This morning, we’re starting into a new message series. It’s all inspired by two little words that Jesus spoke that radically shook the lives of those who heard it.
For some, these two little words set the course of their lives into God’s plans and purposes that were greater than they could ever think, ask, or imagine. It began a life of adventure full of new experiences, travelling to new places, meeting new people, starting brand new communities of faith, and watching the miraculous take place as though it were common.
For some, these two little words pierced straight into the heart and revealed something inside of them that they preferred not to see.
For some, these two little words caused them to give up and go home.
For everyone who had Jesus say these two little words to them, they were faced with a choice that tested the core of who they were. They were faced with a choice that would determine the destiny of whom they intended to become. Daily, Jesus speaks these same two little words to you and I. Those two words? Follow me.
Now when it comes to words, context is everything. Identical words can be spoken and mean entirely different things depending on the context in which they are spoken. For example, if my wife says, “I never want to see you again!” I would be heartbroken and distraught. My wife hates me. However, if my corrections officer says, “I never want to see you again!” I would smile and be thankful. That corrections officer is encouraging me to stay out of trouble.
* Insurance commercial car/couch *
The context of those simple words of Jesus, “Follow me”, is lost in our culture. I don’t make any claim to be an expert on Jewish culture, but it’s important that we have a basic understanding of these words in their original context.
Much like today, Jewish children would attend school beginning at the age of around five. They would study the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) and use it to learn to read and write. By the time that they were thirteen, many would have these books completely memorized. At that point, children would begin to learn their family trade, but the best students would also continue in their studies learning how to interpret and apply these scriptures. It was at the age of twelve that Jesus was found in the temple courts astonishing the teachers by his level of understanding and His answers to their questions.
In their late teens/early twenties, those still showing promise would then follow a rabbi, becoming their disciple, and would live with them and follow their way of life, becoming just like them. They would leave behind everything, their families, their careers, their friends, all to become just like their rabbi. What were the words that the rabbi would use to grant the honor of ones selected to be their disciples? Follow me!
To be a disciple was an incredible honor in the Jewish culture. It meant that you were the best of the best and on your way to becoming a rabbi, one of the greatest and sought after positions.
The very first time that Jesus spoke the words, “Follow me.” is recorded in all four gospel accounts indicating just how significant of an event this was. As with any eyewitness testimony, the accounts vary from gospel to gospel. After all, if the accounts were all identical, that would serve as evidence of collusion on the part of the authors or translators. All of us parents have been there and understand this truth. When all of the kids agree on every aspect of how that window got broken, something’s not quite right. It’s likely a made up story that they agreed on to cover up the truth.
The gospel of John indicates that Andrew was a disciple of John the baptist and was present when Jesus was water baptized. John wrote that Andrew then invited his brother, Peter, to meet with Jesus. This event isn’t recorded in the other gospels and likely happened before what the other gospel accounts record. In any case, it was when Jesus called His first disciples to follow Him, that we meet this band of fisherman brothers Peter and Andrew, James and John.
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Luke records even more details about this encounter.
1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Galilee, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
To these fisherman brothers, their dreams had just come true. They may have been overlooked in school. They may not have looked like much to their teachers. They may not have even measured up to much in their own eyes. However, Jesus saw something great in these fisherman. Jesus saw that they had the potential to be just like Him. He chose them to be His disciples and to eventually begin a world-wide ministry leading to the salvation of even you and I.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be a disciple?
To follow Jesus and become His disciple means that we leave everything behind. We leave behind our old way of living. We leave behind our old mindsets. We leave behind our plans. We leave behind our belongings. We leave behind our opinions. We leave behind everything to follow Jesus. We learn from Him and live like Him and embrace His plans and His purposes for our lives. We lay down our lives and take up the new life that He freely offers us. We become just like Jesus.
In fact, that is why we perform water baptism and by full immersion just as Jesus did. It is a way of symbolically declaring to everyone that I’m doing exactly this. I’m laying down my old life and I’m rising up in the new life that I’ve found in Jesus. I’m following Him.
We may not think much of ourselves. We may have been overlooked most of our lives and shoved aside by others. Jesus, however, sees something great in each one of us. Jesus sees the unique purpose for which we were made. Jesus calls out to you and I, “Follow me.”
In fact, as soon as Jesus began His public ministry, the first thing that He chose to do was to select His disciples. Ministry was never intended to be done alone, but in teams working together. Ministry is all about people. Ministry is all about people serving and meeting the needs of other people.
This morning, Jesus reminds us of the very first thing that anyone who chooses to follow Him as His disciple should do. That is, they should go fishin’!
Mark 1:17; Matthew 4:19
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
Little did the crowd realize, but while Jesus was teaching, He was building up an unforgettable object lesson for His soon-to-be disciples. While the crowds were listening to Jesus teach the word of God, Jesus’ attention was on four discouraged fisherman who just came off of the night shift wearily cleaning their nets with nothing to show for their work. He was about to teach them that:
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.
And again, this reminder
1 Corinthians 15:57-58
57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
They may have spent all night long fishing with nothing to show for it on their own. However, when they set out for deep waters together with Jesus, when they let down their nets when Jesus said to, their boats literally overflowed with more fish than they could handle! I love how brutally honest Peter is when Jesus asks them to head back out to fish: “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Obedience is the key that unlocks blessing. Following Jesus even when we’re tired, even when we don’t feel like it, even when we don’t think anything will ever change. Following Jesus is the key to our success. It’s not always easy and it takes hard work, but it is always worth it! One who leaves behind everything to follow Jesus is never at a loss.
This object lesson went beyond merely teaching them about the blessing of obedience and Jesus’ ability to do the miraculous. After all, Jesus told them that He would take them from being fishermen to fishers of men!
Too often, people put their faith in Jesus and they do just what those fishermen were initially found doing. They head for the shore, tie up their boats, and clean up their nets. They rightfully walk away from a life of sin and allow the Holy Spirit to clean up their lives. They rightfully surround themselves with other followers of Jesus. However, that’s where they stay.
Their nets are clean and tidy, but their nets are also completely empty. They are disciple-less disciples. They follow Jesus, but they don’t ever lead anyone else to do the same. Their breed should be as rare as an albino Sasquatch, but they are unfortunately becoming more and more common. Their lives look nothing like the life of Jesus, whom they claim to follow. They are half-way there, yet they are still so far away!
We are called to live a life of freedom from the bondage of sin and in fellowship with other followers of Jesus. However, we are also called to make disciples. We come together to seek after God and to grow in our knowledge and faith in Him, however, we must then go back out into the world. We come into the presence of God and allow Him to clean up our lives, but to do so so that we might go out again into the world reaching out to those still bound by sin more effectively.
Jesus lead His disciples deeper into the knowledge and understanding of God’s Kingdom. Jesus chose them to live life together it a very intimate way as His best friends. Jesus lead His disciples into the temple and synagogues as He taught. However, Jesus also lead them out back into the world to connect with lost and hurting people such as tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, the demon-possessed, drunks, and the diseased. Jesus lead them into encounters with people that the religious would have nothing to do with. Not only did Jesus lead them into encounters with them, but Jesus transformed their lives and they also became His disciples following Him.
Our lives are not intended to be nets that are clean, tidy, and neatly folded up awaiting the return of Jesus. We were not created to stand on the shore telling fishing stories of old. We were created to daily go fishing! Our lives are intended to be nets cleaned up only that they might more effectively swoop back down into the muck and mire to bring people up out of the snare of the devil and into the loving arms of Jesus.
Jesus taught us by example how to effectively be fishers of men. No fisherman would walk up to the stream, throw a Snickers bar on the hook, cast out, and expect to pull out a 24″ rainbow trout. Why wouldn’t this work? It might be the fisherman’s favorite snack and he’d definitely come running for it! However, a trout has no interest in that Snickers bar at all! No, a fisherman would consider what that trout is most interested in and that is what he puts onto the hook to cast out.
In the same way, no fisherman would bait up their hook and just leave it dangle there on the shore waiting for a fish to jump out of the water to grab it. No, instead they look for a nice deep hole with some cover where a pile of fish are. They cast not straight at the fish, but upstream letting the bait float downstream just like their natural food would.
In the same way, Jesus went out to where the people were. His ministry didn’t consist of Him sitting around in the temple courts waiting for people to come to Him, He went out to where the people were. Jesus didn’t just hang out with like-minded people who believed what He believed. Jesus went out to people who truly needed Him, needed to hear the good news about God’s Kingdom, and likely would never come to Him otherwise.
Jesus spoke to people in their common, everyday language. He taught about the living water to the woman at the well. He gave the parable of the sower and weeds to farmers. He gave the parable of the net and pearl to fishermen. He gave the parable of the wandering sheep to shepherds. He had Peter go fishing in order to pay their temple taxes. He sat down and ate dinner with “sinners”. He made water into wine for drunk people and celebrated together with them at a wedding. He cried with people when they mourned. He met their needs whether it be healing, deliverance, comfort, or any other provision.
Jesus lived a life that proved that every one matters to Him. Jesus fished for people and caught multitudes. He then calls to us, His disciples, saying, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men!”
This thing we must remember, though. He ministered not out of a motive of snagging people and dragging them into the Kingdom of God. He was motivated by compassion toward them and genuinely cared about them. It was His loving-kindness that hooked people and captured them and gave them the desire to come running into God’s kingdom. More accurately, I suppose, Jesus brought the Kingdom of God to them right where they were at. Unlike the trout that we catch and we have to fight in the whole way to the shore, when people have a genuine encounter with Jesus, they come running to Him willingly!
We should also be motivated by compassion and genuine concern for the well-being of others. We should look for common ground that we share with other people and what they are interested in. Instead of amplifying our differences, we should focus on what we share together. We should look for opportunities to share the gospel through our common ground in an easy-to-understand way.
In all areas of life, we should desire to represent Jesus, who He is and how He would respond to situations and to people. Jesus had such a way about Him that crowds would gather wherever He went. That way that He had about Him was that of a servant, looking not only to His own needs, but also to the needs of others.
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
It was looking to the needs of others that made Jesus such an efficient fisher of men. It was that same method that made the early church so effective that daily people were putting their faith in Jesus, choosing to follow Him no matter the cost. It is this same method that can make you and I fishers of men as well, no longer being disciple-less disciples.
Every day, Jesus extends the invitation of those two little words to you and I, “Follow me.” That choice to follow Him is in our hands. Will we follow Him on an adventure into the unknown or will we hang our heads and go home? Let’s follow Jesus, trusting Him with our everything! To start, let’s go fishin’ not for puny bass or trout, but fishin’ for men, inviting them to join us as together, we follow Him!