If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24The disciples heard the call and walked with Jesus for three years on dusty, stone laden paths in Palestine. Where was Jesus taking them?
The Call | Part 1
Between towns and hamlets they walked. Mile upon mile they met people of every walk of life. They ate what was available, drank from streams, and slept under the night stars. They were with Jesus day and night. They got to know him. They loved him. Often they asked Jesus about many things.
They didn’t always understand when he answered. They were often mystified by words never before spoken. Even so and most importantly, they walked with God and he spoke to them. He drew them with whispers of inward truth (John 16:13). The call was personal, each hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd (John 10:27–30). They were called by name from among men to journey with God for God (John 10:30). They were disciples called by Jesus to learn the way, know the truth and to live in a way never before known (John 14:6).
One well-written article on the calling of the disciples was authored by John W. Schoenheit for The Sower Magazine. Schoenheit details how Jesus nurtured a relationship with his future apostles before calling them into full-time ministry, which would have been a short time after John the Baptist’s execution by King Herod. Schoenheit’s work brings forward the idea that the disciples knew Jesus, and he them, socially, before calling them to ministry.
While Schoenheit’s work is scriptural and persuasively well done, Jesus assuredly knew the minds of men and would need no social interaction to decide from among whom to call (John 2:23–25; 6:37; Hebrews 4:12). But when did the calling become a prophecy for Israel?
The Prophet Isaiah wrote about “the calling in the wilderness” seven centuries earlier. Think about that. It was a prophecy proclaiming God would call Israel through the voice of one crying in the wilderness. The call would prepare a way of the Lord, making level in the desert a highway for our God (Isaiah 40:3).
Why was it necessary to make a desert highway for God? Since God is holy and would walk among men as the King of kings, it was necessary for Israel to “purge itself” from iniquity. Israel was being called to a lifestyle of holiness to make a way for Christ to reach the world. God was calling men to be clean witnesses for the King of kings.
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).
The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy began when John the Baptist, a recluse adorned in camel hair, eating locusts and honey in the wilderness (Matthew 3:4), stepped into the Jordan and called the nation of Israel to repent, to change their ways.
True, biblical repentance is a change of mind, leading to a change of heart, resulting in a changed life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ezekiel 14:6; Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20; Revelation 2:5). While many see repentance as the need to stop sinning, it is more in line with abandoning self-effort to trust God’s work of having set us free from the power of sin (Romans 5:15; 6:7; Philippians 2:13).
A child of God grows, learning how to walk as Christ walked (1 John 2:6). They learn the importance of walking worthy of the holy calling of God in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:1). Whatever the definition of repentance, holiness is the desired outcome for everyone called of God. About the call, Alexander Maclaren writes,
That great voice which is in Jesus Christ, so tender, so searching, so heart-melting, so vibrating with the invitation of love and the yearning of a longing heart, summons or calls us… ‘God hath not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness,’ or, as this letter has it, in another part, ‘unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.’
But also ‘He hath called us to His everlasting kingdom and glory.’God, speaking through John the Baptist, called Israel from the heavy burden of law keeping to trusting in the Messiah having kept (fulfilled) the law on their behalf (Matthew 5:17–20).
In response, the apostles and many others gathered by the river to hear John proclaim: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). In every way imaginable, John the Baptist was sent to clean house, making ready the way of their Lord God.
About “making ready” the way of the Lord, Dr. D. W. Ekstrand writes,
Most of the twelve disciples Jesus selected were followers of John the Baptist…Compared to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes; they were “clean slates” for the Lord Jesus to write upon. They were “empty wineskins” for the Lord to pour His new wine into. John the Baptist stripped them of the old, and Jesus filled them with the new.
As Frank Viola notes:
We cannot receive the new until we first let go of the old; old wineskins don’t patch well, and God doesn’t pour new wine into old wineskins (Mt 9:16–17).
In closing, the call to holiness was the disciples’ first step on their journey to glory. They heard the word of God and became like clean slates, open to the power of the gospel to change them forever.
The call is to become holy ambassadors and guardians of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20). The call continues today and is for all who hear the voice of the Shepherd (John 10:27).
Part 2 – The Walk____________________________________
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Specific source is The NKJV Study Bible, eBook: Second Edition (Signature) Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.