First a little context. In the Gospel of John chapter one, John the Baptist had two disciples, Andrew and one other. They saw Jesus passing by and John said, "Behold the Lamb of God!" and then the two disciples followed Jesus. Later Andrew told Simon Peter that they had found the Messiah, and brought him to Jesus.
Now obviously, this story in John one came before our Reading in Matthew four. Among other things, in John one, John the Baptist was still walking about as a free man. In Matthew four, he had already been put in prison.
So how do we fit these two readings together? In John one, they met Christ for the first time. They began to listen to His teachings and called Him Rabbi. But they did not leave their homes and their lives yet. Later, in the events described in Matthew four, Christ called them to be fishers of men, that is, ministers of the Gospel. Then they left their nets and followed Him.
So what does Christ tell us in Matthew four? "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." And they left their nets and their boats and their father, and followed Him.
We are not all called to be preachers. We are not all fishers of men in that particular sense. Yet we may all speak the Gospel to others as God gives us opportunity. This Gospel that any believer may speak is the net that catches men.
But we should not set aside the ministry, as if everyone is a minister. There is an importance to the preaching office that can easily be lost in modern America.
So how do you best uphold the pastoral ministry? Answer: Be fish. Do not be so proud that you are not willing to be caught by the Gospel net.
This can be difficult. There is so much emphasis at times upon what people in the pews need to do that we sometimes lose something crucial. Why is it so hard to be fish? Because they do not want to be caught. In nature, a caught fish is a dead fish. The way your sinful flesh views it, to be caught by the Gospel means to die, and that is true. You must die to yourself. The old Adam must be daily put to death. So the old Adam, the fish in you, wants to avoid the net.
But I tell you, be willing to be caught. Here I am preaching a bit to the choir. Here you are on a Wednesday night, hearing the Gospel when most are not here. This is how to be a fish who is willing to be caught. Let the Gospel catch you. But it is not enough to be here. Listen, and take to heart. A fish may linger in the net for a few moments, then dart back out again to safety. In the same way, a person may willingly sit in the pew, acting like a believer, yet secretly in the heart they are putting up barriers to the Word. Sometimes this is intentional, but sometimes you do not even realize that you are doing it. So be careful, and pay attention. Let the net catch you.
Let the Law drive you to repentance. If you are listening and listening but you never feel any sorrow over your sins, then you are slipping out of the net. Believe in the sweet Gospel of forgiveness. This Christ who speaks in the Word is the same who died, who shed precious Blood so that you could be caught. Cling to Him with all your might. Do you feel how wonderful this Gospel is? If you feel nothing, maybe the fish in you is trying to avoid the net.
Tonight Christ also tells us to be ready to abandon all for the sake of the Gospel. This is a heavy weight to lay on you. I am not specifically asking you to give up your job and your family. But what if Christ your dear Lord requires that of you? What if it becomes clear to you that you cannot remain in something and remain a faithful Christian? Will you be ready to let it go?
Christ, who gave up all for you, may ask you to give up much. In your daily life, you are already giving up many things. You do not follow whatever impulses strike you in the moment, because you were bought with a price. You put money in the offering plate and serve the congregation in other ways because you are giving up some things for the Gospel. You could live a much more comfortable life if you stopped giving offerings. You could live a much freer life if you stopped attending worship, and stopped listening to the Word of God. But instead you give up things for Christ.
How much? I cannot say. He may require your life. For eleven out of twelve faithful disciples, there would be a martyr's death. For them, that is where "Follow Me," led them. But they suffered all, even death, for the sake of their dear Lord.
Probably, Christ will not ask that of you. Put perhaps He will. Are you ready? If your Lord suffered unimaginable agony for you, would you deny Him just to buy yourself safety? Or if the requirement is much less, would you deny Him for a little comfort?
This is a hard Word of Law, but we all need to hear it. Follow Him, wherever He may lead. If He leads into darkness and death, follow Him. If He leads into poverty and lack, follow Him. If He leads into sorrow and pain, follow Him. If He leads to the enmity of family and friends, follow Him.
You owe Him all, for He purchased you out of sin and death, while you were still enemies of God. He did not count any cost. May we also forget the cost and follow Him.
Therefore, resist your fish nature that would rather wriggle out of the net. Repent of the times that you have been slippery by pulling back when He said, "Follow." And whatever you have done that has not followed Him, receive His forgiveness, freely offered in this holy net of His Gospel.
In His Name, the only Savior of us sinners. Amen.
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