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 send you out to fish for people.” 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.
Matthew 4:18-22 gives us the account of Jesus gathering his first disciples even as they were going about their day to day lives as fishermen as verses 18 and 21 indicate. While the call issued to these 4 and the other apostles later was a unique call that cannot be repeated in our time, there are 3 lessons we can still learn from Jesus’s call and their response.
First, notice it is Jesus who is the initiator of the call. Typically, rabbis of Jesus’s day would not call for people to follow them. Anyone interested would follow a rabbi out of their own initiative. Jesus, however, is not just a rabbi. He is the sovereign God in the flesh. So, he calls them. “Come, follow me” [v. 19]. It was not a suggestion, but a command. Follow, come after me was the call.
But what does he call them for? What was the purpose of this call to ministry? The answer is right there in the same verse, “I will send you out to fish for people.” So long, you’ve been catching live fish and killing them for food. From here-on, by being my messengers, you will be catching spiritually dead people in order to give them spiritual life by proclaiming the gospel. That’s the call! Ordinary and uneducated fishermen to be his first messengers—to carry out a monumental task!
Amazing, isn’t it? The kind of people Jesus chose as his representatives. But therein lies the wisdom of God. His thinking is not like the thinking of the world. He calls who he chooses to call for the tasks he appoints for them.
So, that’s the first lesson we need to learn: The call to be a witness for Jesus does not initiate with us. It initiates with him. He is the one who calls us to be his witnesses [Acts 1:8]. Failure to obey that call is a sin.
Second, notice Jesus also assures them of his power in accomplishing this call. The phrase, “I will send you” has the idea of empowerment. Some translations have, “I will make you fishers.” Same idea. You will not be operating in a vacuum. I will empower you to do what I have called you to do. That’s Jesus’s promise.
Just as those early disciples were empowered to be his messengers, he gives us the same power to be his messengers as well. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are sent people into this lost world [Acts 1:8] to be his witnesses. So, we don’t need to be fearful in fulfilling that call. That’s the second lesson we need to learn.
Third, notice the response of the disciples to Jesus’s call was marked by immediate obedience without the slightest delay. There was absolutely no hesitation whatsoever in their obedience. They did not let possessions come in the way of following Jesus. Matthew 4:20 says, “At once they left their nets and followed him.” They did not let relationships come in the way of following Jesus. Matthew 4:22 says, “immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”
A similar response is what we are called to display as well. Immediate and wholehearted obedience without any delay. We cannot let possessions or relationships hinder our obedience to Jesus’s call to be his witnesses.
Please understand, this does not mean we all abandon our families and quit our jobs per se to follow him. The New Testament clearly calls us to love our family and even provide for them. The same Peter would later be with his wife in ministry, and Jesus even healed his mother-in-law who was living with him. The idea is that we cannot allow the family to come in the way of following Jesus.
The New Testament also clearly calls us to be good employees. That obviously means some of us would be called to be in workplaces shining the gospel light. The idea is that we cannot allow our careers to come in the way of following Jesus. In some cases, Jesus may call his followers to remain in their present careers and be a witness to him. In other cases, there may be a career change and still be a witness to him. Yet, in some other cases, Jesus may want us to quit our jobs in order to effective witness for him.
The point is that our obedience to Jesus must be so wholehearted that we don’t let anything—be it our careers or our families come in the way. That’s the third lesson we need to learn.
Pioneer missionaries like William Carey, Hudson Taylor, risked their lives, including the lives of their families because they took Jesus’s call to be his messengers seriously. That should be the same attitude when it comes to our possessions as well. Jesus calls us to see our possessions not as an end to provide for our pleasure, but merely as a means to further the gospel as his witness.
In other words, possessions must not possess us. We are called to hold them loosely. We are to use our possessions to further God’s word. Be it giving it all up to take the gospel to other places or using it to send others or even using it to reach the people around us. The main issue is this: We must always keep obeying Jesus’s call to be his witness wherever he calls us to be!
Did these disciples know how their lives would end? Not so much at this point. Yet, by faith, they left all and followed Jesus! Peter and Andrew, according to church history, were crucified; James, according to the book of Acts, was killed by Herod; John according to Revelation was put in prison in the island of Patmos. Not a glorious ending—by worldly standards. But, according to heavenly standards, they lived the successful life.
Jesus himself said later in this same gospel, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” [Matt 10:39]. He also put it in another way, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” [Mk 8:35].
These disciples lost their lives in this world to gain the world to come. In the final analysis, they lived the best life on earth—faithful obedience to Jesus’s call! Even though they went through much suffering! And for sure they are now living the best life—for all eternity—at the feet of Jesus—experiencing total peace and comfort. No more tears. No more sorrows. Only joy for all eternity. But the cross came first—before the glory!
The Bible is very clear in this aspect. Without the cross, there is no following Christ. And without following Christ, there is no life at all. In the book titled, “The Cost of Discipleship” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor in Germany during WWII who died for his commitment to Christ, wrote these words:
As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.
When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Martin Luther who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world.
Jesus’ call to the rich young ruler was for him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts.
Every day the Christian encounters new temptations, and every day he must suffer anew for Jesus Christ’s sake wounds and the scars he receives in the fray are living tokens of this participation in the cross of his Lord.
Yes, death on a cross is a slow death, but it is a certain one: Death to self-importance, self-satisfaction, self-absorption, self-advancement, self-dependence, death to self-interest. Why? Because we serve Christ!
The story is told about Count Zinzendorf, the founder of Moravian fellowships, as to how he saw the cross and the implications of the cross through an interesting event.
In a little chapel near his estates in Europe, there was a picture of Jesus Christ painted by a Christian. Underneath the picture were the words “All this I did for thee; what hast thou done for Me?” When Zinzendorf saw this picture and the words, he was speechless. He saw the pierced hands, the bleeding forehead, and the wounded side. He kept on looking at the picture and the text alternatively.
Hours passed, he was unable to move. As the day passed, he was bowed down weeping out his devotion to Him whose love had completely conquered his heart. He left the chapel that day as a changed man. He used his finances to work through the Moravians, whose missionary interests and services have influenced the entire world.
You see, this is precisely what occurs when a person’s heart is captivated by the love of Christ. It is that type of love that makes a person a Christian in the first place and enables to lovingly obey him from thereon.
People whose hearts have been conquered by the love of Christ will never quit pursuing obedience to his commands. They will gladly walk in the narrow path because they know that is the only path that leads them to their eventual home in heaven. They understand that they are light-bearers called to shine the light of the gospel to the dark world around them.
But they also know first and foremost it starts with having the light of Jesus shine in their own hearts. Has that happened to you? Have you personally experienced the conviction of your own sinfulness and turned to Jesus the Messiah, who in his great love, shed his blood on that cross to pay for sins? Has your heart been conquered by the love of Christ? If so, what is your response to his loving call for salvation? I hope it is a “Yes!”
And if it is a “Yes,” please understand Jesus still issues the same loving call of service to you, “Follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.”
What is your response to his loving call for service? Is it immediate and continual obedience like these disciples who did not let possessions or even family come in the way because they knew Jesus is worthy of total and unrestrained obedience? Or are you too caught up with your possessions, your position, and your relationships which hinders you from being an effective witness for Jesus? If so, today is the day to repent and ask him to forgive you and help you to be a faithful witness.
Ask him to teach you how to use your position, how to use your possessions in order to spread the gospel effectively. Ask him to help you put him above your relationships. Remember, he is your Creator. He is your Redeemer. He alone died for you. He deserves the No. 1 position in your life!