I have accomplished many things in my life that I never thought that I would. I never thought I would write a book. I never thought I would teach a college class. I never thought I would make it through army basic training. To be honest, I never thought I would get married.
Having said all that, there are plenty of things that I have never succeeded at. One of those is fishing. At my last church, we lived in a community where people fished year round, sun, rain and snow. I frequently would be asked about my fishing activity and I would laugh and laugh and laugh.
I will say that I did catch a fish… once. I was fishing with my friends when I was young at Beaverdams. I had already given up on my fishing career and so I just put my rod on the ground and went and chatted with my friends. Suddenly my rod started shaking and then it began to be dragged into the water. I grabbed it at the last minute and pulled my best catch ever, a little sunfish.
Thankfully there are people who are much better at fishing than I am and these include some of Jesus’ first disciples.
It is worth asking why Jesus needed to call disciples. We know he could have done it all himself. If anything, the disciples often seem to get in the way. But Jesus never intended to remain on earth forever. Jesus was unique and was the only one who could die for our sins, but there would have to be people to pass on this Good News. To make this happen, Jesus called people to follow him and to learn from him.
We should point out that there were not just twelve disciples. There were at least seventy, probably more, disciples. Within this group were the twelve. Within the twelve, there were three that received extra time with Jesus. They include the disciples called in this passage plus poor Andrew who always seems to get left out.
What we will find in this passage is not just the simple fact that Jesus called disciples but rather three aspects of discipleship that we need to take seriously today.
I have talked a lot about discipleship, but you might notice that word is not actually used in this passage. What we do find is that there is language of following. This is not following like when you make the mistake of petting that cat outside and they follow you everywhere hoping for more attention. This following means the person is putting themselves under the authority of the teacher. Discipleship requires obedience.
How does that look in this story? In this story we have Simon Peter and his partners, James and John, coming back from fishing all night. Night fishing was easier because during the day, the fish would swim deeper to escape the heat of the sun. Unfortunately, it had not been a good night. They hadn’t caught anything.
Not only did Jesus ask them to use their boat as a floating pulpit for his preaching, he also gave them some fishing advice.
We need to try and see this through Simon Peter’s perspective. Simon Peter knew that Jesus was not a fisherman. Those who made their living on the lake were known for their sun burnt skin. You could tell by looking, and probably smelling, who was a fisherman and Jesus was no fisherman.
In the military, there is a heavy focus of what we call staying in your own lane. A chaplain does not try to be a medical officer. A medical officer does not try to be an infantry officer. You only do what you have been trained for and no more. Jesus was straying out of his lane.
However, Simon Peter obeyed. Notice that in verse 5, Simon Peter calls Jesus ‘Master.’ There is one Greek word that is translated sir, master and lord. It is the same word in verse 8 that is translated ‘Lord.’ What is happening here is that the translators are noticing within the context a transition in Simon Peter’s allegiance to Jesus. Simon Peter sees that Jesus is someone who should be respect and so obeys, but by the time the story is over, Simon Peter commits himself to a life of obedience.
Jesus continues to call disciples to obedience. That is us. I need to make clear that we are not saved by what we do. But when we come to Christ, there is an expression of our intention to obey.
That would be hard enough but sometimes what Jesus calls us to do does not make sense. It did not make sense what Jesus told Simon Peter to do with his nets but it worked. Sometimes what Jesus expects us to do doesn’t make sense. You want me to forgive that person who really hurt me? You want me to work with that group that I’m not comfortable with? You want me to share my faith with that total stranger? Jesus do you understand how crazy that sounds?
When we brought our three youngest children into our family, it really did not make sense. We had two children with autism. No one would have blamed us for taking a pass. But we really felt like this was what we were supposed to do.
Obedience doesn’t always make sense.
Discipleship requires obedience. But discipleship also includes a cost. There is something that is left behind when we start to follow Jesus.
In our passage, we have a group of fishermen. They would not be rich by any means but they were better off than the average Jewish person at that time. They had invested in boats and nets and other equipment. Since people always had to eat, there was always enough demand for the supply. When Jesus called them to leave that behind, it really did cost them something.
That part is obvious but look at this story a little closer. Jesus had just helped them to catch a huge number of fish in their nets. Their knowledge would have given them a pretty good idea of how much that catch is worth. Jesus did not say go and sell those fish and then follow me, it was just follow me.
It would be like having a comic book collector who received from a person a copy of Action Comics #1 (a copy recently sold for $3.2 million) and then be told by that same person that they should give up their entire comic book collection. You have just gotten what you had always wanted and now you are being asked to give it up.
German pastor and scholar Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a famous book called the Cost of Discipleship. In it he argues against cheap grace. Cheap grace is simply announcing you are a Christian without surrendering to Christ. When we become Christians, there should be an impact on our life.
Again, I am not talking about working for our salvation. Salvation is free but discipleship is not. The cost of discipleship may look different for each person. I have a friend who was raised as a Muslim and who eventually became a Christian after experiencing Jesus through dreams. You can imagine how her family and community reacted to her becoming a follower of Jesus.
When I became a Christian, I stood out from my friends because I would no longer get drunk with them or illegally copy software or any of the other things commonly done. I would never say I was persecuted, but I was feeling a cost for standing up for my beliefs.
What cost have you experienced? Does your faith ever put you in a place where values contradict the values of the world?
It seems as if Simon Peter and his friends have experienced enough of discipleship. They have obeyed and they have paid a price for following Jesus. But Jesus does leave it there.
As they put down their nets, Jesus gives them their first instructions, “You will be fishers of people.” Discipleship is not retirement to a life of silent reflection. Discipleship is about using the gifts and skills that God has given to make more disciples. And I mean disciples and not converts. The Great Commission as we find at the end of Matthew, tells us that we are to make disciples. For too long, the Church has been happy with converts. Evangelism without discipleship is like a delivery room doctor taking all the steps for a safe birth and then carefully placing the baby on the sidewalk to fend for itself.
I would like to argue that the single most important task for the Church today is discipleship. When we focus on discipleship, all of the other things, including evangelism, fall into place. One of the things that I am going to be looking at here in my first year is what we are doing for discipleship and how we can improve.
Jesus teaches us that we are to be disciples by learning from him. Such discipleship assumes that we will turn and disciple others.
When I first made a commitment to Christ, I spent a year in adult Sunday school class that went over all of the basic Christian beliefs. At the same time, I was part of a small group Bible study. Not only did I learn within the group, the leader gave me opportunities to lead the study, developing my teaching skills.
Unless you are a brand new Christian, there is likely someone in this congregation who needs what you have. Perhaps they need to learn about prayer or studying the Bible or spiritual disciplines. Have you considered finding someone to disciple. Although the pastor is one part of the process, there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that the pastor is the only one who disciples. What are you doing to keep the line of discipleship going?
Jesus comes calling. What do we do? Jesus is not looking for friends or for people to hang out with. Jesus is calling disciples. Jesus called Simon Peter and his colleagues. Simon Peter obeyed Jesus, even when it did not make sense. Simon Peter paid the price for following Jesus by giving up a good and reliable livelihood. And then Jesus called all of them to be fisher of people. Did Simon Peter actually follow this? We can find his activity in the book of Acts. But tradition tells us that Peter invited a young man named John Mark into his life, who eventually recorded Peter’s preaching into what we now call the Gospel of Mark.
Where are we when it comes to discipleship? Are we willing to be obedient to obey Jesus, even when it does not make sense? Are we willing to sacrifice in order to follow Jesus? And, are we willing to keep the discipleship line moving? Will we disciples others so they might grow and do the same thing?