Across recent weeks we have looked at the epic stories of some amazing people. From the epic story of Creation, to Joseph, Ruth, Noah, and Jonah, we have seen how God can use ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. Of course it is through the power of God’s Holy Spirit that we ordinary people can be used by God to accomplish those extraordinary things. From the epic story of Joseph were learned about the power of forgiveness: forgiveness granted and forgiveness received. We learned an epic love story from the story of Ruth. And from the epic story of Noah we learned part of what it means to be faithful to God’s call. And of course, from the epic story of Jonah we learned about God’s grace and being given second chances. Now all of those epic stories have several things in common. These characters in the stories were pretty much characters who were the “least likely” to be used by God. I don’t know about you, but I take great comfort in the idea that God might even be able to use a “least likely” like me! Also, all of these characters epic stories are recorded in the Old Testament. And last week we learned that the epic story continues; because God is the author of the greatest, epic story ever told: it is His-story.
Today I want to look at a couple of epic stories from the New Testament. First, the story of a man who is not one of the high profile characters in the N T but he is vitally important for you and me for reasons that we will see. In fact, there is a NT book that bears his name; but that NT book which bears his name was not written by Titus but was a letter written to Titus by the Apostle Paul. We may not know very much about him but he plays an important role in the message of salvation for all people.
Titus was converted to Christianity by the apostle Paul. Paul was the great apostle to the Gentiles; all those who were not Jews. From the Jewish perspective all of humanity could be divided into two classifications of people: there were Jews; and all other races were considered Gentiles. So, from that Jewish point of view, one was either a Jew or a Gentile. And Titus was a Greek; which automatically made him a Gentile or non-Jew. And there was a problem brewing in Jerusalem. You see, Paul, who was a Jew, saw himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles. He wholeheartedly believed that salvation thru faith in Christ Jesus was for all people: Jew and Gentile alike. But while Paul was off sharing the Good News of God’s love for all people as demonstrated in the mission and ministry of Jesus the Christ; there were those newfound Jewish Christians who were preaching and teaching that in order for one to become a Christian, one must first become a Jew. That meant practicing all that the Jewish faith required, including circumcision. Paul did not agree with this idea and went to the Jerusalem council to present his case and took along Titus, who played a significant role in this event. We read about it in Galatians 2:1-5.
Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders. I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. NIV
The Judaizers were the group of Jewish Christians who were trying to insist that any Gentiles converted to the Christian faith must first become integrated into the Jewish faith. You see, they saw Jesus as a Jewish Messiah; which of course He was and is! But they didn’t see Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior, for ALL people; which of course he IS! They thought that if you were to receive salvation through faith in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, you must be Jewish or become a convert to Jewish faith! That was the very narrow view of these members of the Judaistic party. But Paul had a much greater vision of God’s plan for salvation: faith in Jesus as the Christ is meant as salvation for all people who will place their faith and trust in Jesus, the Son of God, whose sacrifice is to cover all the sins of all people for all time! So Paul took Titus as his prime example to this Jerusalem Council meeting to prove his point! And, thankfully for you and me, it became clear at that gathering that Jesus, was and is, God’s plan of salvation for all God’s people: Jew and Gentile alike! So all we Gentiles who have come to place our faith, hope, and trust, in Jesus Christ are in debt to Paul and Titus for the fact that we did not need to become Jews before becoming Christians! But the epic story of Titus continued as he served as Paul’s “cleanup hitter” in a number of the churches which Paul had founded. He was particularly useful in dealing with problems in the churches at Corinth, at Ephesus, and later at Crete. So, Titus, by virtue of his faithful commitment to the Good News of Christ Jesus, has reached down across the ages to have an impact on your life and my life. You see, even though Titus was not a central figure in the recorded Scriptures, he was a most important one! There are no insignificant roles, no insignificant purposes, no insignificant people in God’s epic story of salvation. I wonder if Titus ever even thought about the enduring impact he would have on the lives of those who would come after him. All those of us Gentiles who would come to faith in Jesus the Christ as our Messiah, our Savior, without having to first become practicing Jews. Titus had a role to play in this epic story of God’s love, grace, and deliverance. You have a role to play, you have a purpose to serve, you have a ministry to which you are called. There are no insignificant roles, no insignificant purposes, no insignificant people in God’s epic story of salvation.
Have you ever thought about the impact that your faithful commitment to Christ may have on the lives of those who will come after you? Truth be told; each one of us will have an impact that outlives our earthly lives. We will impact the lives of those who will come after we are gone. Perhaps we need to be more aware of that fact and be more intentional in our lives so as to ensure that our lasting impact, our epic story, is a positive one. We all have a calling, we all have a ministry, we all have a purpose for which God has chosen each of us.
The other epic story I want us to consider this morning is the account of Jesus calling of his initial group of disciples, at the beginning his earthly ministry. Jesus has a mission, a vision of what a true relationship with God looks like. But his vision of that relationship is different from what people have come to feel comfortable with.
Now if I were going to try to present a new vision of an old religion/faith, I might consider first recruiting some of the current religious leaders of my day. I might try to reason with the renown theologians of my time to have them come to see the merit of my vision and come to understand the basis for that vision. You know, getting the people already in the faith business to come on board and help promote my vision. That would be a reasoned, logical approach, wouldn’t it? But that’s not at all what Jesus did. Instead Jesus, the Son of God, the earthly son of a common carpenter, went among the common people. Jesus took his vision, his message of God’s redeeming love, to the people who were not entrenched in their religion, their understanding of God’s interaction with people. Jesus took his message to people who were ready to hear the Good News, people who were interested in a fresh insight into God’s loving care for all persons of faith. And in this case, it was the fishermen with whom Jesus chose to share this Good News. They were among the least likely to be chosen. But remember the night of Jesus’ birth? It was the shepherds, watching their flocks by night, who were approached by the heavenly host: “Behold, I bring you good news; for unto you this night a savior is born!” God so frequently chooses the least likely to be hearers and carriers of the Good News. So, Jesus goes to the seashore to share the Good News and to do some recruiting. The first account of this event I want us to look at is found in the Gospel of Mark, the first chapter beginning at the 14th verse.
Mark 1:14-20 NIV
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. He said, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” 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 send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When they 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.
Jesus delivered a very brief but apparently very powerful message. “Repent and believe the good news!” Repent; turnaround; turn back to God; change your direction and change the way you think! And believe the Good News that God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves! God, in sending His Son Jesus the Christ to pay the price and the penalty for our sin has provided a means for our salvation!! That is good news because we are unable to save ourselves! And Jesus added: “Come, follow me,” — and the fishermen; Simon and Andrew; James and John; dropped their nets and followed Jesus! Wow!! To get such a powerful response to such a simple message!! Every preacher who has ever preached has longed for such a result! Believe the Good News: the good news is that God has done for us what we are unable to do for ourselves! But I must admit that I am perplexed by the response of these fishermen to this traveling Rabbi and his simple message; surely there was more to it than what is recorded here in Mark’s Gospel. Well, there is another record of this event that is found in Luke’s Gospel which I find more enlightening or informative. Listen to this version of the event.
Luke 5:1-5a NIV
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the waters edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.
Now I can imagine the reaction of Simon, even if it was unspoken: remember that Simon is Simon Peter! The always ready to act or speak “Peter” we know from the Gospels and the Book of Acts. Peter may have been thinking: “You have got to be kidding me! You are a traveling Rabbi/preacher and I am a professional fisherman who has made my living and supported my family by fishing this body of water for so many years that I have lost count! I am tired, I have been up all night, and I am discouraged by the empty boats and empty nets from a night’s worth of fishing and now YOU are going to show me where the fish are!” Look what happens:
Luke 5:4b-11 NIV
“Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, 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. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled the boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
These fishermen, men who had used their boats and their nets for their livelihood, as a means of providing for their families left the boats and the nets and decided to follow Jesus! Think about that for a moment. They left everything there on the shore of the lake to follow Jesus! These boats; and especially these nets, represented the only security that these fishermen knew. These nets were some of the most important things that they owned!
The nets. It’s really about the nets. The nets which these fishermen used were like the one in this picture. These nets were the primary focus of the lives of these fishermen. They used them all night in the pursuit of catching fish and then spend the day repairing the nets, cleaning the nets, mending the nets. These nets were the center of their lives, the focus of their lives. These nets were central to their identity as fishermen. We all have our nets in one form or another; things that are the central focus of our lives. Those things that we feel provide us we some degree of identity, knowing who we are. Those things that we hold on to; that provide us with our sense of security. For some of us it may be our vocation, our job, that provides us a sense of who we are and a sense of security. For others it may be their car, their home, their lifestyle. For still others it may be our looks; our clothes; or even our emphasis on healthy living. Whatever is the primary focus; the very center of your life; is your net. The nets were the very center, the focus of the lives of these fishermen and Jesus was inviting them to change their focus, to change their life, to discover new life! To leave those old nets behind.
Jesus invites each of us to do the same. To change the focus of our lives and to make him, Jesus, the central focus of our lives.
I want to be very clear that I am not promoting irresponsible behavior! I am not suggesting that one need drop everything and everyone and take off for points unknown and blame it on a call from Jesus! I’m suggesting that Jesus invites each one of us to change the center, the focus, of our lives from whatever it is that is that is currently at that center and to a focus of following Him. Dropping our nets can be a difficult change to make. But those fishermen, those disciples, discovered that the new focus, the new life that they found in following Jesus was far beyond the life they had known and far better than they could even imagine! Isn’t it time for us to drop our nets and go fishing?