Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 4 as we continue our study in Matthew'’ gospel. We continue in the first days of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee as He calls His first disciples into active service. Hear the word of the living God, God’s holy, inerrant and inspired Word, beginning in verse eighteen.
Our Father we thank You for this Your Word and we ask that You would bless it to our spiritual nourishment. Open our eyes that we might behold wonderful things in Your law, and by the Spirit we pray to become not only hearers but doers of the truth. To Your glory and our good we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.
In this passage we see the call of the first four disciples. Jesus had known them for about a year. We know that from our reading of John chapter one. But in this passage He issues to them a special call. Now they were no longer to have simply concourse with Him as He made his way around the Sea of Galilee and in the city of Capernaum, but they were to leave their vocations and follow Him. They would occasionally fish from time to time from that point on, but only to sustain them in their main ministry that was the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This call to the disciples, though unique it was, for they were being called to unique service, has direct relevance to our call as disciples, and I would like to point you to three things in this passage.
I. The character of Jesus’ disciples.
First, I would like you to consider the character of Jesus’ disciples. Then I would like you to look at the call that Jesus gives to His disciples. And then I would like you to look at the commitment required by Jesus of these disciples, in fact the commitment that they display in response to Jesus’ call. These three things I would like to focus on this morning.
Let’s look at the first matter and that is the character of the disciples. God is no respecter of persons. That doesn't mean that He doesn’t care about people, but it certainly does mean that He doesn’t look at people the same way that we do. These are perhaps the last people in the world that we would have expected the Lord Jesus to choose as that circle of men upon whom He would build a foundation of His church. But, we see the character of these men displayed in where they were, in who they were, and in what they were doing when they were called, and I invite you to look at those things in verses 18 to 21. We see that as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee He met both of these pairs of brothers while they were doing the work of fishermen. Where did He meet them? He met them in Galilee, not in Jerusalem, not in the court of Herod, not in the schools of the rabbis and chief priests and Pharisees and scribes. He found them in Galilee, in obscurity. Christ sees not as man sees. God chooses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. These were simple men of Galilee going about their business, and they were the ones that Christ would call to be his first disciples. Called from obscurity, not from fame or prominence; they had no great reputation which preceded them, but from obscurity they were called into His service.
Notice who they are, these brothers and fishermen, and, by the way, how kind it was that the Lord chose to call of those first four disciples, brothers into service. He did not ask them to make a total break with the whole of their family unit. And it is apparent, too, that Zebedee is supportive of his sons going into this ministry. How kind and how blessed it is when we are kin in Christ and kin in the flesh in our service. How kind the Lord is. But you see who these men are. They are fishermen. They are not educated men. It doesn’t mean that they are unintelligent. It simply means that they were not in the process of receiving the higher graduate education in the courts of the Pharisees. They were not particularly learned men in the eyes of the world. They were uneducated men. They were men of limited means. They weren’t necessarily poor, but they weren’t wealthy either. They were in a vocation that enabled them to feed their families and to sustain themselves, but they worked week-to-week dependent on what the Lord would bring in in their labors, and they certainly knew what it was to trust on the Lord for provision. And they were in a very dangerous profession. They were familiar with hardships and hazards. They were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee on the lake of Gennesaret where storms could strike at any time, overturning boats, killing fishermen, and impoverishing families left behind from husbands lost at sea. These men knew what hazards and hardships were. They were men from an obscure background. They were men of humble condition.
And we also see that they were men of industry. When the Lord Jesus finds them, both sets in verse 18 and in verse 21, they were busy about their employment. They were fishing and mending nets. They were working with their families. They were busy; they were not idle. This reminds us, my friends, that diligence in an honest calling is pleasing to Christ, and it is no hindrance to a holy life. It’s no mistake that when our Lord found his disciples, they were working, for He was not calling them into His gospel service for leisure. He was calling them into His gospel service to work harder than they had ever worked before. And so, when He found the men that He would call, He found men that were busy about their work, industrious and hard-working.
Look at the character of these men: from a background of obscurity, from humble conditions, working hard. These are the types of men called into the service of Christ. We recall the transformation of these men by Christ in His service. These men, some were impetuous, some were impatient, some were misguided, and some lacked courage. All feared to a certain extent, because at the day of the cross they fled. But, after the resurrection and after the ascension and after the Pentecost, these men were courageous for the sake of the gospel. Christ, by His word and spirit, took ordinary men, and made them to be the foundation of the church, His apostles, the ones who would pass on to His people His legacy, His teaching and His power. These men were humble men. And it’s not surprising, is it, that the Lord Jesus works with men who had every reason to be humble in their estimation of their own resources, of their own capacities, of their own education, of their own potential. And He uses those kinds of men, and He builds those kinds of men up into His service. Christ crafts their character by His word and spirit, conforming them to His Spirit and empowering them by the work of the Holy Spirit.
And His work on the character of these men reminds us that we minister out of character and not out of personality. That’s something that the church has forgotten today. The church thinks that perception is more important than reality. The church thinks that we attract people to Christ through personality and not through steady Christian character. But when Christ sought to surround himself with the core of disciples upon which He would build His church, He surrounded himself with men to whose character He gave attention, because He knew that if they did not live what they preached, no one would believe them, and no one ought to believe them, if their character had not been conformed to the truth which they were to purvey.
This reminds us of our own responsibility to give attention to our own character. Do we live in accordance with that which we claim to believe? Has the word of truth that has been faithfully heralded in this place, in pulpit and classroom, for decades and decades and decades, one hundred and sixty years; has that wrought a change of character in our hearts? It did in the hearts of the disciples, and it was the school of character that Christ introduced the disciples to. By grace He changed their character. By the Word and by His Spirit, they were made into men of God.
II. The call of Jesus to His disciples.
We see also the call of Jesus to the disciples in this passage. Particularly in verse 19, we see Him say to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus’ call to the disciples has two parts. He first calls them to follow Him, and then He calls them to be fishers of men. They were called, in other words, to fellowship and to responsibility. They were called to follow. They were called to fellowship with Christ. They were called to commune with Christ, because before you can become a fisher of men, before you can become a man fisher, before you become a person who draws people to Christ, you must be with Christ. You must learn Christ. You must fellowship with Christ. And so He calls them to communion with Himself. One must be prepared by fellowship with Christ to be a man fisher. One must learn Christ. One must be diligent, and constantly attendant upon Christ. One must become an emulator of Christ in His faithfulness and tenderness and diligence. It has been well said that discipleship is more than getting to know what the teacher knows. Discipleship is getting to be what the teacher is, and before Christ equips and sends out His disciples to be man fishers, He equips them first with the image of Himself. By their fellowship with Him, by their union with Him, by their attendance to His word, by their reliance on His grace, He causes them to be like Him. Sanctification is the first training ground for evangelism. We are not ready to do the work of evangelism until we have begun to make progress in sanctification, because holiness of life is the first witness of the truth and power of the grace of the gospel.
And so, in Sunday School and in church week after week, we are studying to be evangelists, because we are studying to bring our lives in accordance to the word, and we are studying to know Christ, not just to know about Him, but to live and walk with Him, and that is the first step in the work of man fishing.
Jesus also calls His disciples to this task of drawing people to Christ, and I would emphasize in the second half of Jesus’ call to the disciples that He stresses that He will make them fishers of men. It takes Christ to make a person a fisher of men. Notice that they are to labor as man fishers, not as those who destroy men, but as those who save men by drawing them to Christ. Their job is not ultimately to condemn. There is a time to condemn. There is a time to pronounce judgment. But, their ultimate job is to draw men to Christ, and as they do so, their warnings and their condemnations are for the purpose of shaking men out of their slumber. Very often, non-Christians perceive our words of judgment against wicked behavior to be simply our complainings and our condemnation of them, our rejection of them, our looking down upon them as if they were lesser beings than ourselves, who have achieved this high status of piety, religiosity and perfection, and they resent it. They misunderstand what we are saying when we condemn sin. We condemn sin not because we get our kicks out of condemning sin, but because we genuinely have a concern for people who will face an eternal reality of punishment if they do not turn to Christ. And so we condemn that men might be shaken from their spiritual slumber and come to Christ. Our job is to save, not to destroy.
Notice also that these men fish not for wealth, not for honor, not for fulfillment, not for status, not for gain. They fish for men’s’ souls. They desire to draw souls to Christ. William Hendriksen has a beautiful phrase he says about Andrew. He’s describing each of these four disciples and he says, “Andrew was always bringing people to Jesus.” Wouldn’t you love to have that inscribed upon your tomb? He was always bringing people to Jesus. These men were to be given to drawing men to Christ, not to themselves, but to the only One who could save them. My friends, before we can lead someone to the Master, we have to be with the Master ourselves. Before we can become men fishers, we must learn Christ ourselves. Are we learning Christ? Do we know Him? Do we know much about Him, but know little of Him? Are we in fellowship with Him? Our communion with Christ is an indispensable requisite for fulfilling our job of drawing men and women to Chris, for if Christ is not in us, our words about Christ will ring hollow, because they will be. Man fishing requires union with Christ. And these disciples learned this at the very call of Christ as He called them to fellowship and to witness.
III. The commitment of the disciples.
And this leads us to our third thing. The commitment of the disciples is seen in verses 20 and in 22. Christ calls the disciples, and immediately they leave their nets and they follow Him. In verse 22 we’re told that James and John immediately leave their boat, they leave their father, and they follow after Christ. Christ’s call was a call to make Him their absolute priority. The Lord Jesus had known these men, as we had said, for at least a year. John indicates that these men had known of Christ, had come to Christ, had believed of Christ in a certain measure for at least a year. But now, Jesus issues a call to these men to leave their vocations, leave their families and follow after him as their priority. We see Christ’s greatness in that call, for who would follow a man who was not so great as Christ. The very fact that these men left their vocations and followed after Christ is a witness to how great He is. Not so much to their own decision, but to Jesus’ greatness. Jesus’ sovereignty is clear in this call. He says, ‘You must follow Me. You must take up and follow me.’ He is sovereign. He must have absolute priority in the lives of His servants. God’s free grace, you see, God’s free grace will cost you everything. God’s grace is absolutely free. We can do nothing to earn our salvation. We must receive our salvation as paupers receiving the gift of a king. God must do the work of our salvation. We are dead in sin. We have nothing to offer God. We are in alienation with him. We are in rebellion with him. There is nothing that we can do. Our best works condemn us. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. But in receiving our salvation, God calls us to discipleship, so that His free grace costs us everything. Everything now must be transferred over to His Lordship and we must bow the knee to Him alone. And that is why Billy Graham can say, “Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything we have.”
Have we realized this? Have we realized that when we come to Christ, that the narrow gate of repentance is too narrow for the baggage of our own agenda and our own priorities and our own desires to keep one foot in the world? We must reject it and we must submit ourselves wholly to Christ and to His rule. Christ requires that we leave all for Him. Have we realized this? Have we responded to that call of discipleship? Have we been willing to say, “Lord, we will be Your disciples, no matter what it costs?” Perhaps that means that you are in the midst of a stable family life and a lucrative career in a place where you are surrounded by your family and your friends, and God is working on your heart and calling you to the service of the church in missions. And you know it’s going to cost you things that are dear to you. Are you ready to walk the way of the disciple? Are you ready to say, “Lord, I will leave my boat and my nets and I will follow in the way?” Perhaps, however, Christ’s call to you of discipleship impacts you in a different way. Perhaps Christ is not calling you from your vocation. Perhaps He is calling on you to continue to be a homemaker, to continue to be a businessman, to continue to be a professional, to continue to be a health worker, to continue to be a lawyer, or a doctor, or some other person in the world of business. Perhaps He’s calling on you to stay right where you are, and yet you know that in His call, in His saving call, He expects you to live totally differently and by a totally different set of priorities than you’ve ever lived before.
A study in contrast is evident in that area. I remember well my pastor in St. Louis, visiting the home of a young woman who had been to our church on a number of occasions. He shared with her the gospel in the home and she was warmed by the story of the free grace of the gospel. She could not believe that God could possibly love in such an extravagant way, and she was drawn in her heart to what the men presented to her. However, she was living with a man, and as they neared the end of the gospel presentation, she turned and said, “Now, that’s my boyfriend in the kitchen, and he’s not going to like this but let me ask you one thing. Does following Christ mean that I’m going to have to stop living in sin with him?” And the minister said, “Yes.” She said, “I’m sorry. I can’t accept Him.” She turned back at the door of discipleship. Salvation had pulled at her heart, and yet she would not take the step of discipleship. Grace was too costly to her. It's ironic though, my friends, because she held onto baubles, and she gave up the riches of God’s blessing. You see, she gained nothing. She gained absolutely nothing by hanging on. She lost everything.
On the other hand, there was Douglas McMillan, one of the greatest evangelistic ministers of Britain in these last two decades. There was a day when he was not a Christian, and in fact he was a hardened communist and atheist. And David Patterson, a faithful minister confronted him one day in the village, and sat down with him in a house to talk with him about Christ. And He explained to Douglas the gospel, a gospel that Douglas had heard from his father and mother’s lips year after year, but there was something new about it when Mr. Patterson presented the gospel to him, and he was warmed when he was told of the free salvation of Jesus Christ, and he said, “Are you telling me it’s as easy as that. That I embrace Christ and He receives me because of the work that He has done on the cross?” And David said to him, “Yes, Douglas, that’s true.” And he said, “But wait a minute. I’m going to have to change the way I live, aren’t I. I can’t go on living the way I’ve been living. Isn’t that right?” David said, “Yes, that’s true Douglas.” David held out his hands, and he said, “Douglas, in this hand, I’ll give you everything you think you’re going to have to give up if you become a Christian, and in this hand I’ll give you Christ. Which is it going to be?” Douglas said that he probably sat there for ten minutes meditating on that. David Patterson later on said that it seemed like hours. Finally Douglas said, “I’ll take Christ. I’ll take Christ.”
But, my friends, the things that we give up are not equal to the things that we receive. And the things that we give up are ultimately; no matter if they are good, if their priorities are out of order, they are self-destructive. And the things we receive are good, and they increase what we are, and they make us abundant. Multi once said that Jesus promised his disciples three things: that He would make them to be completely fearless, that He would make them to be absurdly happy, and that they would be in constant trouble. The Lord Jesus makes that same challenge to all of us who would follow him. The discipleship that He calls us into is not easy, it is costly. It will cost you everything. But you will lose nothing in it, and you will gain the world. Jim Elliot quoted a man long before his time when he said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
That is the call of discipleship: to give up everything that you cannot keep and to follow Him who will give you Himself and blessings that you will never lose. Will you go that way? Are you responding to Christ's call to you today to discipleship? Perhaps it is to give to the cause of His kingdom in ways that you have been unwilling to give before. Perhaps you have held back in the resources that God has blessed you with and you have not been willing to say, “Lord, take my resources. They're yours. You've given me all of it.” Perhaps it is that you have refused to give yourself to Him in the area of His Lordship. Perhaps there is a sin in your life that is so precious to you that you cannot leave hold of it. And you want to keep one foot in this world and you want to have one foot in the kingdom and you want to keep on living in both. His call to discipleship won't give you that option. He’s saying, “Leave the world. Come into My kingdom. Be in the world, but not of it.”
How is the call of Christ’s discipleship impacting you today? It’s impacting all of us, my friends, and there are only one of two responses. It may be rejected, or it may be gladly accepted. May God help you bow the knee to Christ in His Lordship and in His discipleship. And when you do, you will find even as He told His disciples, that everything that you give up for Him in this world, He will restore to you one hundred fold in this world and the world to come. May the Lord bless His word.