Today is the feast day of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. Thus, I offer today a sermon (preached a number of years ago) on Jesus' call to Andrew, his brother Peter, their friends, and to us, based upon Matthew 4:18-22....
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
In this brief account we see three very simple steps repeated in two encounters Jesus had with two groups of people. This type of Hebrew parallelism in story-telling is like our modern practice of underlining. It is as if the author is saying to us: "Get this! This is important!! Listen up!!!" The three simple steps are these:
- Jesus sees some people.
- Jesus calls these people.
- These same people follow Jesus immediately and without reservation.
First of all, Jesus sees us. The power that makes disciples is not the human potential which Jesus sees in Peter or Andrew, James or John; it is the spiritual potency of Jesus' word, Jesus' call, that makes disciples.
In the same way that Jesus saw these fishermen, he sees us-warts and all. When he sees us, he sees us in all of our sin, all of our weakness. There is nothing to recommend us to him.
A Sunday school teacher was teaching a group of teenage boys one Sunday about Christ's disciples, about their abilities, their attributes, and why Jesus might have chosen them. Toward the end of the lesson, one of the boys who was particularly fascinated with the whole concept of calling, being chosen by Jesus, said: "Teacher, why did Jesus choose Judas?" And the Sunday school teacher replied, "Son, I don't know. But I have a harder question: Why did Jesus choose me?"
That Sunday school teacher had the right attitude about his calling. Jesus doesn't choose to save us and use us because of our great potential. He chooses us because his nature is love. He sees us in all of our sin and he loves us anyway, just as he chose to love Peter, Andrew, James and John. Jesus is looking for ordinary people who will simply allow him to use them to do an extraordinary work.
This leads to a second point: Jesus is calling us. But what is he calling us to? First of all, Jesus is calling us to himself. Ordinarily, Jewish students in Jesus' day would approach a rabbi and ask if they could be his disciples. Jesus reversed the whole process. Jesus approached the ones he wanted to be his disciples; he called them to himself. The initiative in our salvation lies with the Lord. As Jesus himself said in John 6:44, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." But Jesus also said in John 6:37, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." Jesus is calling us to himself, and if we come to him we can be sure he will never drive us away.
When the wife of missionary Adoniram Judson told him that a newspaper article likened him to some of the apostles, Judson replied, "I do not want to be like a Paul . . . or any mere man. I want to be like Christ . . . I want to follow Him only, copy His teachings, drink in His Spirit, place my feet in His footprints . . . Oh, to be more like Christ!" That is what Jesus is calling us to, to be with him and become like him by the power of his Spirit.
Secondly, Jesus is calling us to a walk, not a single act. "Follow" in the Greek text is a present imperative. It is a command, but it is a continuous command in the present. Jesus is calling us to live a life continually following him. To follow a rabbi in Jesus' day meant to become his pupil and to learn from him by living with him. Do we live with Jesus every day? Do we spend time immersing ourselves in his word? Do we talk with him throughout the day?
William Barclay once wrote, "It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple; to be a camp-follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one's weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, ‘So and so tells me that he was one of your students.’ The teacher answered devastatingly, ‘He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.’ There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in the Church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples."
What is the trend of your life? Is it to closer intimacy with Jesus Christ on a daily basis or are you just attending his lectures on Sunday?
Thirdly, Jesus calls us in order to work through us. Jesus isn't interested in what we can do for him, rather, he wants to do something through us. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." That's why Jesus can use ordinary people. If it was up to human power to build his church then Jesus would choose the most humanly talented and attractive people on earth to build his church. But in most cases he doesn't do that.
Homer Rodeheaver was a well-known Christian composer and song leader who at one time was associated with the evangelist, Billy Sunday. Mr. Rodeheaver participated in one of Mr. Sunday's campaigns where a mentally challenged boy came to sing each night in the choir. "Joey was not very bright," said Rodeheaver, "but he never missed any of our meetings and wouldn't leave until he shook my hand. Sometimes I was rather embarrassed by the way he constantly hovered around me, and I secretly wished he would discontinue the practice. Then one evening a man came with a warm handshake, saying, ‘I want to thank you for being kind to my son Joey. He's not right mentally, but never has he enjoyed anything so much as singing in the choir. He worked hard during the day doing simple chores for people so he could contribute to the offering each night. Through his pleadings my wife and my five other children came to this evangelistic campaign and have now become Christians. Last night Joey's 75 year old grandfather, who has been an atheist all his life, came to faith in Christ, and tonight his grandmother also committed her life to follow Christ. Now our entire family is Christian!’” Rodeheaver felt ashamed that he had been annoyed by the presence of the boy. He realized once again that God often chooses "the weak things" to accomplish his greatest miracles.
This leads to a fourth thing to which Jesus is calling us, that is that Jesus is calling us to work together with other believers. And those other believers he is calling us to work with may not be people we particularly like. Peter was a show off: "Lord invite me to come walking to you on the water!" "Lord, if everyone else deserts you I won't!" James and John were always seeking first place; they asked Jesus if they could sit on his right hand and on his left in his coming kingdom. Talk about making advance reservations for an important banquet! And when James and John saw some people trying to heal in Jesus' name, they were ready to call down fire from heaven on them because they weren't part of their little group. Then there are the Andrews of the church, they're just the opposite, always inviting others to join in. Perhaps the other disciples thought: "Doesn't Andrew know Jesus wants to keep the party to just us twelve?!"
Even though working together in the church isn't always comfortable, that's what Jesus calls us to do. Many years ago the First Brethren Church of Sarasota, Florida had a ground-breaking service for their new building. Instead of the usual silver shovels given to the dignitaries to use in breaking ground, the church purchased an old one-horse plow. Recalling the words of Jesus, "Take my yoke upon you," they borrowed an old yoke and two stalwart men were hitched up to it. But the two were unable to pull the heavy plow. Then the entire Building Committee got on the rope, but even then the plow did not budge. Other officers were added, and the Sunday school teachers, all to no avail. Finally, every member of the church took hold of the rope. With every member pulling together the plow moved and they broke ground for their new building.
Too many churches expect the pastor and maybe a few lay leaders in the church to do all the work and pull the entire load. If we want to see progress in the church then we must all get involved in Jesus' work of fishing for people. Jesus could have called just Peter, or just Andrew, or just James, or just John to do all the work of the church. Or Jesus certainly could have done the work himself without involving us. He could have said the word and we would all be saved, his kingdom project would all be wrapped up. But he didn't do that. I think part of the reason why he didn't do that is because he wanted us to learn here on earth how to be his body and how to work together to build his church by his power for his glory.
And that leads to the primary purpose here on earth for which Jesus has called us together. Jesus is calling us to fish for people.
The term "fishers of men" probably did not originate with Jesus. Greek and Roman philosophers used the term "fishers of men" to describe the work of those who "catch" others by teaching and persuasion. Jesus took on that term and applied it in a very fitting way to these fishermen whom he called to be his first disciples.
Why did Jesus pick fishermen and why did he use the term "fishers of men" to describe their new work? Perhaps the reason is that good fishermen, whether fishing for fish or fishing for people, need to have the same qualities.
First of all, they need to be patient. My oldest brother loves fishing. I can't stand it because there is too much waiting around, just sitting there in the boat waiting for the fish to bite. Fishing for people is similar. It usually takes a long time to develop a relationship with someone and numerous times of sharing the good news about Jesus before they bite. Being a good fisherman requires patience and perseverance.
Being a good fisherman also requires courage. Fishermen on the Sea of Galilee had to be courageous because dangerous storms could arise on that lake at any moment. In the same way, talking to someone about Jesus can be a frightening thing for many of us. There is always a spiritual battle involved. But Jesus can give us the courage to speak for him. Remember what Paul wrote to young, timid Timothy? "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7)
Being a good fisherman requires an eye for the right moment. You have to know when to let down the nets for a catch. In the same way, fishing effectively for people requires a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit to know when and how to say and do just the right thing to draw someone one inch closer to Jesus.
We also need to know how to fit the bait for the fish. I know this may sound a bit crass. We aren't in the business of simply trying to "hook" people for Jesus. Unlike fishing for fish, fishing for people requires a love for them, a desire to do what is best for them. So love is really our best bait-along with a personal interest in the person we are trying to love to Jesus. If you know a non-Christian who is totally involved in sports, and sports are of no interest to you, then you may not be the right person to reach that person with the good news. The "bait" of your life interests and hobbies may not be what your "fish" is longing to eat!
To be an effective fisherman also involves faith. Often you can't see the fish in the water and so you can't be sure your net will catch them. In the same way you can't always see, with spiritual eyes, what the Lord is doing in the lives of people you know. You just have to trust that he is going to work through your life and your words to draw people to himself for eternal life.
And once again, being a fisher of fish or a fisher of people is most effective when done in a team. Oh yes, you can catch fish and you can catch people one at a time all by yourself. But we can catch many more people for Jesus if we will work together in groups. Jesus probably called Peter, Andrew, James and John to work with him because they already knew the importance of fishing as a team.
Finally, let me say that Jesus is calling us to make a difference by fishing for people. Peter, Andrew, James and John must have been attracted by Jesus' invitation because he offered them something more than their humdrum life as fishers of fish. Instead he offered them the grand opportunity to fish for people.
Rowland Hill, a minister in 18th century England, was once introducing a friend to the famous physician Edward Jenner, the man who had discovered the vaccination for smallpox. In his introduction Hill commented that the renowned Dr. Jenner had saved more lives than any other man. At this the doctor turned to Pastor Hill and remarked, "You said I saved more lives than any other man, and that may be true. However, I would rather have it be said of me as it might be said of you, that I saved more souls!"
Do you want to do something of significance, something that will matter, not only in this life, but for all eternity? Then let us work together in catching people for Christ.
Will you do this? Will you be a follower of Jesus this week, following him immediately and without reserve? Peter, Andrew, James and John followed Jesus immediately, but this was not the first time they had met him. As we are told in John's Gospel, they had met Jesus before and had already spent a great deal of time with him. If you don't know Jesus well then he invites you today to "come and see" more of who he is. If you have spent time with Jesus then he invites you today to follow him immediately and without reservation in fishing for other people.
One of my favorite movies is The Sting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. I don't know how many times I have watched that movie because I have lost count. And one of my favorite parts in the movie is where Newman gathers all of his criminal friends to help him in the big "sting" operation against the big-time gambler Lonegan who has killed one of Newman's friends. Newman goes to a bank, looks at a teller behind the counter, touches his finger to his nose, and the teller leaves his job to come and work with Newman on the sting. What motivates that man to do that, to just up and leave his job? Money is certainly a part of the motivation, but the main thing which motivates him and many others is the desire to avenge the death of their friend. The reason Newman's friends left their jobs to follow him was because they believed in his cause.
Do you believe in the cause of Christ, the one who has died for sinners that we might live forever with him? If so, then you should be willing to give up whatever is necessary to follow him and become a fisher of people. Jesus may not be calling you to give up your day job, as he called Peter, Andrew, James and John to give up fishing for fish. But to be a true follower of Christ you will have to give up something. Sacrifice will be required. But what you get in return will be worth it.
Some time later, after deciding to follow Christ, Peter said to Jesus, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" And Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." (Matthew 19:27-29)