The call to serve Christ
One of the striking things about Matthew’s Gospel is the heavy emphasis the apostle puts on the link between Old Testament prophecies and how the events of Jesus’ life fulfil these promises.
After the first four chapters introducing Jesus in this way by pointing back to the Old Testament, we now see a new generation of pastors being called to ministry, just as the Lord called prophets of old like Jeremiah, Isaiah and Amos.
The call of the disciples, according to Matthew, starts in chapter 4, verse 18. It is flagged in many Bibles with the subheading, ‘Jesus calls the first disciples’.
In Matthew, we see Andrew and Simon Peter, who are working on mending their nets by the Sea of Galilee, in their father’s boats with their hired men.
Fishing has been their life, their father’s business, and maybe even their grand-father’s. They appear to be relatively successful — at least their family business can afford its own boats and to hire others.
Fishers of men
Suddenly Jesus appears and tells them to leave everything and come, follow him, so that he will make them ‘fishers of men’. What does that phrase mean?
In essence, we are given the call to service, to evangelism, to bring other people to faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus does not say, ‘You will become fishers of men’, but ‘I will make you fishers of men’.
It’s not our doing, but God’s, to make us fishers of men. The wonder of God’s calling us to certain ministries, whether as men or women, is that the Lord sends the call, and provides the training and skills necessary for the jobs he would have us do.
It was Jesus who called Simon Peter and Andrew. And regardless of all that they had known, the relative success of their business, and the onus on them as sons to maintain the family trade, they dropped their nets and followed him.
This is something to wonder at — that they obeyed instantly the call of a man who was a relative stranger to them, yet who spoke with such authority. But actually this wasn’t the first time they had met Jesus.
John’s Gospel (1:35-42) tells us that Andrew was initially one of John the Baptist’s disciples. When he heard John saying of Jesus, ‘Behold the Lamb of God’, he went back, found his brother Simon and said, ‘We have found the Messiah’. He then brought him to Jesus.
This is the occasion when Jesus first gave Peter the nickname ‘Cephas’, which in Greek is rendered ‘Peter’, meaning ‘rock’ or ‘stone’.
Peter’s name is also confirmed with special meaning later on in the book of Matthew, when Jesus explained more fully, in front of the disciples, why he had given Peter that nickname and what significance it will have in Peter’s life, as he ends up as a prominent leader in the early Christian church.
So when Jesus calls Andrew and Simon Peter, they are already partly clued up as to Jesus’ identity. Luke’s Gospel also tells us, in more detail, that Jesus had already got into Simon Peter’s boat to preach (5:1-11) and that, through Jesus, Simon Peter caught a miraculous catch of fish.
It was after this miracle that Simon Peter and Andrew left everything and followed Jesus. They had already seen his authority and power and, even if they did not understand what he meant by ‘I will make you fishers of men’, they knew it was a call to which they could not turn a deaf ear.
What does this mean for us? Well, I guess it means that we can have more than one encounter with Jesus before things really hit home!
We can’t necessarily expect to hear just one amazing sermon that makes us feel all hyped up and ready to say, ‘Yes Lord, I’ll drop everything and follow you’. Maybe that is the experience of some Christians — and praise God that this does happen!
But if you are anything like me, you will have had many encounters with Jesus, heard his words of power and seen wonderful things, before your ears were unstopped and your eyes opened, before you were ready to drop everything and follow him.
Like Simon Peter, it may have taken you a combination of many things — the witness of a friend, or brother (or sister) as with Andrew; hearing a brilliant sermon or two (or a hundred!); seeing something amazing that you can’t explain. All this may happen before you hear Jesus speaking directly to you, calling you to come.
You may suddenly wake up and decide to ‘leave your nets’ and follow Jesus. You may just gradually realise that Jesus is your Messiah and it’s worth following him. You’re most probably not a burly fisherman like Peter, with a boat to offer for Jesus’ service. But you have your whole being to devote to him.
And if you have said, ‘Yes Lord’, be patient and gentle with those whom you wish to win for Christ. They too may need more than one encounter with the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
A fisherman, after all, is an incredibly patient person. It may take many castings of the net before the Lord gives the increase. Give us faith, O Lord, to keep casting our nets out, despite toiling all night and getting nothing!