Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen. One day, when they were busy casting their nets in the Sea of Galilee, Jesus walked by. Jesus invited the two men to follow him, and added this promise: “I will make you fishers of men.” Their response, as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, was amazing: “At once they left their nets and followed him.”
Nearby were two other brothers, James and John. Jesus issued the same invitation to them and they too left their nets and “immediately” followed Jesus. Soon eight other men were chosen by Jesus to become fishers of men. The twelve men gave up fishing and followed Jesus until their training to become fishers of men was interrupted by the crucifixion of Jesus.
Though the disciples heard that Jesus had been raised from the dead, they were so dismayed by his brutal killing that they gathered up their nets and returned to the lake, once again fishing for fish.
After fishing all night, and catching nothing, early in the morning they heard a man on the shore calling to them, “Did you catch any fish?” “No,” they answered. The man on the shore was Jesus but they did not recognize him. Jesus told the disciples to cast their net on the right side of the boat and when they did, they caught a boat load of fish. This prompted John to say, “Hey, I think that is the Lord!”
Peter, always impetuous, jumped into the water and beat the others to the shore. There he heard the amazing words of the risen Christ who, having cooked fish for them, said, “Come and have breakfast.” Peter could hardly believe that Jesus did not reprimand him for his coward-ice and lying. Stunned that his Lord had not condemned him, but was now inviting him to take up the ministry of caring for Jesus’ sheep, Peter remembered the Lord’s original calling – to fish for men. And he would spend the rest of his life doing just that – inviting people to repent of their sins, be baptized and begin living as servants of Jesus.
The Lord’s mission has not changed. In every age he calls his disciples to become fishers of men. Why? Not merely so they can get cleaned up and start going to church. Not merely so they can find joy in abundant living. Not merely so they can be delivered from the guilt of an ugly past. But for an eternal reason – so they can be prepared for the day of judgment and be welcomed by their heavenly Father to the place prepared for them in heaven.
Little Emily, eight years old, had listened carefully to her pastor. She understood the gospel to mean that faithful Christians will go to heaven while unrepentant sinners will go to hell when they die. Convinced that she should tell others to trust Jesus so they could go to heaven, Emily decided to share the gospel with her brother, Billy, age five.
Summoning all her courage, Emily spoke earnestly, “Billy, do you want to accept Jesus as your Savior so you can go to heaven with Mama and Daddy and me and the angels, or do you want to go to hell and be with the devil and all the bank robbers?” After staring at Emily for a few seconds, Billy blurted out, “I don’t want to go to either place; I want to stay right here!”
Most of us will agree that Emily’s kind of evangelism is not effective; we would prefer a more subtle approach. Yet we would admit that Christians need to confront nonbelievers with the ultimate question: Are you going to heaven or hell when you die?
The Bible is clear – there will be a time of judgment. The wicked will be punished; the righteous will be rewarded. So if we really love people, we will want to help them get to know Jesus before it’s too late. After all, only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will go to heaven. That being true, should we not do our best to persuade people to get their names in the book?
Most of us spend our days busy with many things, some of them essential. But surely there are few things more important than to “fish for men,” to lovingly invite and persuade others to join us in walking with Jesus on the road that leads to “the land that is fairer than day.”
Doing so will save us from being embarrassed should our Lord one day ask us the question he asked his disciples, “Did you catch any fish?”