(Matthew 4: 12-23)
My son-in-law is a Pacific Coast commercial fisherman, as was his father, and now my grandson has been working on the boat for the last five years since tuning ten. I’ve observed one thing for sure. They are a hard-working breed of men, very independent, and quite resourceful. They truly love what they do as there are certainly easier and more profitable ways to make a living and support your family. His ocean-going boat is right at fifty years old and if something breaks in the middle of the ocean, he has to figure it out and fix it with whatever he has at his disposal. There is no Triple-A for fishermen. We were at their Mt. Baker cabin recently when the power went out during a storm and he immediately sprang into action, firing up the generator restoring the lights and heat. He was in his element. My daughter and I both agree that when the apocalypse comes, he will know what to do in order to survive, zombies and all. He and others like him are just that resourceful and motivated. They’re the kind of people you need to get things done.
And that’s why I was not surprised when Jesus picked fishermen as his first four disciples. He knew they were the right men for the job of helping him jump start his ministry and would speak plainly and directly to the people Jesus wanted to reach. In our Scripture reading for this morning, Matthew picks up right after Jesus’ 40-day temptation in the wilderness by Satan. Once back in civilization he learns that John the Baptist has been arrested which appears to be the catalyst for him starting his ministry. His time had come, and he was ready to get busy bringing the Good News to the lost and searching. Matthew tells us that Jesus returned to the area of Galilee leaving Nazareth and settling in Capernaum, about twenty miles to the north, serving as his homebase during his ministry in Galilee. My study bible suggests that he left Nazareth to get away from some of the intense opposition he may have been facing in Nazareth, to have an impact on a greater number of people as Capernaum was a larger and busier city where his message would reach more people, and to utilize the extra resources and support he would need for his ministry. Additionally, my study bible points out that the Sea of Galilee is a really large lake with about thirty fishing communities on its shores with Capernaum being the largest. And Matthew points out that Capernaum lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali which is significant as it fulfills what Isaiah the prophet said: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, alongside the sea, across the Jordon, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light, and a light has come upon those who lived in the region and in the shadow of death. By quoting from the book of Isaiah, Matthew continues to tie Jesus’ ministry to the Old Testament which would have been helpful for his Jewish readers who were familiar with the scriptures and what the prophets foretold. And it is a foretelling of the reign of the long-awaited Messiah in the coming kingdom with Jesus’ ministry in Galilee serving as a jumping off point and a preview of what was yet to come. And from that time, Matthew tells us, Jesus began to publicly proclaim: Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven! He’s going all in.
Jesus’ ministry is gaining traction and momentum with large crowds coming to hear him speak, and with many beginning to follow him. He knows he, like John the Baptist, needs disciples who are willing to follow him and help meet the needs of the growing number of people who are gravitating to him and his message of hope and salvation. Matthew tells us that as Jesus was walking alongside the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea because they were fishermen. He called out to them saying: Come, follow me and I’ll show you how to fish for people. We’re told that right away they left their nets and followed him. At first blush, this would seem kind of odd that the two fishermen would drop their nets and follow some guy standing on the shore telling them that he will teach them to become fishers of men. However, the Apostle John in his gospel informs us that the three men have previously net. Andrew was one of John the Baptist’s disciples and was present when John saw Jesus pass by and proclaim: Look, the Lamb of God! Andrew and the other disciple caught up to Jesus and asked him where he was staying. Jesus invited them to come along with him and spend the day with him listening to what He had to say and asking him questions. Later, Andrew went and found his brother telling him that he had found the Messiah. He brought his brother to meet Jesus who recognized him as Simon, the son of John, and said he would be called Cephas, which when translated is Peter. When Jesus showed up where they were fishing, they already knew what kind of man he was and were already willing to follow him. Matthew tells us that as they continued on their way they came upon another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John who were in a boat with Zebedee repairing their nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. The fact that they were repairing their nets suggests that they were accomplished fishermen in business with their father, and yet they were willing to give up their successful occupation to follow Jesus. With his first set of disciples in tow Jesus traveled throughout Galilee teaching in the synagogues announcing the good news of the kingdom, healing every disease and sickness among the people. They would have their work cut out for them as they, like most of us, weren’t trained up in the gentle art of evangelism.
James and his brother, John, along with Peter and Andrew were the first disciples that Jesus called to work with him. He didn’t call upon other rabbis or others who were learned in the Law of Moses. He called upon men, and later women, who understood the value of hard work and seeing a job through to completion, no matter the challenges. His call motivated them to get up and leave their jobs and families immediately. They didn’t make excuses about why it wasn’t a good time. They left at once and followed. These four fishermen responded as we ought to respond to the invitation to the kingdom, demonstrating our change of heart and lives by leaving what we have behind and following Jesus. Yeah, I know that seems kind of drastic and it would be easy to say that the time is not right and that after you get a few things settled then maybe you could make the sacrifice and follow Jesus. But if you do it on your own terms it really isn’t a sacrifice, is it? You’ll never be able to do it because something will always come up. Becoming a follower of Christ means turning away from our self-centeredness and self-control and turning our lives over to Christ’s direction and control. Answering his call and not putting him on hold.
Many lessons can be learned from this encounter with four men of the sea. First, God delights to use ordinary, even insignificant, people to do his work and his will which makes it all the more amazing. Additionally, the lessons we’ve learned in life and our occupations can prove valuable in serving Christ, it’s what He wants us to bring to the table, our own life experiences. And third, a genuine obedience is evidenced by the immediacy of jumping right in and not putting it off until it is convenient. Drop what you’re doing and get to it. And that’s the point of this scripture. These four disciples and the others Jesus picked up along the way, watched and learned. They saw and heard Jesus preach the gospel, the Good News, to anyone who wanted to hear it. It was the gospel that announced that the kingdom of heaven had come, that God is with us, and that he cares for us. They learned first-hand that Christ can heal both physically and spiritually, and that no sin or problem is too great or too small for him to handle. They learned that Jesus’ words were good news because they offered freedom, hope, peace of heart, and eternal life with God. A future.
So, when Jesus asks us to serve him, we must be like the disciples and do it at once, casting a wide net to bring as many as we possibly can to him so that they too can experience the salvation he offers to all those who will accept it.
Let us pray.
Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me; see, on the portals he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me. Heavenly Father, clear our minds of all the clutter that distracts and consumes us, that keeps us from truly knowing you. Clear our minds so that we can hear the gentle call of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ who so wants us for his own. Open our ears so that we can hear his soft and tender pleading for us to come to him. Help us to realize the time is now for us to commit our lives to Him. May we not tarry or linger and heed not his mercies. Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me. Jesus is calling, calling, O sinner, come home. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.