************ Sermon on Matthew 4:17-22 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 2, 2014
"Fishers of Men"
Mission Emphasis Sunday
Our Bible reading this morning contains two different commands of Christ. The first command: "Repent" (Mt 4:17). The second command: "Come, follow me" (Mt 4:19; in the Greek an adverb of place expressing a command).
The first command is not enough. It is not enough to repent of our sin and evil. It is not enough to feel sorry for sin, to confess sin, and to turn from sin – though that is a necessary first step as we prepare for the Lord's Supper. We also need to go the next step and follow after Jesus. We need to turn from sin so we can go after Jesus.
But something happens when we sincerely and truly follow after Jesus. Those who follow after Jesus become "fishers of men." In other words, those who follow after Jesus want others to also follow after Jesus.
This command leaves us with a big problem in the modern church. As a rather famous or infamous quote put it, "We have drifted away from being fishers of men to being keepers of the aquarium." Keepers of the aquarium instead of fishers of men. That is the problem. We tend to look after ourselves instead of also reaching out to the lost.
On this Mission Emphasis Sunday I want to look at two points. First, what it means to follow Jesus. Second, what it means to be fishers of men.
I Follow Jesus
A "Come, follow me" (Mt 4:19). That's what Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, James and John. The actual Greek says, "Come behind me." This is not an invitation to be saved; this is not a first-century altar-call. Rather, it is a call to service and discipleship.
"Come, follow me" (Mt 4:19). In our circles it is a mark of esteem to have a minister in the family. Parents are proud to claim this about one of their children. At the time of Jesus this distinction belonged to those families whose sons followed a rabbi.
Let me explain. The sons and daughters of Israel were educated in the Torah, the Law. Instead of reading, writing, and arithmetic they would gather to learn the Torah. They would read the Torah, memorize the Torah, and learn about the Torah. Let's compare this to grade school. After this, most students would go on to learn a career. However, there were some students who were eager and gifted to learn more. They needed to go on to what we would call highschool. At this point they would choose a rabbi. They would go to this rabbi and ask to become his follower. You need to realize the rabbis back then, like colleges today, competed against each other for the best students. If selected, you would sit at the feet of the rabbi and learn from him. You would literally follow him around. You would listen carefully as he made observations about life and the Torah. You would eat what he ate, go where he went, and try to imitate his life and attitude.
"Come, follow me" (Mt 4:19). Jesus threw the system upside down. Jesus commanded students to follow Him instead of students asking to follow Him. Jesus invited and commanded twelve men – Peter and Andrew, James and John, and eight others – to follow Him. To sit at His feet and learn from Him. To imitate Him.
We have here a picture of grace and election. Jesus does the choosing. Not Peter and Andrew. Not James and John. Likewise, we don't choose to follow Christ. Rather, He chooses us to follow Him.
B "Come, follow me" (Mt 4:19). I hope you see it is no small thing to follow Jesus. It wasn't a small thing at the time of Jesus. It isn't a small thing today. To follow Jesus is to set aside our own goals and our own pleasures. To follow Jesus is to know Him in a personal way. To follow Jesus is to love what He loves and hate what He hates. To follow Jesus is to make His goals our goals and His priorities our priorities. To follow Jesus is a whole-life commitment. There is nothing easy or simple about this.
"Come, follow me" (Mt 4:19). Take a close look at Peter and Andrew, James and John. Jesus called them where they were successful fishermen. Jesus called them when they had their own careers and families. They weren't fourteen year old boys wondering about their future. They were not sitting around doing nothing. As fishermen they were busy people: sorting and selling their catch, mending their nets, caulking the boat, making ropes, and so on.
C "Come, follow me" (Mt 4:19). What was the response of Peter and Andrew, James and John? How did they respond to Jesus' call? Did they say, "Sorry, we are too busy"? Did they say, "We can't leave our father to run the fishing boat alone"? Did they say, "We have responsibilities at home"? Did they argue that their wives and children couldn't function without them? NO, NO, NO. A thousand times NO.
What does Scripture say about Peter and Andrew? "At once they left their nets and followed him" (Mt 4:20). And, what does Scripture say about James and John? "And immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him" (Mt 4:22). It wasn't a choice on their part. Don't forget, Jesus chose them. And, Jesus commanded them. So, it wasn't theirs to turn down. It wasn't up to them to reject the request. Those who are called by Jesus have no choice but to respond in obedience.
"Come, follow me" (Mt 4:19). So Peter and Andrew "left their nets" (Mt 4:20). So James and John "left the boat and their father" (Mt 4:22). They left their occupation. They left their families. Telling us what? Telling us that following Christ takes precedence over everything else. Telling us that following Christ means Jesus comes first before anything or anyone else.
"Come, follow me" (Mt 4:19). No, congregation, to be called by Jesus is not a small thing. It is big. It is huge. It is the most important thing in life. When He calls, everything – and I mean everything – becomes secondary. Your hopes, your plans, your dreams, your business, your occupation, your home, your children, your parents, your grandchildren, your career – it all takes second place to following the Rabbi.
Now, consider this: when Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John, the crucifixion and resurrection were still future. On this side of the cross and the grave we know more than did the disciples. We know Jesus as Savior and Lord. So, we have more reason to follow the Rabbi than did the disciples.
II Fishers of Men
A This brings us to our second point. What happens to those who follow Jesus? "Come, follow me," said Jesus, "and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt 4:19). The actual Greek can be translated, "I will cause you to become fishers of men."
Notice what happens: of special interest to us on this Mission Emphasis Sunday is that those who follow Jesus become fishers of men. Those who follow the Rabbi want others to also follow the Rabbi. They aren't just keepers of the aquarium.
B I grew up on a farm. At the back of the farm we had a little creek or stream. After work, during the Summer, my brothers and I would hike or bike 1.5 miles to the back of the farm. We would carry poles, worms we dug up, and fishing flies. We would go to our favorite fishing hole and catch rock bass, trout, and catfish. Every once in a while we thought of bringing sodas and snacks. It was a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.
This is not the image of fishing that Jesus has in mind. What Jesus called His disciples to do was no leisure-time activity. For Peter and Andrew, James and John, fishing was a commercial activity. It was what they did to earn a living. It was hard and heavy work. It was dangerous work with the sudden and violent storms that came upon the Sea of Galilee. It was urgent work – or else you and your family don't eat. It involved long hours.
Peter and Andrew, James and John, did not fish with a pole. They fished with nets. They fished from a boat. They fished at night. They used a light to attract the fish and ensnare them in their nets.
You might remember the movie, "The Perfect Storm." Going into the storm was a fishing boat. The movie showed us more than one scene of the work involved with commercial fishing. The nets were big and heavy. The fish were huge and slippery. It was really easy to slip and fall and injure yourself. The waves were tossing and turning the boat. You quickly got wet and cold.
"Come, follow me," said Jesus, "and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt 4:19). Peter and Andrew, James and John, right away knew what Jesus was saying. Jesus was saying that those who follow Him are like commercial fishermen: doing hard work, dangerous work, urgent work, work that involves long hours. Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes his experience as a fisher of men:
(2Cor 11:23-27) ... I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. (24) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. (27) I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Do you remember Duane Vedders? He was our missionary to Eritrea. Almost every member of his church ended up in prison or being drafted into the military. When he was told his life was in danger he basically had to flee for his life.
Do you remember Ken & Sally Vanderwal? They were our missionaries to Honduras. When they traveled to remote villages they needed an armed escort. They were told to never stop when someone waved them down for help because usually someone was about to rob them or hold them for ransom.
Some of you know about the URC missionaries, Bill & Aletha Green, who work in Costa Rica. A couple of years ago Aletha was robbed at gunpoint.
The Scherings inform us they need to be aware of their surroundings as they travel through Papua New Guinea.
C "Come, follow me," said Jesus, "and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt 4:19). This image not only says something about the type of work but also something about how we are to do this work.
I mentioned earlier that Peter and Andrew, James and John, fished at night. They used a light to attract the fish. Similarly, those who are fishers of men use a light to attract the fish. The light, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ. "I am the light of the world," said Jesus (Jn 8:12). Just as fish are attracted to light on the boat so God wants people to be drawn to His light shining in and through the lives of His people.
We see this when we look at the books of Acts. When the apostles preached it was all about Jesus. They held before people the light and glory of Christ. They didn't try to attract people with fancy programs, with marriage seminars, with recovery programs. They didn't try to attract people with music and videos. They didn't try to attract people with a health and wealth gospel or a white-clouds Christianity. They didn't try to attract people with powerpoints and welcome desks.
Look over the apostolic sermons that we find in Acts. We can distinguish four elements in these Gospel messages. First, the Gospel events. At the center of the apostles' proclamation was the death and resurrection of the Lord. Second, the Gospel witnesses. The apostles appealed to two witnesses: the Old Testament Scriptures fulfilled by Christ and their own eyewitness experiences. Third, the Gospel promises. The apostles proclaimed the promise of forgiveness (to wipe out the past) and the gift of the Spirit (to make us new people). Fourth, the Gospel demand or response. The apostles proclaimed that the Gospel of Jesus demands a response of repentance and faith (cf Stott, The Spirit, The Church, And The World, p. 80-81).
In their teaching and preaching the apostles present us with an example to follow. For the church, like the apostles, must proclaim Christ. The church, like the apostles, must hold up the light of Chirst.
Charles Paul Conn tells of the time when he lived in Atlanta. He noticed in the Yellow Pages, in the listing of restaurants, an entry for a place called Church of God Grill. The peculiar name aroused his curiosity and he dialed the number. A man answered with a cheery, "Hello! Church of God Grill!" He asked how the restaurant had been given such an unusual name, and the man at the other end said: "Well, we had a little mission down here, and we started selling chicken dinners after church on Sunday to help pay the bills. Well, people liked the chicken, and we did such a good business, that eventually we cut back on the church service. After a while we just closed down the church altogether and kept on serving the chicken dinners. We kept the name we started with, and that's Church of God Grill."In contrast to this the apostles held aloft the light of Christ. That's what they used to be fishers of men.
D We know from the gospels that Simon and Andrew and James and John did not always catch anything as commercial fishermen. As Peter put it, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything" (Lk 5:5). Doesn't the same thing happen when we are fishers of men? We can spend hours and days and years working with someone yet there is nothing to show for it. Can you imagine a commercial fisherman saying, "That's it, I quit, because I didn't catch anything last night"? Do you think Peter and Andrew, James and John, ever quit what they were doing? Absolutely not.
Do you remember what happened to Peter and James and John after a night of catching nothing? Jesus told them to put out into deep water and let down the nets. In the middle of the day. When fish are not biting. When there is nothing to attract them. They caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break and their boats began to sink (Lk 5:4-7). Telling us what? Telling us it is Jesus Who gives the growth. Telling us it is Jesus Who brings in the converts. All we can do is be obedient to His command to bring the gospel to all nations.
E If you follow Jesus you are a fisher of men. And, God gives us endless opportunity. It starts with our own children and grandchildren and other family members; we need to continually hold before them the light of Christ. If you are a teacher, it includes your students. If you are an employer, it includes your employees. Perhaps God has given you unbelieving friends and neighbors and coworkers. Perhaps the unbelievers in your life are those with whom you do business.
"Come, follow me," said Jesus, "and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt 4:19). Jesus calls us to this instead of being keepers of the aquarium.
All around us are men, women, and children who are rushing headlong into a Christless eternity. Do we ignore them? Or, are we obedient to Christ's command to follow Him and be fishers of men?
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