3 Epiphany Proper A3
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 4:12-23 Sermon
January 26, 2014

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
281 "The Saviour Calls, Let Every Ear"
496 "Hark The Voice Of Jesus Calling"
270 "Jesus Calls Us O'er The Tumult"
658 "Onward Christian Soldiers" 


TEXT (vs. 18-22):  “18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

            Back when I was a child in Sunday School, one of the songs we learned was a way to remember the original twelve apostles.  Some of you have heard me quote this before, and I admit that I've told this to a lot of people.  The song lyrics are as follows:

            "Peter, Andrew, James, and John, fishermen of Capernaum; Thomas and Saint Matthew too, Philip and Bartholomew.  James the Less and Jude the brave; Simon the Zealot, and Judas the knave.  Twelve disciples here in all, answering the Master's call."

            It's not a difficult song, and it's an easy way to remember all those names.  It's been many, many years since I learned it, and that's the way I still use to name the twelve Apostles.  There's no need to reinvent the wheel.

            Only recently however, I learned that there is another song that goes to the tune of "Jesus Loves Me."  Here's the first stanza:  "Jesus called them one by one, Peter, Andrew, James and John; next came Philip, Thomas too, Matthew and Bartholomew."  Now here's the second stanza:  "James the one they called the less, Simon, also Thaddeus; the twelfth Apostle Judas made, Jesus was by him betrayed."  The refrain follows each stanza:  "Yes, Jesus called them, yes, Jesus called them, yes, Jesus called them, and they all followed him."

            Neat, huh?  These little songs aren't complete however; there are a couple more names on the list.  There is Matthias, who was the Apostle chosen by lot to replace Judas after he hanged himself.  And of course we dare not forget the Apostle Paul, the one Jesus called while he was on the road toDamascus.  So technically, there should be fourteen names.  But the group of men we call "The Apostles," or "The Disciples" generally reference the original twelve.  And this is not to detract from the other two, but the original twelve accompanied Jesus in his ministry.

            Okay, now we know the names; but knowing the names doesn't really tell us much about who these men were.  When we take a look at who these men were and what their backgrounds were, we can certainly see the wisdom Jesus had in choosing these men.  He wanted there to be an Apostle for every occasion.

            We'll start with Simon Peter.  He was a fisherman by trade, and one of these guys who was about as subtle as the front of a bus.  When Jesus rebukes, or scolds Peter, he is far more stronger with his words than he is with anybody else.  “Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus tells him in Matthew 16:23. “You are an offence to me, for you don't prefer the things of God but those of man.”       

            The name "Peter" was a name that Jesus gave him.  His birth name was Simon, and he was the son of Jonah.  But when he made his confession concerning Jesus, he said "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Then Jesus gave him the name "Peter," which comes from the Greek "petra," which means "rock."  We also see him called "Cephas," which is Aramaic for "rock."  The "rock" being referred to is not Peter the man, but the confession of faith that Peter made.  Christ is indeed the rock upon which the Christian Church is built.

            Next comes Andrew, Simon's brother, who was also a fisherman by trade.  Andrew was originally a disciple of John the Baptist; but when Jesus came along, his discipleship changed too.  After all, John the Baptist and his disciples were there to prepare the way for Jesus.

            One of the neat things about Andrew, is that when he first became acquainted with Jesus, he couldn't wait to tell his brother Simon about it.  He found out where Jesus was staying and wasted no time in coming back with his brother in tow.  And we know the rest of the story there.

            The next two Apostles were James and John, also fishermen.  They were sons of a man by the name of Zebedee, and their mother Salome.  It's quite likely that these men were the first cousins of Jesus, since Mary had an older sister by that name.  Jesus nicknamed them the "Sons of Thunder," probably because of their zeal or temperament.

            Next is Thomas, and we don't know a whole lot about him.  We understand him to be a logical and analytical person, hence his doubt regarding Jesus' resurrection.  He was also in need of comfort as he questions Jesus in John chapter 14 about the place he was going.  He is called "Didymus," which means "twin," so he had a twin brother or sister someplace.  A few have tried to suggest that Thomas was Jesus' twin, but that simply could not be.

            So now we come to Matthew, also called Levi, who was a tax collector.  As such, he was a despised person in society.  No good Jew would ever be caught associating with such a crooked and despicable person.  Even so, Jesus eats at his table and calls him to be one of his disciples.

            Philip comes next, and even though he is often mentioned, we don't know a whole lot about him.  He came from the city ofBethsaida, the same town as Peter and Andrew.  He was also originally a disciple of John the Baptist.  He was present at the feeding of the 5,000, and he was the one the Greeks approached wanting to see Jesus.  He also Baptized the Ethiopian eunuch.

            Philip was also the one who went and fetched Nathaniel, or Bartholomew; he was known by both names.  Nathaniel was the one who asked the question in reference to Jesus, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  And Philip replied, "Come and see."   Jesus calls him "An Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile."  And Nathaniel, or Bartholomew exclaims, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel."      

            Precious little is known about the next two people, James the Less and Simon the Zealot.  James the Less is so named, not because he was any less important than the others, but for one or both of a couple of reasons.  "The Less" can refer to someone who is either younger, or not very tall.  It had nothing to do with his character.  Legend has it however, that James the Less neither cut his hair in the Nazarene tradition, nor did he ever bathe.  He must have really been a sight, that is if you could get close enough to see him!  I've said before his name should have been "James the stinky."

            Simon the Zealot cannot be confused with Simon Peter.  Simon came from Canaan, and legend has it that he was the bridegroom at the wedding at Cana of Galilee.  The Zealots were a group of Jews who were attempting to overthrow the Roman government.  If Simon was part of this group, his conversion to Christianity would have made him zealous for the Gospel of Christ, and not trying to champion the cause of earthly government revolt. 

            Jude, or Thaddeus as he is sometimes called, is reported to have traveled with Simon into Persia.  Legend has it that this Jude was one of Jesus' brothers.  Jude is known as a brave fighter, and he is known in various circles as the "Patron Saint of Lost Causes."  This is the reason the famous St. Jude Children's Hospital is named after him.  Jude is also referenced in John chapter 14 as "Judas, not Iscariot" to keep his identity separate.

            Judas was the son of Simon Iscariot, and his reputation has forever given his name a pejorative meaning.  He was the treasurer amongst the disciples, which would lead us to believe that he had a background in banking and finance.  He also shows himself to be a real scoundrel who helped himself to the money entrusted to him, and who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

            Matthias, who was chosen by lot to replace Judas after he committed suicide is relatively unknown.  We do know that he was a just and upright man who would represent his Lord and the Gospel quite well.

            Finally, there was the Apostle Paul.  Besides being a Pharisee in the Jewish faith, he was a tentmaker by trade.  We could also talk about Mark and Luke, the two Evangelists as well.  Mark was most likely a servant, and one of the servants who served at the wedding in Cana.  Luke was a doctor, a physician.

            In our Gospel lesson for today, we have the privilege of eavesdropping as Jesus calls those first disciples.  And from the type of people we see Jesus calling, we can safely assume that there was an Apostle for every occasion.  When Jesus called people to follow him, and then he sends them out with the Gospel message, he wanted to be sure that everybody could identify with the people serving him.  Regardless of the situation in life, there was always a point of identity.  This saving message of the Gospel was for everybody, and not just for those "church folks" who were locked away in their ivory towers looking down their noses at everybody else.  This is the way Jesus leveled the playing field; nobody was any better or different than anybody else when it came to the message of sin and grace.

            It’s at this point that I am going to make a distinction between two terms we often use interchangeably.  There’s a difference between a “disciple” and an “apostle.”

            A disciple has two basic characteristics.  First of all, a disciple is a student of a master; that is, someone who intently wants to absorb all that his master has to teach him.  Second of all, a disciple is a follower; that is, someone who believes and supports the teachings of his master. 

            The word "apostle" comes from the Greek word that means “one who is sent.”  While a disciple constantly studies, believes, and supports the teachings of a master, an apostle is one who, in addition to being a disciple, is specifically sent out by the master to teach.  Jesus called these men to witness his ministry and learn his teaching for several years.  Then they were to pass along those very same teachings to the people around them, especially to the next generation.  In this way, the teachings of Jesus Christ would be spread throughout the world.

            These men had their work cut out for them.  And the choices Jesus made in whom he called would greatly benefit the Apostles' ministry.  There would be a point of identification, where people could see that God loved the ordinary, everyday person.  Salvation was something a person could have by faith alone, and not because of where they happened to be on the social ladder.

            We've all heard the story about the Pharisee and the tax collector.  The Pharisee paraded around his self-righteous and haughty attitude, while the tax collector simply beat his breast and exclaimed, "God be merciful unto me, a sinner."   A message of forgiveness and restoration is what Jesus gives to the penitent sinner, apart from whatever good works a person thinks they have.

            So regardless of who we are, or our place in society, we faithfully follow Jesus because of his love for us and for what he has done for us.  As sinners, we have the blessing of the Gospel that assures us our sins are forgiven, and we are guaranteed a mansion in heaven for eternity.

            Each time we have a confession of sins together as a congregation, we hear the words of absolution that tell us our sins have been completely forgiven and eradicated from our record.  Because of our faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour, all of our sins are completely removed from us.  He has given us his robe of righteousness so we are innocent before the judgment seat of God. 

            So what does all this have to do with us here today?  The thing we need to recognize is that we are all disciples.  We are followers of Jesus Christ.  That’s why we’re here.  We’re not part of the original apostles, but we are still disciples.  We are disciples who have been called by the Gospel, and we are also sent out in the world for a purpose.

            In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus took some common people with little formal education.  These were working class men.  They were disciples of Jesus, and he makes them into Apostles; i.e. men sent forth with a mission and purpose.  Jesus tells them that he wants them to be “fishers of men.”  He wants to use their humble talents in building his Church.  Christ’s Church isn’t something that is built upon eloquent speech or theological savvy, but built on nothing more than faith alone.

            When we look at the Apostles, we know more about some than we do others.  Besides the fishermen, we have tax collectors, perhaps a couple of farmers, and maybe the odd herdsman.  And how can we forget that God chose a carpenter to be Jesus' earthly father?

            Those Apostles didn't go seeking a job, or looking for an apprenticeship.  There was no complicated application, or detailed résumé, or lengthy interview.  Jesus sought them out and called them to follow him.  And then he sent them out with the message of the Gospel.   

            As we look at our own lives, we can see how God has called us.  Dr. Luther says in his Small Catechism that the Holy Ghost “has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.”

            And now he sends us out to bear witness to the hope that is within us.  He sends us forth with the Gospel that forgives and restores.  He sends us out with his message of love and peace, that has transformed our lives, and has given us hope for the life to come.