Fishers of men

Matthew 4:12-25

Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

In 1985 an amazing discovery was made on the shores of Lake Galilee – a 1st century fishing boat!  The water levels in the sea had fallen due to very dry weather.  Two brothers, (Moshe and Yuval Lufan), who were themselves fishermen and amateur archaeologists, discovered the boat.  It is called “the Ancient Galilee Boat”; some call it “the Jesus boat.”  It took 11 years to get it out of the mud!  Now restored and preserved it is on display in a museum near Magdala, (the Yigal Allon Museum at the Kibbutz Ginosar), not far from where it was found.  The boat is 27 long, 7.5 feet wide and about 4 feet deep.  It was made of many types of wood, mostly cedar and oak. It used mortice and tenon joinery, which means its pieces were pegged together. It was large enough to hold about 15 people.  Carbon-dating shows it was built in the century before Christ.  Repeated repairs can be seen, indicating that the boat had been used for several decades, perhaps nearly a century, before it was intentionally sunk.

Whether or not the boat belonged to one of Jesus’ followers is not important, but… what it does is it reminds us of the cost to Jesus’ followers when they gave up their nets and followed Him.  

Being a small business they were working families, not making huge profits, but enough to get by and have a little left over. Fish were plentiful in the lake and many people passed by, soldiers, pilgrims, pedlars, as well as the local population.  People would always want fish, so their income was steady.

Fishing in Jesus’ day was hard work, (as it is still today).  Some fishermen used spears and hooks, but most used nets, which were either cast from the shore or a boat.  Some were dragged behind a boat.  Whatever form it was hard work, but their lives were secure!

The witness of this ancient Galilee boat reminds us that the Lord lived and worked among every day, working people, and it was these people He called to be disciples, “fishers of people.” So why did they give fishing up to follow a wandering preacher?  That’s the same question people face today.

When I was at Vicar Factory there were many who had given up very lucrative jobs and lifestyles to follow the call God had placed upon them through His Son Jesus.  It is the same for millions of Christians who give up lifestyles and practices that look attractive in order to maintain honesty, integrity, faith, hope and love Why is this?  The answer can only be the answer to every Sunday School question… Jesus!

But what is it about Jesus that draws people to Him?  His gentle, compassionate presence, and His life-giving personality; that’s what. In a way, Jesus creates a crisis in our lives.  Do I follow or…do I stay doing what I have always done? The simple command, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” created a crisis in the lives of these four men. Yet they abandoned their means of livelihood and set out to follow Jesus.

Whilst Matthew, and the other accounts we have of this call, say they left all and followed Jesus, there is no clear statement that they left their occupation for good. In fact, when Jesus died on the cross they went back to fishing – only to see Jesus, and catch so many fish that they struggled to get the boat to the shore.

When we look at this call we can see similarities between this and the call of Abraham (Gen 12:1-4)  In both cases, as we saw last week, God (Jesus) took the initiative, and the response of obedience was immediate.  In both cases there was a promise to turn those called, into a force they had not been before.

Abraham was to become a great nation, and through him and all his descendants all the families of the world would be blessed.  The disciples were similarly going to be turned into a force bringing others into the Kingdom of God.  The result is the same. Abraham was to engage in mission, and so too were Jesus’ disciples.  The Christian faith has always been, and will always be, a missionary faith.  It exists to send out followers into the world to draw people to the good news that God’s appointed Saviour of the world is Jesus, and that He died so that we may have eternal life.

I know that I have been a Christian for many years, but I still sense the amazing magnetism of His presence that draws me ever closer to Him.  There is something in his personality that leads me on in response to His call on my life.  For some of you His call came slowly, perhaps starting like a faint murmur and growing until it could no longer be ignored.  For others of you His call came suddenly and dramatically, just as he called Peter and Andrew, James and John.  What began with you, by whatever means and whatever pace, you knew that Jesus was getting through to you in such a way that you had to respond, you couldn’t put it off any more!

The good news is that Jesus has a way of getting through.  You see, whatever we are engaged with – whatever nets we’re mending, or fish we’re catching, somehow we are sufficiently aware of His presence and call to know what it is we are being asked to do.  At least we will know that we’re being asked to follow Him. And like the fisherman we won’t necessarily know where that will lead us. If we did, we may not be so eager to follow Him.

I wonder what these fishermen thought Jesus really meant when he said, “You’ll be catching men from now on.”

Did they have in mind particular “people”?

Did they think about HOW those people would feel?

Did they have any idea that in a short few years Jesus would be dead?

Did they have any inkling that they would end up dying for their faith in Jesus?

No they didn’t.  God, in his mercy reveals little by little.

Nor did Peter think that he would end up with a large church in Rome named after him; or Andrew suppose that whole countries (Scotland, Greece and Russia) would regard him as their patron saint.  That day when a young man walked by the sea and called them to follow Him they neither saw the glory or the pain.  They only saw and heard Him; and that was enough.

As people who have responded to Jesus’ call to follow Him, we are to live our lives in such a way that those around us, whether people of faith or none, see in us the call Jesus has placed on our lives.  We demonstrate that the sacrifices we have made have not been for our own personal gain, but for the glory of Jesus and our heavenly Father, who is full of grace and mercy, and slow to anger because He is full of love.  We demonstrate that Jesus is enough, that He is the only person who can lead us into all His treasures, treasures that help us to cope with whatever life throws at us.

So when you’re doing anything, from the mundane (feeding the dog) to the more spectacular (planning a special day), do so in a way that shows everyone that Jesus is enough for you because He is with you and because you long for others to know Jesus as you do.  As we do this, others will hear Jesus calling them to follow Him.

Based on a sermon from 26th January 2020