Each summer, my family and I love to go camping. There is something about getting away from all the busyness and demands of everyday life to be surrounded by the beauty of nature that calms, nourishes and refreshes our souls. But when we get away from our regular, everyday life, we also leave behind the conveniences that we usually have. When we use tents when we go camping, and at the campground we were at this past summer, we had no running water, no showers, and no electricity. We enjoyed our time away because the weather was excellent and we could always go swimming in the lake. But that first hot shower after being camping for a week is an amazing experience.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the Christian church to leave behind many of her conveniences that we were taking for granted. We have to be much, much more careful when we get together and some of us won’t be able to gather with others at all because of health concerns. We used to be able to see everyone face-to-face on Sunday mornings, but now there are many people that we don’t see at all, and we wonder how life is going for them. In the past, we could offer events and programs like Freedom Session or Alpha to the surrounding community to help them to grow closer to Jesus. But now the normal reluctance people may have had to come to a church building has been magnified by several times because now they could expose themselves to the coronavirus and why would they take that risk?
And this isn’t like a camping trip where we can come home to our normal life after a week. We don’t know how long this pandemic will last or what normal life will look like on the other side. So it is no comfort to think of this pandemic as being like a camping trip for our church. But God is still with us in the midst of these difficult times. And this is not the first time that the Christian Church has gone through something like this. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luthern lived through three separate plagues, and it may have been plagues in the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries that actually led to the explosive growth of the Christian Church because Christians chose to put themselves at risk to care for those who were will, even when they weren’t Christians. By some estimates, in cities with Christian communities the death rate from the plague was half that of other cities. So there is an opportunity for the Christian church to still reach out even though many of our normal tools for doing that have been stripped away from us. All we need to do is seek God’s direction regarding what that opportunity is.
That is why we are having this sermon series called Back to Basics where we look at the words of Jesus for the basics of life with Jesus. Each week we will dig into a specific thing that Jesus said to see what it means for the way that we live our life with Jesus today. The words from Jesus that we are reflecting on today are: “I will send you to fish for people” That phrase is found in our Gospel reading for today, Matthew 4:12-25, and I invite you to turn there if you have a Bible or a Bible app handy.
- God’s Plan to Redeem and Restore All Things
As we look at that passage in its entirety, we see that fishing for people is part of God’s overarching plan to redeem and restore all things. Ever since His good and perfect creation was shattered into brokenness by the rebellion of our first parents, God has been on the move to undo what had been done, seek and save what had been lost, and recreate this hurting and broken world so that it will healed and whole once again, in perfect fellowship with its good and loving Creator.
God promised Adam and Eve that one of their descendants would crush the head of evil even as evil wounded him. In the centuries that followed, God spoke through various prophets in various ways to give more details about this special person that He would send. One prophet, Isaiah, shared a message from God which Matthew recorded for us:
“In the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali, beside the sea, beyond the Jordan River, in Galilee where so many Gentiles live, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.” (Matthew 4:15-16 NLT)
Seven centuries later, when Jesus fled the area around Jerusalem because His cousin and forerunner in the ministry, John the Baptist, was arrested, and moved north to the region around the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was fulfilling this promise from God. It was another one of many ways that people saw, in hindsight, that Jesus fulfilled prophecies that were given about the Messiah. These fulfilled prophecies, along with Jesus’ miracles and His powerful teaching, prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the special One sent from God to save the world.
Not just a human, Jesus was and is God the Son who came into this world and wrapped Himself in human flesh to become one of us in order to save us. Only a human could stand in the place of all humans and undo what the first humans had done. Only a God could have the power, the perfection and infinite worth to make it happen. And so the God-human, Jesus, brought light into the darkness backwater region of Galilee.
As God so often does, He worked very differently from what people expected. Jesus left behind the central city of worship for all of God’s Old Testament people and went where the towns and villages were not so big, or wealthy, or righteous, as Jerusalem. He wasn’t a powerful political figure or a clever general leading a large army. Jesus came as the son of an unwed teen and a poor carpenter, carrying nothing with Him but what He wore.
And yet, this unexpected Messiah brought light into the darkness because He gave all who trusted in Him the gift of life. In another biography of Jesus, John writes about Jesus: In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5 NIV) You see, the life that Jesus gives is a new life. Jesus brings to life within us a new person who is able to see things as they really are because they live in and see by God’s light. If I go running in the morning while it is still dark, I wear a headlamp flashlight so I can see where I am going in places where there are no street lights. I have light in the darkness.
Jesus is offering light to each and every person in the world, light that will help them to see that they have a God who loves them so much that He willingly took our place and went to the cross to suffer and die to pay the full cost of forgiveness for all sins for all people for all time. On the third day that followed, Jesus rose from the dead to prove that the penalty for all sin was now paid for in full and death no longer had any claim on the One who carried our sin to the cross. The living Jesus now stands with open arms to welcome all people into the forever life with God that He has for us. There, in that new life with God as our King, we can see preciousness of life in this world as God the Father seeks to connect us through faith, during the brief time that we have in this world, with His Son, Jesus Christ. We can see the purpose of life in this world as we now get to share the Good News of salvation from Jesus with others. We can see the hope that we have in this world, for we know that everything is headed to a giant conclusion when Jesus will come back to this world, defeat death, purge evil and restore and renew all that remains. Jesus will raise us from the dead, recombining our purified souls with our recreated resurrection bodies. We will never grow old again, never get sick again, never die again and never grieve again. We will see Jesus with our own eyes and we will live with Him in the new heaven and earth forever.
Living that new life with that new awareness and new perspective is the same thing as living in the Kingdom of God. We repent, or turn away from our old ways of darkness because faith is turning us to believe in Jesus and His new ways of light. So how are people brought into the Kingdom of God? As we read in Romans 10:14, But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And the answer is that people are brought into the Kingdom of God when Jesus followers fish for people. So let’s look at two parts of that sentence. First, what does it mean to be a Jesus follower? And then, what does it mean to fish for people?
- What does it mean to be a Jesus follower?
So what does it mean to be a Jesus follower? As we look at the biographies of Jesus, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, what are called the Gospels, we see that Jesus came to ordinary people who were doing ordinary things in their ordinary lives, and He called them to follow Him. They then left what they were doing and spent the next 3 years of their lives with Jesus.
And the method that Jesus used was what we can call the Discipleship Square. Jesus would teach about the Kingdom of God and heal people while His disciples watched. Then Jesus would involve his disciples in the ministry that He was doing. Then He would get His followers to do the ministry themselves while He helped. Then He would have His disciples do the ministry while He watched. In other words, the method Jesus used was “I do, you watch,” “I do, you help,” “you do, I help” and finally “you do, I watch”.
This all culminated in Jesus sending out 72 of His followers to do ministry all on their own. That is always the goal of discipleship, to reproduce yourself. We don’t want to keep people tied to us, we don’t want them to become dependent on us. We want them to be able to make disciples on their own. We want to make disciples who make disciples. It would have been easier for Jesus to do all the work of ministry on His own. But He had a greater goal in mind. He wanted to give people the opportunity to do the kinds of things that He was doing: fishing for people to draw them into God’s Kingdom.
So what does being a Jesus follower look like today? We use a missional practice called Hearing from Jesus. Each day, and usually the morning is a good time, we pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us to hear what Jesus is saying to us. Then we read a portion of one of the Gospel accounts in the Bible to see what Jesus is doing and saying there. And we read slowly and thoughtfully. Ask Greg Finke writes in his book, Joining Jesus on His Mission, “Don’t read to get through the words of Jesus. Read to get the words of Jesus through you.” When we are done reading, we ask Jesus this simple question: “What would you have me believe and do as a result of your words today?”
You see, trusting in Jesus as our Lord and Savior is the moment when we start being a follower of Jesus. From that moment onward, all of God’s good and wonderful gifts of forgiveness, salvation and eternal that He gives us through Jesus are ours. We are God’s beloved, forgiven children and we have a heavenly Father who loves us infinitely and unconditionally. As we read in Ephesians 2:8-9, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8-9) That is called our justification and it is a 100% free gift from God. Because of Jesus and what He has done, it is just-as-if we had not sinned.
And right after we are justified, our journey as a follower of Jesus begins. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we want to grow in holiness and become more like Him. This is called our sanctification. For this stage of the journey, what we do as we follow Jesus becomes very important. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:24-27: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
So what is Jesus saying to us? He is telling us that we are going to have trouble in this world, we are going to face times when the wind beats against us and the rain threatens to wash away all that we hold dear. And Jesus is saying that we are not going to be able to withstand those storms if we simply hear what He says to us and do nothing about it. To build a life-house that will withstand the storms of this world, we need to hear what Jesus says and put it into practice, because it is by putting it into practice that we will discover that what Jesus tells us is true. Let me say that again: It is by doing what Jesus tells us that we will discover the truth of what He is saying. And when we are convinced of the truth of what Jesus is saying to us, then we will have a foundation that will weather any storm this world can throw at us. As Jesus said in John, chapter 10, My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)
3. What does it mean to fish for people?
So being a follower of Jesus means Hearing from Jesus and then putting what He tells us into practice. But what does it mean to fish for people? One very important thing to keep in mind is that the people fishing on the Sea of Galilee were not fishing like we usually do it today. We tend to fish by putting some bait or a lure on the end of some nylon string and dropping it into the water. We try to entice fish to take the bait and then we reel them in. But on the Sea of Galilee in ancient times, those who were fishing for fish would use a net. To fish with a net, you had to go where the fish were, you couldn’t lure them to you. You didn’t try to attract them by appealing to their basic appetites. You gathered them together with a net, something that impacted their entire being, something which helped them to see that there was no other way than to be lifted out of the water and receive the destiny the fisher has prepared for them.
Now here is where the metaphor breaks down. Successful fishing results in a bad ending for the fish, while successful fishing for people results in a great and glorious ending for people. But in many other respects, the metaphor works. So we go to where people already are and we talk with them (Talking with People). We watch and listen for human needs, which is Seeking the Kingdom. Because we have been Hearing from Jesus, we are already prepared to respond compassionately to those needs when we see them. And we know that it is Jesus who is doing all of the work, not us. It is His mission to redeem and restore all things. He has prepared us to share His love with others. He has already gone ahead of us and prepared people’s hearts for the grace that they will receive when we put Jesus’ words into practice. He is One who will change the hearts and minds of the ordinary people we encounter and draw them into the Kingdom of God.
And what kind of a net do we use? We use the net of Jesus’ love. When we see a human need and realize that we can help, we step in and do some good (Doing Good). Often doing a small thing–like giving someone our time and attention, or baking a banana loaf and taking it over to some neighbors who are going through a tough time–can make a big difference for someone else. It shows them that you care about them. But the really big way to bring Jesus into one of your encounters with someone else is to ask them if you can pray with them about the hard thing that they are going through (Ministering through Prayer).
Ministering through Prayer is probably the scariest of the 5 mission practices if you are not doing it. And what our fears do is prevent us from fully stepping into the opportunities that Jesus gives us to bring Him into our everyday encounters with others. So you might as well accept that you are going to be incredibly scared the first time that you ask people if you can pray for them, and then ask if it is okay if you pray with them now. But after that first time, you will never be that scared again, and you will have the experience of seeing what happens when you minister through prayer and Jesus brings the other person what they need, whether it is comfort, courage, joy or peace.
Conclusion: We are followers of Jesus who fish for people with the net of Jesus’ love. What the future holds for us on the other side of this pandemic, we don’t know. But we know that, with Jesus, in the end everything is going to be good. So we continue to move forward as a church and we follow Jesus as He leads us into new ways to make disciples who make disciples in a time of social distancing. Because we want to be a church that helps people of all generations to be passionate about, equipped for and effective at transforming lives for the Kingdom of God.
So the challenge that I am setting before you today is to ask Jesus to help you make a prayer list of people whom you encounter in your everyday life. And then pray for those people on that list every day. Ask for opportunities to share Jesus’ love with them, and then keep your eyes open for any needs they share when you next talk with them.
And remember: Jesus is sending us to fish for people. Amen.
What are your takeaways from this message?