Sunday, January 27, 2008

God Has Called You

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Matthew 4:12-25

Today’s Gospel reading teaches us about vocation. Vocation is what God has called us to. You may not think God has called you to anything spectacular. And, in some sense, you may be right. What you do need to know is that God has called you to something important and far greater than what it may seem. We can see this in the way God called the various people in our Gospel reading to.

John the Baptist was the last prophet God called to pave the way for Jesus. Think about the long line of great prophets God called to this task: Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Daniel, among others. But here John comes along and Jesus says of him that no man born of woman is greater than he. That’s a stunning statement. Of all the great prophets, all the great people of history, he stands out as the greatest.

And yet, what do we see of him here? He has done his task, he has paved the way for Jesus, and now suddenly he finds himself in prison. Is this what he gets for faithfully carrying out the call God gave him? Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. But we shouldn’t think that God was ungrateful or didn’t care about him. Rather, we need to realize exactly what God has said about the kind of call He gives us. Since it is a call that is from above and regarding spiritual matters, it will not always fit in with the way we would like for things to work. This is why Jesus said that we are blessed when we are persecuted on account of Him. So far from giving up on John the Baptist, the fact that he was now in prison was evidence that God was faithful to him in his carrying out of his call.

It’s kind of ironic, actually, that we refer to those men of old—Moses, Elijah, Isaiah—as “great”, when really what God calls us to is a humble role and task. That John the Baptist was the greatest of all prophets is actually seen most clearly in the fact that there he sat in a dreary cell, with only the hope of God to rest on. His call from God was never about himself but only and always about Christ. Being holed up in jail really drives it home that this call is not about John but about the one he was pointing to.

It’s not that God had no use for John the Baptist anymore but that his call was no longer to be out in the mainstream, but in an unlikely place, a prison cell. God has plans for others, as well. But they aren’t the “great” ones like Moses, or Elijah, or John. They are ordinary people like you and me. They’re fishermen. People we would never have heard about had Jesus not called them to such a remarkable calling. But to put this in perspective, Moses himself was born of ordinary people also. God’s plans for him are what changed his life. They brought him into extraordinary circumstances. And you can find this time and time again in the Scriptures, where God calls ordinary people like you and me to great things. To become great leaders and people who make a huge impact on the world.

Here we find people like that. For all we know, Peter and Andrew and James and John would have ended out their days like their fathers did, out on the lake, fishing. But God’s plans were different for them. They would end up being apostles, and there were only twelve of those that Jesus called. But even here, we see that God’s call to us is according to His terms. Two of these men are among the most well-known men in Christian history, Peter and John. The other two, brothers of them, Andrew and James, didn’t have as spectacular of a role.

But does that mean it was any less of a call from God? Far from it. Whether a Peter, or a John the Baptist, or a Moses, or a lesser known Andrew or James, each of their calls from God were not about them but always about Christ.

And that’s really why Matthew tells us these accounts of who John the Baptist was and what he did. And about the calling of the two sets of brothers. But notice who also we find out about. People we might just pass right on by because it may seem they’re not as important as the others. James and John were with their father. We’re not told about the family of Peter and Andrew, or about the rest of the family of James and John, for that matter.

But just because we don’t see much of them doesn’t mean they’re not important. Or didn’t have an important call from God. So where do we fit in to all of this? Maybe some of us will end up being like Peter, or John the Baptist, or Moses. Most of us, though, will be like the family members of the “famous” people God called. And while it may not seem spectacular, we pray that we will learn as Moses and John the Baptist and Peter and John did that this call from God isn’t about us. It’s about Christ. Whether our circumstances turn out the way we’d like or we find ourselves wondering what kind of a call God has called us to, we know that when God calls us, it concerns eternal things.

John may have been sitting in a jail cell to finish out his days, but he had the privilege of being the one who got to point to Christ and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Moses may have been ridiculed by the pagan Egyptians and even by his own people the Israelites, but he was blessed by God to bring His people out of their bondage to the Egyptians and give us a wonderful picture God saving us from our bondage to sin. Peter was most likely martyred and John finished out his days in exile on an island, but they both were privileged to be servants of Christ as apostles.

But we’re missing the whole point of God’s call to us if we talk only about all these people that God called. And if we talk only about God’s call to us. Matthew wasn’t just telling us about John the Baptist, and Peter and Andrew, and James and John. He was first and foremost telling us about Christ. Jesus goes from His home town and into a new region. He is the light that they see. The people’s having seen a great light is the Gospel. It is the salvation Christ has come to bring. And here at the beginning of Jesus’ Ministry Matthew is anticipating the end of his Gospel account, the Great Commission. Here he shows us that Jesus comes into a land of Gentiles. In the Great Commission Jesus’ command is to make disciples of all nations. Jesus has come for you. He has called you. The mission statement of our congregation is to spread the Word of God outside our congregation, at home and in other countries.

Why is the coming of Jesus described as a great light for the peoples? Because we are in darkness. Being in jail would seem a pretty dark time in life, but we are in eternal darkness without the light of Christ. Matthew describes the work of Jesus in coming to be the Savior: he taught and healed; he came to bring light and life. If we ever wonder if God has called us or what He has called us to; if we ever wonder about God’s call when our lives seem dark; we may look to the cross where darkness reigned supreme. Jesus was called by His heavenly Father to suffer on behalf of the world. The darkness He endured was His act of love for a fallen world. This is where you look to see what God has called you to. Because of His death and resurrection He has called you to life and salvation. Amen.


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