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Pay Praing

Bible Speaks

By Pastor Julian Harris

Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of men.

~Matthew 4:19

What does it mean to follow Jesus, the One followers for almost two thousand years have confessed as the Christ of God and the Light in darkness, the One we profess as God's Self-revelation--God's Only Begotten Son, the One Who says Come after Me, the One Who came proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people?

We don't know how much time elapsed between Jesus' baptism and the beginning of his ministry in Galilee. Whether it was simply the forty days of his wilderness temptation, or several months thereafter, St. Matthew tells us that it was not until St. John the Baptist had been arrested that Jesus took up his work, stepping into the void created by St. John's removal.  John had prepared the way and completed his work. Now Jesus' greater work begins.

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

(Matthew 4:17)

Notice that Jesus' words are precisely the same as St. John's, at least on the face of them. But look beyond the words to what follows and it soon becomes clear that, though the words are the same, Jesus' message is very different. Repent: for John, it had to do with the forgiveness of sins, confessing and being baptized with water for repentance in order to flee from the wrath that he saw coming.  But Jesus says nothing about confessing sin, nothing about expressing remorse for forgiveness and nothing about a coming wrath. The repentance Jesus proclaims is a call to a different kind of action. "Repent" here means turn—change—a change of heart, a change of values, a change of mind, a change of commitments, a change of life's direction, not because wrath is on the way, but because the kingdom of Heaven—the Reign of God—is here.  In the person and power of Jesus God's Reign has come near, is near, is at hand, it is here. The verb behind those four alternate translations means that God has broken into life in a new way.  Jesus is saying that, because the Reign of God has broken into life, people can embrace it and find life; repent!

Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.  They were blind-sided. Waist deep in the Sea of Galilee, Peter and Andrew were dutifully going about their business, casting their nets. From all appearances in this and other places in the Gospels, they were rather good at it, probably successful.

At once they left their nets and followed Him. (Matthew 4:20)

We have no sense that they had met Jesus before, much less any idea what this fishers of men might mean. Certainly, there is no suggestion that Peter and Andrew were so unhappy with their lives as fishermen that they were willing to try something--anything new. No, more is going on: the Reign of God has broken in, is present in Jesus, and is doing God's work. Peter and Andrew change course, have a change of mind and commitment because the power of God has broken into their lives. One who speaks with an authority they simply cannot question has called them to something they would never choose for themselves. This is what happens when Jesus calls us to follow him.

Discipleship is what it means to follow Jesus.  This is what it means to follow. Following Jesus is about more than believing something about Him, thinking things about Him, or even agreeing with His basic premises or precepts about life and how it should be lived. It is about discipline, the discipline of shaping our lives after His--the discipline of worship, the discipline of giving, the discipline of service, the discipline of forgiving--even when it would be easier, more comfortable, and perhaps even more successful to follow another, or be our own master.  

Disciples are fishers of men because they evangelize.    Evangelism is not about the entrapment, purchase or intimidation of people.  It is sharing the Good News of God's love for us in Christ, not leveraging others so we can count, much less claim, to have saved their souls. The only One who saves souls in this world, after all, is God, who did that through the Cross of Jesus Christ, revealing soul saving love for all of us. When Jesus used the image fishers of men, He was talking to fishermen, telling them that if they followed Him, the purpose of their lives would change. They would join Him in gathering about Himself a community of followers, a community of disciples committed to living life His way, a community committed to living into the Reign of God and out of God's power, a community committed to inviting and welcoming others to follow Him as well.  AMEN.

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