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“Fishers of Men”
Mark 1:16-20


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Third Sunday after the Epiphany—January 22, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Of the twelve Apostles appointed by Jesus we are specifically told in the Gospels that four of them were originally fishermen, two sets of brothers, whom Jesus calls in today’s Gospel Reading: “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’  At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”

The only other Apostle’s occupation that is told to us is Matthew, who originally was a tax collector.  We don’t know the previous occupations of Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, James Son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, or Judas Iscariot.  But, after Jesus’ resurrection, there’s an incident recorded when he appears to seven disciples who are fishing on the Sea of Galilee, and we are told that Thomas, Bartholomew, and two other unnamed disciples have gone fishing with Simon Peter, James, and John, so it seems likely they were former fishermen too, meaning that at least half the Apostles had once been fishermen.

“Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Although most of the Apostles whom Jesus called were former fishermen, the Gospels tell us that before he began his ministry of preaching and teaching at about age 30, our Lord himself was not a fisherman, but he had followed in the footsteps of his stepfather Joseph and originally was a carpenter from Nazareth, about 20 miles west of the Sea of Galilee.  Christians have traditionally seen great symbolic significance in our Lord’s original human occupation.  For, Hebrews says, “Every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything,” and the Gospel of John says of Jesus, “All things were made through him.”  So, the Carpenter from Nazareth actually built the entire universe!

“If you continue in my word,” he says, “you will know the truth.”  Carpenters use such tools as levels, squares, rulers, and plumb bobs to determine what is correct and accurate.  It is actually called being “true.”  So, the Carpenter from Nazareth gives us the tool to measure what is spiritually “true”: “If you continue in my word . . . you will know the truth.”

Carpenters not only build, they also repair.  Paul says in Ephesians, “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has . . . destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”  Your sin was an ugly barrier, a wall where it shouldn’t be, separating you from God and eternal life.  But, the Carpenter from Nazareth came to tear down that wall, to repair your relationship with God, to clear the way and open the door for you to enter eternal life.  Through the blood of Christ your sins are forgiven, you are at peace with God.

Finally, Jesus said, “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Our beautiful sanctuary was not really built by us, or the architect, or the construction company or their workers.  This Christian congregation was not really built by those who founded it, or by the South Dakota District of our denomination that sponsored and subsidized it, or by the labors of me or other pastors who have served here.  All the credit for building this congregation and the entire Christian Church goes to the Carpenter from Nazareth, for it is he who builds his Church.  As Paul says in Ephesians says, “In him you are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives.”

So, there is great symbolic significance in our Lord’s original occupation as a carpenter.  But, when it came time for him to leave the carpenter shop, and his former earthly occupation, and begin his ministry as the Messiah, he didn’t gather together group of fellow carpenters to be his Apostles.  Instead he journeyed 20 miles east to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and called as his Apostles a group of fishermen.  “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Perhaps it is not just a coincidence of history and geography that most of the Apostles’ original occupation was fisherman.  Could there be a symbolic significance?  Jesus told a parable and performed several miracles that help us understand.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.”  You see, it’s not just those original 12 Apostles whom Jesus has called to be “fishers of men.”  The sanctuary of a Christian church building is called a “nave.”  It comes from the Latin word for “boat,” and is actually the same root as our word “navy.”  We call this room where we worship a “nave,” literally a “boat,” because Christ’s Church is one big boat for catching souls for him, and he calls all of us to be his “fishers of men.”  “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.”

Some he calls, like the original 12 Apostles, to full-time ministry in his Church, as pastors and other workers.  But, Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”; and in Ephesians, “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”; and Peter says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

Jesus has given you unique gifts, talents, and abilities for service to him and your fellow man.  Even if you are not called by Christ into full-time ministry in his Church, he calls everyone to use the gifts he has entrusted you with to be a “fisher of men” for him.  A good example is those being installed this morning into offices in our congregation—God’s people using their gifts, talents, and abilities for service in his kingdom.  “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.”  “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Two different times Jesus performed miracles about catching fish that are also very instructive.  He once instructed Simon Peter, “‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’  Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But at your word, I will let down the nets.’  When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. . .  [they] were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken.”

And, after Jesus had risen from the dead, he appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee and performed a very similar miracle:  “Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered.  He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.”

This pair of miracles are like bookends at the beginning and ending of his earthly ministry.  By this pair of miracles Christ teaches the Apostles and us that he is in charge of fishing expedition, he alone is Captain of the fishing boat which is his Church.  Just as in these miracles he very specifically directs the Apostles how they should catch fish on the Sea of Galilee, he tells specifically how we are to go about being “fishers of men” for him. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” 

Baptizing and teaching, preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments in his name, that is how we are to go about being “fishers of men” for him.  However, just as Peter initially doubted Jesus’ fishing instructions on the Sea of Galilee, there is a trend of preachers and churches that doubt his instructions for being “fishers of men.”  They say in order to attract people we have to abandon what God says in his Word, modernize the Church’s teachings, and especially change Biblical morality to accommodate the twisted ideas of our culture.  Captain Jesus will have none of it!  “If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples.”

This morning we begin a new study in Adult Bible Class on the Sermon on the Mount, and in that beloved sermon Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” 

Just as Captain Jesus very specifically told the Apostles in two miracles how they should catch fish on the Sea of Galilee, he tells how we are to go about being “fishers of men” for him, by preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments in his name.  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

The pastor of one of the largest churches in America, in a Chicago suburb, was once asked by Peter Jennings of ABC News why there weren’t any crosses anywhere in his church building.  “Couldn’t you just have one cross?” Jennings asked.  This supposed Christian pastor replied, “No, that would be a dangerous thing.”*  He went on to explain that the cross might be a turnoff to some people off, so displaying any crosses in their church would be “dangerous” because might it keep people away and slow down their church’s growth.  Compare that attitude with the Apostle Paul’s declarations in 1Corinthians and Galatians: “While I was among you I was determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified”; “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Of course, that church has 18,000 in attendance each week.  But, Jesus asks, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his own soul?”  Even if such a church, that has given up the teachings of the Bible, seems to be outwardly successful, Jesus says it’s meaningless, because such “success” is not worth giving up the soul of Christianity.

“Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men”; “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.”  The Church is really a fishing boat to catch souls for Jesus, and Captain Jesus tells how we are to go about being “fishers of men” for him, sharing the Good News of “Christ crucified,” preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments in his name.  Martin Luther puts it this way in his 95 Theses: “Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which one . . . fishes for men . . .”

Amen.

*ABC News, “In the Name of God,” March 16, 1995

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