Following Jesus

Text: Matthew 4:12-25

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Imagine someone you don’t know coming to your home or the place that you work and saying, “Follow me.” What are the odds that you would go with them? Pretty slim, right? In the world we live in you have to be pretty careful about things like that, who knows who this stranger might be. A stranger showing up and saying, “Follow me,” sounds like the start of a crime scene investigating kind of show where things aren’t going to end very well for the poor sap who follows along.

All this makes our gospel reading today even more remarkable. Jesus goes up from Judea in the southern part of what used to be the kingdom of Israel, the area where John had been baptising down at the Jordan, to Galilee in the north. And then one day as He is walking around the Sea of Galilee He sees Simon (who will be better known by the name Peter) and his brother Andrew. These two men, like many men in Galilee, were fisherman. They made their living out there on the sea (which is really a lake) hauling in fish. They were out fishing in the Sea of Galilee, tossing their net into the water and hauling it back in again, when Jesus came along and said “Follow me.” Remarkably, with very little introduction or explanation the two brothers immediately left their nets, gave up their profession, and followed Jesus.

If all that were not enough, it happens again. A little while later Jesus sees two more brothers, this time it is James and John the sons of Zebedee who are mending their nets after a long day of fishing. Jesus looks at them and says, “Follow me” and without much discussion or anything they immediately left their nets, their boat, and their own father in order to follow Jesus.

So why, why did they follow Jesus that day? Was it because they had such remarkable faith that they made the decision to leave everything behind and follow Jesus? Not exactly. Sure, these men had faith and that is why they followed, but it was not because they decided to go by their own free will. They went because Jesus called. They went because Jesus made them able to go. This story, like every other story in the Bible is all about Jesus. This is not a story about Peter and Andrew or James and John, though they are central figures, main characters in the action here, but really this is all about Jesus. Jesus calls and Jesus creates the answer in the hearts of these fishermen at the Sea of Galilee. Jesus causes them to leave behind their nets immediately and follow him.

We cannot, by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him or follow Him, but the Holy Spirit has called us through the gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, and kept us in the one true faith. We can’t chose to believe in Jesus and neither could Andrew and Peter or James and John. If it was up to them to make the decision they would still be sitting there with their nets. But the Holy Spirit has worked in our hearts and worked in their hearts back then so that they could get up and follow Jesus leaving everything they ever knew in life behind.

Peter and Andrew have met Jesus before, actually. Last week we heard about how John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Well Andrew, Peter’s brother, was one of the ones who was there to hear John say those words. He heard John say that Jesus was the Lamb of God and he went and found his brother Peter and shared the news with him too. “We have found the Messiah, the Christ,” Andrew told Peter. They went and spent the rest of that day with Jesus. It seems as if they went home after that, though. Even after they heard all of this good news about Jesus that He is the Messiah, the Saviour, the Lamb of God, they still go home and return to their fishing nets. But then Jesus comes to them again and He calls them to follow Him. They get up, leave their nets behind, and follow Him. The Holy Spirit created this faith in their hearts.

The Holy Spirit has worked this same faith in our hearts too. We haven’t been called like the disciples were to leave everything behind, but we have been called to faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit has created this faith in our hearts. We might not have left our livelihood and family behind to follow Jesus, but faith in Jesus does mean leaving some things behind.

Faith in Jesus means leaving sin behind. Following Jesus is never an excuse for sin. In our text today Jesus takes up the preaching of John the Baptist and says, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Repent, turn away from sin, Jesus says. Following Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus, means leaving sin behind. Believing in Jesus does not give us an excuse to keep on sinning. How are you doing at leaving sin behind? Probably not so great. The idea of leaving sin behind sounds great, it sounds simple, but our hearts are so trapped and tangled in sin that we don’t have a clue how to get ourselves out of it. Thankfully, the one we follow is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Though we remain tangled in sin He sets us free. Day by day He works in our hearts to leave sin behind so that we can follow Him.

Faith in Jesus also means leaving comfort behind. Jesus says that anyone who would come after Him or follow Him must take up his cross and follow. Following Jesus for us and for the disciples like Peter and Andrew means taking up the cross, it means suffering as Jesus suffered. Suffering is never something we seek, but it comes to us. Jesus never said following Him would make our lives on this earth simple or easy. Following Jesus means living a life of sacrifice loving the people around us with the love that we would normally reserve for ourselves. It might mean getting treated poorly because of what we believe. Following Jesus means taking up the cross and suffering. Suffering is something that our human nature is hardwired to avoid at all costs. We flee from suffering as quickly as we can. Look at how Peter and the other disciples will flee from suffering once Jesus gets arrested in Jerusalem. But thanks be to God that the one we follow has taken the suffering and shame of our sin for us and has promised us the comforts of heaven. Though we slip and fall in our lives of following Jesus under the cross, He has born the cross for us.

Following Jesus means leaving somethings behind, but it also means becoming something new. Jesus told Peter and Andrew that He would make them “Fishers of men.” They would go from catching fish for the supper tables of the people of Galilee to catching people to join in the marvelous banquet of heaven. As we follow Jesus we are these fishers of men, through us Jesus draws others to follow Him. When Andrew heard who from John that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world the first thing he did was go tell his brother Peter. In our lives as we follow Jesus struggling to leave sin behind and taking up the cross we become fishers of men. Through us Jesus calls more men and women to “Follow Him.”

This week when I was in Edmonton I visited Leah’s grandmother. She will be turning 97 this week. She lives in an assisted living seniors housing kind of place now, but she told me she is very happy there. Her reason why she was happy there isn’t exactly what you would expect though. She told me she is happy there because there are so many people to witness to there. There are so many people in that building who don’t believe in Jesus and she knows that the reason she is there is so that she can be a witness of Jesus in that place. It was remarkable to listen to her. How often would we think of a seniors housing place like that as a place where we can be fishers of men? How often do we think of the places we live or work or spend our time as places where we can share Jesus with those around us?

We have been called out of sin and out of comfort, out of ordinary life, into an extraordinary new life. A life where we struggle with sin and take suffering as it comes, but also a life where we gather other people into the kingdom of heaven with us as we all follow Jesus together. All of this is Jesus’ work. He is the one doing it. He is the one who gave us faith. He is the one who takes away our sin. He is the ultimate fisher of men. Thanks be to God that He works through us. In Jesus name. Amen.

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