From the very beginning, Jesus invited all of his followers into the his own mission: to reach the world with the good news of forgiveness and grace through Him. This was not true only for Jesus’ twelve apostles, or for those with a special call to vocational ministry, but also for every Christian.
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Matthew #9. Chapter 4:17-25
The Light that came to Galilee in fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy was Jesus Christ himself. Matthew 4:17-25 records how he began his ministry. The essence of his message, at least at first, was much like the message of John the Baptist: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” I think that brief sentence summarizes the main point of Jesus’ first preaching in Galilee. He is trying to raise awareness that God is near, and actively working, and the appropriate response to the presence of God in our lives is to turn away from our sins and turn toward God. Jesus has not yet broadcast to the general public that He himself is God the Son, one of the Three Persons who make up the one true God. However, he is sending the message that God is at work and it is time for people to repent and submit themselves to God’s ruler-ship.
In verses 18-22, Matthew records an encounter between Jesus and four other men: Simon (Peter) Andrew, James and John. This was not the first encounter between Jesus and at least some of these men. Before John the Baptist was put into prison, he pointed Jesus out to Andrew and another unnamed person. Since it is the apostle John who records this (John 1:35-42) it is likely that he (John the apostle) was the unnamed person. Andrew introduced his brother Simon (who later became known as Peter) to Jesus. Peter, Andrew and John spent at least a day with Jesus at that time. So did two other individuals, Philip and Nathaniel. All this probably happened in Judea, south of Galilee, before John the Baptist was put into prison.
What this means is that Jesus was not a stranger when he called Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him. John the Baptist had told them he was the Messiah. They had spent time with him. They may have even heard some of Jesus’ preaching in Galilee (as recorded in verse 17) before he called them.
In fact, Luke 5:1-10 fills out this incident for us. Both sets of brothers made a living as commercial fishermen. Peter and Andrew were on shore, messing with their nets. Jesus, knowing them from before, borrowed one of the boats belonging to them, and used it as a platform to preach a sermon to a crowd that had gathered along the lakeshore. After he was done, he told the fishermen to try fishing one last time. Peter objected, but obeyed anyway. The result was a huge catch of fish – so large that they had to call in their partners for help. Their partners happened to be James and John. In fact the catch was so enormous, and the whole incident so unusual that the fishermen clearly regarded it as a miracle. When the fish were all in, Jesus called the four of them to follow him. He said their new job was to bring in people, not fish. They immediately left work and went with Jesus.
After this, Jesus continued to travel around in the region of Galilee, preaching. Apparently, Peter, Andrew, James and John went with him from that time forward. Jesus’ preaching was accompanied by miracles, especially healing and deliverance from demonic oppression. In a time before antibiotics or pain medications, the prospects of getting healing or relief were normally very dim. So, Jesus’ reputation as a healer drew huge crowds from all over the region, and even from Judea in the south.
Now, let’s unpack this text a little bit.
First, Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of Heaven and Repentance. By his death on the cross, Jesus made it possible for us to be forgiven. Many times he demonstrated God’s love and grace. Many times, he spoke about that same love and grace and goodness. But Matthew reminds us here that the very first thing he preached was repentance. Repentance opens the door to God’s love and grace. If we refuse to repent, the door stays shut, and God’s love doesn’t do us any good. When God comes near, the very first order of business is repentance. We covered the topic of repentance in some depth in part 5 of our series on Matthew. Some things are worth repeating, however.
To repent means to turn back, to go a completely different way. If you can read these words, it is not too late for you to repent. Jesus can handle whatever horrible thing you’ve done, whatever you’ve left undone, and even whatever terrible thing was done to you. But you need to drop it, to turn away from it, and turn to Him. To repent is to fully own the fact that you have been wrong, with no excuses, and then to turn away from it, for all intents, forever.
Now, our turning away forever almost never happens perfectly. But it does mean that you are going a different direction now. You may fall down sometimes as you walk in the new direction. You probably won’t walk it perfectly. But after you repent, your direction is different than it was before. Once in a while, perhaps, you fall back into the same actions as before. But your overall direction is new, oriented toward God, not away from him.
Many of you reading this blog have already repented and turned to Jesus, and received him as your Lord and your salvation. That’s wonderful. But for us who have done that, Jesus is still at hand. He still wants to show up in our lives in greater and more profound ways. He wants to give us even more grace, more joy, more peace, a more abundant life in Him. To receive these things from him, our path is the same: repent!
Now, let’s look Jesus’ call to the fishing brothers. I think there are two important things we find here. First, this demonstrates that Jesus has a unique calling for some individuals to leave ordinary employment, and work for him full time. We describe this as a calling to vocational ministry. Peter, Andrew, James and John (and others who came later) left their vocations and jobs, and dedicated themselves full-time to the mission of Jesus. Jesus asked them to do this. He did not ask everyone he encountered to do it, even if they believed in him, and became his disciples. Jesus once delivered a man from many demons. The man wanted to leave everything and become a full-time minister.
As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed kept begging Him to be with Him. But He would not let him; instead, He told him, “Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:18-19, HCSB)
Jesus wanted the man to continue to follow him in faith; he wanted the man to engage in His mission and tell others the good news, but Jesus asked him to do it right where he was, in his everyday life.
Twenty years ago, I might not have bothered to point out that the four fisherman had a unique call to vocational ministry, and I doubt I would have thought it necessary to make the case that some Christians in every generation have a similar call. But in our post-modern, anti-authoritarian culture, I think we have gone too far. We are becoming so anti-institutional that many people have become suspicious of those who are called into vocational ministry. I’m not a fan of institutions or hierarchies myself. But the bible does clearly teach that God calls certain individuals to specially dedicate their lives to teaching and training other Christians.
Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its fruit? Or who shepherds a flock and does not drink the milk from the flock? Am I saying this from a human perspective? Doesn’t the law also say the same thing? For it is written in the law of Moses, Do not muzzle an ox while it treads out grain. Is God really concerned with oxen? Or isn’t He really saying it for us? Yes, this is written for us, because he who plows ought to plow in hope, and he who threshes should do so in hope of sharing the crop. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it too much if we reap material benefits from you? (1Cor 9:6-11, HCSB)
Don’t you know that those who perform the temple services eat the food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the offerings of the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel. (1Cor 9:13-14, HCSB)
James says this:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (Jas 3:1, ESV2011)
The author of Hebrews says:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb 13:17, ESV2011)
Ephesians 4:11-12 says this:
And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-12, HCSB)
There are many more verses like this, which demonstrate the same point. Now, it is true that being called to full-time ministry does not make anyone a better or more important person. It is true that every Christian should be reading the bible individually, and engaging with others in the mission of Jesus. It’s true that every Christian should be willing and able to talk with others about Jesus. But there is a unique calling to teaching and equipping that is given to a relatively small number of people. I’ve seen individuals struggle and be led astray because some person just decided that he would start a church, or start preaching, without truly being called to it. I’ve heard and read a lot of bad, unbiblical teaching over the years because people have not appreciated that you should take a preaching/teaching equipping ministry very seriously; and few are called to it. I’ve also seen churches flounder because they reject a godly, biblical leadership model.
Now, I’m going to turn it around and try and have it both ways, because I think the text has it both ways. Just as this text shows us that some people are called uniquely to vocational ministry, it also shows us that everyone who trusts Jesus is called to participate in His mission. Not everyone is called to leave his or her career. However, all Christians are called to follow Jesus. For most, that means, among other things, expressing your faith and living for his purpose as you fulfill your everyday responsibilities at home and at work. It means being a disciple of Jesus when you are with your family, your friends, when you are at work, when you are driving, playing golf, fishing – in fact, all the time.
It is obvious that all New Testament Christians believed this and practiced it (Matthew 28:16-19; Acts 11:19-26; 1 Peter 2:12-15, 3:15-16). From the very beginning, Jesus invited all of his followers into the his own mission: to reach the world with the good news of forgiveness and grace through Him. This was not true only for Jesus’ twelve apostles, or for those with a special call to vocational ministry, but also for every Christian. For most Christians, the context for the mission of Jesus is your everyday life. Regardless, we should embrace that mission as part of embracing Jesus and his grace and forgiveness to us.