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Meaning and Purpose in Life

Matthew 4:12-25

Rev. Alan Taylor

Transfiguration, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Feb 2, 2020 

Epiphany 3A St. John, Galveston 1/26/20

“Meaning and Purpose in Life”

Matthew 4:12-25

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

For many people, Roman Payne’s description of life in his book, The Wanderess, is apt. “When I was younger (he says), I would cling to life because life was at the top of the turning wheel. But like the song of my gypsy girl, the great wheel turns over and lands on a minor key. It is then that you come of age and life means nothing to you. To live, to die, to overdose, to fall in a coma in the street... it is all the same. It is only in the peach innocence of youth that life is at its crest on top of the wheel. And there being only life, the young cling to it, they fear death… And they should! ...For they are 'in' life.”

It's a rather depressing analysis of life, isn’t it? Payne’s description though is nothing more than the offspring of early 20th century philosophers and thinkers. What he describes is sometimes called nihilism, the belief that life ultimately has no meaning, or purpose.

In contrast to such a view of life, Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, says to you this morning, “Follow Me.” In doing so, He offers a radically different view of life and its meaning. Where nihilism denies any purpose to life, Jesus’ call elevates life and gives it unfathomable meaning and value.

The question is, what does it mean to “follow Jesus?” What form does our response to our Lord’s call take?  We are told that Peter and Andrew, as well as, James and John left their nets and “immediately” followed Jesus when they were called.  In James and John’s case “following Jesus” meant that a radical change would take place even in their vocations.  And so, they left their father in the boat mending the fishing nets. 

You can probably picture the scene in your mind.  When James and John got up and ran off with Jesus, Mr. Zebedee’s mouth must have dropped.  Hey, we’re not done here!  Where are you boys going!?  How am I supposed to mend these nets by myself!?  Though Mr. Zebedee was likely astonished at being abandoned by his sons, we can only trust that God did for him as He does for all of us.  He provided him with everything he needed to “support his body and life, purely out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in him.”

Because James and John left in such haste, we are struck by the power of Jesus’ call on their lives.  Scoffers might say the two brothers were probably just glad to get away from those stinky nets and those long nights where they didn’t catch even a single fish.  Regardless, when Jesus’ called them to “follow Him,” they responded to His call, that divine word, in haste.  Matthew says, “immediately they left their nets and followed Him.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but, there aren’t many things that I respond to “immediately” because “immediately” suggests a certain sense of urgency and priority, insisting that I abandon MY agenda.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m a procrastinator.  Well, maybe I am.  Come to think of it, I’ll have to sit down and think about that a bit later.  Still, I suspect that it’s true of all of us, that, when God calls us to follow Him, there is generally something more “pressing,” or, “better” for us to do. 

And yet, the disciples responded to their Lord’s call immediately.  Furthermore, in their new life, Jesus would set the agenda, because they were called to be HIS disciples, HIS followers.  In the case of Peter and Andrew, James and John, while fishing is certainly a noble calling, Jesus would have them harvest a different catch using different tools.  In other words, the disciples would concern themselves with the proclamation of God’s Word which ALONE has the power to harvest a catch and to expand the kingdom. 

And, as they followed Him, Jesus expected His disciples to clarify and act on the values that He gave them in His teaching.  Their “immediate” response to His call perhaps already suggested that they understood the urgency of their task and the need to proclaim God’s call to repentance and His undying gift of grace and forgiveness.  Even in their day, people were dying without hearing of the grace of God in Christ.  There was a certain urgency then, as there is today, for that grace of God to be proclaimed to all parts of the world, to every nation, every tribe and every people. 

Finally, as they followed Him, Jesus’ disciples were to deny themselves. This is perhaps the most difficult part of Jesus call. There is a cross associated with being a Christian.  Jesus made that clear elsewhere when He said, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” In our contemporary Christian culture there is something terribly incongruent about those words.  For many, Jesus is conceived of as some sort of a cosmic Genie. He’s come to give us everything we want and to expect nothing from us in return, not obedience, not repentance, not even a disciplined heart. 

In his book, “the Cost of Discipleship," Detrich Bonhoeffer expressed a pretty radical view of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, a view that contradicts our culture’s common perception of what it means to be a child of God.  He said, “when Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die." Bonhoeffer goes on to say, “cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves…it’s the preaching of forgiveness without repentance…baptism without church discipline…communion without confession.... cheap grace is grace without discipleship…grace without the Cross… grace without the living and incarnate Christ." 

My friends, called by Christ, you too are called to die to self.  There is really no way around it.  You cannot serve two masters.  A servant looks to his master and he says, master, what shall I do today? As a Christian, your master, of course, is the One who bled and died for you that you might have forgiveness and the hope of a blessed eternity in His presence. And so, you turn to Christ and say, “Lord, I am yours. Your will is greater, more pure, more beneficial to me than my own.” “Help me, to set myself aside and to learn, even as you did, to say those words that can often be very difficult, even painful, ‘Father, not my will, but your will be done.’”

Jesus says, “you, follow Me,” which, in part, is to say, die to self, and rejoice in My Lordship. In saying, “follow Me,” Jesus also promises newfound purpose and meaning for your life. You are a disciple, a witness to the grace and mercy of God in the crucified and living Lord. Life can no longer be viewed as a series of random, unconnected, meaningless events.

In his new life in Christ, Paul stood one day on Mars hill at the great Athenian temple.  Greeks were there from every walk of life.  They were people who loved to speculate about life and why things happen as they do. They loved too to speculate about god. 

Paul noticed that there was an altar set up at the temple with an inscription that said, “to the unknown god.” He said, “let me tell you about the God you don’t know.” “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwelling so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” Paul went on to quote one of their own poets, who wrote, “In Him we live and move and have our very being.”

Jesus says, “follow Me,” and in doing so, you are assured that He is the Lord of everything, the One who gives purpose and meaning to your life.  And that new-found purpose effects even your calling, your vocation. The disciples were called to leave everything they had behind, in order that they might proclaim the word of truth, in short, that they might fish for men.  Our vocations, of course, are not all the same, and yet, we all have the same calling from God.  We are children of the Most High God, Redeemed by the blood of His own dear Son. 

Paul writes, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

By water and the Word, God’s grace and forgiveness have touched your heart.  He has shown you that your life exists in Him. Some of you are fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers, you serve your community in carrying out various tasks, you work a 9 to 5 job. Regardless of the setting, make no mistake, you are a holy priest of God in that place.  When Jesus said to you, “follow Me,” He gave your life meaning and purpose, indeed, a meaning and purpose that are holy and godly. “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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