or four pastors who traveled around with him in his entourage, young men that he trained; but as he established churches and taught in churches it was the ministry of a pastor to a congregation that varied in many different ways and different sizes. It wasn't a small group ministry. If you go to seminary today or you read much about how the modern church expresses it self there is this emphasis on small groups. The sad part about that is, small groups are led by whom? They are led by lay leadership, i.e. non-professionals, and probably in the vast majority of cases they are not led by men who have had any kind of formal training in terms of Bible study. Sadly we have shifted in our modern view of the church to a pastor who is more of a CEO and facilitator, and the real work of teaching and instruction in the local church comes from untrained lay leadership. Often it deteriorates to people sitting around in a group and everybody sharing whatever the passage means to them and nobody has ever taken any time to do the in-depth work and research into the Scriptures. The result has produced a very shallow and superficial form of Christianity in America today. What we desperately need is a biblically sound view of this whole concept of discipleship and training.

Jesus calls these four disciples but there are levels of commitment that are involved. They have already been with Him for a year. Now Jesus is going to ramp up that level of commitment. The word disciple is the noun mathetes. It is used 245 times in the New Testament. What should be noticed is that it is only used in the Gospels and in Acts. The noun is never used in the epistles. That doesn't mean that discipleship is not important because the concept is there. The verb, matheteuo which means to make a disciple or to teach, is used only four times. It is used one time in Matthew 28:19, 20 – that we are to make disciples. It is used only two other times in Matthew and one time in Acts. In at least one of the other times in Matthew it is translated simply to instruct, to teach. When we use a word like discipleship, all of a sudden that sort of gets this holy glow to it; this is something special. I think it would bring it back to down to reality for us if we tried to translate it as simply teaching or instructing others. It is not just like being in a college classroom, there is more to it than that, but it is fundamentally instruction.

A church that is not teaching and instructing people at an in-depth level is completely failing its responsibility.

Another verb, monthano which is built off of mathetes, means to learn. That is the role of the individual believer. He is to be learning the Word of God so that he can grow.

First of all, the word disciple means a learner, a pupil, a student, someone who is focusing on learning and acquiring new information. In the first century during the second temple period it was typical with the rabbis that they would accumulate certain students, and each rabbi would have certain students who followed him around and learned from him. They focused not so much on learning the original Torah as much as how it was interpreted by the rabbis. This is why there would be a big contrast with the way Jesus taught. He didn't teach by saying, Well rabbi so-and-so said this and rabbi so-and-so said that, and I say this. Jesus expounded upon the Scriptures and explained what they taught and so He had a distinct style that was identified by the people and this is why they said no one had ever taught like this before. We have run into this sort of modern rabbinical approach today. So many say, well this preacher says this and this preacher says that, etc. They never reach conclusions because in seminary, as opposed to a couple of generations ago, they are not really taught to get into the text as much. Scholarship today is defined as knowing what everybody said about the passage. It is not defined in terms of your ability to study the text in and of itself.

So the first word, disciple, is a broad word that means a learner or a pupil. It can refer to different stages or grades of involvement. It can refer to the one who is just simply casually curious about what Jesus is teaching to the one who is in the inner circle who is fully and totally committed to learning everything Jesus has to say in emulating His life. All of us go through that. We go through those stages. The challenge is to be among those who wish to be fully committed learners of Jesus to implement everything into our life. But we don't start off that way. We start off by being interested students, learners of the Word. And then as we learn it more and more and respond to it then we are drawn in and respond to the greater challenge.

The second point about discipleship is that being a Christian is different from being a disciple. Being a Christian is based on faith alone, accepting a free gift. It does not involved works. But for a disciple there is a cost. Being saved, being a Christian, is a free gift; being a disciple is the response to a cost.

Mark 8:34 NASB "And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.   [35] For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.'"

That is works. This is not talking about salvation, this is talking about the cost of following Jesus and being a full disciple of Christ. Taking up the cross is a figure of speech that comes out of the Roman custom where the convicted criminal would have to carry the cross-beam of the cross over his shoulder to the place of execution. It was the visual image that the empire had finally forced this individual to submit to its authority. So it became an image that emphasized that cross-bearing meant submission to authority or submission to the one who was ruling them. When Jesus says whoever desires to come after me He is saying they have to deny themselves and accept my authority over every area of their life and follow me. That is not required to get to heaven but that is what is required to be a full-bore disciple or servant of Christ.

Other things are mentioned indicating the requirement to be a disciple.

Luke 14:26 NASB "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple."

That is not a free gift; it is not talking about salvation. It is talking about something that comes beyond salvation.

Luke 14:33 NASB "So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions."

There is a cost to being a disciple.

The fifth snapshot. Jesus demonstrates His messiahship through His ministry and miracles. He is demonstrating that He is who He claimed to be. This is where Matthew sets the stage for what will come in chapters five through seven.

Matthew 4:23 NASB "Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people."

The verb there that He went about is a verb meaning to go around. He is traveling all around the small towns and villages in Galilee and in each place He would go and visit the synagogue. He would read from the Scriptures. He would proclaim the message that the kingdom of God was at hand, and He would give instruction from the Old Testament.

These are the keys words we see also throughout the book of Acts. This is how Jesus made disciples. Remember that word matheteuo means to teach or to instruct, and that gives us a better sense of what is a disciple. A disciple isn't somebody in a small group. A disciple is somebody who is learning the Word and being taught the Word. Jesus goes about teaching in their synagogues. He is giving instruction on what the Torah means. Second, He is teaching or proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. And as a sign that He is the Messiah he is healing all manner of sickness and disease, including casting out demons.

Isaiah 35:5 NASB "Then the eyes of the blind will be opened And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. [6 ]Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy…"

In other words, as Jesus goes about giving sight to the blind and healing those who are mute so that they can speak, healing the lepers and giving full recovery to those who were lame, it is a sign that He is the Messiah. These are unique to the ministry of the Messiah, and so His word is backed up by His works. He is the Messiah.

As a result of that we see in the next two verses that His fame goes throughout all Syria. Where is Syria? Who lives in Syria? Gentiles. There were a lot of Gentiles who lived in Galilee but Matthew is emphasizing here not just that His fame goes throughout Israel but to the Gentile neighboring nations. Again this foreshadowing that the message was ultimately going to go also to the Gentiles.   

Matthew 4:24 NASB "The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them."

Again, these are signs of His messiahship.

Matthew 4:25 NASB "Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and {the} Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and {from} beyond the Jordan."

What was the message He gave to the original disciples? "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." That term "fishers of men" emphasizes evangelism as part of making disciples. This is Matthew 28:19—Make disciples, or teach, all nations. In fact, that translation of Matthew 28:19 in English is translated "Make disciples of all nations." That word "of" indicates a genitive of possession, but there is no genitive case in the Greek of that verse. There is just an accusative case: "Make disciples all nations." If you translate it "Make disciples" it doesn't work to leave the accusative case as a direct object; you have to change it. It should be translated, "Teach all nations." That is how Matthew 28:19, 20 should go—to teach all nations.

Jesus is showing how that is done. The initial disciples follow Him; they respond to the command to be fishers of men, which is what is emphasized in the great commission as baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism doesn't save, but in the early church there wasn't a separation in time between trusting in Christ and being baptized. You didn't put it off; you didn't think it was optional; it was understood that that was what you did in order to demonstrate and to reinforce and teach the whole principle related to the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit, which is what water baptism signifies—and to teach the fact that the power of the sin nature has now been broken. So there wasn't a disconnect between justification and then some years later getting baptized.

So we see here this initial response of the multitudes. They are following Him. But as we see in John chapter six many of them, as Jesus made the demands of discipleship more and more evident they fell away. They were believers but they only went as far as being curious. They weren't committed when it came right down to it. This is like many people we find who just sort of give a nod to God at Christmas and Easter, and show up at church occasionally. They are just curious and want to have a little bit of a veneer of Christianity but they are not deeply, profoundly committed to letting Christ teach them, to emulate Christ, and to let God conform them to the image of Christ. That is the challenge of being a disciple.

That is the question that each of us need to answer in our own lives. Are we just going to be those who are on the fringe, or do we want to be those who are taking up the challenge of Christ, to be close to Him, to have intimate fellowship with Him, and to walk with Him closely so that God can really perfect in us the image of Christ so that we can be all that God intends for us to be?