Follow Jesus and Work for Him
A sermon based on Matthew 4:12-23
Sunday, January 23, 2010 – Pentecost 3A
Whenever my dad was asked, "Who do you work for?" he'd always answer, "I work for the mechanic down the street." "Oh, so you're a mechanic then?" was the typical response to which dad replied, "No. I sell shoes at Macy's, but with my truck, all my money goes to the mechanic down the street, so I really work for him."
If I were to ask you, "Who do you work for?" this morning, how would you respond? Would you answer, "BP," or "Conoco-Phillips." Maybe you'd say "Grace Lutheran School" or "I work (hard) for my family as a stay at home mom." Maybe you'd say you work for the mechanic or for the bank to which you owe so much. But hopefully, your answer would be bigger than that. Perhaps you're employed by those businesses and you pay bills to those companies, but I hope you'd all say that you really do your work for Jesus.
This morning as we're again reminded of his work for us, we're encouraged to follow Jesus and work for him. We're called by Jesus to work for him. And we're committed to Jesus to work for him full-time in thanks for what he's done for us. Our gospel lesson is recorded for us in Matthew 4 beginning at the 12th verse…
12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: 15 "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." 17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been imprisoned, it was time for him to pick up where John had left off. He set up his headquarters in Capernaum and set to work in sharing the message that John proclaimed: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." And, knowing that his preaching ministry would last only three short years, he looked for others to help him carry out that work. We focus this morning on the last 6 verses of our gospel lesson…
I. We're Called by Him
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
Peter, Andrew and John (at least) already knew who Jesus was. Andrew and John spent the day with him when they were down south by the Jordan. Andrew brought Peter to Jesus and Jesus renamed him already then. In the loose sense of the word, these men were already disciples of Jesus—that is, they were believers. But listening to Jesus by the Jordan didn't pay the bills, so they soon decided to head back to work fishing in the Sea of Galilee, back to life as usual.
But in one day life as they knew it changed. Jesus called them to leave their old jobs behind and do something different. Jesus called them to work for him. How shocked these men must have been. They weren't looking for a new job. They didn't apply for the position of apprentice to the Savior. And they had none of the qualifications one might expect for such a position.
They weren't rabbis or priests or Pharisees. They weren't well-educated and well-versed in the Torah. We're not told they had any special qualities or skill that set them apart from anyone else. They were just fishermen—sinful humans who weren't qualified for the job and who certainly weren't worthy of the position that was given them.
When they didn't seek Jesus out, he sought them out. When they weren't qualified, Jesus called them anyway. He would give them the training and the tools they'd need to get the job done. He would make them fishers of men. And what a training it would be! Now, don't get me wrong, I think the pastor you have right now is just fine, but can you imagine having Jesus as your pastor?! To have the opportunity to follow him around each day for three years?! To see the miracles?! To hear the teaching?! How blessed they were to get such a job!
Imagine for a minute that tomorrow morning you get a phone call with an offer for a new job with a six-figure salary. You weren't looking for a new job, but the employer sought you out. You aren't qualified to do the job at all, but you're hired anyway with the promise that the company would give you whatever help and training you would need.
Well, friends, we've been given a job that's much better than any other offer we could receive! We've been given a purpose in this life that's far more important and far more exciting than a six-figure salary. We've been called to be a part of God's family and a part of his business!
And we received the call with the job offer when we were anything but worthy of such a call: When we refused to follow Jesus in his Word, refused to serve him and were totally corrupt, choosing to serve only ourselves. When we were lost in darkness, doomed to hell, and unable to find him, he found us, not with a miraculous catch of fish, but by his Word. Martin Luther put it this way: "I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel…" (Explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostles' Creed)
By the gospel—the good news of what Jesus has done for our sins—we have repented. That is, we have had a change of mind—about ourselves, realizing how sinful we are, about our greatest need, to find forgiveness and be brought out of the dark, and about our Savior, the light that's dawned for us and driven out the darkness.
When the light switch is turned on in a dark room, or when the sun (eventually) rises in the morning, what happens to the darkness? Where does it go? It doesn't "go" anywhere, does it? It just ceases to exist, right? The same is true of our sins, dear friends. Through faith in Jesus, the light has dawned in you and me and our sin, our rebellion, our unworthiness disappears. We're perfect and holy in God's sight. We're made worthy of God. We're made qualified to work for him.
Now in thanks for the full and free forgiveness and for the perfection that's yours in him, repent of your sin. Trust in him. And follow him. Follow him in his Word as you grow to appreciate how he has called you to be his own. Follow him in the way you live your life as you offer your thanks and praise to him. Follow him like those first four disciples did…
II. We're Committed to Him
Just think of the tough choice the disciples were given: To leave everything behind, family, friends, wealth and even health to follow Jesus. Think of the tough job they'd be going to do: to share the news that Jesus was the only Savior from and the only hope of eternal life. Think of how they'd be compensated for their work: Not with a six-figure salary, but with ridicule and mockery, and later with persecution, torture, and death. Jesus later warned them, "You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me." (Matthew 24:9)
Yikes! Right? Doesn't sound like such a great career after all! We might expect the disciples to say, "Thanks for the job offer, Jesus, but sounds too tough for me. Thanks, but no thanks." Or at least, "Hmmm… Can I think about it for a while? Weigh my choices and get back to you before the week's out?" But no! They couldn't refuse! Look again at how they did respond…
20 At once [Peter and Andrew] left their nets and followed him…. 22 immediately [James and John] left the boat and their father and followed him.
In an instant they had made their decision. They would leave it all. "Take the boat. I don't need it anymore. Forget the prosperous fishing company and the wealth it would bring. Dad, sorry, but we gotta' go! Catch you later!" Nothing else seemed more important than following Jesus and working for him.
But how? How could they just leave it all behind to take up the difficult, thankless task that lay ahead? Only one thing can motivate such an action: The gospel. They already knew that Jesus was the Lamb of God who had come to take away their sins. This gave them the desire, the strength, and the courage to follow Jesus. Pardon the pun, but they were hooked! And after they witnessed the resurrection and were enlightened by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost they were eager to finish the job that they were given, and even to die for the work that had been entrusted to them.
And friends, the same is true of us. In response to the forgiveness we have from the Lamb of God, the Light of the World, we long to serve him. Recall his work for you, and how committed he was to his job of saving you from hell, dedicating everything—his time, his energy, his life and his soul to save you. And when we do, we can't help but commit our lives to him, to follow him, to get to work for him.
Not that doesn't mean you have to quit your jobs and enter the full time ministry as the disciples did. You might continue to work for the oil company or the school or the shop. But that's only what you do to help you pay the bills while you do your real work: while you work for Jesus. By catching you with the gospel, he has equipped you to catch others for him. He's made you a fisher of people. Use the positions you're in to catch others for Jesus.
And while you may not need to sacrifice your job, your wealth or your family to follow him, in thanks for what he's done, be willing to if it ever comes to that! Follow him, not just part time, once a week on Sunday morning or a couple of times a month for a few meetings, but every hour of every day in all you do. Follow him now—at once, immediately—not at some future date when the kids are grown, when you have more time, when things are less hectic. Who knows? That time may never come. Follow him with total commitment, loving Jesus more than wealth or family or comfort. Follow him, no matter what the cost, even if you're asked to give your freedom and your life, as John the Baptist already had, and as the rest of the disciples soon would.
Remember how committed he was to saving you. Remember how he gladly sacrificed his very life for you. Then be committed to live for him in thanks. Sacrifice anything that keeps you from following him. And get to work for Jesus.
A friend of mine went to China for a semester to study the Chinese language. When he returned, he showed me pictures of his trip. One picture showed an elaborate piece of artwork depicting a red dragon in spectacular detail. But what struck me was that the medium used to create the piece was caramelized sugar. The elaborate work of art I saw in the picture was a piece of candy that would be sold for less than a US dollar. How long would it last? Minutes? Maybe an hour or more? "What a sad job," I thought, "to painstakingly create a beautiful work of art that lasts for so short a time when some kid would soon eat and digest it!"
What do you work for? To pay the bills and get out of debt? To get a bigger house or a new snow machine? To save for a life of luxury in retirement? How long will it all last? Instead, work for something that will last… forever. Recall how Jesus worked for you and in turn work for Jesus. Serve him in all you do. And share the good news of the kingdom as you serve others in love. And rejoice that though working for Jesus may not pay all that well, the retirement benefits are "out of this world!" In Jesus name, dear friends, it's time to get to work! Amen.