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

The call of Matthew

Photo by Steve Knutson on Unsplash

What’s your attitude about inviting people to explore faith in the person of Jesus?

Tax collectors and other outcasts had gathered in Matthew’s house for a feast, (Matthew 9.9). In the centre of the hubbub, Jesus and his followers reclined at the dinner table.  Noticing Jesus’s presence among such riff-raff, the Pharisees scoffed.  How could Jesus consider himself a rabbi, and party with such a disreputable bunch?  So, they pulled a few of Jesus’s converts aside and huffed, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:10).  Overhearing their question, Jesus responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”.  The religious leaders’ blindness astounded Him. How could He reveal God’s love to these folks if He didn’t hang out with them?  Jesus then admonished the Pharisees.  “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’”.

He was quoting the prophet Hosea, who, centuries earlier, had condemned the Jews for attempting to excuse their idolatry and their oppression of the poor by offering the prescribed animal sacrifices.

The Biblical truth is this: God always values “mercy” over “sacrifice.”

But what exactly does that mean?

In Matthew 9 how do you view the people that Jesus was spending time with?  The Pharisees looked around Matthew’s house and saw nameless “tax collectors” and “sinners.”  Jesus looked around and saw people He cared about, people He wanted to hang out with. And He knew their names.

If we just do good acts, or charitable acts, for the sake of doing them we’ve missed the whole concept of “love as I have loved you” (John 13:34) and the sacrifice we’re making in Jesus’ name is likely to be faceless.  You see the sacrifices we are called to make for Jesus need to come from our heart, from our Spirit.  So, for Christians it’s all personal with Jesus.  It’s all about relationships.

If we truly want to move beyond sacrifice to mercy, as Jesus calls us to do, we need to get our heart involved with all that we do in our daily lives.  This will involve developing relationships with people, people with names and stories, joys and sorrows, prayer requests and praises. Otherwise, I don’t think we’ll ever understand what Jesus meant by “mercy, not sacrifice.”

Part of the problem is that mercy sounds too much like pity to us.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mercy as “compassion or forbearance”.  Such words can convey a certain condescension: Aren’t I something, helping out this person who’s less fortunate than I am?

As a teenager I helped a neighbour cut her grass when I saw her struggling with her mower.  I felt good about myself, “What a good lad I am.”  Jesus never responded to people with that attitude, even though He, the sinless Son of God, was indeed stooping to their level.  Instead, He placed Himself in a position, as he did in Matthew’s house, of reaching across the table, of treating each person with respect and dignity.

Jesus longs for us to move beyond the idea that sacrifice is what we feel obligated to give up in order to appear religious.  He wants us to get our hearts involved, tangled up with other people’s lives, so the word sacrifice drops out of our vocabulary, so that all we know is the passion to love others as Jesus loves us.

Jesus ate with Matthew and his friends because He wanted to.  He loved them. I would imagine that there was laughter, jokes, backslapping, and joy, especially joy.  The Pharisees couldn’t conceive of that kind of camaraderie between the pious and the publicans, the upright and the up-ended, the moral and the maligned.  But Jesus didn’t label people. He loved Nicodemus as genuinely as He loved Zacchaeus, and He loved Mary of Bethany as He loved Mary Magdalene. He always looked beyond a person’s history toward a person’s future.

What’s your attitude about inviting people to explore faith? Is it in line with Jesus’ attitude?

Ask God to move you toward Jesus’ kind of love.  Then we will be as comfortable at a table of ex-cons and alcoholics as we should be with church folk.

Don’t be satisfied with just “hands-on” rituals.  Ask God to move you toward “hearts-in” mercy, Jesus’ mercy.  Jesus wants us to have a year round attitude about living out His mercy and love in all the relationships that build up and extend His Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

Based on a sermon delivered on 19th January 2020.

Delight, and the baptism of Christ

 Psalm 1
1Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
Photo by Emma on Unsplash

What gives you delight?   What gives you that sense of unparalleled joy, that amazing degree of enjoyment and pleasure?

For me, getting married, the birth of my children, scoring over 100 runs in a cricket match have been some of the things that have given me delight.

The psalmist in Psalm 1 defines delight as immersing oneself in the Law of the Lord.  He sings of the person who finds joy in listening to God’s voice in Scripture, who discovers with pleasure “the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God”, and who daily asks God to give the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they may know him better” (Romans 11:33 & Ephesians 1:17).

When Scripture refers to the “law of the LORD” it is not just referring to God’s laws, but refers to all of Scripture.  For all scripture is God breathed, and reveals to us His good and perfect will, his absolute truths, his love for us, and his divine nature.  Never forget that God only has plans to prosper us and not to harm us, after all Christ came to save us, not condemn us (Jeremiah 29:11 & John 3:17).

So, the more we know of the whole scope of God’s Word, the more resources we will have to guide us in our daily decisions.

Meditating on, and understanding God’s Word are the first steps toward applying it to your everyday life.  Here “meditating” means spending time reading, thinking, marking, and praying about what we have read.  It also means asking how we must change and grow so we will live in line with God’s truths and His perfect plans for us.

Do you know what the result of this constant delight in God’s Word is? You become like a tree planted by a river. Walking down river banks in high summer you see tall, vital trees, well-watered because they are rooted deep in the stream.  Such trees are resplendent with foliage in rich shades of green. They can withstand biting frost, harsh winds and blazing sun.

So, the more we delight in God’s presence, the more fruitful we will be.  Conversely, the more we allow those who ridicule God and faith to affect our thoughts and attitudes, the more we will be cut off from our source of nourishment.  We must engage and welcome unbelievers if we are to witness to them, but we must not adopt their sinful behaviour and scornful sarcasm.  If you want despair, spend time with cynics and critics; if you want God’s joy, and know His delight, spend time with those who love God, his Word, and his people.

A person who delights in God’s Word will prosper and have integrity, will speak truthfully and exhibit stability and strength.  This is the person who will reflect the face of God like a river reflects the sun in dappled waves. This one is truly blessed.

The phrase “whatever they do prospers” does not mean that God’s people have immunity from failure or difficulties. Nor does it guarantee health, wealth, or happiness. What the Bible means by prosperity is this: When we apply God’s wisdom, the fruit – the results or by-products we bear, will be good and will receive God’s approval.  Just as a tree soaks up water and bears luscious fruit, we are to soak up God’s Word and produce actions and attitudes that honour him.  To achieve anything worthwhile, we must have God’s Word in our hearts, for when we do our attitudes come more and more into line with His wholesome and life-giving attitudes.

What joy to know that God is watching the paths we walk each day.  We may feel like He keeps His eye on us to criticise us for what we do wrong along the way, but this is not true.  God sees us with loving eyes, protecting us, caring for us, and keeping us from stumbling on the journey (Psalm 121:3-5). I encourage you to look for signs of his care for you today, and bask in the thought that He is guiding and helping you on your daily journey.

Let your imagination soar with the grandeur, majesty, wisdom and unsurpassed love of God.  You will see Him as a rock, a fortress, a strong tower, a nurturing mother and so much more. He rides on the wind and shows Himself in the starry heavens.  Delight yourself in singing along with the psalmist and plant your roots deep in the nourishing living water of God’s Word.

After all, this is exactly what Jesus did.  Having come up out of the waters of baptism, heaven opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17).

God was pouring over Jesus His delight in His only Son.  God was revealing and establishing His new covenant that in a few years He would usher into His world through the death and resurrection of His Son.

This combination of the water of baptism, of God’s word for Him and knowing His Father’s delight gave Jesus the strength to go and do what God was calling Him to do.  He went and ministered to the people of Israel through selfless acts of service, culminating in His death on the cross.  But that was not the end.  He rose from the dead showing us that all “who believe in Him receive forgiveness of sins through His name.” (Acts 10:44).

What delight there is in God!

I encourage you to delight in the Lord, know afresh His sense of unparalleled joy, know again that amazing degree of enjoyment and pleasure, even to the point of rapture, being poured afresh over you.  When this becomes our daily experience, we will see amazing and beautiful things happen in the everyday events of our lives which will infuse the lives of those around us with God’s life, light, hope and love.

From a sermon delivered on Sunday 12th Jan 2020