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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fishers of Men (Matthew 4.12-22)

July 11, 201
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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Today we are starting a series that will take us through the summer. I was pondering those famous words of Jesus, “Follow me!” and I thought I’d look up all the places he said those words. It turns out there are eight or nine significant passages, not counting the parallels in the Gospels. And, as it turns out, Jesus usually had some other things to say in and around his message of “follow me.” So, under the broad category of discipleship or being Jesus-followers, I want to look at one of these each week through the rest of the summer. I think you’ll be surprised at the breadth of Jesus’ invitation to people and to you and me.

Today we are looking at the first one of these invitations, issued to the fishermen in Matthew 4. I’d like to look briefly with you at the context and key themes of this passage, then at the specific interaction between Jesus and the first disciples. I believe this study holds some important instruction and challenge for us who desire to be followers of Jesus today.

What Was Spoken

In verses 12-16, Matthew provides the back-story for us. We read that after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. That geographical note is significant for two reasons. The first reason, given by Matthew, is that in doing so Jesus fulfilled prophecy. Isaiah had spoken a prophecy about the Messiah, singling out that very region by the sea as the place where the great Light of the Messiah would shine in the darkness.

Isaiah wrote, “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a Light dawned.” I was struck immediately by these words as a kind of prophetic bridge between Old and New Testaments. The phrase “land and shadow of death” – does it not bring to mind the familiar words of Psalm 23:4 – “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil?” God’s promise of old is not to abandon us to the shadows and death, but to remain with us. The story I shared with you about God’s “angel” at the Assembly was a tangible reminder that God is never held hostage to the shadows. And Isaiah’s words, “…upon them a Light dawned” echoes in John 1, when Jesus is described as the Light of the World, whom the darkness cannot overcome.

This, THIS, is the one of whom Matthew writes. And, as John would later write, this is the Light and the Messiah who “moved into the neighborhood.” That’s the second significance of Matthew’s geographical note. I don’t know about you, but I always pictured Jesus as being constantly on the move. But here we read that he “settled in Capernaum” – he settled! He made his home there for some time. The Light of the World moved into the neighborhood to witness to the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the Neighborhood

So, having settled in Capernaum, Jesus began teaching and preaching. Matthew gives us the gist of his messages in verse 17. Jesus preached this: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” My focus this morning is not on that message, but let me take a moment to speak to it in some more detail. Repentance means change of mind and heart. Set in the spiritual context, particularly with the note about the arrival of God’s Kingdom, it means changing from a mind and heart set away from God’s Kingdom to a mind and heart turned toward God and His Kingdom. It describes a focus on and love for Kingdom matters. Elsewhere Jesus will describe these matters in more detail as love of God, love of neighbor, humility, obedience, and more. But this is his starting point: “Turn around, people; God is here!”

What I do want to focus on is the contextual ministry of Jesus. I noted the significance of Jesus “settling” somewhere for a time. Notice that he didn’t just park himself in the religious center of Capernaum for several months, but he went to the heart of the town. Talk about “seeking the city” from Jeremiah! Jesus moved to and settled in a sea-front town, and he went to do ministry among those who worked on the sea. This is what I want to hold up to you. Jesus was doing contextual ministry – he brought the Light to the darkness in His neighborhood!

So we read of the calling of the first disciples in verse 18. It begins, “Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee…” Wonder how many times he did that? Was it a daily walk? Did he pray for the fishermen he saw there? We don’t get all those details, but we do now that he was out and about that day. He went to where the fishermen were and he spoke to two of them – Peter and Andrew – and spoke to them in terms they could understand: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Did they totally understand at that moment? I doubt it. Were they intrigued? I’m sure they were. Had they seen him before – perhaps walking and praying by their stretch of water? We don’t know, but I’d like to think that he wasn’t a complete stranger to them. Or maybe he was and God’s Spirit was at work. At any rate, they didn’t delay, they didn’t discuss it first, they didn’t ask their friends. Verse 20 says “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” And moments later it happened again with two more fishermen, James and John. They also followed immediately (v. 22), leaving their father, Zebedee in the boat mending the nets.

Jesus moved to Capernaum, a sea town. He settled there and went where the people were. He spoke to them with images and language they could understand, even if it stretched them beyond the things of earth and into the realm of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Settling In the Shadowland

This is not just one story of something Jesus did and I’m not asking “What would Jesus do?” Jesus, son of the Heavenly Father, was living out and embodying God’s ancient promise and posture towards His creation – coming down from Heaven to Earth, to make His home WITH US and AMONG US, to speak truth and light and life that we might live. In the words of Psalm 23, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us! We need not fear.

Those are the words of hope that we are to carry and embody out in the shadow lands around us. We are not keepers of the light huddled inside walls of presumed safety, hoarding this Good News treasure for ourselves. We are, in Jesus’ words, a city on a hill, a beacon of light in the shadow lands around us. And we, in His name, are the light of the world, sent out in and among our neighbors to speak and embody the Good News of Christ.

Jesus goes before us into this neighborhood. God may yet have “bigger things” for us, but we start with what He has entrusted to us as the body of Christ in this place. There are some 10,000 people within a mile of this church. Do we yet know their needs? Have we ventured into the shadow lands? Do we know their language to speak words of hope and truth and light and life?

Jesus speaks the invitation to discipleship to us just as surely as he spoke it to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Will you drop what you are doing immediately to follow him? That’s the invitation; that’s the challenge and the mission and the work of God for us. Come, follow Jesus; and he will teach us to fish. Amen.


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