"Epiphany 03: Fishers of Men" - Tim Suttle

"Epiphany 03: Fishers of Men" 

by Tim Suttle


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01.22.12 – Epiphany 03
Matthew 4:12-22 – Fishers of Men

Do you recognize the name Blaise Pascal? He was the prominent French mathematician, physicist, & inventor from the mid-1600s.
Pascal made important contributions to mathematics, @ young age.
He helped develop the theory of probability …
He also invented the world's first mechanical calculator (age 19).
Pascal's law is the basis for hydraulics still used in modern machinery.
Pascal’s wager is a well-known philosophical proof for belief in God.

Well, at the age of 31 Pascal turned his energy away from science & physics, & toward theology … and he never really explained why. 
He only lived another 8 years & then he died of stomach cancer. 
And apparently, he never told anybody what happened those 8 years earlier that precipitated the change… but …
After he died a servant was going through Pascal’s things & he found a note that was found sewn into the lining of his favorite coat. 
In his own hand he had drawn a cross at the top of the paper, and then this note recounting an experience he had with God 8 yrs earlier:

“In the year of grace, 1654, on Monday, 23rd of November, Feast of St Clement… from about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve. Fire! God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, Not of the philosophers and scholars… Feeling. Joy. Peace. God of Jesus Christ… He is to be found only in the ways taught in the Gospel. Greatness of the Human Soul. "Righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee, But I have known Thee." Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy… This is eternal life, That they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent. Jesus Christ… Let me never be separated from Him. We keep hold of Him only by the ways taught in the Gospel… Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director. Eternally in joy for a day's training on earth. "I will not forget thy words." Amen.

That was Pascal’s record of an intense two-hour religious experience that gripped his soul and changed the course of his life forever. 
Pascal had been ambushed by God.
He stored his record of it in the lining of his coat, over his heart. 
So that he would never forget what had happened.
For 8 years he would sew & un-sew it every time he changed his coat.
And for the rest of his life, Pascal was completely devoted to God.

You know the name C.S. Lewis, right? … Well, he was equally ambushed by God as an adult, although his experience was more subtle. 
Lewis taught at Oxford University & he had these great literary friends
… like JRR Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Hugo Dyson.
Tolkien, of course wrote The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. 
Dyson was an accomplished author as well, and was known to be the most fun-loving of their group, the Inklings. 
They would meet Thursday nights in Lewis’ office, and Tuesday afternoons in a pub… they’d read what they were working on.
It was like a literary society.
On day Tolkien was reading excerpts of a draft of Lord of the Rings, and Dyson was lying on a couch (he may/not = too much to drink). 
Tolkien was reading & Dyson yelled out, “Oh (bleep), not another elf!”

The story goes: 1931, Lewis had a lengthy debate about Christianity with Tolkien & Dyson (both Xians) began over dinner & lasted into early morning. 
No resolution came of the conversation at that moment. 
A few days later he took a trip with his brother Warnie to a zoo, and this is the moment he thought of, as his coming to faith. He wrote:
“I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion.... It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.”
Lewis had been ambushed by God… rather gently in his case.

Martin Luther was ambushed by God in a thunderstorm.
Ended up helping Christianity entirely rethink itself thru reformation.
Apostle Paul was ambushed by God on the Road to Damascus.
It took him at least a decade to reimagine his faith… & become the apostle to the Gentiles & writer of most of the New Testament.
Paul was ambushed out of his arrogance & violence.
The prophet Elijah. Ambushed out of his depression. 
The prophet Isaiah. Ambushed in an ordinary worship service. 
Sarah. Ambushed by laughter. 
Jacob. Mary. Joseph. Each ambushed by an angel of the Lord.

Our story for today is about another ambush that changed the world.

Matthew 4:12-22

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18 As he walked 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 fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

This passage is what ‘s known as a call narrative... common to Mediterranean Antiquity, and it has, essentially 3 parts: Setting, Summons, Response

There are many call narratives & they usually follow this same pattern. 
In our story today you can see all 3 distinct parts.
The: Setting, Summons & Response.

SETTING: is first… and we’re tempted to overlook the setting.
But the setting can sometimes speak as loudly as the words… think of:
Lincoln’s Gettysburg address – power was that they were standing where 10s of 1000s had died to preserve the union.
President Bush at Ground Zero – just after 9/11… the words were off the cuff… the power was in where he stood when he said them.
Words are given weight because of where they were spoken.

The Setting is often part of the communication or call itself.
Kristin used to be in public accounting.
One of her responsibilities was recruiting.
You find the best & the brightest college students
Up to their eyeballs in student loans
Their eating Top Ramen & pizza shuttle
Bring them up to KC, put up on the Plaza, take them to McCormick & Schmicks & feed them crab-cakes & lobster bisque.
You establish just by the Setting what kind of life you’re willing to offer.
The setting is part of the communication
I remember when Kristin and I first spoke w/Cole & Valerie about coming to Redemption Church we took them to … Taco Bell.
We wanted to let them know exactly what kind of life they could expect if they came on board at Redemption (like to think we made good…)

Jesus has been down in a region called Peraea (baptism / temptation)…
Which is too close to JER, where JTB was just nabbed by Herod.
So, Jesus went way up north to the Galilee.
… and the region where he had grown up… 

Galileans were looked down upon by the folks down in Jerusalem. Nothing good could come from up there… in the sticks.
Plus, there was a fair amount of conflict in Galilee.
Because there were a bunch of devout Jews living right next to a bunch of Greek & Roman Settlements… because:
Anytime a Roman Officer distinguished himself in some war, they’d compensate him by granting him lands in Galilee… spoils of war

Also, Herod levied crazy high property taxes in Galilee… farmers = stressed. 
So, 1 bad crop & they could easily default on their taxes, & if they did
Herod would take their land… force them into tenant farming…
He would auction off the land to rich landowners down in Jerusalem.
They’d hire people called stewards up in Galilee, who would run these sharecropper outfits with very poor, mistreated, tenant farmers.
This is why JS was always telling stories about stewards & tenants.

Also, Galilee was pretty well cut-off from Jerusalem. Samaria lay between Galilee and Jerusalem, and Jews never travelled through Samaria.
So just to get to Jerusalem was a major ordeal.
Plus Galilee was on its own major trade route which didn’t go through Jerusalem – didn’t really need to go there anyway. (I-35)
Galilean Jews were exposed to Persian culture & the east.
So, it was just culturally very different from Jerusalem 

In JS time, Galilee was famous for a rebellion led by a man named Judas the Galilean. He led a revolt in 6BC, about the time of Jesus’s birth… 3k crucified.
So everyone who lived in Galilee was a little bit suspect.
This was the seedbed of rebellions

PT: So Galilee was this back-woods region. And it was considered to be a bunch of poor farmers, alienated from Jerusalem, culturally a little different, and ultimately a rebellious people. That was Galilee: poor, alienated, & rebellious.
On the edge of the Sea of Galilee was a region called the triangle. It was made up of three towns: Bethsaida, Korazin, Capernaum.
These were very small, almost exclusively Jewish settlements.
5-600 people at the most, 10-12 families. 
In 1st century the Triangle was full of very devout Jewish people. 
They were passionate about God & the Torah. 
They were true believers that the Messiah would come.
…rich in Jewish culture, carving out a distinctive Jewish identity.
within this interesting cultural mix

Bethsaida, Korazin, Capernaum were these small villages, they were so close, you could always see the other village.
This region was the one place in the entire world
Where discipleship was faithfully practiced.
When Jesus was walking the earth, 
If you wanted to study under one of the great rabbis
You came to Galilee & then to the Triangle.
And these 3 little villages nestled on the edge of the Sea of Galilee

You look at pictures of this place & you can almost just imagine four little boys, dark eyes, dark hair – playing in and around the village.
And if you were there around maybe 10 AD, and you stopped and asked a couple of little boys their names, they’d tell you they were named: Simon, Andrew, James, John,
All of those disciples came from this one village
A town of just a few hundred people,
They knew each other, lived together & needed one another to survive
Jesus came here to pick his inner circle… & these 4 disciples were the:
Only ones to hear certain teachings
Only ones who saw raising of Jarius’ daughter & transfiguration
Only ones Jesus asked to watch w/him @ Gethsemani

PT: Jesus left Perea, the wilderness outside Jerusalem, and went up to Galilee: the region of the poor, alienated, and rebellious. And he didn’t go home, he moved from Nazareth to Capernaum, where people were really serious about their Jewish identity… and he went to the Sea of Galilee, just outside Bethsaida.
That’s where he began looking for disciples.
Of all the times and places he could have come
Jesus comes to the only place in the world where Jews are really serious about discipleship.
So… all of that goes into the SETTING of the call narrative.

Then comes the SUMMONS
18 As he walked 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 fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

So this is the SUMMONS: Jesus calls 2 sets of brothers ...& they come w/him:
Simon (JS called Peter/rock), & his brother Andrew
James and his brother John
They were all fisherman from this triangle area.
Most likely they lived in Bethsaida (which meant fishing-town).
They all worked in the fishing business over in Capernaum… 

These guys were the left behind!... fishermen from fishing-ton. 
The dream every little boy grew up w/was to be a RABBI.
Rabbis were the rock stars of the Jewish culture.
All little boys went to BET SEFER – house of the book.
All they did was study Torah, read & chant it until
Most of them could recite the Torah by memory.
If they were truly great scholars … if they were exceptional …
They might move on to BET TALMUD – house of learning
Sort of like college
If they were great there, they’d get into BET MIDRASH – house of study; like getting into graduate school to get your PhD.
At that point they could become a TALMIDIM, which means “disciple” of the rabbis / that meant they’d someday be a rabbi themselves!
And at every stage they would weed some people out.
So, only the best of the best of the best became disciples

PT: Most boys went to BET SEFER & then were bar mitzvah’d and then went into the family business. So when JS calls to 4 brothers, he’s calling men who were passed over the 1st time… They weren’t given the opportunity to be disciples… they had been cut loose & were working in their family businesses.

So, Jesus comes to the ones who have been left behind. They didn’t make the cut. They have joined in their father’s trade – they’re fishermen.

Because of the way the schooling and economy worked then and the fact that they were still working for their father and not on their own: 
They were probably only in their late teens… 17-20 years old. 
Just 17-20 years old & their whole life is mapped out for them already.
Until … one day … along comes this rabbi.
And he calls them, each of them, and says “come with me young fishermen, and I’ll teach you how to fish for people.”

In the ancient world there was a saying. To be “caught in the nets of the gods,” was a way of describing salvation.
You know, the gods in the ancient world were petty & petulant.
Some gods were downright evil.
So it was important to put oneself in a position to be caught by a benevolent god, one of the good gods.
Because evil spirits were also fishing for people.
You didn’t want to get caught in the nets of a nefarious god.
But one way or another everyone was caught in the nets of the gods.

PT: So, in all likelihood this phrase “fishers of men” comes from that idiom as well. That Yahweh might come to people from time to time and appoint them to be fishers of people… now:

The idea here, is not to go around trying to “hook” people into Christianity. 
Like they were selling something… this wasn’t an Amway pitch.
This… was an ambush… 
Simon & his brother Andrew … James & his brother John…
They were ambushed by God that day.
And Jesus invited them to help launch his mission of redemption.
In a sense, Jesus was offering them a stake in his family business.

It was as if he said: “Do you want to stay here gutting fish & mending your nets? Or do you want to come with me & be a part of the new community & change the world? That was the SUMMONS.

Which brings us to the final part of the Calling Narrative: RESPONSE




We’re told that their response was quite simple: Immediately, both times it says immediately they “left their nets,” and followed after Jesus.
The word for “left” is the word is aphentes – 
It means released or let go
They released their participation in all that they knew of their world.
Released themselves from family.
Released themselves from economy
Released from a culture that said they’d been left behind
And they did it … immediately – with no hesitation. 

PT: You see, the new community Jesus established would be new indeed. It involved a break from old systems, social structures, and time-bound traditions. From that moment on, their identity would no longer come not from their economic conditions, or family relationships, or their job as fishermen… 

You See: The call to follow Jesus is always a call to leave something else behind. (that seems important… repeat)… usually stuff that’s all about you.
Last week – the new disciples leave JTB behind
This week – leave behind the family, business, broken dreams
And it was SO scandalous to do this.
To leave your family like this was a serious thing.
You were needed for economic stability
You were needed for protection.
This would have been offensive to many people
They would lose the respect of the community, the confidence of their family if they did this… not to mention their livelihood & career.
And yet they knew they had just been Ambushed by God… so their response was—immediately—to drop everything & follow him.

PT: What could make someone do that? Just up & follow this Jesus guy? I think the only ways is if they knew that what was being offered was something rare and precious … they jumped at the offer before he changes his mind. 

I wonder how many of us see Jesus’ call to discipleship as something that is completely rare and precious? 

How many of us think that spending time in the scriptures, sitting at the feet of Jesus is just the most amazing chance of a lifetime? 
How many of us consider the call to extend God’s reign and rule to every aspect of our lives… pursue justice & mercy as a joy… a gift?
Or do we think it’s a bother, burden or obligation (if we think of it at all)

The call to follow Jesus is always a call to leave something behind. 
But it’s like what you are leaving behind pales in comparison to what you are being called to join – because you get to be a disciple.
What is God calling you to leave behind, so you can follow Jesus?
What do you need to let go of so that you can become a disciple?

The question I want to leave us with is something like…
When was the last time you just got ambushed by God?

I remember when it happened to me once. It was 2002, we were working so hard to get this church up & running.
A group of us flew to San Diego to a conference.
And it was a work trip for me… 
I was building a team & trying to cast vision for this new church.
But in one of the morning worship sessions David Crowder was leading worship & it softened up my heart.
Then Dallas Willard spoke about what it means to be a disciple.
He said that if you want to follow Jesus you have to leave behind this need to be a big success…
Next session a guy named Tony Jones taught on having a rule of life.
He said you can’t just say you are a disciple.
You have to actually organize your life around certain practices like:
Morning prayer, Sabbath rest, silence, spiritual reading & study.
God pretty much ambushed me that weekend & sent my life on a completely different trajectory.

I was ambushed another time when I was reading a book for a class in seminary. It’s called “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.”
Mostly a study of the scriptures w/regard to poverty.
I was ambushed by God in the pages of that book.
The author walked through over 300 passages in the scriptures that talk about poverty.
God calls us to leave behind our pursuit of more, more, more…
And extend God’s peace to those who suffer.
It’s like I had never seen how ubiquitous this theme was.
So I had missed my responsibility to work for justice, care for those who live on the margins of society.
I was ambushed. 

When was the last time God ambushed you like that?
Asked you to leave something behind… you’ve never imagined letting go of.

What would your response be if Jesus came along & called you?
This is the kind of thing that keeps pastors up at night.
Is anybody listening to God’s call to discipleship?
Is anybody being ambushed by Jesus anymore?

If there was to be a call narrative in your life, how would it go? 
What would be the setting, summons, & response for you?

In General I think our Setting works against our being ambushed by God.
For one thing, we’re all too busy for something like that… way too busy to leave our nets & follow Jesus.
We live in a world that believes it can live without limits.
And so all of us try!
Our setting is a world in which more & more people claim to have no religious affiliation at all…
They identify with NO church or specific faith whatsoever.
Our setting tells us that no faith can be officially true.
That our beliefs should be kept personal & private.
Our setting is that the church is in steep decline.
Mostly, I think, because the church is so coopted by culture that it no longer offers a genuine alternative to the dominated ways of living.

That is the SETTING where God comes to us today. Where Jesus drops into the middle of the story of our lives and SUMMONS US.

What is the summons for you? What will you need to let go? Jesus said:
“Fishermen huh? Well, follow me & I’ll teach you to fish for people!”
Why don’t you let that go… in terms of your primary mission in life…
Why don’t you come follow after me instead?
Let me & the KOG be your reason to live!

That’s the SUMMONS – it’s the same as it was the first time he made it.
The question is what is our RESPONSE?



1. Talk about a time when you were ambushed by God.  What happened? What made you confident it was Him? How did it change you?

2. If there was to be a "call" narrative in your life, how would it go?

3. Tim described the setting, summons, and response of several people who fully bought into God’s leadership of their lives.  Some of us know God is calling us to full devotion, and often model that.  Others of us know God’s call, but struggle to follow.  Others of us question God’s call.  Wherever you are in your life, what are you doing to move from a position of questioning or struggling to a position of full discipleship?  What could others do to help you?  What could you do to help others?

4. Tim talked about sometimes needing to leave "good things" behind to answer God's call... What good things might you need to let go of?

5. How does the idea that “life is discipleship” resonate or not resonate with you?

. Tim talked about our "Setting" working against our being ambushed by God, i.e. too busy trying to keep up with a world without limits...  Is there a way that we (you) can/should adjust our setting that will better allow God to ambush us?