Epiphany 3a

Preached: January 27, 2008

Jesus' Preaching Casts a Wide Net
Matthew 4:12-23

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts through his Word and Sacraments. The Word God speaks to us to take to heart and put into practice is Matthew 4.

When [Jesus] had heard that John had been handed over, he went up into Galilee. After leaving behind Nazareth, he came and made his home in Capernaum which is along the sea in the region of Zebulon and Naphtali, in order to fulfill what was spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, a people sitting in darkness have seen a great light, and to those sitting in the land and shadow of death, a light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is near.
As he was walking along by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers (Simon, who's called Peter, and his brother, Andrew) throwing casting-nets into the sea. For they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left behind their nets and followed him.
Going on from there he saw two other brothers (James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother, John) mending their nets, and he called them. At once they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Jesus went around in all of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Good News of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every illness among the people. (Matthew 4:12-22)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow baptized saints of God:

When I had goldfish growing up, I used this kind of net to get them out of the tank when it was time to clean it. I'd dip it in the water and try to get under the fish and scoop it up.

Now the nets that Peter and Andrew, James and John used were much different. Instead of scooping one fish at a time, their nets could catch all kinds of fish.

The specific kind of net mentioned in today's text is the casting-net. It worked well in shallow water. The fishermen could stand on the shore and throw it out. It would spread out in a circular shape. Weights along the edge caused the outside to sink faster than the center, forming a bell-shape and capturing anything below. That net would catch all kinds of fish, whatever was underneath it. The other commonly used net, the dragnet also would bring in all kinds of fish.

That brings us to what we want to think about today. Just as those nets caught all kind of fish, so also Jesus calls all kinds of people. You could say that his preaching casts a wide net. That's the theme we focus on: Jesus' preaching casts a wide net. First of all, he casts a wide net as he calls all kinds of people to repent. And secondly, he casts a wide net as he calls all kinds of people to fish.

A. He calls all kinds of people to repent

1) How do the places where Jesus preaches teach us that he calls all kinds of people?

Last week we met Jesus near the Jordan by Judea where John was baptizing. At that time Peter, Andrew, James, and John heard John the Baptist's testimony that Jesus is the Lamb of God. They followed him and listened to Jesus' words.

But times had changed now. These men who had taken time off from their livelihood had to get back to business fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus himself came north to Galilee as well when John the Baptizer was imprisoned. He centered his ministry around the coastal town of Capernaum, Peter's home town.

Consider what Jesus is teaching us by his place of ministry. He didn't just stay at the center of Jewish culture and spiritual life at and around Jerusalem. He went to the outskirts, to Galilee. Notice how the prophet Isaiah described this area: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:14 NIV).

Zebulun and Naphtali were two of the ancient tribes of Israel. We're not as familiar with their names as with some of the other twelve tribes like Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Dan. Zebulun and Naphtali had only a small role in Israelite history. On the northern edge of the land, they often were the first to be exposed to the heathen nations around whether that was following false gods or suffering from raids and invasions. Isaiah in fact calls them “Galilee of the Gentiles,” the non-Jews, those who were not God's people.

But Jesus' preaching casts a wide net. He calls not only religious people but he calls all kinds of people to repent. In this region he would call ordinary fishermen to be his apostles. He would call a despised tax collector named Matthew or Levi as well, who worked in Capernaum. He calls to you and me.

2) What darkness tempts us to run away from the light?

For like the people of Zebulun and Naphtali, we too live in a land of darkness under the shadow of death. We might like to think our country is enlightened, and medicine and technology will postpone death, but that's a grave danger. For only one light can shatter the darkness and destroys death.

Our inherited nature though is like a cockroach. We run from the light and love the darkness. The darkness isn't just what the world recognizes as wrong: murder, adultery, stealing. But anything that blocks the light is darkness. Anything that claims our loyalty more than God is darkness, no matter how good and upright it is when its in its proper place.

Where do you run to? Do you run to drinking to try to drown life's problems by getting a buzz? Do you numb the pain by tearing others down since misery loves company? Do you run to pornography to escape into some fantasy? Do you run to the false dream that all people are basically good so you can't be all that bad, that God has to accept you and what you do? These are deeds of darkness that destroy.

But even running to things that can be good instead of to the light, turn those good things into darkness for us. Do you run to family and friends? Do you run to the accomplishments and learning and arts? Do you run to sports or movies or recreation or something else that money can by? All that is darkness when we're running away from the light.

3) What does Jesus mean when he calls out, “Repent”?

That's why Jesus calls you and me to repent, to change the way we think. Love the light; hate the darkness. Run to the light; flee the darkness. But like a cockroach that runs from the light because it wants to hide so it doesn't get squished, so also we fear the light because it exposes our sin.

But Jesus calls us to repent, to change the way we think about the darkness. The darkness is not a safe heaven. The darkness is death and damnation. The darkness is hell and torture. The darkness of our sin ought to be what terrifies us.

Jesus calls us to repent, to change way we think about the light. Yes, God is holy. His light exposes all that is wrong. He damns sinners to hell. But that is not the fault of the light. That's what our sins rightly earn. We are to blame. Repentance confesses our guilt and looks with terror on our sisn, not wanting to continue in them. For you see, the light of Jesus shows something we could never have discovered or guessed in the dark. The light shows you his blood washing you clean. His blood clothes you with holiness. His light changes us from cockroaches to children of God, children of the light.

Jesus calls us to repent, to change the way we think about the light. The light now brings us joy and peace. For the light drives away the darkness. Live with that peace of forgiveness in Jesus and the joy of eternal life with him. Live as children of the light.

For you see, Jesus came to purchase a people and kingdom for his very own. He paid the price of his holy, precious blood. He reigns as King in your heart through his Word of truth. For he paid the same price for the rich and the poor, for the good and the bad, for black and white, for you and me. God's blood shed on the cross, sacrificed for you, God's blood purchases you to be his kingdom.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). See the darkness of even the best the world offers when it replaces your King. See the darkness of sin. Hate it. Run from it. Come into the Light. See your King die for you. See his blood purchase you to be his very own. See him rising from the dead for your forgiveness. See him come to you through his Word of truth in Scripture and the Sacraments. See the Light and rejoice in the light. Rejoice with the heart of faith. Rejoice as you run from sin and live in the light.

It doesn't matter who we are. Hear Jesus' preaching. For he casts a wide net. He calls all kinds of people. He calls to you: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).

B. He calls all kinds of people to fish

1) How do we fish for people?

Now that the light of faith shining in your heart, he calls you to fish, to fish for men and women. Think of it, he called untrained fishermen to leave their nets and come follow him. He would make them fishers of men. He uses all kinds of people. Consider the twelve disciples. Several where fishermen. One was a tax collector; another was probably a revolutionary; another a traitor. Later he calls a persecutor to be an Apostle. He calls all kinds of people to fish, including you.

He calls all of his people to fish as we shine as lights. In Matthew 5 he says to all his disciples, “You are the light of the world . . . Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16 NIV). That's how we fish, not with nets or line or tackle, but by our actions and words. Fish as you live a life of love and kindness even towards those who hate you, mistreat you, and make fun of you. For even unbelievers will be good to those who are good to them. But you shine as a light that catches people when you speak kindly and show gentleness even to your enemies.

And let you words make it clear, why you show kindness and gentleness. Not so others praise you as good person, not to earn some special favor from God, not even to feel good about yourself. Let them know that the reason you do good is that others praise your Father in heaven, because he is the One who sent your Savior. He is the one who called you out of darkness into everlasting life. He is the one who chose you to be his own, even though you deserve his anger and punishment. His great love for you that gave you his Son Jesus as the sacrifice for your sins while we were still his enemies, that love from him and that alone leads you to show love even to your enemies. Let them know that.

2) Whom do we fish for?

And cast a wide net as you show this kindness and confess God's love. We're not just fishing for walleyes and throwing everything else back. Rather just as Jesus called out to the rich and the poor, to the good and the bad, so also we fish for all kinds of people. Innate in each of us is a reluctance to fish for those who are different. Do we really want that kind of person in our church? Don't give in to that thinking. Whether they speak English or Spanish better, whether rich or poor, whether black or white, whether living good lives or bad lives, fish for them. Show them and others kindness and gentleness. Tell of the love of the Father. For even someone living the worst kind of life of all can be changed when Jesus calls them to repentance, just as he changed sinners like you and me.

And finally also keep in mind that as Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John, he has in mind for them a full time service in the ministry. Still today through congregations of believers Jesus calls some of his people to be pastors, teachers, missionaries and staff ministers. Might he call you or your son or daughter or your grandson or granddaughter. Think about it. Prayer about it. And if the Lord has given you or them the gifts to serve in this way, consider preparing for the ministry by going to Martin Luther College in New Ulm.

For just as these disciples would learn from Jesus for several years before he sends them out, so also we have come together as the WELS to train future workers in the Lord's kingdom. We've come together as a synod to provide those workers in congregations and to send out some as missionaries around the world as well. Support that work with your prayers and offerings.

So remember the wide net that Jesus casts. He has caught you to be his own, purchased you with his blood. He called you to repent and believe, for he calls all kinds of people. Continue his fishing as you live your lives shining as lights of kindness testifying to the Father's love in Christ. Keep on fishing whether someday as a public minister or today and always as child of God living for Jesus.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313