From The Outset

You Talking to Me?

Simon, Andrew, James and John heard Jesus’ call that day, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” All of the gospel writers record that the men pulled their boats ashore, left their boats and nets behind, and followed him. They’d still be fishermen. But fishing, in their experience, had been casting a net and gathering a number of fish. Fast forward in their story. The book of Acts follows these men in their new roles as fishers of men. They cast out their nets in the form of testifying of Jesus. They win an all-expense paid night in jail for their efforts. But don’t miss this but about it: The authorities seized Peter and John and because it was evening, put them in jail until the next day. But many who had heard their message believed. That sounds like a fisherman’s tale, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. The ranks of Jesus followers grew by thousands. You could say that the fish were literally jumping in the boat.

As Jesus and his new followers moved away from the lake—and hopefully the smell of fish—John’s gospel mentions that they passed a man named Phillip. Jesus issued the same call, “Follow me.” Phillip went and gathered his brother Nathanael. “We have found the one Moses wrote about and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth.” Notice the pattern that’s surfacing—hear, see, tell. Nathanael was skeptical: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” That’s like telling someone in the Carolinas that you had a good bowl of grits in New England. Lies! Blasphemy! But then Nathanael had his own encounter with Jesus.

Jesus’ calling those first followers deserves attention—as much or more to what was not said as to what was said.  Jesus did not, for instance, call his first followers to regular church attendance, ‘Thou shalt attend Sunday School!’  He did not call them to agree with certain doctrines or points of theology, ‘Thou shalt be a Calvinist!’  He did not call them to give ascent to a certain list of approved and disapproved behaviors, ‘Thou shalt not smoke or chew or date girls that do!’  He didn’t humiliate them with a ‘Heaven or Hell’ test or threaten them with fire and brimstone. He simply said, “Follow me.”  There was no pre-requisite to change their ways.  Rather, he talked about the changes that he would make in them—“I will make you fishers of men.”

Deciding to follow Jesus had to have been the result of a couple of the biggest buts one could imagine.  How did John Newton describe it in Amazing Grace? “I once was lost but now I’m found; I was blind but now I see!” Those first followers left everything. They stepped out into an entirely new manner of living.

His first disciples now by his side, Jesus continued to minister in Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and preaching the good news. Matthew closed chapter 4 with accounts of many people bringing the sick—especially those in severe pain, the demon possessed, and those suffering from seizures and paralysis—to Jesus for healing. Those in need sought him. Again, he met them in their needs. Luke, in his gospel’s fourth chapter, gives a behind the scenes look at these early days of Jesus ministry and the response. As Jesus spoke the people recognized that he spoke with an authority other Rabbis and teachers didn’t possess. It was more than just the message. It was the man. They saw the love and compassion of Jesus. It was magnetic. The people in Galilee urged him to stay with them and not to move on. The text concludes: But he said, ‘I must preach the good news … to other towns … that is why I was sent.’