Second Sunday After Epiphany January 18, 1998
224, 408, 421, 270
And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him. And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. Thus far our text.
In Christ Jesus, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
“I have to go fishing,” the man told his pastor one day. “I just love to fish—you have to understand that. Sunday is the only day when I can really enjoy my favorite passtime, and that’s the reason I’m not in church very often.” And he braced himself for a stern rebuke from the preacher. But to his surprise, the pastor nodded his head, apparently in agreement. “Yes,” he said, “you do have to go fishing—and that’s just the reason you should be in church every Sunday!”
Obviously, the pastor wasn’t talking about casting for largemouth bass in the local stock dam. He was referring to one of the requirements of Christian discipleship. Jesus said that those who want to follow Him should be prepared to go fishing—not for fish, but for people! The pastor explained that this kind of fishing is done with the Gospel, and one place we get a good supply of the Gospel is at regular Sunday worship services.
Well, maybe that fellow was convinced, and maybe he wasn’t. But the preacher was right about one thing: every true follower of Christ is also a fisherman. That includes you and me, too, so it’s a good idea for us to find out exactly what’s involved in this “fishing for men.” Today’s text will help us. In the words of our theme—
This Epiphany season is a time of beginnings. It’s the beginning of a new calendar year. It’s a time when we traditionally focus on the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. And it’s a time when Jesus once again calls each of us to follow Him and be His disciple. It’s no accident that our text for today is the calling of the first disciples.
Jesus called these disciples—to go fishing. It’s interesting, because fishing was what their profession had been in the first place Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Jesus wasn’t offering them a similar job. Their new job would be completely different. Instead of using boats and nets to catch fish, from now on they would use the Good News of salvation in Christ to catch the souls of sinners for the kingdom of God. Peter and Andrew responded to the call, left their nets, and followed Him. Jesus moved down the shoreline, and the scene was repeated: the call was extended to two other fishermen, James and John. “Come,” Jesus said, “follow me and be fishers of men.”
About now, you might be thinking, “What’s all this got to do with me? After all, I’m certainly no Apostle Peter, or Apostle John. Fishing for men isn’t my job—that’s what we’ve got pastors for!”
Do you know what “universal conscription” is? It means that everybody gets drafted into the army. The United States has never had universal conscription. I know of one country that does, though: Israel. In modern Israel, every adult citzen—man or woman—is required to do a certain amount of military service. Another exception is the kingdom of God; it, too, has universal conscription. Jesus’ call to be fishers of men is a universal call. It applies to every single Christian, without exception. And that includes you!
Do you believe that Jesus Christ is your only Savior from sin? If so, then you are God’s fisherman. Because faith is the only prerequisite of the job. You don’t have to go to college to study theology. You don’t have to spend four years in college and three years in the seminary. If you have faith in Jesus, you’ve already got what it takes to go fishing for men.
You Christians in the pews—don’t underestimate yourselves! You’re a very special people, simply by virtue of the faith God has given you. Peter is speaking to all believers when he says, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” I Pt 2:9. We preachers haven’t got any monopoly on the Gospel. You can talk about Jesus just as well over your neighbor’s fence, as I can from this lectern. You can proclaim forgiveness of sins in Christ just as well sitting over a cup of coffee in a friend’s kitchen, as I can standing in front of this altar. Not only is it something you can do—it’s something you are called to do. Jesus’ call to be “fishers of men” is a universal call that applies to all Christians, including you. I hope you’re not too shocked when I tell you that spreading the Gospel is just as much your job as it is mine!
Today Jesus is calling you to be His “fisherman.” And make no mistake about it—it’s a very DEMANDING call!
Maybe I’ve convinced you that this call to discipleship includes you, too; that you, too, need to be a fisher of men. That’s fine. But don’t think it’s a job you can easily slough off, or something you can do in your spare time. It’s not. Following Christ and being His fisherman is far more demanding than any other job you’ll ever do!
Consider the men in our text for today. No two ways about it—following Christ meant tremendous sacrifice for them. By obeying the call to become God’s fishermen, they left a lot behind. When Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men,” what did they do? Our text says, “They immediately left their nets and followed Him.” They gave up a thriving business to follow Jesus. They didn’t even take the time to sell their boats and nets. They just left them there, and followed Jesus. Immediately.
Money was not their master—Jesus was. We dare not let money become our master, either. And that’s a tall order today, because the worship of money is a much stronger in our American society than it has ever been in the past. Your job, your income, your financial responsibilities—important as these are, you simply can’t afford to let them stand between you and your service to Christ. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Mt 6:24. I think of that passage every time someone tells me they can’t be in church because they have to work on Sunday. The call to discipleship is a demanding one, and one of the demands is this: lesser things, like money, simply have to come second to Christ.
Some things are even harder to leave behind when you become God’s fisherman. Like loved ones. Difficult as it is, it sometimes comes down to that. Look at James and John. They, too, said goodby to their boats and nets—but that’s not all. Jesus saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him. Were these brothers saying goodby to their father forever? We don’t know that; Zebedee may himself have been a believer. One thing we do know: believing Christians have sometimes been forced to make a choice between serving God and serving the wishes of their loved ones. I know that many of you have had to make the difficult decision of leaving family and friends behind when you rejected a false-teaching church body. It’s not pleasant, but it is necessary. Jesus must come first. The Savior put it bluntly, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Mt 10:37.
Our call as disciples—as God’s fishermen—is a demanding call. It demands dedication, sacrifice, and plain old hard work. Frankly, none of us have lived up to those demands. If you’re like me, you can’t help feeling a sense of shame over what a poor “fisherman” you sometimes are. Fumbled words, missed opportunities to witness about Jesus—Don’t despair! There’s a bright side to it as well. Not only is Jesus’ call to discipleship a universal call and a demanding call, it is also a REWARDING call.
Jesus is calling you today. In the face of this call it’s very natural for you to feel weak and inadiquate. A parallel to our text for today reveals that Peter even fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged Him, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Lk 5:8. But Jesus didn’t depart from Peter, did He? Rather, He comforted him. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said. “From now on, you will catch men.” And that’s the same thing He says to us today. “Don’t be afraid of your sin—it can’t disqualify you from being my disciple, for I have already put away your sin.” In His eternal love for us weak, sinful human beings, Jesus came to earth as our High Priest. He offered His own body as a sacrifice—the spotless Lamb of God, slaughtered, for you and me. Isaiah hit the nail on the head: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Is 53:6.
Don’t be afraid! If your sins are great, be of good cheer: God’s mercy is far greater. Scripture says, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Rm 5:20. Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life, and why? Just for the priviledge of laying that righteousness at your feet. It’s His gift to you, so take it! Be happy that through Christ you can call this perfect righteousness your own! Jesus died a painful, drawn-out death on the cross, for crimes He never committed, and why? It was for you, to pay the price of your sin in full. Such an overwhelming love for us sinners doesn’t make sense, but there it is! It’s too good to be true, but it is true, nevertheless. The ransom price you needed to get loose from sin and hell forever has been paid by Jesus. It’s free, and it’s for you. Paul says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.”
On November 11, 1918, the worst war the world had ever seen ended in Europe. By the time Germany finally surrendered to the Allied armies, 65 million men had fought, and 10 million had died. Finally, after four long years of slaughter, the “Great War” was over. Interestingly, it took several days for word of the armistice to filter down into all the trenches. Can you imagine how wonderful it must have been for those soldiers whose job it was to carry the news of peace to their comrades? Well, that’s our job as Christians! We are to carry the Good News of peace through Christ to our fellow sinners. The war is over, Satan is defeated, and heaven is open for all who will believe in Jesus.
We are called to be God’s fishermen, and that sweet Gospel is the net that we use to catch others for Christ’s kingdom. So let’s get going! Let’s not just talk about it—let’s do it! From one angler to another: let’s go fishing! AMEN.
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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.