Death By A Thousand Chihuahuas

Death by a Thousand Chihuahuas

Matthew 4:18-19

Dr. Jim Denison

Do you live by a calendar and a clock, or a compass?

Some of us are governed by our calendars. We keep them at our desks, hang them on our walls, or carry them in our pockets. We record them with pencils or computers. And every day we do what they tell us to do.

They run our lives, with the help of our clocks. On the wall or our wrists, the clock tells us when to do what the calendar tells us to do.

I am as much a slave to my calendar and clock as anyone I know. But today I announce to you that I repent of their lordship over my life, and choose to live instead by a compass. And so should you.

There is only one “true north” in the Christian life. Only one purpose which will direct your life with unerring accuracy, which will guide you home every single time. We’re going to find it today.

On the first weekend of this new year we discovered God’s Kingdom purpose for his people. Now we’ll discover his Kingdom purpose for you. You’ll need to remember and live by this purpose, this “true north” every day this year. Or you’ll die the death of a thousand Chihuahuas.

Finding “true north”

Our text begins: “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew” (v. 18). Reading the text, we assume that this is their first meeting. But Matthew’s original readers knew this was far from true.

In January of AD 26, Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptizer in the river Jordan. After his temptations in the wilderness, he returned to Bethany, the place of his baptism. There he first met these fishermen (John 1:28, 35-51).

John and Andrew were disciples of John the Baptist. The Baptizer pointed them to Jesus, and they began to follow him. Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus as well (1:42).

Jesus then called Philip to follow him. Philip was from Bethsaida, the same hometown as Andrew and Peter. Philip introduced Nathaniel to Jesus. And John introduced his brother James to him as well.

Now, the small entourage traveled from Judea back to their homeland of Galilee. Here Jesus turned the water to wine in the village of Cana (John 2:1-11). He stayed in Capernaum with this band of followers and his family (John 2:12). He and they traveled to Jerusalem for their first Passover together, March 21 of AD 27. Jesus met Nicodemus while in Jerusalem (John 3).

After John the Baptist was imprisoned, they traveled north to Galilee again. Jesus met the Samaritan woman on the way (John 4) and was welcomed back to Galilee (John 4:43-45). After this year together, the men returned to their homes and their work.

And so Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John knew Jesus. They have believed in him and followed him for a year. But not full-time, not with their lives and their futures, their all. Not until today.

Now Jesus begins his public preaching ministry in Galilee with the central theme of his life and work: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).

And now he calls these men to join him in this work, permanently.

“Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19), he says. “Come” is a command: “come here.”

“Follow” means “be full-time followers, pupils, disciples.” The construction is plural, showing that this is Jesus’ will for each and all of them.

“Me” shows that they will follow Jesus personally. Their loyalty will not be to a religion, an institution, a program, but a person. The Son of God himself.

For what purpose? “And I will make you fishers of men.” “Make” means to equip for a job, to give you all you need. “I will make you” shows that only Jesus can do this. And that he will—this is his promise.

“Fishers”—people who will catch something. What?

“Fishers of men”—all men. Not just Jews, but Gentiles. Not just men, but women. Everyone. The entire world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). “Make disciples of all nations,” he commands us (Matthew 28:19). “You will be my witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth,” he tells us (Acts 1:8).

Understand: these men knew Jesus. They had believed in him and followed him for a year. But they had not worked for him. They had not brought others to him. They had not given their lives to his service.

So he called them to be “fishers of men,” people who would bring other people into the Kingdom of God. People whose lives would influence other lives spiritually. People who would help other people follow Jesus.

And this would become the “true north” on the compass of their lives, the central purpose for which they would live, and die, and be rewarded in eternity.

Is this God’s call for your life and mine?

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Why fish for men?

Yes. Jesus’ call to them became his charge to his entire church across all time. “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) was his Great Commission. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts1:8) were his last words on earth. Spiritual fishing, helping people follow Jesus, was and is his purpose for every believer.

You are not really a businessman or woman, a homemaker or lawyer or teacher or doctor or student. You are a spiritual fisherman. Your school or home or business is simply the lake where God has put you, so you can catch the spiritual fish who swim there. So you can pray for them, be a spiritual example to them, encourage them, help them with their problems, invite them to worship, lead them to faith. That’s why you live in your boat, on your lake.


Life’s “One Thing”

Life’s “One Thing”

Matthew 4:12-17

Dr. Jim Denison

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? It seems the Babylonians started the tradition 4,000 years ago, resolving to return borrowed farm equipment. I didn’t borrow any farm equipment this year, but nonetheless made a resolution I want to tell you about today. Most of you made one as well.

Why? Something in us knows that we’re not all we should be. Does anyone here believe that you’ve completely arrived? That you are doing all God intends you to do with the life he has given you? That your life has completely fulfilled its God-given purpose?

Can you define your purpose, your reason for being?

It’s imperative that we find our “one thing.” This William Barclay quote is crucial to my life: “A man will never become outstandingly good at anything unless that thing is his ruling passion. There must be something of which he can say, ‘For me to live is this.'” Do you know your “reason to live”?

What should your life purpose be this year? God’s word answers our question today.

Is God your King?

I remember my first sermon well. A Sunday night service at Calvary Baptist Church in Alvin, Texas, outside of Houston. Signs at the city limits tell you that it’s Nolan Ryan’s hometown. To my knowledge, no one has added to the signs, “And place of Jim Denison’s first sermon.” Remembering the sermon, I don’t blame them.

Jesus’ first sermon in Matthew was memorable beyond description. When we open the New Testament, these are the first public words we hear from his lips: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (v. 17).

This is the first request he taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

This was the substance and essence of his preaching and teaching. 108 times in the gospels our Lord spoke of the kingdom of God.

And he promised that one day he would return to consummate this Kingdom: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory” (Matthew 25:31). Revelation promises his glorious rule: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).

So what is this “Kingdom of God?”

Jesus gave us its simplest definition in the Model Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). In other words, God’s kingdom comes wherever his will is done. Wherever he is King, wherever we serve him as our Sovereign and Master, his kingdom comes. When we do his will on earth as it is done in heaven.

The Kingdom of God defines everything that matters in our world.

The Kingdom defines God. He owns all that is, for “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). As creator, he is owner and sovereign of the universe. He can do whatever he pleases, for he is King.

The Kingdom defines us. We are subjects of this King before we are anything else. Every aspect of our lives is governed by this fact. Unlike a democracy, where the government affects us only in limited ways, a monarchy affects its subjects in every way. We are subjects of this King.

The Kingdom defines our world. This planet has fallen into rebellion against its King. Now there is the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world, and they are at war. You and I live in the kingdom of the world, but we live for the Kingdom of God. Our loyalty is to our King alone.

The Kingdom defines our success. Our purpose is to extend the full rule of Christ into as many lives as we can. We must be loyal subjects of our King, and lead as many people as possible to make him their King. This is how he judges and rewards us.

Building the Kingdom of God on earth was Jesus’ “one thing.” It should be ours as well.

How do you make him your King?

So, how do we make God our King? Our church teaches four priorities above all others: love God, live by his word, give to his work, and impact his world. Let’s think about each one in turn.

First, love God and he will be your King. The first and greatest commandment is that we “love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind” (Matthew 22:37). Enthrone him as your King every day, as the day begins. There is room on the throne of your heart for only one person. Put him there every morning.

Say with the Psalmist, “The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity” (Psalm 93:1-2).

Say with Exodus 15:18: “The Lord will reign for ever and ever.”

Say with Psalm 29:10: “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.”

Say with 2 Kings 19:15: “O Lord, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.”

Say with Zechariah 14:9, “The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name” (Zechariah 14:9).

Have you made him your King today?

Second, live by his word and God will be your King.

In our text, Jesus went to Galilee (v. 13), an area known for its enormous Gentile population and backwards culture. If you and I had been Jesus, we would have settled in Jerusalem, not Galilee. But our Lord went to Galilee in obedience to God’s word. The prophet Isaiah had promised seven centuries earlier that the Messiah would come to “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Isaiah 9:1-2). And so he did.


What You See Is What You Get

What You See Is What We Get

Matthew 4.20-22 / Luke 5.1-11

Dr. Jim Denison

William Barclay said, “Many people saw steam raise the lid of a kettle; only James Watt went on to think of a steam engine. Many people saw an apple fall; only Isaac Newton went on to think out the law of gravity. The earth is full of miracles for the eye that sees” (Barclay, Luke 57).

Others saw fishermen; Jesus saw apostles. A preacher for Pentecost; a writer for his Gospel, his letters, his Revelation. Others saw a Galilean itinerant rabbi, a small-town carpenter; these fishermen saw God.

The Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV). Some years ago I learned this fact: I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am. Almost always that’s true for me, and for you.

But there’s a better way. The Bible shows us today what God thinks you are. When you become what God thinks you are … well, let me show you.

Fishing with God (Luke 5:1-11)

Have you ever been fishing with God? Peter did, and so did his brother Andrew. So did their business partners and friends, James and John. So should we today.

In Luke 5 we find Jesus with Peter. Remember, they’ve spent a year together. Now they go fishing together.

Peter and his partners have caught nothing all night, the best time to fish. But when Jesus tells him to let down the nets, he agrees. “Master,” he calls Jesus (v. 5), their word for teacher; this fact will be important in a moment.

Almost instantly, they catch so many fish that Peter and Andrew must call James and John for help. Still the massive catch threatens to capsize their boats.

Now Peter knows he’s not just in the presence of a great teacher and healer, but God himself.

“Go away from me, Lord,” he cries (v. 8). Now he calls Jesus not Master but Lord—kurios, their word for Emperor, God.

Why? “I am a sinful man!” (v. 8b). Remember Isaiah’s cry in the presence of the holy God: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). When we see God as he is, in that light we see ourselves as we are. Sins, stains, dirt, and all.

Now comes the good news.

Jesus replies, “Don’t be afraid” (v. 10). Be assured of God’s grace and forgiveness. The Bible says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

In fact, Jesus loves Peter so much that he invites him to join Jesus in his divine work on earth: “From now on you will catch men” (v. 10b). As you caught fish—more than you could imagine, now you’ll catch men. Billions, in fact.

They’ve been fishing with God. Now they are called to fish for God.

Their response? “They pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him” (v. 11).

Matthew’s gospel gives us more details. Peter and Andrew left their nets; James and John left their father Zebedee, and their boat. “Immediately,” v. 22 says.

To go fish for men. To help people follow Jesus. They moved from the Sea of Galilee to the sea of souls, from lake to lives. To use their gifts and abilities, their resources and relationships, to help everyone they could to know God as King and live forever in his Kingdom. To change eternity. And they did.

Fishing for God (Matthew 4:20-22)

See the boldness of their vision: “immediately” they made Jesus’ call their lives. No ambivalence, waffling, questioning. Instant obedience.

See the sacrifice of their vision: examine what they gave up to make Jesus’ vision theirs. They sacrificed their profession and their prosperity. They left behind their family and friends. In fact, Peter would later say to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Matthew 19.27).

See the courage of their vision. They followed Jesus’ vision with no idea where it would lead them, no five-year plan for their future. They “went out not knowing” (Hebrews 11:8), with nothing but their courageous faith.

See the results of their vision.

Peter would preach the first sermon in church history. Later the Galilean fisherman would pastor the church in Rome herself.

John would write the Gospel and letters which bear his name, and the Revelation of Jesus Christ. 20 centuries of pilgrims would journey to his exiled cave on Patmos, and would worship his best friend and Lord.

Today we name churches for these fishermen, and place their pictures in places of worship. We read the books of the Bible they wrote, and meet God in their words and lives. Imagine God using you to do this, and you sense the surprise they must feel this morning in heaven.

Jim Elliott, the missionary martyred by the Auca Indians he tried to reach, wrote in his journal this now-famous life motto: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.” These men wrote that motto across their lives. And they were not the last.

Fishermen before us

We began this year with Jesus’ Kingdom vision, and learned last week that he calls us to the same Kingdom work. Now, how can we be as bold, as sacrificial, as courageous in our vision for our lives and church as these disciples were?

There’s a way, and our leadership has asked me to announce it to you.

First, let’s gain some historical perspective. Jesus commissioned his church to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). He told us to begin with our Jerusalem, and work until we have reached the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

He showed us how: meet needs in his name, earning the right to meet spiritual needs with his love. As he fed the crowds so he could feed them spiritually, opened blind eyes so he could open blind hearts, so he calls us to meet the needs of our community, so we can meet their soul’s need for god.