The Call

Original Date: 
Sunday, August 12, 2012

Matthew 4:18-22 The Call

Vision Sunday
Today and next week are what I call Vision Sundays. Every year at about this time, as we’re getting ready for school to start and beginning a new church year, we take a couple of Sundays to talk about the theme or goal that God might have for us in the next year.

Now, the difference between mission and vision can be confusing, and I’m sure I mix them up from time to time. Our mission as a church doesn’t change: “We are here to bring joy to Jesus and to experience joy in Him”. That’s our mission statement and it stays constant. But our vision changes as God leads us into new opportunities and challenges.

Really, this week and the next—when we’ll be in the Events Center—are opportunities for us to take stock of where we at as a church and sort of set the agenda for the coming year.

And, of course, for this year our agenda is going to be largely set by the Open Doors vision. Most of you know that the church board has been doing some long-range planning and that we’ve set a vision based on Acts 1:8. We put it like this:

Our vision is to open doors to Jesus in Spencer, Northwest Iowa, and around the world.

Really, we’ve thought about it as a 5 year vision and a major part of it is the proposed expansion of our lobby and the capital campaign that will go with it. In a lot of ways, this is going to be a major focus for us as a congregation in the coming year, and especially in October when we hold our capital campaign.

So, since we’ll be talking about this so much in the weeks ahead, I really didn’t want to focus too much on this vision during these two weeks. Rather, what I want to do in these two vision Sundays is sort of pull back more to the 10,000 foot level. The campaign will be focusing on God’s specific calling on us at as a church at this time and how we can all be a part of that. We’ll really be looking at God’s direction for us as a church. But for these two Sundays I want to pull back and look more at Jesus’ calling on us as Christians.

In other words: before we ask whether we are willing to join Hope Church in this building and capital campaign (the Open Doors vision), we need to ask if we are responding to Jesus’ call to follow Him. Before we talk about God’s plans for us as part of Hope Church specifically, we need to talk about God’s will for us as Christians generally.

So, to do that, let me take you to a passage that describes Jesus’ calling of the first disciples. Matthew 4:18-22:

18 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. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
There are three things I want to point out about Jesus’ call.

Jesus said…
First, notice that the call is initiated by Jesus. Jesus is the one who seeks out and chooses His followers. Not the other way around. This is the way it always is.

So check the text. Verses 18 and 19:

18 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. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said,

Everything starts with Jesus. The fishermen are hard at work. Jesus is out for a walk. They don’t go to Him. Jesus comes to them. He sees them at their work, and He issues the invitation. Before they know He is there, He sees them. Before they speak, He’s calling them. The Lord is always ahead of His people.

And this is the way it always is. When Jesus names the 12 apostles, He’s the one doing the choosing. When He calls Matthew away from the tax collector’s booth, He initiates the conversation. When He summons Zaccheus down from the sycamore tree, it’s Jesus who speaks first.

God puts it like this, in the Old Testament, when talking to the prophet Jeremiah:

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,
Before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (Jer. 1:5)

And Jesus says it like this, in John 15:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.

In other words: there are no volunteers in the army of Jesus. We are all drafted. The initiative in our relationship always begins with Jesus. We are always responding to Him.

I think this is a key understanding for us, especially on a week where we are talking about God’s vision for us in the next year. It’s important for us to understand that we are always responding. That we are always following Christ’s lead. We don’t choose Him, He chooses us. We don’t create the vision, we receive it. We don’t chart the course for our life, we respond to His call.

Last week I was at preacher camp. That’s what we called it. It was a week-long combination of retreat, continued education, and conversation. Western Seminary invited 10 preachers and put us up in townhouses and just allowed us to talk about our calling. So we called it preacher camp. It was really nice.

And a quote that we kind of built our week around was one from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that goes like this:

The proclaimed word has its origin in the incarnation of Jesus Christ…The proclaimed word is the incarnate Christ himself…The proclaimed word…is the Christ himself walking through his congregation as the word.

It’s a great image. Basically, Bonhoeffer is saying that whenever the Word is preached, it’s as though Jesus Himself is present and walking through the midst of the congregation. It’s a reminder of what an important thing this sermon is every week, and what a lot of responsibility comes with being a preacher. But it’s also comforting to me as a preacher, because it’s a reminder that it doesn’t all ride on me. Every time we gather, Jesus is in the midst of us. Jesus is taking my clumsy words and turning them into what He wants you to hear. Jesus is the preacher.

And what I want you to have in your minds right now is that image of Jesus walking through the midst of the congregation. In Matthew He was walking the beaches of Galilee. Right now, He’s walking the aisles of our sanctuary. Jesus is the risen, living Lord. And He’s here with us. Right now.

And He’s calling you. He’s taking the initiative with you. He’s got an invitation for you, He’s got a purpose for you, and He wants you to hear it today.

The question is: are you listening?

Follow Me
The second thing I want to point out about Jesus’ call is that it is an invitation to relationship. Jesus doesn’t call us to all kinds of responsibilities, He doesn’t call us to a program or a curriculum, He calls us to be with Him.

This is verse 19. Jesus said, “Come, follow me.”

Think about what this meant for those who followed Jesus. Think about what the gospels describe. It’s not like, right after this, Jesus sends them off to boot camp for some basic training. He doesn’t get them in a classroom so that He can hold an orientation for what it means to follow Jesus. He doesn’t give them a handbook or show them a welcome video. He just does life with them.

When they join His little band they start following Him around. The very next thing that happens in Matthew is that He starts traveling the countryside, preaching in synagogues and healing the sick. And they went with Him.

If Jesus went into a house to raise a little girl from the dead, they were with Him. If He got in a boat to cross the lake, they were manning the oars. If went up a hill to meet Moses and Elijah, they were right there talking about building tents. Following Jesus meant having a relationship with Him. It meant being with Him.

And that’s what Jesus is inviting you to do today. That’s His call to you. He’s saying: “Come, follow me.” Come, have a relationship with me. Come, get to know me.

You know, I see those word “Follow me” and I think of a couple of children’s games. One is “Simon Says.” You know the game. One person is the leader, and he says: “Simon says, touch your nose.” And then everybody touches their nose. But if the leader doesn’t say “Simon says”, then you don’t have to do it.

In fact, let’s try it. I’ll be the leader. Simon says, raise your right hand. Simon says give the peace sign. Simon says, pat your head with your left hand. Ok, you can put your hand down.

Ohh, I didn’t say “Simon says!”

That’s the game. It’s basically a game about obedience. Can you listen and carry out the commands of the leader.

And for some people, I think they want Christianity to be like a game of Simon Says. They hear Jesus say “Follow me” and they hear obedience. A game of “Jesus Says.” Jesus tells us what to do. Give me the rules, tell me what to do.

And, of course, there is an element of that here. Jesus does say “Do this…” or “Don’t do that…” And He expects His followers to obey. Following Jesus does mean doing what He says we should do.

But that’s not all. This isn’t just about obeying Jesus. It’s not like Jesus is just looking for an army of mindless robots who automatically respond to His every command. If that’s what He wanted, He would have said: “Obey me.” But He doesn’t. He says, “Follow me.” He says, “Come and be with me. Get to know me. Love me.”

Or, again, the other game I think of is “Follow the Leader.” You know that game too. I won’t make you play it, but basically it means one person is the leader and everybody else gets in line behind the leader and does exactly what he or she does. So if the leader walks like a duck, everybody walks like a duck. If the leader dances like a Russian, everybody dances like a Russian. It’s an imitation game.

And for some people, that’s what Jesus is saying here: “Do what I do. Copy me.” And, again, there’s a sense in which that is part of Christianity. We take Jesus as our example. We ask: “What would Jesus do?”

But that’s not all either. Jesus doesn’t say: “Imitate me.” He’s not looking for a whole bunch of people in sandals and robes. He says: “Follow me.” He says, “Spend time with me. Learn from me. Be in relationship with me.”

In the Bible stories, Jesus called His disciples to a lifelong companionship. Andrew and Peter were to walk along with Him, listen to His words, watch Him in action. James and John were to get to know Him better and love him more and more. And that meant they would obey Him. That meant they would imitate Him. But, more than that, it meant they would BE with Jesus.

And that’s what Jesus is calling you to today. He wants you to come and follow Him. To have a relationship with Him. To love Him and get to know Him and spend time in conversation with Him and invite Him into every part of your life.

Fishers of Men
And then, third, Jesus’ call is intended to benefit other people. When Jesus calls us, it’s not only for our blessing and benefit, but He has a purpose for us to serve and bless other people.

You see this in the text in verse 19:

19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

This is a metaphor of course, but it’s not too hard to understand what Jesus is getting at. Peter and Andrew were fishermen. So were James and John. They were engaged in catching fish, bringing them in. Now, Jesus says, they are going to engage in people fishing. They are going to catch people.

Jesus doesn’t mean that literally. They’re not going to use nets or hooks or anything like that. What Jesus has been doing prior to this is preach the good news of the kingdom of God. Obviously, what He means is that these new followers are going to do the same sort of thing. They’re going to invite people to believe in God. They’re going to share the good news. They’re going to build the kingdom.

If these men had been businessmen, maybe Jesus would have said: “Come, follow me and I’ll help you invest in people.” If they had been shepherds, Jesus would have said “Come follow me and tend my flock.” If they had been carpenters, Jesus would have said, “Come follow me and build a church of redeemed people.”

The point is: there’s a purpose to Jesus’ call. It’s about other people. God’s priority is always people.

This is the thing about Jesus: He’s constantly challenging us to take our eyes off ourselves.

There’s something intensely personal about being a Christian. Jesus comes and dies for your sins. You have this eternal debt that needs to be paid and Jesus pays it for you. He makes it possible for you to have a relationship with God and enjoy heaven forever. It’s personal salvation. God loves you.

And yet, it never stays just about you. Because when Jesus calls us, He immediately challenges us to take our eyes off of ourselves and look at others. Be fishers of men. Love your neighbor. The fields are white for the harvest. Go and make disciples. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.

We have an incredible propensity for self-centeredness. The phrase that I think captures this well is “navel-gazing”. I always thought that was a pretty expressive phrase. “Navel-gazing”. That means, if we had our druthers, a lot of us would prefer to just sit on the couch and stare at our own belly-buttons. That is, we can be very selfish. Very caught up in our own problems and issues. Very self-centered.

If navel-gazing were an Olympic event, I believe I’d do very well. I’m not saying I’d win the gold, but I’d at least make the podium. I can be very selfish.

I’ll give you just one example—and this is just a small thing. I talk a lot about the hamburgers I grill. I like to call them the “Best Hamburgers You’ve ever Tasted” and sell them at the youth auction. I don’t cook a lot, but I like to make burgers.

But here’s the thing: when I cook burgers, I cook them the way I like to eat them. I don’t mind cooking burgers for other people, but I’ll only cook them the way I like them. I don’t really care if you like them a certain way. I don’t really care if you like them the way I make them. The important thing is that they taste good to me. If you like them too, that’s all the better. But I’m not changing.

You see what I’m saying? I can be very self-centered. Very selfish. And I’d be even worse, except Jesus is there and He’s constantly saying: “Lift up your eyes. Look around. Notice the people. I didn’t call you just so that you could sit around and pick lint out of your navel. I’ve got a purpose for you. Go out and be a fisher of men.”

There’s a reason that Jesus doesn’t take us straight to heaven the moment we believe. He leaves us here on earth because He has work for us to do, a work that involves other people. He calls us to love them, to serve them, to reach out to them, and in the magnetism of His love and joy, to bring them home to Him. That’s what we’re here for: caring about and catching people for Christ.

They Left Their Nets
So this is Jesus’ call: Listen to Him, live with Him, and lead others to Him.

As I said, I believe Jesus is walking the aisles of the sanctuary right now, and He’s calling you. He’s inviting you to follow Him.

For some of you, you’ve responded to that call already. Maybe you first heard Jesus’ call decades ago, maybe it was a couple of weeks ago on a youth trip. But today, He’s calling you again and you have the opportunity to respond again. To re-up in your commitment to be His follower. To confirm your connection to you.

For some of you, you’ve never said yes to Jesus. Maybe you’ve been coming to church for a while, but holding Jesus at a distance. Maybe this is one of the first times you’ve been in a church for a long time. Well, Jesus is walking the aisles right now and He’s calling you. He wants you to follow. What are you going to say?

For the first disciples, for Peter and Andrew and James and John, their response was immediate and complete. Here’s how Matthew describes it:

20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
They left their nets, their boats, their livelihood, their identity as fisherman. They left their father and their co-workers and their friends. And they followed Jesus. They left everything to treasure Jesus above all things.

Now, if you read the other gospels, you’ll realize that this was not the first time these men met Jesus. The Gospel of John tells us that Andrew was a follower of John the Baptist and heard John call Jesus “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Luke tells us that Jesus used the boats of these men to preach from and led them to a miraculously large catch of fish. Undoubtedly they’ve heard Jesus preach and they’ve talked with Him before.

But Matthew tells the story this way, with Jesus speaking just 11 words and the fishermen dropping everything, to show us the totality of their response. No matter how much background information they had, or how much time they had to think about who Jesus was, still Matthew wants us to see that when Jesus called they answered. They put everything else aside to follow Jesus.

What about you? Are you willing to answer Jesus’ call?