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During this Epiphany season we’ve been reading in the Gospel of Matthew for our sermon meditations. We’ve been studying the early life and ministry of Jesus in order to learn who He really was, and what He was all about.
So far, we’ve heard testimony from God the Father, from Satan, and last Sunday we heard from Jesus Himself. Today our sermon reading helps us to see what Jesus was all about by telling us about a choice that He made.
Early in Jesus’ ministry He worked alone. But before long He chose a group of twelve men to be His inner circle of disciples. Surely we can learn something about Jesus by examining the men Jesus chose to take His message into the world. We read from…
Matthew 4:18-22 (ESV)
18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
I guess the first thing to note about the men that Jesus chose to be His apostles is that they were fishermen. All four of these men worked the Sea of Galilee with nets in the dark of night, sorting their catch in the morning, and mending their nets so they were ready for the next night of fishing.
Commercial fishermen are known for their toughness, and for being a little rough around the edges. And this characterization was especially true back then when you WERE the motor for your boat, and you WERE the winch for pulling in a net of fish. This wasn’t a job for whiners.
Maybe it was the bustling fish trade and the toughness it required that made Galileans a little more fiery than your average Jew. In any case Galileans were known for this. And the little team of fishermen that Jesus called to be apostles was a bold bunch.
Peter is well known for being bold and impulsive. He often spoke on behalf of the rest of the disciples, whether they asked him to or not. When Jesus walked on the water, Peter was the one who asked if he could do it too. And when Jesus told Him yes, Peter actually stepped out onto the storm. When a mob of torch and weapon bearing thugs came to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, it was Peter who unsheathed his sword first and tried to defend the Master.
We know less about James and John, but the Bible tells us enough to know that they too were bold Galileans to the core. On one occasion, James and John, along with their mother, requested to be seated on the left and right side of Jesus when He sat on His throne in heaven. That’s kinda bold. On another occasion, when a Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus, James and John asked if they should pray for fire to descend from heaven and consume the village. Jesus said, “No.” And if these little anecdotes aren’t enough to convince us of their character, Jesus’ nickname for them should do the trick. Probably with a roll of His eyes Jesus dubbed James and John the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17).
Andrew seems to be the only exception to the rule in this bunch of fiery fishermen. We don’t know much about Andrew, but of the few stories we have, three of them describe him bringing people to Jesus. But perhaps Andrew was only a LITTLE less bold than the rest of them.
It appears that while these fishermen were tough guys, they were also spiritually minded. They were drawn to John the Baptist and accepted his teaching. They too confessed their sins openly on the banks of the Jordan River and were baptized for the forgiveness of sins, trusting in the promised Savior to come.
The history happened like this. John the Baptist was telling people to repent of their sins and to be baptized because the Savior was coming soon. Andrew and John traveled down to hear John the Baptist’s preaching and became his disciples. John the Baptist introduced them to Jesus and they believed Him to be the Christ. Before long John the Baptist was arrested and imprisoned, Jesus moved up to Capernaum and began preaching, and the fishermen went back to their work on the Sea of Galilee.
When Jesus called these fishermen from their boats, it wasn’t the first time they’d met Him. The story of Jesus calling the four fishermen to be his apostles is not miraculous. He was simply saying to them, “I choose you”, and they immediately responded. They were NOT going to let this opportunity slip away from them. This was the Christ – the Savior who the world had been waiting for for millenia. They would follow Him and learn from Him.
The fact that they accepted Jesus as the promised Savior, and were willing to put their jobs on hold to follow Him testifies to the truth of Jesus’ claim to be the Savior. But the more important testimony that we see in this short story is the testimony found in Jesus’ choice.
Jesus didn’t choose these men because they had lots of money to back His campaign. They were common laborers. They may have been doing well enough to hire some extra help, but that didn’t mean they had barrels of cash laying around. And Jesus was taking them away from their work.
No, Jesus didn’t choose these men because He needed their money.
And he didn’t choose them for their talent either. They could haul a line and handle a boat, but what good would those skills be in a ministry setting? The list of reasons Jesus shouldn’t have called these men is much longer than the list of skills they had to offer. They had some education, but certainly not under any Scribes or Pharisees. No real serious Bible education. No training for public speech.
No, Jesus didn’t choose these men for their talents.
When Jesus called them on the beach that day, He simply said,
“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 ESV).
Jesus was calling these men in order to give them grace. To give them the gift of forgiveness. And after giving them this gift, He would enable them to pass it on. He would make them “Fishers of Men”.
It’s an interesting analogy, fishing and sharing the Gospel of Christ. Fish don’t want to be caught. And that’s exactly the case with bringing people to Christ. Sinners don’t want to be brought. They’re afraid of being in the hands of the God who created them. They’re afraid of all the rules and regulations they thinkHe’s going to put on them. They’re afraid of all the things they won’t be able to do anymore.
But these fears are misplaced. For it’s like we’re all fish in a doomed reservoir. Before long it’s going to be drained. And only the fish that are caught can be relocated in a suitable habitat. That’s why they need to be caught – so they can be rescued, not fried.
That’s what the Gospel of Christ is all about. We’re all doomed because of our sins, but in Christ Jesus we’re offered rescue. Because He suffered hell on the cross, in our place, our punishment for sin has been absorbed by God. All who trust in Christ now stand forgiven in full.
With our future secure, we can now turn to rescue others.
When I was in high school I tried out for track and field. We all had to run some events, and do some field events. One of the field events I chose was pole vaulting.
How would you all like to learn how to pole vault?
Doesn’t sound good? It was a little scary for me too. I mean seriously, take this 15 foot pole, run as fast as you can down this runway, jab the stick down and kick your legs up above your head.
But here’s what the coach did to get us started. He simulated a vault by having a rookie hold one end of the pole and then having four or five of the strongest vaulters on the other end fling you up and into the big cushy pit.
It was awesome. You just held on and kicked your legs up, and they put all the power into the fling. And not only was it fun, it made you begin to see that it was possible to learn how to do this.
After God calls us to forgiveness through faith in His Son, He then calls us to share the message with others. To be “fishers of men”. But like pole vaulting, this task seems impossible and scary. But God doesn’t ask us to do it all alone, or without direction, or with our own power. He says, stand here, where I put you in life. Speak to people you know. Tell them what I’ve done for you, through Christ. Tell them I want them to have the same forgiveness, and a new life.
We just stand there holding on. The Gospel provides the power.
Do you think it was scary for those fishermen to become Gospel sharers? I do. It’s one thing to be bold and arrogant, it’s another thing to be like Jesus wanted them to be. Strong in the word, but willing to give up everything else. Insisting on God’s Message and God’s way, but compromising in all else for the good of others.
When God calls us to be “Fishers of Men” it scares us. It sounds so difficult. Maybe even impossible. How could I ever convince someone to trust in Jesus? But the power isn’t in the person, it’s in the word of God. It’s in the message of sins forgiven for free, through Christ, God’s only Son, crucified in our place, and raised to life on the third day.
There isn’t much to learn from these fishermen following after Jesus. Throughout the centuries people have been drawn to religious teachers of one kind or another. But we can learn something very precious from Jesus’ choice of these men. They weren’t chosen for their riches, or their talent, or for anything else they had to offer. They were chosen because Jesus wanted to save them from sin’s punishment and make heaven their final home. These blue collar working men. These ordinary sinners. These fiery Galileans.
Jesus came for the simple, undeserving sinner. He came for people like you and me. And after He reaches us with the Gospel, He uses us to reach out to more who need to know His love and forgiveness.
May God bless us so that when we hear our Savior, we respond like Peter and Andrew, James and John, putting all things on hold, to follow the Master’s call.