Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany based on Matthew 4:12-25
Dear people on whom the light of Christ has dawned: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The misapplication of the text in our Gospel reading is responsible for more unnecessary feelings of guilt in the Christian church than possibly any other. Note that I said the misapplication of the text, not the text itself.
Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The misapplication is when you are told this is a command for you. The guilt comes in when you see that you have not done it.
The misapplication happens all the time. Sunday school curricula have taught it, as have many pastors. It appears on mission banners and in mission songs. It’s used as a slogan for evangelism programs and a rallying cry for outreach. In fact, some of you may have the idea engrained in your minds that of course Jesus has called you to be a fisher of men.
The guilt comes when you see what Jesus says this involves, and you see that you haven’t done it. Have you left all and followed Jesus? Have you left your home, your friends, and your family to tell others about Jesus? Have you left the place where you were raised and your family roots to bring the Gospel to others? Have you left your career in the secular world and become a fisher of men?
That’s what Jesus called Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John to do. Jesus called them, and Scripture says Peter and Andrew immediately left their nets and followed Him, and James and John immediately left the boat and their father and followed Him. They left their occupations and their sources of income to do what Jesus called them to do, trusting that Jesus would provide for their needs.
When you think that Jesus has called you to be a fisher of men, you can’t help but feel guilty if you haven’t done it. Jesus’ call to Peter, Andrew, James, and John was absolute. They left everything behind and followed Jesus. It wasn’t some part-time position for which Jesus was recruiting. He didn’t call them so that they could make an evangelism call in their spare time or invite their neighbour to church when they happened to bump into them at the post office. He didn’t tell them to drop a couple dollars for mission offering and consider it fishing for men.
Jesus called them to follow Him for three years, to learn from Him, to witness what He said and did, and then He sent them to the far reaches of the known world to bring the light of the Gospel to those living in darkness. He taught them and trained them and then sent them to teach and train others. Jesus called these men for this specific task.
Callings are personal. God called David to rule as king. He did not call you to rule as king. God called Abraham to sacrifice his son. He did not call you to sacrifice your son. Jesus called the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. He has not called you to do so. Just so, Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be fishers of men. He has not called you to be a fisher of men.
If you see Jesus’ words as a command to you, you cannot help but feel guilt over what you have not done. The thing is, you have enough guilt to deal with over what Jesus has called you to do that you don’t need the additional guilt of failing to do what Jesus has not called you to do.
Jesus has called you to teach His Word to your children. He has called you to be a witness to the Gospel in your personal life, to your family, friends, and co-workers. He has called you to support those He has sent as preachers of His Word both at home and in distant lands.
There’s enough guilt here for all of us without inventing additional guilt, as we recognize how we have failed to teach our children the faith as well as we should have; how we have failed to have family devotions and teach the importance of faithful church attendance; how we have failed to witness to our family, friends, and co-workers or even invite them to church; how we have failed to support the Gospel both among us and in distant lands. Yes, here we have guilt for failing to do what God has called us to do. We have enough guilt on our hands to deserve eternal punishment in hell.
This guilt, however, is not ours to bear. Not because we’re not guilty, but because Jesus bore our guilt for us. We cannot undo what we have done. We cannot change the consequences of our past failures and mistakes. Jesus, however, has borne our guilt and sin for us. Jesus has taken the guilt of our sins away from us. His death wasn’t just a show, but rather it was a payment for sin – for our sin. It was a complete payment for all the sin of the whole world, so you know it was a payment for your sin.
This is the greatest news in the world. It’s the greatest news for your children to hear. It’s the greatest news for your family, friends, and co-workers to hear. It is the greatest news for you to hear.
It is the great news that Isaiah prophesied saying, “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matt. 4:16)
Jesus is the light of the world. He shines on us and the darkness of our sins is gone. The dark stains of our sins are removed from us as the light of Christ shines upon us.
The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world did not come to seek those who are perfect. He came to seek sinners. The Great Physician did not come for those who are well, but those who are suffering from the sickness of their sins. The light of the world did not come to seek out other lights that were shining in the darkness. Rather, He came into a world enveloped in the darkness of sin to be the light of the world. He came, shining as the radiance of the Father’s face to shine upon our human darkness, piercing the night that shrouds our race (LSB 914 st. 1). God the Father has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of light, the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14). “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Cor. 4:6)
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). Our past failures to let the light of Christ shine through us have not dimmed or overcome the light of Christ. Christ continues to shine on us. He continues to forgive our dark sins and strengthen us to walk in His light. He continues to shine on us, even in the shadow of death, until He takes us to be with Him in eternal light where there is no darkness at all. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.