Caught in The Master’s Net
The Third Sunday After Epiphany
By Rev. Steven D. Spencer – Pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church, Salem, Oregon
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
John the Baptizer is arrested for criticizing Herod’s immoral and unlawful marriage to his brother’s estranged wife. People don’t like hearing about sin, especially their own. It wasn’t popular back then. Guess what, it isn’t popular now. The one who was appointed to prepare the way for the Anointed One steps aside for the One who is the Way! And Forerunner of Christ precedes Him into death. And Jesus, He goes to Galilee, to the North Country, the place where the prophet Isaiah said the Messiah’s light would first shine. Not Jerusalem but Galilee that place between Israel and the Gentile world. You see Jesus came for all.
Jesus came preaching the good news of God. “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God has drawn near; repent and believe in the Gospel.” But the reign of God is hidden, a “mystery,” something not apparent to the eye. One must hear it. It must be preached. The chief Preacher is the Word Himself, the Word that became flesh and tabernacled among us. He proclaims what no one could have ever known on their own: Eternity and time have crossed; the reign of God has drawn near in the person Jesus. Where the King is, there is the kingdom.
The same happens here in this place, from this very pulpit. This is God’s Galilee for you. This is where God’s light shines in the darkness, where eternity and time cross in a moment of fulfillment, where the kingdom of God is proclaimed to you. Jesus preached in His hometown synagogue, saying, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The apostle Paul preached to the Corinthians saying, “Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of your salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). This is the day and moment that Incarnate Word seeks you out and proclaims God’s sovereignty into your ear. Everything that God has done from all of eternity and everything He will do, He delivers here in this very present moment. God is always in the present tense: for He is the “I AM.”
The kingdom calls for response. Repent and believe in the Gospel. Repent - literally change your mind; come to a new way of thinking about yourself and about God. The Hebrew word repent means “return.” “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13). To repent is to turn from unbelief to faith, from idolatry to God, from sin to righteousness, from death to life.
But that’s something we cannot do for ourselves; it’s a turning the Word does to us. Repent and believe are not things we can accomplish. Only the Word can do it. God said, “Let there be light” and there it was. “Be sea and dry land,” and it was so. The Word does what it says. The Word says “repent,” and the stubborn harden hearts of sinners are turned to repentance. The Word says “believe,” and unbelieving hearts trusts in the good news of Jesus.
“Though you were dead in sin, God has made alive in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). Dead people can’t do a thing. They can’t move, decide, repent, believe, turn or even twitch. Luther says it this way in the Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” Jesus comes to you, breathes His life into you, speaks His Word into you, enlivens you, turns you toward Him and places faith in your heart. He meets you in the darkness and death of your unbelief and self-centeredness. Repent. Be turned from self to Christ. Your sins are forgiven you. Believe it!
That’s what makes this news “good news,” “The Gospel.” Not that Jesus has done God’s part and now it’s up to you to do yours. Work is not good news. Good news is that it’s all finished, completed, and it’s all yours. That’s why it has to be preached.
The reign of God in Christ must be preached, and Christ Himself is the preacher, whether He preaches in person or through His Office. That’s why God has a church in the world, why this congregation exists, why the Office of the Holy Ministry exists - that the reign of Jesus Christ might be proclaimed and that sinners might be called by His Word to repentance and faith in Him (T)
This is well illustrated in our text. As Jesus is walking along the shore, He sees Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets. He says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately, “they left their nets and followed Him.” Then He does the same with the Zebedee's sons, James and John. Jesus the great Fisher of Men, gathers fishermen in His net, for His service. He’s the one who initiates things. He chooses them, they don’t choose Him. He seeks them; they’re not even looking for Him.
He finds them busy in their vocations, casting and mending nets. Take note of that. Jesus finds them while they are busy in the boring and mundane things of their lives. They’re not on a mountaintop meditating or engaging in some “hyper spiritual” exercise. They were at work; remember Matthew was at work in his tax collector’s office, when Jesus said to him, “come follow me.”
Those words, “follow me,” like the words “repent” and “believe” are enlivening, powerful words from the very Son of God. They do what they say. The fishermen immediately leave their nets, their boats, their father, their lives, and they follow Him. Where are they going? He doesn’t tell them. The road Jesus puts them on will lead to His death, and likely their own. They had no idea what they were getting into that day. But the words “follow me” from the mouth of Jesus into the ears of the fishermen turned them in new directions. They followed.
What will they be doing? Jesus says, “Fishing for men.” They knew something about fish, but men? How do you catch men that don’t want to be caught? Jesus would teach them and authorize them. “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). That’s how they would catch men for the kingdom - by casting the net of Baptism far and wide and hauling in the catch.
By the way do you know what happens to fish caught in a net - they die. And so it is with Baptism. You died and were buried in the death of Christ in order to be raised with Him in His resurrection. Death and resurrection to life is the way of Jesus, and of all who follow Jesus. Not a death that leads to eternal corruption, but a death that leads to eternal life with God.
You have been caught in the net of Jesus’ death. You are baptized, captured by a death that atones for the sin of the world, united with Jesus in His death that conquers your sin, your death and the judgment of God’s law, hell itself. You are held captive in that net by the Words of forgiveness you hear and by the Body and the Blood you receive. But this is not a death to destruction. This is not like the fishermen hauling in the catch for the local restaurant. This net saves you, it means life for you.
What a privilege it is to be caught in that apostolic net, to be baptized and forgiven, to trust Christ instead of our selves! The world sees it as captivity, like fish being held captive in a net, anything but free. Yet our freedom is precisely in our being held captive by Jesus.
This lake of a world will some day dry up, it will be consumed in the fire of God’s wrath. But you are safe in Jesus’ net, caught for life in His death and resurrection.
Salvation’s moment is fulfilled here and now for you. What else can you do but repent and believe that gracious good news? Anything else would be foolishness. What a joy to be in the Master’s Net. In Jesus name, amen and amen.