Jesus’ First Miracle
February 9, 2020
Matthew 4:18-23 The Message

Last Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of hosting a dinner for the pastors’(no‘) and their wives of the five other churches that share our facilities.

I wanted these leaders to meet each other and learn a little about who they are and what their church is about.

I started the conversations by saying that while we may have differences in our theologies, demographics, and worship styles we all serve the same Lord.

One of the pastors told me that some years ago he had been certain that churches like ours were bound for hell because his denomination taught that only their articulation of faith was truth.

But he said that as he’s seen what we do and feel in our heart for serving Christ, he’s undergone a spiritual shift and totally changed his view.

I told the pastors that we not only share these sacred grounds, we share a common heart.

I mentioned that we’ve had opportunities to rent to other churches, but if we didn’t feel a heart connection then we didn’t rent to them.

Over our dinner provided by Buon Gusto, each pastor and his wife spoke about their ministry, and what made the evening special was that people let down their guards and told about the joys of their ministries, as well as the hardships they had endured.

One spoke about being so broke at one point that he wondered how he was going to feed his family.

He was so desperate that he went to the Walmart parking lot to look for loose change so he could buy food.

It was at this low point that a stranger walked up to him and said, you’re going to be a pastor.

He took that as Jesus speaking to him and so he set about educating himself and forming a church.

No promises; just a call put on his heart that he obeyed.

Another spoke about the years of sacrifice supporting his growing congregation of young people – paying rent, buying sound systems, purchasing curriculum – almost entirely from his and his wife’s income.

Most shared the gut-wrenching pain of church splits when people they’d loved and discipled walk away – leaving them heartbroken and one pastor’s wife questioning her faith in people and in God.

Right before their service, she was sitting in the front pew wondering if she’d even stay for their service when for some reason Vivienne walked in, hugged her and began a conversation that helped her back onto the path.

I have deep admiration for each of those people – their strength and endurance through hardship, and their deep commitment to Jesus.

No matter what they’ve been through, each carries a presence of peace and purpose you can feel when in their presence.

Every single person – pastor and wife – spoke passionately about how they wouldn’t change what they are doing.

Each one spoke from their heart about how they feel blessed, and most spoke about how God took each challenge they’d faced and turned it into something good.

Why?

Why would anyone – and I don’t just mean clergy –give their life to Jesus who sometimes asks so much of us?

There’re other things you could do on Sunday morning, cool stuff you could buy with what you tithe, and on Netflix you could binge-watch rather than attending a team meeting.

You find the beginning of the answer in Jesus’s first miracle, reported in Matthew 4:18-23, which Priscilla just read to us.

A couple of weeks ago we looked at Jesus’ baptism, and then his temptations in the wilderness.

Right after leaving the wilderness, Jesus learned that John the Baptist had been imprisoned whereupon he traveled eighty miles north to the seaside village of Capernaum.

Eighty miles may not feel like a big deal to us (unless we’re on the 405), but for Jesus that would have been several days of walking.

Matthew explains that he did this to fulfill Isaiah’s prophesy.

Matthew 4:17 This Isaiah-prophesied sermon came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started preaching. He picked up where John left off: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”

This area was often scorned by the priests and scribes in Jerusalem for being backward, remote and bordering with Gentile settlements.

Modern archeology has revealed that Capernaum was becoming a significant trading center – but during Jesus’ time it still had the reputation of being a hick town.

It sits on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee where Peter and Andrew were busy fishing when Jesus interrupted them.

It seems that the brothers were well established in their community, owning a home where they and their extended families lived.

They probably owned their boat and hired day laborers for their family fishing business.

A lot was riding on their business success.

Except for a possible pilgrimage to Jerusalem, they probably had never been more than a few miles from the Sea of Galilee.

So, think about how presumptuous it was for this stranger to just walk up to them and say, (vs. 19)“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  

Their response was astonishing: (vs. 20) At once they left their nets and followed him.

Then, with Peter and Andrew in tow, Jesus walked up to other brothers James and John, and they, too, dropped everything and took off after Jesus.

Traditional rabbis didn’t go out recruiting disciples.

Rather, boys came to the local rabbi and tried to prove themselves worthy of studying under him.

This was Jesus’ first miracle.

Jesus simply spoke his word and people gave their lives to him.

One of the wives at our dinner shared how she had been hesitant to marry her boyfriend who was studying to become a pastor like his father.

Watching his family, she’d seen how demanding it can be to minister, and while she loved the young man, she didn’t really share his faith.

On top of that, she was afraid to commit because he was very ill at the time, having almost daily treatments at UCLA with no guarantees for his recovery.

But then she felt Jesus’ irresistible call – as if Jesus spoke to her.

From then on, she had no doubt that she was to marry him and share his ministry.

Now they are raising a family and she’s started a ministry of her own for her generation of young mothers who’ve never known Christ.

Jesus speaks a command but he also gives a promise.

His command is to follow him, to become one of his apprentices.

The call of Jesus is often disruptive and demanding.

Where to, what’s the plan?

He doesn’t say.

It does not call us to understand Jesus before we respond.

It does not call us to admire Jesus before we respond.

It does not call us to get our lives in order before we respond.

But Jesus also speaks a promise, the promise to become part of God’s great movement of grace.

In Capernaum, Jesus used the metaphor of making “fishers of men”.

“Fishers of men” was a traditional term, but I imagine that when Jesus called farmers to discipleship, he may have challenged them to plant the seed of the Good News, and when he called fellow carpenters, he may have talked about building a community of faith.

That is because Jesus meets us where we are at.

You may be a student, a teacher, or retired; maybe your investments have done well or maybe you are living under a pile of debt … Jesus will meet you wherever you are in life.

But wherever that is, it is he who takes the initiative to call us as a disciple for what he has in store for us.

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last….

With so many religions offering their version of truth, it may feel like you chose Jesus as your teacher.

But I wonder if, in retrospect, you might acknowledge that at some deeper level Jesus chose you.

Was it at his initiative that some discontent stirred in your heart?

At his initiative that you somehow knew life could be more?

At his initiative that you wanted your life to really make a difference?

At his initiative that you attended church as a child when no one else in your family was interested?

Well, that is precisely the promise of Jesus’ call.

Matthew 4:19 “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.”

That is Jesus’ promise, but it comes with a cost.

When we respond to Jesus’ call on our life, we are launched into an adventure.

Like Andrew and Peter, James and John we can’t follow the Messiah by staying put.

But isn’t that the story of life?

Imagine if you’d never risked moving beyond your first job, mowing lawns or working at a fast food outlet.

One of the pastors shared that his church had been growing with young families so that their Sunday school rooms were way over capacity.

Classes had become loud and disruptive, but financially they couldn’t afford to move even (if) they could have found a new place – which is nearly impossible here in the Valley.

Then he got a phone call he had dreaded: his landlord was substantially raising their rent.

He didn’t know where they would go or how they could manage when out of the blue Vivienne called him.

They had spoken several years earlier when he’d been looking for rental space but at the time, we had another church renting here.

But now there was a vacancy and Vivienne called within a few days of their getting notice of the impossible rent increase.

Jesus provides.

Another pastor shared how his ministry had started as a living room bible study for high schoolers.

As they grew, they eventually rented a storefront for worship space, but it was shabby and they soon outgrew it.

Then by chance one of his church members looked at Craigslist and saw a listing from our church – posted just 18-minutes earlier.

He called Vivienne hoping that somehow, they could scrape together enough money to come here – and to his surprise, she talked him down from what he was offering to pay because she recognized that they would need funds beyond rent in order to build and sustain a church.

Jesus provides for those who pull up stakes to follow him.

If you are wondering what 2020 will bring you, I have an answer for you: change.

Your change might be geographical.

It might be your job, it might be your relationships, it might be your health … but there will be movement and change in your life.

I truly hope that those changes will be good, maybe even answers to your prayers.

Be that as it may, every change that comes your way this year will present you with a choice:  Will you release what you can no longer hold and follow Jesus to a new place?

Will you allow the changes to teach you more about what it means to follow a Savior?

The alternative is to grasp the familiar and be dragged into the future fearful, resentful and feeling like a victim.

As I was finishing my final year of seminary, I was strongly tempted to stay another year to get a second master’s degree.

I was comfortable in the seminary world where I was getting lots of kudos for being a good student.

The alternative was starting the arduous and intimidating process of interviewing with churches to actually serve as a pastor.

It was exciting, yes, but also frightening.

Could I really write sermons week after week?

Could I really counsel couples who were at each other’s throats?

Could I really prepare dozens and dozens of meaningful bible studies?

The answer was “no”.

I wasn’t ready and I wasn’t qualified.

Amy, on the other, would hear none of it.

She had tolerated three years of seminary life, and she had faith that – ready or not – I could do ministry if I just trusted God … so here I am.

People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that Jesus’ call will always be to leave their profession, or that they will be sent away to be a missionary in a distant land.

Well, maybe.

But it could be that Jesus is calling you to reach out to a colleague who is struggling.

Maybe Jesus is calling you to stretch and take-on leadership in this church, to tell this neighborhood what our church is about, to care for our sacred grounds, or to start a whole new ministry for us.

Say yes to Jesus and he will lead you to where he needs you.

No matter what it is, it will feel disruptive – and you’ll be right because Jesus will send you from where it is safe and comfortable to where he needs you.

Maybe Jesus is walking up to you and saying, “Follow me and let’s go make a world of difference in some people’s lives.”