This past Sunday, we read from John 21 about the commissioning of Peter to feed and tend the lambs and the sheep of Jesus. Many focus on the restoration of “Simon son of John” in the words, “Do you love me” said three times (which reflected Peter’s three denials). Others reflect on the bodily resurrection of Jesus who had prepared breakfast for His disciples and spent time with them on the beach.
God has shifted my focus a bit, though. At the end of the interaction, Jesus says to Peter (and the disciples with him), “Follow me”. Jesus spoke this very phrase to the Philip in John 1:43. The location of this event was in Galilee, as the event in John 21 was by the Sea of Galilee (our God is the same yesterday, today and forever).
But the type of “Follow me” spoken in John 1 is very different from what was spoken in John 21. The calling of Philip and the other disciples in Jesus’ earthly life was a call to listen, witness and practice a little. It was discipleship.
Discipleship, then, is largely about receiving. Small tasks are given to disciples, but mostly, they are to be ‘pew-warmers’, soaking up the Gospel message and witnessing the Kingdom of God’s establishment in this world through Jesus Christ.
After Jesus died, was buried and was raised to life again, He was transformed. He had to hand the mission on to His own disciples. John 21 records some of this. But, what did He mean now by “Follow me”. Were they supposed to do the same thing? Were they supposed to leave their nets and walk through Judea, Galilee and Samaria for another three-year stint, passively receiving the message and witnessing God’s work in this world?
No, they couldn’t. If for no other reason, Jesus was about to ascend to His Father and sit at His right hand. He would no longer be available as He had been before His resurrection. So how are they to understand the commission to “Follow me”, now? They certainly weren’t being called to sacrifice themselves in mass suicide. How could they follow Jesus?
Just before Pentecost, the disciples gathered together in the upper room. Luke records in Acts that there was ‘a group numbering about a hundred and twenty’ (Acts 1:15, NIV). These included Jesus’ mother and brothers, women and men (1:14). That is to say, the early Church was ‘in the house’.
As we know from reading Acts 2, 4 ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’ The mission became obvious to Peter and all around him. They were to go out and proclaim the Gospel message. They were ‘sent’ (apostéllō).
Some remained locally, in Jerusalem, but others went to the ends of the known world. Discipleship had been transformed from receiving to delivering. Discipleship had been transformed through Jesus’ resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit into Apostleship.
This happened through the work of God’s Holy Spirit.
Lutheran congregations get the discipleship side of things. Luther was brilliant at explaining how we are Justified by Faith Alone in Christ Alone. He explained how our righteousness is passively received, not gained by meritorious works.
And Lutheran pastors have been right to defend the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. However, most church members have only heard the discipleship side of the issue. They don’t realize (or aren’t told) that they are given the means of grace (baptism, the Lord’s supper and the proclamation of the word) delivered with the Holy Spirit for Holy Apostleship. What is received is meant to be delivered.
Perhaps we are waiting for a Pentecost experience.
Certainly, christian education and the proclamation of the Gospel are necessary before one ‘goes out’. But, make no mistake, the goal for our congregations is not ‘pew-warming’, it’s pew-filling. It is not merely the call of the one ordained in the front of the congregation! Apostles begin as disciples but are not called to linger in this receptive phase for their entire lives. They are to be called out.
This has already happened, though. Jesus has called out His people. John has recorded the words. Jesus says to all His disciples, Follow me! And, by God’s grace delivered in the means given to and for the church, we will.