Summary: Jesus' call of the first disciples reminds us that God takes the initiative to pursue us; that God calls us into relationship, not rules; and that God's mission becomes our mission: to teach, preach, and heal a hurting world.
Today we’re talking about fishermen. Anyone here like to fish? Two avid fishermen go on a fishing trip. They rent all the equipment: the reels, the rods, the wading suits, the rowboat, the car, and even a cabin in the woods. They spend a fortune. The first day they go fishing, but they don't catch anything. The same thing happens on the second day, and on the third day. It goes on like this until finally, on the last day of their vacation, one of the men catches a fish. As they're driving home they're really depressed. One guy turns to the other and says, “Do you realize that this one lousy fish we caught cost us fifteen hundred dollars?” The other guy says, “Wow! It's a good thing we didn't catch anymore!” (Marina del Rey Anglers, Fishing Jokes & Entertainment, http://www.mdranglers.com/fishingjokes.html, Internet Accessed 25 January 2009).
I overheard a mother giving her daughter this advice: Cook a man a fish and you feed him for a day. But teach a man to fish and you get rid of him for the whole weekend. (http://www.jokes4us.com/sportsjokes/fishingjokes.html)
True story: In 1986 the remains of a 2,000-year-old fisherman’s boat were found off the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Its discoverers named it the “Jesus Boat,” and it is now on display in a museum near Magdala in Israel. The boat is about 27 feet long, 7 ½ feet wide, and a little over 4 feet high. Fishermen in Jesus’ day would cast large nets with weights attached that would trap the fish on the bottom of the lake. They would either dive down to put the fish individually in satchels or carefully pull up the edges of the large nets so that the fish were collected into the boat. When they weren’t fishing, they were washing, mending, and hanging the nets up to dry in preparation for the next day’s work. It was hard work but a good living. This was the life of Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
Today’s story sounds amazing! It sounds like Jesus just throws out an offer and these fellows leave everything to follow him. And that is essentially true. Matthew doesn’t tell us everything, though. John in his gospel tells of an earlier encounter of Peter and Andrew with Jesus (see John 1:35–42). So, this is not the first time they’ve met. Yet, they do take a huge step in leaving all behind to follow him. Peter is married, so he temporarily leaves behind a wife and perhaps children to travel around with Jesus. All four of these fellows—Peter, Andrew, James, and John—leave their occupation as fishermen, never to return fully to it again. And for James and John, they not only leave their occupation, they walk out on the family business. Zebedee has groomed his two sons to take over for him. It is quite a sacrifice for their entire family.
As we think about Jesus’ recruitment of his first disciples, I want us to notice two or three things. First, note how...
1. Jesus takes the initiative. Back in Bible times, people who wanted to know more of God would seek out their favorite rabbi to become a personal mentor to them. Kind of like a graduate student looking for a professor to mentor them. Jesus turned this on its head as he took the initiative to seek out each of his followers. He ... chose ... THEM! You might say they received “by-name orders.”
A rabbi who looks for his own followers is functioning more like a prophet than a rabbi, one on a serious mission who must have exactly the right people to help. In some of our Bible study times on Sunday afternoons, we have wondered from time to time exactly why Jesus chose these twelve. They were arrogant, prideful creatures. They tended to squabble among themselves which one was greatest. They seemed to follow little of what he was teaching. Yet Jesus saw something in them that they didn’t even see in themselves.
It’s a beautiful image of how God chooses us, how God pursues us. If you are a believer in God, you might talk about the time you gave your life to Jesus, how you pursued a relationship with him as your personal Savior. All of that is true, but something happened even before that. God first took the initiative to reach out to you. The Bible says no one comes to the Father alone without the Father already working on their heart to bring them to him. That’s why, if you see someone with a spiritual interest, perhaps asking questions about God or the afterlife, you can know for certain God is working on that person, wooing them to himself.
Remember when you were dating? And one of you was chasing after the other? Usually we think it’s the guy chasing the girl, but sometimes the girl is at work behind the scenes to help the guy want to chase her. So it is with God, who is at work behind the scenes to woo us to himself.