“An Irresistible Invitation”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
January 26, 2020
I have always been intrigued by the way Jesus called his disciples. “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” he simply said to them. (Matthew 4:19)
And they did.
I don’t know what surprises me more, Jesus’ boldness or the disciples’ instant response.
Apparently, Jesus’ invitation was incredibly persuasive, even though it lacked any details. Nothing in this invitation mentioned where they would be going, how long they would be gone, what they needed to bring or any specifics about what their mission would be.
In spite of this, two sets of brothers—Simon and Andrew, James and John–dropped their nets and followed Jesus.
I find this astonishing, and I agree with Dr. Eugene Boring, Briscoe Professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School, who writes, “We are met here with Jesus’ first miracle, the miracle of his powerful words that creates following, that makes disciples.”
The response of the first four disciples Jesus called was nothing short of a miracle.
Why did the four fishermen in today’s text and eight others who joined them later decide to follow a carpenter from Nazareth who assumed the role of an itinerant preacher? I’ll get to this question in a few minutes. Let me begin with a few others to set the stage.
Why did Jesus call disciples? Every rabbi had disciples, students who would listen to the rabbi teach and prepare for the time they would instruct and lead others. If Jesus was going to be a rabbi or prophet, it would be expected of him to train disciples.
There is something different, though, about the way Jesus gathered disciples around him. He took the initiative to seek out and to call his disciples.
This broke with tradition. It was customary for the student to approach the rabbi and to ask the rabbi to be his mentor. Rarely, if ever, did it happen the way Jesus did it.
In all four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, Jesus took the initiative to select and to approach a group of men to be his first disciples and to issue them an irresistible invitation to follow him. This was a point the authors and editors did not want their readers to miss.
To highlight this, in today’s text, Jesus is the only one who speaks. Clearly, Jesus is in charge.
Why these particular men, fishermen from Galilee? Why didn’t Jesus go to Jerusalem and invite the leading young scholars of his day to be his first disciples?
Wouldn’t this make more sense, especially since Jesus was known more as a humble carpenter from Nazareth than an authority on Jewish history and ancient texts or a prominent member of the religious elite?
Yes, to most people it would have been more logical if Jesus had gone to the hub of all religious activity, the Temple in Jerusalem, to hand pick his disciples. But Jesus had other ideas.
So, why did Jesus walk the shores of the Sea of Galilee and choose ordinary people who had no special training or impressive pedigree? Why did he prefer them over the vast pool of students he could have chosen from in Jerusalem?
For starters, these untrained fishermen would not be defensive and resistant to the prophetic message Jesus was going to proclaim. He had an alternative voice and vision from some of the religious leaders in Jerusalem concerning the way people should arrange their values and priorities, handle their problems, treat their neighbors, conduct their businesses, spend their money and respond to their enemies. He was going to be critical of the most powerful people in Jerusalem for caring more about their own welfare than the welfare of the people they were called to serve. He was going to expose their insincerity, hypocrisy and lust for power.
If Jesus had chosen disciples from the inner circles of power in Jerusalem, all they would have done was argue with Jesus about his assessment of the religious landscape. This was not what Jesus was sent by God to do.
Furthermore, these rough and rugged fishermen knew how tough life was. They would understand the average person’s struggles and the urgency of Jesus’ mission to bring hope to all people living in despair. They would be fully supportive of Jesus’ efforts to touch and to change for the better the lives of many of their friends and neighbors who were struggling to survive.
So, Jesus bypassed Jerusalem and began walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee calling his disciples. He had a plan and they were included in it.
“Follow me,” Jesus succinctly said to them, and thank God they did. Together they changed the course of history.
This was why Jesus chose these unorthodox men to be his first disciples, but why did they follow him? Why would Simon and Andrew and James and John leave established and lucrative businesses to follow an itinerant preacher they barely knew?
None of the four gospel writers tells us. They just inform us of the disciples’ positive response to Jesus’ offer.
Perhaps it had something to do with what I mentioned earlier about Jesus taking the initiative to choose his disciples. They knew this was abnormal and contrary to common practice.
If Jesus selected them for this noble mission, how could they turn him down? If he saw their potential and had this much confidence in them, why would they not want to know more?
This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and an irresistible invitation. So they trusted Jesus, dropped their nets, followed him and became fishers of men.
Why do you think all four gospel writers included the stories of Jesus calling his disciples? Why was this important to them?
They wanted their readers, including us, to know Jesus is still inviting people to follow him. Jesus wants every person in this world to become one of his disciples.
Everyone is welcome. Every person is wanted. There is a place for everybody, and all who follow Jesus can be used of God to make the world better.
How do we follow Jesus two thousand years after he walked among us? We are at a disadvantage compared to the four fishermen in our text. They literally dropped their nets to follow him.
How do you and I become one of his disciples under our circumstances? What must we do?
Begin by opening your heart and life to the Lord and accepting his invitation to follow him. Faith is relational, and like all relationships, it begins by acknowledging the presence of someone who values your friendship and wants the best for you.
Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who will help you to become a lifelong learner, one who studies the teachings of Christ, adopts his values and priorities and seeks to live as he did.
Join with other disciples on this journey of faith to worship, study and serve others in Christ’s name.
What could I say today that would persuade you to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him? I’ll tell you what I have said to people on other occasions.
If you accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him and become one of his disciples, he will bring the best out in you. He will help you to achieve your potential and to live a meaningful and productive life.
He will give you the ability to deal with any challenge you face, regardless of how intimidating it is, and to seize every opportunity that comes your way to have a part in making the world better for all people.
He will strengthen you when you are weak, encourage you when you are discouraged and give you confidence when you struggle with self-doubt.
He will guide you as you make decisions so you will do what is not only in your best interest, but the interest of everyone around you.
He will warn you when you are heading down the wrong path and show you a better way.
He will forgive you when you stumble and fall and then help you to pick up the broken pieces of your life so you can build a better future for yourself and those around you.
He will comfort you when your dreams have been shattered and your heart has been broken.
He will empower you to be a voice of reason in the midst of chaos and the ‘non-anxious presence’ among angry and frightened people.
He will keep you from becoming self-absorbed and making life all about you so you can generously give yourself away in service to others.
He will give you a prophetic voice and use you to shape public discourse and policy.
He will never leave you nor forsake you. At all times and in all places, Jesus will be by your side providing what you need to be your best self.
When you draw your last breath on earth, he will pick you up and carry you to the open arms of God where you will be warmly welcomed and then reunited with those awaiting your arrival.
Personally, I find this invitation to follow Jesus irresistible.
I hope you do, too.