3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 4:12-23 Sermon
January 27, 2008
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
309 "Thou Whose Almighty Word"
467 "Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind"
323 "Spread, Oh Spread Thou Mighty Word"
198 "Saviour Again To Thy Dear Name We Raise"
FISHING WITH DYNAMITE
TEXT (vs. 18-22): “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. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. 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, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”
There’s a fishing story that I particularly like, and this morning, I’m going to share it with you. I hope you enjoy it too.
In a small New England town, there lived an old man who was quite the fisherman. The man’s face had deep lines of being out in the weather all his life. He wore boots and grubby clothes befitting his trade. He had a slouch hat perched upon his head over his gray wispy hair. In his mouth he held an ever-present cigar in his teeth.
Everybody in town envied him, because he was always able to catch fish. Even when everybody else had a bad day, he always had a good one. People were always wondering what his secret was, but they were too timid to ask him—after all, a good fisherman never gives away his secrets. Was it the bait he used? Did he have a secret spot? Did he have some fancy fish locater on board his boat? How did he manage to be so successful a fisherman?
One day, a young man came to town. He approached the old man and asked him if he could go fishing with him. To everyone’s surprise, the old man agreed. So the two of them climbed into his battered old fishing boat and went out from shore. After cruising around for awhile, the old man shut off his boat and dropped anchor. “This looks like a good place,” he said.
Without saying another word, the old man reached for a battered old tackle box. He opened it up, and pulled out a stick of dynamite. He touched his cigar to the fuse and flung it out into the water. After it exploded, quite a number of stunned fish came floating to the surface of the water. Then he pulled up his anchor, and began putting around in his boat, scooping up the stunned fish with his landing net.
The young man was shocked. But then he reached into his pocket, pulled out a badge and showed it to the old man. “Sir,” he said, “I hate to inform you of this, but I’m the game warden, and what you are doing is illegal.”
The old man was silent. After a few seconds, he reached into his tackle box again, pulled out another stick of dynamite, touched the fuse to his cigar, and handed it to the young man. The young man was speechless.
Then the old man spoke. “So tell me, son,” he said, “What are you going to do? Are you just going to sit there, or are you going to fish?”
Of course this story is intended to be humorous; but like most stories, there is something to be learned from it. I’ll get into the application here in a little bit.
When we look at the Bible, specifically the New Testament, we’ll find numerous references to fish. People in that region knew all about fishing. Many people made their living that way. But in the context of Jesus and his ministry, as well as the whole New Testament Church, the fish had some significance.
I think we’re all familiar with the Christian fish symbol, which consists basically of two interlocking arcs. It’s something that virtually anybody could draw. That’s the way that early Christians identified themselves to each other. One person would draw the upper arc with a stick in the dirt or sand, and the other would draw the interlocking lower arc, which completed the simple fish symbol. This only made sense to the Christians; non-believers had no idea what a simple arc drawn in the dirt or sand meant.
When we see the symbol today, it frequently has a series of five Greek letters inside, which are: iota, chi, theta, upsilon, and sigma. The word they spell is “ichthus,” which is Greek for “fish.” That’s where we get the English word “ichthyology” which refers to the study of marine life. However the individual letters of “ichthus” are an acronym, which stands for: “Jesus Christ God’s Son Saviour.”
In the Bible, we have numerous accounts where fish are either a key factor in the story, or at least rate a mention. We’ve read about the feeding of the five thousand, where Jesus multiplied the fish brought by a young boy and fed the crowd of people. Then we have the account of the draught of fishes, where the disciples cast their net on the opposite side of the boat and caught so many fish that their nets began to tear. Or maybe we can remember the story about the disciples out in the boat on the water early one morning, and Jesus on the shore grilling them some fish for their breakfast. There are certainly lots of fish stories in the Bible, and our text for today is definitely one of them.
Our Gospel lesson for today centers on the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and calling his first disciples. And those disciples were fishermen by trade—go figure! First there were the two brothers, Simon and Andrew; and a short while later, another two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. All of them were at work, doing what they knew best. They had been fishing.
Fishing was not a glamourous profession, but it was an honest one and a necessary one. Fishing did not require a lot of education, just hard work and experience. People in that region ate a lot of fish, and somebody had to provide for the people. The fishermen would go out at night and fish; then in the morning, the fish would be taken to the market in the towns to be sold. Since there was no refrigeration, people had to go to market every day to buy what they needed for their meals.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is beginning his ministry. He leaves his home town of Nazareth, and goes to Capernaum, which is beside the Lake of Galilee. There he begins preaching to the people. His message is simple: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Of course, word spread about him. People heard about him, people went to hear what he had to say, and most importantly, the people listened. No doubt Simon, Andrew, James, and John also knew about Jesus. His message and his ministry would have intrigued them. They would have discussed it amongst themselves and with their respective families and friends. These men were Jews and knew the prophecies about the Messiah who was to come. Disciples of John the Baptist, like Andrew would have had even a more keen awareness of who Jesus was.
So when Jesus comes to Simon and Andrew, it is understandable why they would have reacted the way they did. Our Gospel lesson for today reads: “‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.”
These four men had an awesome task before them. They would be instrumental in bringing the message of the Gospel to the world. These simple fishermen had been called by God to do a specific task, which was to be his spokesmen. Their work would be to bring people into his kingdom of grace.
“‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’” Those are words he not only speaks to the fishermen, but to us as well. It seems like a huge task to have set before us. How do we do it? How do we become those “fishers of men” Jesus is speaking about? Is there a special spot to go to, or special bait to use? Is there some sort of secret that Jesus isn’t telling us?
Being fishers of men would be a daunting task, if it weren’t for one thing. Can you guess what that one thing is? It’s dynamite! When we go fishing for members of the human race, God not only allows us to use dynamite, but he tells us that’s the way it has to be done!
Allow me to explain. “Dynamite” is an English form of the Greek word “dunamis,” which means “power.” So where do we get this “dynamite” or this “power” to be effective fishermen?
Paul writes in Romans 1, 16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power [literally the dynamite] of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”
When Jesus was speaking to the Sadducees and they were trying to trap him, he responds in Mark 12, 24: “…Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?”
And in the verse just following our Epistle reading for today, Paul writes in I Corinthians 1, 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
There’s dynamite all over the place! The Gospel is the dynamite of God! The message of the cross is the dynamite of God! The Holy Scriptures are the dynamite of God!
Dynamite, as we know, is a very powerful explosive, and it comes in various forms. There’s TNT (which stands for “trinitrotoluene”), or gelignite (sometimes called “jelly”), or other forms of this explosive. Whatever you call it, it is used to blow something apart. It is used in building demolition, it is used in construction, and it is used in mining, along with other things. A well-placed stick of dynamite can blast through things which would otherwise be impenetrable.
How has that dynamite of God affected us? What has it done in our lives? What has happened in the far reaches of our souls?
Sin is that impenetrable substance that needs to be permeated and blasted away. It is so hard and immovable that nothing can budge it—that is, nothing but the dynamite of God.
In the midst of our sin, here comes Jesus with a very simple, one sentence message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” This is the message he carries to the entirety of the human race, which includes you and me.
Jesus came to blast away Satan and what he has done to us. Our faith in Jesus alone is the dynamite that reduces our hard shell of sin into a pile of dust that can be blown away by the wind. Satan’s shackles have been blown apart by the message of the cross. Jesus our Saviour has given us complete freedom in the Gospel.
When we repent, it means that God is working in our lives. We don’t have to invite him in or somehow do things under our own power. God’s dynamite does it all. And it’s that power that turns us away from Satan toward Jesus Christ. And once everything has been blown away, all that’s left is faith alone, a simple child-like faith which clings only to Jesus our Saviour.
Today Jesus asks us to follow him. This involves more than just giving him lip service and half-hearted allegiance. He wants us to be active followers, and to be about the business of being “fishers of men.” Even little children in Sunday School know about that. I remember learning the song at a very early age: “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men; I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me. If you follow me, if you follow me; I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me.”
God’s holy Word is like dynamite. It blasts away sin and the power of the devil, and it opens our souls wide for our Saviour to enter in. It is the most effective weapon we have against Satan, and the most effective tool we can use to bring the message of the Gospel to the world.
As we go forth as Christ’s disciples, it would do us well to think of it this way: God has handed each of us a stick of lit dynamite, and asks us the question: “So what are you going to do; are you going to just sit there, or are you going to fish?”