“And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.”
Matthew 4:21, ESV
“And immediately they left theirnets and followed him.”
Commercial fishing takes considerable effort. There is always something that needs to be done. To be honest, there is very little relationship between the 1st century commercial fisherman and our modern day guy on a new bass boat (with a big cooler for his beer.)
To mend nets was tedious but necessary. You would take your net and spread it on the ground in a open space. Every knot would be carefully examined. All holes would be repaired. Nothing was overlooked. Fishing nets were painstakingly maintained. Everyday, without fail.
Fish would school, and if your gear was right, and you were in a prime place, you could catch a lot. But at the same time, you could let hundreds of fish escape through a hole in your net. Each fish that escaped meant money lost.
Jesus walking along the beach surveyed the boats and crews. Since most of these guys had worked through the night, they were tired and maybe a bit “punchy.” Some had gotten somewhat lucky, while others had very little to show for working so hard. Most likely the different crews teased each other as they unloaded.
Jesus walked through the bunches of fisherman. He looked at their hauls to see what they had caught. But it wasn’t the catch He was looking at, it was the men. It was from these laboring fishermen that He would choose. These men were rough and tumble rednecks.
He stands and looks, and then commands. “You! Come and follow me, now.”
Now if you are looking for disciples– future apostles and leaders, the seashore is not the best place to recruit. They really have a rudimentary education. No theology, and just a meager understanding of Jewish ritual and religion. Essentially there was no time for them to think outside their occupation. Sure there just might be one, or two that possessed more, but that would be the exception.
But Jesus had no desire to interview them, and take the best of the lot. He didn’t have a Human Resources Department, there were no tests, and no forms that had to list references. He simply commanded, and those who understood followed. Only after they left it all did He get their names and addresses. I think that it is the same today.
Will we leave our boat, with your nets? Really, you can keep mending or you can follow Him– it’s your choice. Most of the time though, decisions have a tendency to be irrevocable. Perhaps you have a moment, an instant of time to decide.
Sometimes mending nets can be back-breaking and tedious. But following the Lord Jesus is an unknown; too many choose to keep mending. Others are launched into something new, and eternally significant.
The glaring truth is the necessity of obedience to Jesus’ command. There is no other voice we must hear. As a matter of fact, hearing (and really apprehending) is the only foundation we can trust to make our obedience true.
You can keep mending your nets and preparing for another night on the water. That is always your prerogative. But if you decide to follow you will need to leave what you know behind. That is authentic discipleship.
Before I entered college I hardly gave a thought to cancer and terminal illness. But ever since those college days death by disease has walked beside me all the way. Two of my college acquaintances died of leukemia and cancer of the lymph glands before they were 22. At seminary I watched Jim Morgan, my teacher of systematic theology, shrivel up and die in less than a year of intestinal cancer. He was 36. In my graduate program in Germany my own “doctor-father,” Professor Goppelt, died suddenly just before I was finished. He was 62—a massive coronary. Then I came to Bethel, the house of God! And I taught for six years and watched students, teachers, and administrators die of cancer: Sue Port, Paul Greely, Bob Bergerud, Ruth Ludeman, Graydon Held, Chet Lindsay, Mary Ellen Carlson—all Christians, all dead before their three score and ten were up. And now I’ve come to Bethlehem and Harvey Ring is gone. And you could multiply the list ten-fold.
What shall we say to these things? Something must be said because sickness and death are threats to faith in the love and power of God. And I regard it as my primary responsibility as a pastor to nourish and strengthen faith in the love and power of God. There is no weapon like the Word of God for warding off threats to faith. And so I want us to listen carefully today to the teaching of Scripture regarding Christ and cancer, the power and love of God over against the sickness of our bodies.
I regard this message today as a crucial pastoral message, because you need to know where your pastor stands on the issues of sickness, healing, and death. If you thought it was my conception that every sickness is a divine judgment on some particular sin, or that the failure to be healed after a few days of prayer was a clear sign of inauthentic faith, or that Satan is really the ruler in this world and God can only stand helplessly by while his enemy wreaks havoc with his children—if you thought any of those were my notions, you would relate to me very differently in sickness than you would if you knew what I really think. Therefore, I want to tell you what I really think and try to show you from Scripture that these thoughts are not just mine but also, I trust, God’s thoughts.
Six Affirmations Toward a Theology of Suffering
So I would like everyone who has a Bible to turn with me to Romans 8:18–28. There are six affirmations which sum up my theology of sickness, and at least the seed for each of these affirmations is here. Let’s read the text:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (RSV)
1. All Creation Has Been Subjected to Futility
My first affirmation is this: the age in which we live, which extends from the fall of man into sin until the second coming of Christ, is an age in which the creation, including our bodies, has been “subjected to futility” and “enslaved to corruption.” Verse 20: “The creation was subjected to futility.” Verse 21: “The creation will be freed from slavery to corruption.” And the reason we know this includes our bodies is given in verse 23: not only the wider creation but “we ourselves (i.e., Christians) groan in ourselves awaiting sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Our bodies are part of creation and participate in all the futility and corruption to which creation has been subjected.
Who is this in verse 20 that subjected creation to futility and enslaved it to corruption? It is God. The only other possible candidates to consider would be Satan or man himself. Perhaps Paul meant that Satan, in bringing man into sin, or man, in choosing to disobey God—perhaps one of them is referred to as the one who subjected creation to futility. But neither Satan nor man can be meant because of the words “in hope” at the end of verse 20. This little phrase, subjected “in hope,” gives the design or purpose of the one who subjected creation to futility. But it was neither man’s nor Satan’s intention to bring corruption upon the world in order that the hope of redemption might be kindled in men’s hearts and that someday the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” might shine more brightly. Only one person could subject the creation to futility with that design and purpose, namely, the just and loving creator.
Therefore, I conclude that this world stands under the judicial sentence of God upon a rebellious and sinful mankind—a sentence of universal futility and corruption. And no one is excluded, not even the precious children of God.
Probably the futility and corruption Paul speaks of refers to both spiritual and physical ruination. On the one hand man in his fallen state is enslaved to flawed perception, misconceived goals, foolish blunders, and spiritual numbness. On the other hand, there are floods, famines, volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, plagues, snake bites, car accidents, plane crashes, asthma, allergies, and the common cold, and cancer, all rending and wracking the human body with pain and bringing men—all men—to the dust.
As long as we are in the body we are slaves to corruption. Paul said this same thing in another place. In 2 Corinthians 4:16 he said, “We do not lose heart, but though our outer man (i.e., the body) is decaying (i.e., being corrupted) yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” The word Paul uses for decay or corrupt here is the same one used in Luke 12:33 where Jesus said, Make sure your treasure is in heaven “where thief does not come near and moth does not corrupt.” Just like a coat in a warm, dark closet will get moth eaten and ruined, so our bodies in this fallen world are going to be ruined one way or the other. For all creation has been subjected to futility and enslaved to corruption while this age lasts. That is my first affirmation.
2. An Age of Deliverance and Redemption Is Coming
My second affirmation is this: there is an age coming when all the children of God, who have endured to the end in faith, will be delivered from all futility and corruption, spiritually and physically. According to verse 21, the hope in which God subjected creation was that some day “The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” And verse 23 says that “We ourselves groan within ourselves waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” It has not happened yet. We wait. But it will happen. “Our citizenship is in heaven from which we await a Savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our lowliness to be like the body of his glory” (Philippians 3:20, 21). “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52). “He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no longer any death; and there shall be no longer any mourning or crying or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
There is coming a day when every crutch will be carved up, and every wheelchair melted down into medallions of redemption. And Merlin and Reuben and Jim and Hazel and Ruth and all the others among us will do cartwheels through the Kingdom of Heaven. But not yet. Not yet. We groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. But the day is coming and that is my second affirmation.
3. Christ Purchased, Demonstrated, and Gave a Foretaste of It
Third, Jesus Christ came and died to purchase our redemption, to demonstrate the character of that redemption as both spiritual and physical, and to give us a foretaste of it. He purchased our redemption, demonstrated its character, and gave us a foretaste of it. Please listen carefully, for this is a truth badly distorted by many healers of our day.
The prophet Isaiah foretold the work of Christ like this in 53:5–6 (a text which Peter applied to Christians in 1 Peter 2:24):
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (RSV)
The blessing of forgiveness and the blessing of physical healing were purchased by Christ when he died for us on the cross. And all those who give their lives to him shall have both of these benefits. But when? That is the question of today. When will we be healed? When will our bodies no longer be enslaved to corruption?
“And now go and tell his disciples, and especially Peter, that he will go ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”
Mark 16:7, CEV
Poor Peter. Despairing over his personal darkness he has become completely undone. His wound is beyond any human remedy. No one can help him at this point. We do well to mark the fall of the ‘Rock.’
Jesus had called him, the ‘Rock.’ This would become a bestowed nickname of a future transformation. We use granite and marble when we want something to last for ages. It is as permanent as we can make it. Peter is definitely ‘a work-in-progress.’ His character is sand.
Visiting a working quarry, you will find large machinery. Men scale the walls with heavy drills. At just the right spot they begin to bore a hole. It is hard and intense work, but they are persistent. The rock is unyielding, but they work relentlessly. Dynamite is used to move rock fast.
Soon they take the hole to the proper depth. Explosives are hauled up, And the hole is carefully packed with dynamite. The word used in the New Testament is the word “dunamis.” It is translated from the Greek into English as “power.” Our word for “dynamite” is also a translation of that word.
Peter needs the dynamite power of the Holy Spirit. It is explosive. It breaks and blasts, moving many tons of rock in just seconds. These particular verses read differently when translated like this:
“But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the dynamite of God.” Matthew 22:29
“And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory with dynamite and great glory.” Matthew 24:30
“Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the dynamite proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” Mark 5:30
“And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous dynamite are at work in Him.” Mark 6:14
“And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with dynamite.” Mark 9:1
“But you will receive dynamite when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Jesus looks after each disciple before his resurrection. He kindly gazes at Peter. Especially Peter. He will need this new power to overcome his weaknesses. The dynamite of the Spirit will explode all over the Upper Room. Shifty Peter us about to become a rock.
His disciples, in just 50 days are going to meet the Holy Spirit. All of them will find that explosive power that moves mountains. And the world is about to change forever.
Peter was so transformed on Pentecost he would preach and 3,000 would believe and be baptised. He went from cowardly denier to bold preacher. The dunamis of God changed him that day (Acts 2).
As a broken believer I see the image of Peter morphing into my own face. I have denied Him before others. I am ashamed at what I have done. My depression flares up and my heart goes down in a downward spiral. I must have the Holy Spirit’s authority to be free.
Where is the ‘dynamite’ of God? Oh come Spirit of God to our broken hearts. Fill us, change us today.