You're Not a Fisher; You're a Fish
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“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him” (Matthew 4:18-22).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
At the risk of sounding heretical, let me say this up front: You are not a fisher of men! I know, over the years, you’ve heard a lot of pastors preach a lot of sermons encouraging you to be “a fisher of men.” But that is not your calling. That was the calling to Andrew and Peter, to James and John, on that day Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee. You are not a fisher; you are a fish.
Jesus isn’t necessarily calling you to change vocations in order to serve Him. Father Zebedee was just fine tending to the fishing business, but Jesus needed the boys for other purposes. There were plenty of tax collectors in Israel, but Jesus needed Matthew to collect disciples. Jesus calls some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and shepherds in order to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11f). But He doesn’t call everyone.
The Office of the Holy Ministry and the men who hold it are Christ’s gift to the Church. They are sent to cast the net of the Gospel—to purely proclaim God’s Word and rightly administer His Sacraments. But not all are called to this office. Most members of the Body of Christ live out their faith in their daily vocations. We’ll talk more about what that means for you in a bit. But first, we hear more of the catching of the apostles, those men first called to be fishers of men.
About a year has passed since Jesus was baptized in the Jordan and declared to be the Lamb of God by John the Baptist. John is cast into prison for having the temerity to faithfully preach God’s Word. The greatest born of woman is arrested and treated like a criminal. The one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah is off the scene. The voice calling in the wilderness is silenced. This is how it goes with the kingdom of heaven. It suffers violence and violent men lay hold of it. It is vulnerable and appears weak to the world. It always comes with a cross.
Jesus withdraws from Judea to Galilee, not only because of the opposition He had been experiencing, but primarily because the prophet Isaiah had foretold His Galilean ministry. Jesus makes Capernaum His home and the headquarters of His ministry. It was centrally located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and on the road from Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea in the territory that had been assigned to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali.
Galilee was populated by many Gentiles in addition to the Jews who lived there. Not all of the Canaanites had been driven out when Israel occupied the land. Furthermore, in the 8th century B.C., the Assyrians had taken many Galileans into captivity and had replaced them with Assyrians and other Gentiles. This had a profound effect on the religious life of the people. The God of Israel was not unknown there, but the worship of God had departed considerably from the forms of worship that the Law of Moses called for. The people were “living in darkness” as Isaiah had foretold: the darkness of wickedness and unbelief.
But then Jesus, the Light of the world, comes to Galilee. He attracts huge crowds of people who follow Him from place to place to hear Him preach and see Him perform miracles. The message Jesus proclaims is the same as John the Baptist’s: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom of heaven has come to earth in the coming of Jesus, and this calls for repentance—a radical change of heart and mind, followed by a corresponding change in behavior.
Jesus’ call to repentance is an invitation as well as a command. The people could not respond positively to that invitation unless the Holy Spirit prompted such a response. To repent and believe the Gospel is not a decision anyone can make on his or her own. He or she must be called by the Gospel. The kingdom lays claim. “Repent.” “Be baptized.” Jesus calls four fishermen away from the nets and their boats with the simple words: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
This is the beginning of the apostolic ministry. The four fishermen are not simply the first disciples; they are also the first apostles—the ones sent out in the world with the Gospel message. That’s what Jesus means when He says: “I will make you fishers of men.” They used to catch fish in their nets. Now they will be sent to catch men for the kingdom in the net of Jesus’ death and resurrection, making disciples by baptizing and teaching in His name, with His authority.
That also explains the change in vocation. Not everyone is called to leave their line of work to become a disciple of Jesus. Most don’t. But these four did. They left their nets and their boat and began a new vocation. This also explains leaving Zebedee behind with the boats. It’s not that he wasn’t saved, that he didn’t repent and believe. It’s only that Jesus didn’t select him to be one of the apostles.
This initiated their training—three years with Jesus, hearing His teaching and preaching, seeing the miraculous signs of healing every disease and affliction. They would see Him through His arrest, His cross, and His resurrection. They would see Him disappear into the clouds at His ascension. And they would go forth to gather the Church that confesses Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.
Did they know what they were getting into? How could they? None of Christ’s undershepherds really know what they are getting into before they heed His call—present company included. They simply trusted Jesus. They took Him at His Word. And in that trust they left their livelihoods to join the band of twelve disciples who one day would be apostles.
And it is a most unlikely band at that. Four of them were fishermen. One was a tax collector. Another was associated with political terrorists. And one would betray Him. Yet Jesus gathered them, taught them, and sent them out as His ambassadors for the kingdom, dropping the net of Jesus’ own sacrificial death and resurrection into the sea of this world and dragging whatever they caught into the Church, yet, sometimes against their will. No, correct that—always against their will. Have you ever met a fish that wanted to be caught? (Other than sorry ol’ Charlie in the Star-Kist tuna commercials).
My job at Wal-Mart has furnished me with some experience at netting fish—not from the sea, but a fish tank. I’ve found that the best way to catch a fish with a net is from below. They have a blind spot there. From above, forget it. And it won’t do to chase them from behind, as fish can see behind them as well as they can see in front. You can put a net in front of them and scare them into the net, but the best way is to scoop them up from below. They never see it coming.
I think that’s a good illustration for how Jesus and His kingdom operate. He sneaks up from below. We would expect God to come from above, to be make a big heavenly show of it. And if God were to chase us, we’d hightail it out of there. But God sneaks up on us from below. The Baby in the manger. The boy in the temple. The carpenter of Nazareth. The teacher in Capernaum, Galilee of the Gentiles. The kingdom begins small, like a mustard seed, and grows to embrace the whole cosmos with the net of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
And why does this happen? Well, solely by God’s mercy and grace, without any merit or worthiness on our part. As we look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s holy Law, we must confess that we certainly aren’t qualified to be disciples of Jesus! No one is. But thank God! Being Jesus’ disciple has nothing to do with our qualifications, any more than a fish has to be qualified to be caught in a net. But it does have everything to do with Jesus.
Think of Jesus’ first disciples. Did they choose Jesus; or did He choose them? Jesus chose them. He spoke the word, “Follow Me,” and they followed Him. And, it is the same every time. The Word, Jesus Himself, has to capture us so we can be His disciples.
Why is this? Because of our fallen nature, something else has already captured us: our sin, death, and the power of the devil. That’s the reality of being born into this fallen world. And that’s why the Lord has to capture us by His Word. So that He can rescue us from the tyranny of the devil and the punishment we deserve for our sin.
When did the Lord’s Word capture you? It was when the Holy Spirit combined our Lord’s Word with water in your Baptism. There He brought you into your Lord’s kingdom. There, the net of Jesus’ life-giving death did its life-saving work. The net of the Word, of Baptism, saves you, gives you eternal life.
You are not a fisher; you are a fish. You are a fish caught in Jesus’ Gospel net. And you know what happens to fish caught in a net, don’t you? They die! And so you did, in the water and Word of Baptism. In Baptism, you died and were buried in Christ’s death. But that was a good death, all that you may be raised with Him in His resurrection (Romans 6:3-5). Death and resurrection to life is the way of Jesus—and of all who follow Him!
You are a fish. And you’ve been caught in Jesus’ net. And that has eternal implications. Do you remember Jesus’ parable about the net? Jesus said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age” (Matthew 13:47-50). This Gospel net that has captured you will drag you to the shore and raise you to life on the Last Day. This is a rescue net, cast to save you from your sin, death, and anything else that would harm or destroy you.
You are a fish; not a fisher. It is not your vocation to publicly proclaim the Gospel, to baptize, or to administer the Lord’s Supper. Christ established the apostolic ministry for this task. Jesus called the apostles and sent them out into the world with His authority and Word. They, in turn, trained and ordained pastors to administer Christ’s means of grace in the local congregation, and that Office of Holy Ministry was given to the Church to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching Christ’s Word, and distributing His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, confident of His presence among us even to the end of the age.
You are not a fisher; you are a fish. That being said, it doesn’t mean you don’t share your faith. To be a Christian who doesn’t share the Good News of Jesus Christ through word and deed would be as unnatural as a fish trying to breath out of the water. You just are not called to do so publicly. You do so, personally, in your daily vocations. I’ve often said, I have more opportunity to share the Gospel with unbelievers in my work at Wal-Mart than I have as a pastor.
Life is just full of opportunities to share God’s love in Jesus Christ. While the Lord can accomplish His will without us, He delights to use us as His instruments. People hear the Word from Christians, and come to Church to hear more, to be instructed in the ways of the Lord. Some of you will teach Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. But most of you have opportunities even closer to home. You also can share your faith with the people you encounter in everyday situations that are just ripe for sharing the Gospel: good days, bad days, the loss of loved ones, the birth of babies, sickness, marriage, and many others.
Fathers and mothers, you have unique and special opportunities to share our faith. Get your children baptized. Read them Bible stories. Teach them the basics of the Christian faith from the Small Catechism. Pray for them; teach them how to pray. See that there is time for family devotions and that worship service attendance is a priority for your family.
It all looks so ordinary. But ordinarily, that’s how the Lord works. After all, He created this world and set it up to run normally according to His will. So the Lord’s normal way of doing things will generally look quite normal and ordinary. Therefore, rather than have bread fall from heaven each day, He ordains that seeds sprout and grow into grain that is harvested, ground, and baked. But as He uses farmers and bakers to supply bread, so He uses His Christians to draw others into His Gospel net rather than send His holy angels out on evangelism calls. And He uses His Word and sacraments to deliver forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.
The Lord’s way of evangelism may seem ordinary and it may even seem inefficient as the Church plods along toward eternity But be assured: Christ Jesus will not fail to send forth His Word to save all who will believe. He will not lose one of His beloved children out of His Gospel net. And as He fulfills that promise, you and I—in our respective vocations—have the privilege of being His chosen instruments. The Lord continues to visit His people, wherever they are, with life and salvation because He has shed His blood and given His life to win that gift.
Dear Christians, that promises includes you: Through His means of grace, the Lord casts the net of His Gospel, to draw you to Himself. So that you might be saved. So that you might have eternal life. So that you might be His good fish. That is to say, so that you might be forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.