The Third Sunday after Epiphany January 21, 2018
Text: Matthew 4:12-23 3 Year Series A 18:2046
Theme: Come, Follow Me.
What would you do if one day the Lord Jesus passed by and as He did He said, “Come, follow Me.” Would you promptly go with Him? And what would you understand with those words? Would they mean, “Walk behind Me and accompany Me on a trip”?
“Come, follow Me.” Would it mean, “Imitate Me; be like Me and do the very things I am doing”?
“Come, follow Me.” Would it mean, “Take up where I left off because I am leaving, and you need to carry on with My work”?
“Come, follow Me.” What would you understand with those words if Jesus said them one day while He was passing you by?
It’s not such a far-fetched thought. It happened to me and my brother Andrew, as well as to James and his brother John. By the way, my name is Simon. You perhaps know me better as Peter. What is a person to think when Jesus directs, “Come, follow Me”?
I. In one respect it made me feel uneasy.
You see, we Jews understood to a fuller extent what Jesus meant with those words. Jesus was a teacher. Indeed, people addressed Him with the high title of rabbi. Rabbi is a Hebrew word. It means “great one,” “master.” Rabbis were men who studied the Bible very thoroughly. They gathered a circle of disciples around them in which the younger ones were trained by the older rabbi. Their education could last as long as 20 years. During that time the rabbi lectured and examined them every day, all day until they learned everything that the older rabbi taught. Thus, they were able to recite much of the Old Testament by heart and to explain to the people what the Bible meant. Rabbis were like seminary professors with doctorates in your day, highly, highly respected by our people.
We understood that becoming a student of a rabbi was a very difficult decision to make because one gave up everything else in his life to do so. Since there was so much to learn, the student stayed with the rabbi 24 hours a day, day-in, day-out. Wherever the rabbi went, the student went. A student never left a rabbi’s side, except for an occasional errand, because there was so much to learn (Julian Anderson). All Israel was beginning to treat Jesus as a rabbi, but a special one, a rabbi like they had never heard before.
Perhaps you are beginning to see the reason that in one sense it made me feel a little uneasy when Jesus said, “Come, Follow Me.” I did not misunderstand the fullness of what those words meant.
They meant walking behind Jesus to accompany Him wherever He went. They meant imitating Him in what He was doing and saying. They meant taking up wherever He left off and carrying His teaching forward. They meant a lifelong, self-commitment that breaks all other ties in a binding fellowship of life and death with Him. And they mean much the same for you as you call yourself Christian. Jesus said, “If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for My sake and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it” (Mk.8:34-35). None of us, neither Andrew nor James nor John nor I misunderstood what Jesus meant when He said, “Come, Follow Me!”
We had already learned of Him and from Him. Before he was thrown into prison, John the Baptist had been the first to school us about Jesus. He told us months before this, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn.1:29).
To Jews like us the word “Lamb” meant something huge. Everything in the worship life of Old Testament times revolved around lambs and sacrifices. It was a lamb with its blood painted on the doorposts of our ancestors’ homes in Egypt that saved them from the Angel of Death. It was a lamb dying on the altar in the temple which assured us that God would send someone to atone for our sins. It was a lamb on whose head our priest laid his hands, symbolically passing our sins to it, that was sent out into the desert to perish in our place. It was a lamb that the prophet said would be led to the slaughter to redeem us to God. To Jews like us, “lamb” meant sacrifice for sin, deliverance from death, and a joyous return to God through a more powerful One who was yet to come. John made it clear that person had arrived in Jesus. “Look!” John said. “There He is!” So, months before this we spent time with Jesus. And what a rabbi He proved to be! Our hearts were lifted while we were with Him. Then we returned to our jobs, fishing on the Sea of Galilee. But He had given us lots of exciting things to ponder, knowing our Savior, the Messiah, had finally arrived.
We went about our fishing with renewed spirits. Jesus does that to you when He enters your life and you understand what He means to you eternally. We heard that He had returned to Galilee, but we went on fishing until this day when He came to us and said, “Come, follow Me.” I knew everything those words meant. It could not have been addressed to us if we had not already been with Him. It was a call to learn, to do, and to enter daily into fulltime fellowship with the work of this heavenly rabbi. I was just a simple fisherman, with a humble education. The more I considered it, the more I perceived the magnitude of the call and everything it implied. Can you see in one respect how it made me feel uneasy? Who was I, so lowly a person, to enter this relationship and fulfill such a task?
II. But in another respect it spurred me on.
Perhaps you know from our friend Luke’s account of that day what transpired next (Lk.5). Before anything else happened, a crowd that was eager to hear and touch Jesus gathered so closely around us that Jesus got into my boat. From the back of my boat (that resembles a pulpit), He taught such wonderful things. It is truly a joy to hear the Gospel as it finds it’s fulfillment in Jesus.
Afterwards He told us to row into the lake for a big catch of fish. But we had fished all night and had not caught a thing. And we were tired. Nevertheless, at His words we did what He said. When we did, we caught so many fish that our nets broke and our boat began to sink. Again, I felt uneasy. Who was I in the presence of this Holy One? I even spoke words that later I regretted. I told Jesus, “Lord, you should go away from me, for I am a sinful man.” How could I ever match up as one of His followers?
But Jesus put aside my uneasiness by letting me know He wanted me, He had forgiven me, and He would be with me. He said, “Have no fear. From now on you will be fishers of men, catching people (for eternity).” That assurance, with His call to follow, spurred me on for I realized that if Christ calls me to Himself, if Christ is in my boat, if Christ bids me go to people, there must be a great multitude to catch and He is the One who enables it. I am to learn, to do, to be His witness, and He with His Spirit will do the miraculous rest through the Gospel we speak.
Right after that I, along with my brother Andrew, James, and John said goodbye to all and left to follow Jesus so that we might learn to share the joy we had in a Savior by revealing Him to others.
You, dear friend, are not called to be an apostle like we were. Yet, you are called to the joy of discipleship in a Savior and, to be witnesses with us of the salvation that only He brings. Without Him people will die eternally, but with Him they find forgiveness and life forever. You are blessed to believe it like we did. So, learn the lesson of your calling, receive comfort and joy in it, and let it spur you on to become a true fisher of men for Christ.
And to help you picture the vital nature of it all, allow me, if you will, to tell you a fish story. After all, I am a fisherman and we fishermen tell fish stories. But this one is true.
Several years ago on the Fox River, 2 young men were fishing. In order to obtain a better casting angle, one of them waded further into the water. The river was swollen with snow melt, making the current flow rapidly. As the young man waded into the swiftly flowing stream, he slipped on a rock and hit his head as he went down. Knocked unconscious by the blow, he began to helplessly float towards the dam. His friend saw him floating towards disaster and did the only thing that he could do. From some 30 yards away, he cast his lure towards the unconscious friend. Miraculously, on that first cast, he somehow managed to snag his friend’s sock and slowly reeled him out of the turbulent current into the shallow water where another friend grabbed him and pulled him to safety.
Sometime later the one who snagged his friend’s clothing was asked about his thoughts. “All I could think about was my friend and how to help him. We just couldn’t let him drown out there!”
Things like that happen daily – on a spiritual level. Millions are drowning in the dark waters of sin and unbelief. Looking for a better cast in life, they wander from God. The promise of worldly wealth, power, pleasure, drugs, false religions, and other enticements beckon. But in the end, all such allurements trip them. They fall spiritually unconscious into the clutches of Satan who will drown them eternally in sin. The question for each of us is what can we do about it? What can we do about the family member, the friend, the fellow employee, the foreigner whom we suspect is being swept away by the current of unbelief to eternal damnation that lies ahead. The young fisherman said of his companion, “We just couldn’t let him drown out there!” What can we do?
Jesus responds, “Come, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” It is His work, His training, His ability that enables you as you find your life in Him. God grant it to us in faith for Jesus’ sake.