As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers; Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him (Matthew 4:18-20).
Jesus calls us to Himself, and then calls us to reach others for Him! This is very evident in this passage. An uncommonly incredible, insightful, strange, mysterious person approached a small group of young fishermen working in their family fishing business and challenged them to make a life-changing decision. They were in wonder at this Man's teaching, and the miracle of the fish that was performed for them as recorded by Luke. They knew all about fishing. Their substance and living depended on fishing. They provided a much needed and vital food to their region-fish-which they caught with nets suspended from the back of their boats. The floats and weights that spread out the nets, to catch as many as possible as they rowed in the Sea of Galilee, was done much the same as fishing boats operate today. Then the fish were dried, cured with salt, or pickled to preserve them, and then sold. They were perhaps in a business that provided them with a much higher standard of living than many other people around them. So, why would they desire to leave that good and stable life and venture into the unknown?
Are we willing to Follow Me? If not, how will we become Fishers of Men?
Jesus gives us a call to step into Him with faith. "Come, follow me" was extended to the disciples, and their response was evident as they left their boats and followed. A call was also given to them to then step out with their faith. "I will make you fishers of men" to others-without irresistible pressure, yet with passion and conviction. That call was unprecedented in their culture and understanding. Normally, a student would seek out a teacher, a Rabbi. A Rabbi would never seek students, as it was a pride issue. Jesus broke the pride and arrogance barrier to model that we are to seek disciples, and not just wait for them to come to us. This call also tells us that before we can teach others to fish, we have to know the fish and know how to fish. In so doing, we can challenge one another to leave our comfort zone and enter the realm of His faith, worship, service, and outreach.
Jesus went throughout the region of Galilee, and into the synagogues, proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand (Matt. 4:17; 4:23). However, public preaching was not His main goal or reason for doing so! Above any other activity, Jesus' main goal for His interrelations with humanity was "discipling" (Matt. 9:9)! Jesus publicly taught the need for repentance. He further taught and challenged His disciples, both personally and systematically, that Christianity does not end at repentance and conversion; it begins there! His primary goal was to mold disciples, so Jesus went directly and personally to call those whom He wanted to work for Him. He took those who lived "normal" lives. He did not go to the universities or synagogues, but literally to the "man on the street." Afterward, He sent them out (Matthew 10:1-15). Then, Jesus ended His time on earth with an imperative command for them to make more disciples (Matt. 28:19-20), which is also our call!
Jesus said, "Follow Me." (Matt. 4:19; 9:9) Jesus did not mean that they should just physically follow Him on the road, aimlessly. They were set apart, challenged to know and grow in the faith, and taught their call and mission. Just as they had worked at catching fish, now they would be catching men (Luke 6:39-40)! The word "disciple" literally means someone who pledges to be a "learner." Moreover, it is someone who follows another's teaching, and adheres to it. It is a commitment and a process. It involves commitment, time to undertake the learning, and, as a Christian, a yearning to imitate Jesus! Follow me, as a call to discipleship, is also reciprocal; that is, when one learns, he or she makes the commitment to train someone else. That is what Jesus meant by, "I will make you fishers of men." It is not just catching them and then either throwing them back or storing them (fish were processed and sold for the betterment and use of the community); rather, we are called to care for and cultivate the fish, which are the people. It is training them and placing them so they, too, can catch, train, and place others-and so on! Discipleship is the primary earthly application of the Church as a whole, and the Christian as an individual. It is our duty, it is our priority, and the one thing Christ directly and imperatively commanded us to do (Matt. 28:19-20). In so doing, we will become like Him in character and share His outlook and concerns (Luke 6:39-40).
A lot of Christians have the false presumption that in discipleship we make people like ourselves, or, have them conform to our specific church or denomination or specific system of belief. But, that is not what discipleship and follow me is about. It is helping facilitate the spiritual growth of others. It is being empowered by the Spirit to hook people up to Christ. We are never to make disciples in our image, alike in whom we are, how we think, feel, and act, but like Christ! Christian means to be "Christ like," not "self like" or "Bob like" or "Joan like." We are to become His disciples by our faith, by His Work in us! We are then to be discipled by someone! This is not just learning about the faith as a new Christian; it is a life long commitment to grow in Him-though His Word, through our personal devotions, through fellowship, through worship-and by learning all we can and applying what we have learned. This helps form us as the people of God. We are to disciple others so they can, in turn, disciple others. Thus, Christianity is by faith, it is communal, it is continual, and it is shared. It is a community endeavor! A lot of Christians just will not do this. Perhaps, they are too individualistic, self-absorbed in their own lives without a thought of God or others. Perhaps, they think, once I made that prayer and I am "set free." I do not need to do anything else. And, yes, they are if it is real and in Christ. But, what good it is to be a "pew-sitter" and do nothing with what Christ gave and called us to (James 2:14-24)?
The twelve disciples spent three years of their lives following, learning, listening, observing, practicing, and experiencing life directly with Jesus. Then, they carried that learning and experience to the world (Matt. 10:1-15; the Book of Acts). It all comes down to a decision. Will we make our faith real and impacting, relinquishing our pride, allow ourselves to learn and grow, and in turn teach others, or will we plant our rears in the pew, so that our only impact is our butt- print in that pew? Let us make sure our impact comes from a life transformed and carried on to the people around us!
What we need to learn for today
Evangelism and discipleship are not easy because this goes against our pride and will. It cuts into our time and plans; it brings us out of our comfort zone into the scary areas of life. It even has a cost. Following Christ will cost us and will require effort and consistency (Matt. 8:18-22; 10:38; Luke 9:57-58; 14:27). The original disciples left their families and good jobs (Matt. 10:37; 19:27; Luke 9:59-62; 14: 25-26; 33)! If you are thinking, well, they were just fishermen. I have a "real" job, I have a family, or, I am important. Consider this; Jesus did not call bums who had nothing better to do! These people, contrary to popular belief, had good jobs and were educated. I have no idea how the theme that the disciples were uneducated men in dead-end jobs came about. In fact, fishing was one of the best and most lucrative jobs you could have in that time and culture. The disciples had the equivalent of a college education, as they attended school and were able to read and write well. They did not have the further formal education that the Scribes and Pharisees had which was equivalent to a Ph.D. today. That is the reason the Pharisees looked down at them-because they did not have "their" education and title, and they were not under the care of another Rabbi-not because they were uneducated (Mark 6:2-3; 11:27-28; John 7:14).
We may not be called to the radical commitment they were. Jesus will never call you to literally leave your family, and, in most cases, He would rather you stay were you are. What Jesus wants is for us to follow Him in our will and mindsets so we grow in the faith and then become contagious with the faith to others. And, we can do this best in the relationships and connections we already have, even before we set out to make new ones. He may then call you to venture out, but He will also give you the ability and desire to do so!
Jesus expects us to know what we are getting into, and embrace it with vigor and faith. The point is that nothing can come before Him (Matt. 3:8; 6:33; Luke 14:15-24; John 8:31; 14-15)! We must embrace our call and responsibility to be discipled and make disciples! If we are truly willing to learn and apply what Christ taught, if we really respond with gratitude for that which He has given us, we would truly be His disciples! The Church will be on fire by the Spirit and really impacting the world! Heeding our call to bring the message of Christ's love and reconciliation takes the determination to follow though-to follow Him. Does this sound too far-reaching, too scary? Consider this, what we gain will far outweigh any suffering or loss on our part (Mark 10:28-30; 1 Cor. 15:58)! If, and when we hear God's call depends on our ears, our will, and our attitude (Matt. 22:14). God does not force us or plead with us; He merely presents us with the option (Isa. 6:8)! We must say, as Isaiah said, Here I am, send me! We must allow our spiritual eyes to be opened and our will to be relinquished to His for real discipleship to take place. Then, our churches will grow in prayer, worship, and maturity, and revival may even take place!
Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. Are you doing that? Most Christians just stand at the shore of life watching the fish. We make little effort to catch them for our Lord. It is amazing at all the excuses I have heard, and have even given myself over the years, for not following Him and why it is not necessary to become fishers of men. We can theologize and rationalize for not doing what He has called us to do (Mark 8:36; Luke 18:29-30). But, I believe it is our fear that takes us over, and not the love we have in Christ (1 John 4:16-21). Yes, it is scary; the waters can be deep, and they can be rough, and we will get wet. But, we have the incredible comfort that Jesus gives us not only the call, but also the ability and resources by which to follow Him (Isa. 55:10-11). He gives us the rod and the reel; He even provides the bait of His Holy Spirit. All we are called to do is cast out the line with our faith, with our love, with our character, with our determination, and with our trust and eyes upon our Lord.
Let us, as the Church triumphant, adhere to His call and follow. Apply your faith! Because, if we just sit around and come up with excuses, we will drift too far away-too far from the fish. We will not be catching anything and the fishing expedition of life will be just a meaningless and wasted trip. Let us allow the power of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, and break our will, so we can be receptive to our Lord and Savior, and so we can do as He called! It all comes to the decision of whether we will make our faith real and impacting, relinquishing our pride to allow us to learn, grow, tell, and teach others, or else we will plant our rears in the pew, thus making our butt print in that pew our only impact! Let us make sure our impact comes from a life transformed and carried on to the people around us! Let us follow Him and be His fishers of men!
The Nature of Humanity
Before we can venture into the subject of Evangelism, of making fishers of men, we have to understand the sinful nature and the arrogance of the fish in question-our human nature. We will flap our fins and tails as fast as we can to the very last moment to try to flee from God's presence and control, saying we can do better on our own. We will ignore His bait and His truth. We will stay in our stinky stingy waters and not venture into His living water (John 4:10-12). Most people, throughout history, would rather take their own chances than surrender themselves to the will of the Lord (Luke 12:16-21; John 3:5; 30; Heb. 10:31). They do not want to be convicted or challenged that their presumptions, pride, or thinking is wrong. There are no words or deeds that can sway a prideful heart; yet we are called to do so (Rom. 3:3; 23; 5:12-19; 6:23; Gal. 3:13; Eph 2:1-3).
Most Christians fear evangelizing and witnessing because of the possibility of rejection, or how friends and peers will perceive them. Therefore, we must realize the role of evangelism, of saving people, is God's-and God's alone. He chooses to use us for His glory, but it is His Spirit that convicts and converts. We are the tools, the rods and reels He uses. Who and what we are and do in Him far outweighs how others see us. Our responsibility is to obey and let Him use us. We are not responsible for whether or not people accept the message; we are only responsible to proclaim it as effectively and as passionately as we can. This takes the "personal responsibly" and "fear of rejection" load off of us. We need not fear rejection because we are not being rejected; God is the One who is rejected. He is the One to whom people do not want to conform; we are merely His servants!
Obeying God's Call
Our lives would be a lot easier, as Christians, if we did not teach these truths; and, this is a big reason why most Christians just sit in their pews and do nothing. This is why many churches no longer teach Truth, but, rather, false doctrine or liberal ideas. It is easier to sit and believe than to walk, and obey what we believe. And, it is much easier to believe what we want, and only look up at Jesus on occasion but never get up to follow. And, if we never follow, we can never make fishermen of others or ourselves!
But, God calls us out of the darkness and into the light. He tells us that, as Christians, we need to know our neighbor and their objections, but not let that detour us from His plan. We cannot just take our beliefs and keep them in a secret huddle. A football team that wants to win does not hold a huddle so the quarterback can get some sleep, so he can say and do nothing; no, the huddle is to unleash the plan of action that the coach has called them to do. Our Christian faith is based on the cross of Christ, but it does not stop there, as the start of a football game does not stop at the toss of the coin. We are called to do and obey with the gifts and abilities that our Lord has given us (Matt. 5:16).
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
God calls us to respond, and this passage calls us to respond! It must be an action; we are encouraged to respond with passion, boldness, compassion, clarity, truth, and tact. The Roman Empire persecuted the Christians because their faith went against their beliefs, even though their philosophy had an "almost anything goes" attitude (just as American culture does today), but, these same "anything goes" people are very intolerant to Truth! Because, with Christ, "anything" does not go, and without Christ, we do not "go." We will run into people who are offended, but we need to take heed and comfort from the Lord through His Word. Christ says we are sinful, and He is the only way; people say, "No, I am my own way." So, by obeying, we may cause conflict and strife and even experience rejection and persecution. Accept it as a challenge and as the call that it is (Matt. 5:11-12, 44; Luke 21:12-19; John 15:20-25; Phil. 1:12-18).
Peter says we can do it. "Do this with gentleness and respect." This is our call. Being ready is a big part of the Christian life, and the defense is to know what you believe and why; thus, our passion will be to lovingly give a response, even out of hostile reactions and the threat of persecution.
"No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62) This may seem like a strange passage for us city folks, but what this means is we are to put forth the effort. Putting our hand to the plow means we are to take up the necessary means and the determination to accomplish the task He gives. A field does not plow itself, and without plowing, the field will not be ready or usable and thus no harvest will come about. It comes down to removing our "me first" mentally and replacing it with a "Christ first" determination; then the fish and the harvest will come. For the farmer to farm, he must have a symbiotic relationship with God. The farmer cannot make it rain, nor can he create the soil or the seeds. The farmer is given the seeds, the soil, and the ability from God, but it is up to the farmer to prepare the field, plant the crops, and then care for them until the harvest is ready. It is the same with evangelism. He gives us the ability and reason, and He saves; it is His work, but He uses us in the process to deliver His message.
The Desire not to Follow
What I want to do is challenge you to see some of the root causes that people turn you off when you evangelize. By knowing these common objections (we will look at more of them next month), you will understand why people respond the way they do, so you will not take things so personally. That way, you will not be turned off from doing evangelism yourself. This will give you greater confidence; you will know how people respond, and then be better listeners and evangelists. We first need to ask, what are my objections? What stopped me before? What can still stop me? What did I fear giving up or fear to go?
Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead (Matthew 8:21-22)."
This passage reveals some seemingly strange happenings and words coming from Jesus. Large crowds often followed Jesus, attracted by His teachings (Matt. 7:28-8:1) and His miracles (Matt. 8:16-18). Then, He saw a large crowd coming toward Him so He ditched them. Then, individual people came up to Him and He turned them away, too. He even turned away a Jewish leader. Jesus gave the impression that He was pushing people away who had come to Him, which would have been in direct opposition to His character and mission. So, what is going on here?
This passage stresses the radical demands of Jesus' call. His call is above all else for us as Christians. What God's will is all about, and of what we are to be doing in our personal lives and in our churches is practice our faith so we will grow in Him. This is discipleship! Nothing else is more important. Period. At the same time that He gives us this call, a great cost is placed before us that we need to accept. It is a cost that He paid on the cross, a cost of our will. It is a sacrifice of all that we may think is important in life, except that with eternity in mind, it is not. But, most people do not realize that the things they are chasing in life are really meaningless and worthless in an eternal perspective.
We need to understand that none of these people were really turned away by our Lord. Rather, they, themselves turned away of their own will because they just wanted a show. Those who said they wanted to follow Him refused to pay the cost. Remember, our Lord knows what is in our hearts and what is motivating us. Jesus desires for us to grow in Him, not to merely seek a show (John 2:25; 1 Pet. 2:11). The scribe said, I will follow you. He was perhaps requesting an apprenticeship, to go under Him and learn. Most people followed in their family's business or trade. There were many schools for basic education to learn how to read, write, and learn the law, but there were few organized schools or universities for professional learning. People who did not want to follow their family's trade would seek out a good teacher and plead for them to take them in and mentor them. In the process, they would become a servant to the mentor, or do whatever it took to get their attention and their admiration, as well as learning from them. Then, one day they would take over, or franchise what they had learned somewhere else. This could be any professional trade, from a carpenter to a philosopher. Jesus had both roles! Here, several people came to Jesus seeking His mentoring. Jesus saw their real intentions. Perhaps, these men had ulterior motives, or were not honest in their approach. Maybe, they just wanted to go with Him to see more of His miracles. Maybe, they were seeking to cash in on Jesus' fame, or make a name for themselves, while uninterested in godly pursuits or real discipleship and learning.
It was common for Greek teachers and philosophers to make hard demands on their potential students to test their resolve, commitment, and intentions. These hard demands were meant to discourage people who had bad intentions and ulterior motives from taking up their valuable time and resources. The best teachers would only take in a few of the worthiest students, just as most universities do today, with screening processes. Jesus' own profession as a carpenter was considered a very good profession. Many sought to get into it because it was far more lucrative and respected than the other occupations in an agrarian community where farming and trade were the norms. Jesus must have had a lot of people seeking Him as a carpenter too, prior to His public ministry.
The point of this passage is that selfish intentions will block us from knowing Him and growing in Him. We must be aware of selfish intentions both in us and in others. Being "me first" is common, and a part of our sinful nature that Jesus asks us to purge. We have to be honest and introspective as to why we want to serve Him, why we want to grow and be discipled. Because, if it is for egotistical and selfish gain, it will not be real or loving. Pride, spiritual blindness, and vacillation will become our mentors, and we will not have His will and glory in our sights. Jesus will be bearing with us in our unbelief and failures, but He will not be helping us grow (Luke 9:37-62)! The same goes to people coming to the Lord; the selfishness will be one of the biggest barriers.
Jesus calls His disciples, all who follow Him, to a higher standard of commitment beyond poverty and social status into real sacrificial servitude and discipleship lifestyle (Matt. 6:31-33; 10:34-37; 12:46-50; Luke 10:38-42; Acts 14:21-22; 2 Tim. 3: 10-12; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). This is scary, and many will not want to do this, or else will only make a shallow effort (Matt. 13:18-23). Just look at the scribe who desired to come to our Lord, wanting to become a disciple. He said he was willing to follow Jesus anywhere, a seemingly commendable offer. But, did he know what it meant? It seems he just wanted to see more of the show. His job was to record the Law and keep records for the nation, a very important leadership position in Jesus' time. Perhaps his intention was to spy or to gather false information; whatever it was, Jesus saw though it. We may not have the insight, and we cannot judge the motives of people. And, even if they do respond, we never know for sure how sincere they are until we see the fruit of their lives (Gal. 5:22-23). That is why when we are called to follow; we must keep our eyes on Christ and not on our situations or how people respond.
To literally follow Jesus at that time-that is, travel and learn and minister with Him-would have meant leaving everything, including your home, as the rest of His disciples did (Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 10:28-29). This was not permanently leaving, as the Gospels record them going back to their homes on occasion, but venturing beyond their normal way of life (Matt. 8:14). This scribe was, perhaps, a person focused on his home and material positions. Jesus was, in fact, telling this scribe that he needed to count the cost before becoming a disciple (Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-33). We do not have to become homeless to follow Jesus, but we still must love Him more than anything else. That way He is the Lord and Ruler of our life. We must consider the cost before we commit. Otherwise, we will not remain, and will become a bigger hindrance than if we never bothered following at all. A lot of people do consider the cost, and they refuse to pay it. You have to pay it before asking others to do so!
Another man comes and desires to follow, but wants to return home first, to bury my father. This may seem sincere, too, as this was one of the most enduring and basic of responsibilities of a son to his family. The father was probably not dead yet (or he would not have been there, or asked the question). Rather, the son's duties were to take care of him and then take over the household, business, and any family matters. One normally did not go into a mentoring position until his family was taken care of first. After death, the body was entered in a ground burial. A year later, it was dug up and put into a family crypt or box, much like the one recently discovered that may have belonged to James, the brother of Jesus. This process can take one to two years. So, this man was seeking something he had no intention of following through with until a much later time. Jesus calls us now, not later! This man can be described as the "reluctant disciple," one who needed to be reminded of what it means to make a real commitment.
Then Jesus responds, let the dead bury their own dead. Jesus is telling us the importance of discipleship, and of our growth in Him. He is saying to let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead, as they are both dead. The time we have on earth and of obeying His call is short, so it demands our full attention and commitment. Jesus was not telling the man to disrespect his parents; rather, he is telling him to consider what is important, and to have the right priorities in life. We are to make disciples to revive the spiritually dead, not wait around for someone to die and be buried-especially in our spiritual life, and that of others. Remember that follow Me. Jesus is asking us to place Him above all-including occupation, family, personal desires, and aspirations. All we desire and all our work must have Christ as the focus and purpose. A true disciple will not have a pecking order where Jesus is not number one on the list. There is a cost to following Jesus. Most people did not want to pay that cost, whether first hand with Christ himself, or today in the Church.
We are not told if the man followed Jesus into the boat, or if the storm (verses 23-27) or his inclinations distracted him from this ever so important sojourn. To really follow Christ, we will surrender all to Him (John 3:5, 30; Rom. 12:1-3; Gal. 2:20-21; Phil. 3:10-14). But, what we give up is nothing compared to what we gain! Remember, Christ surrendered Himself so you can have eternal salvation. Should there not be a small piece of gratitude within you to say, "Hey, I will go wherever you call me?" If we respond to follow Me with a "but," we will never truly follow. We will never grow in the depths of His precepts or be able to serve Him fully. We will remain in our status quo, saved perhaps, but uninvolved, sitting in a pew, with no impact or reason for being a Christian. If you have reservations, think them through. Do they have more to offer you? Do they have a greater purpose or impact? Will they follow you into eternity? Life is short; make the most of it and just go and follow Him! Be real and be committed! Do not let doubt, the pleasures of this world, or your sin distract you from life's greatest opportunity and adventure…His call to make fishers of men! Embrace His call with unmovable trust and be assured that His plan is the best plan!
You may have made the decision to follow me, but what have you done with becoming fishers of men? Have you counted the cost? Are you willing to pay the price? Do you know that both are required to follow Jesus?
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of "Into Thy Word Ministries," a discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word, and is also a pastor, teacher, and speaker. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California. He has amounted over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant.