Over 2,000 years ago an apprentice carpenter from Galilee left the family business of woodworking and began choosing selected people and making them into what God, His Father, wanted them to be. The movement Christ started exists worldwide today. It is named after its founder and is known as Christianity. It began when Jesus walked by the seashore and called Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow Him with these words: “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mk. 1:17; Mt. 4:19 ESV). He promised four fishermen that, as long as they followed Him everywhere and did as He said, He would make them “fishers of men” – a revolutionary change of life.
We’ll see in a moment what “fishers of men” means, but for now notice this basic underlying dynamic: Whatever people’s current skills and experiences are – even if some reckon they have nothing good to offer to this world – from the day they respond to His call, Jesus begins changing them into men and women who become part of a world-changing movement that will continue until He says otherwise.
If you are ever tempted to think, “I can’t do anything for God,” you are right, because it is the power of Jesus working in you and through you to do what He wants to be done! Success does not depend upon you. It depends upon the dynamic of Jesus working in and through you.
Most professional fishermen wear gloves to handle rough ropes and conditions at sea. “Fishers of men” are a bit like gloves. They are useless unless the power of Jesus brings them to life for the job at hand. Christians are people whose lives are shaped by the power of God working through them.
Now to examine the meaning of Jesus’ phrase “fishers of men.” There is nothing deep and mysterious about it. Using language that fishermen would understand – even if the word of would make them stop and think for a moment – Jesus was unmistakably saying that He would teach them to lead other people to become followers of Him. From the crowd of humanity plunging into a godless eternity, some would be “fished” to safety through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Chapters 4-7 of Matthew’s gospel are about discerning those who are with Jesus in life and those who are without Him. Those who share the Good News share God’s character with others every time they have an opportunity. With their lives backing up what they say, they are effective witnesses for Jesus Christ; they are effective fishers of men.
In Matthew 4 we notice that “Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt. 4:17). The scope of His mission was huge, so He looked (and looks today) for men and women able and available to join with Him. The four Gospels and the Acts tell the stories of those, from among the thousands, who left their routine lives and gradually became people in whom Christ’s godly character could be easily seen and His voice clearly heard.
Although Jesus called people from other professions to follow Him, I think He chose fishermen first so we could learn from them.
I am told that the way you set out to fish determines your results. The bait used affects the type of fish caught. The types of tackle used – lines, traps, floats, nets – all snare some fish while releasing others. Fishing from the shore or from a boat also affects the catch. Last but not least is the time you go fishing. The best fishermen know the right time to go fishing. The most avid fishermen know that anytime is the right time!
When I lived in Khartoum I enjoyed watching fishermen, at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile Rivers, coming in from their fishing to the market located at riverside. Nile Perch is a delicious fish to eat and well worth spending a bit more to buy than the cheaper fish. It makes my mouth water just writing about it!
Today I live in England, a land surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel. Newlyn, one of the largest fishing ports in the United Kingdom, is near my home. I enjoy taking our grandchildren to see the trawlers bringing in their catch. There are the smells, lifts, crates, boats, docks and the general hustle and bustle in the harbor – plus drinks and doughnuts in the harbor bakery afterwards! I don’t fish, but I do enjoy watching and learning from those who do.
In the call to “follow Me” Jesus requires unquestioning obedience from His fishers. He wants the past and present left behind. He wants no halfheartedness. People are called by Jesus from their everyday lives to witness to others in everyday situations. To “follow” means to accompany, to watch closely, to help the cause of, to act in according to instructions. Trusting in the omnipotence of God, believing that He knows best, “fishers of men” put their lives into His hands when they witness for Him.
In Khartoum I knew a man who converted from Islam to Christianity. Regularly after Kabugee’s conversion he went back to testify to his Islamic friends in their homes. One day in his neighbor’s home, Kabugee was speared to death as he ended his message. His neighbor’s brother brought two men to murder him. They were never arrested. He paid the maximum price for being a faithful “fisher of men.” Yet I can write today that the seed of his witness, watered by his blood, is bearing fruit even now in Sudan.
Most of us will not be called to be martyrs for following Jesus. I haven’t been, because in England witnessing for Christ is not a capital offense. It is more likely you and I will be enabled to be good, positive followers of Jesus Christ in our homes, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods and communities.
The Master’s way of life is a great model for us to follow. We should make every effort to make our lives as attractive as His. Our lives should contrast with those of the unbelieving world, and should raise questions in people’s minds: “How can he/she live like this?” “What does he/she have that I don’t?” “How can I learn to live like this?”
The second part of Jesus’ call – “and I will make you fishers of men” – gives us the answer to some of those raised questions. The closer we follow Jesus the more He is able to form us into the kind of witnessing Christians He wants us to be.
In chapter 15 of John’s gospel, Jesus tells us how His Father makes His disciples fruitful trees in His orchard. It has been pointed out to me that we don’t see an apple tree struggling to produce apples. When proper pruning takes place and the conditions are right, the harvest follows.
Local churches where I live have an annual “Harvest of the Sea” thanksgiving service. Other villages celebrate harvests of their fields and orchards. Pulling these pictures together, Jesus uses people who are available to Him, to gather bumper crops of fish and fruit (Jn. 4:34-38; 12:24-26; 15:1-17; Mt. 13). People turn from godless living into God-centered living.
I have been humbled by my encounters with Christians in Sudan. Over the years I’ve met disciples of Jesus who bear in their bodies the scars and the disfigurement of being faithful to Him. Passing the wine from person to person in a church at El Gereif, I noticed that my neighbor Angelo had no hands left. By himself he could not hold the bread or the cup, let alone break the bread. Enemies of Christ crushed his hands and wrists with rifle butts while he was preaching from the Bible. Angelo now has a friend travel with him on preaching tours, to hold his Bible for him! Opposition has not discouraged this fisher of men.
Another acquaintance, Peter, had Nuer tribal markings on his face, but under his shirt his back was scarred from burns given him when he was tortured. His enemies wanted him to stop preaching about Christ, but he refused. Strangely enough, it was a bombing raid by government planes that saved his life, as everyone scurried for cover when the bombs broke up his “trial.”
A teenage girl named Hudda became a Christian and her Muslim brother was ashamed of her. One day after school he brought home two other young men from her school. He told her that these men would rape her unless she turned away from her newly found Savior Jesus. The choice was hers. She made an excuse to go to the bathroom, and half an hour later she was found dead on the ground below the bathroom window. She had sacrificed her own life rather than be raped, made impure and forced to deny her Savior, Jesus. She died a witness for Christ.
I’ve learned so much from the Sudanese believers! They know how to “follow” Jesus. And as they follow Jesus, He makes them “become” men and women whose lives are living examples of the power of His gospel.
From Mark 1:17 we learn that our plan should be to follow Jesus. He should be the most prominent Person others see in our lives. And as we live for Him He will teach us to become fishers of men. I invite you to join in His “fishing” revolution.
By Colin Salter
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org