Winning in the Fourth Quarter

Winning in the Fourth Quarter

Matthew 4:12-25

Dr. Jim Denison

Today’s Super Bowl will be the biggest sporting event of the year. Last year 144 million people saw all or part of the game, in 230 countries around the world. Television ads are going for $2.4 million each. Imagine the pressure for the players on the field.

But the pressure is nothing new to the New England Patriots. In the 2002 Super Bowl they were 14-point underdogs to the St. Louis Rams. The Patriots drove 53 yards at the game’s end, and Adam Vinatieri kicked the game winning, 48-yard field goal as time expired.

Then it happened again last year. This time there were nine seconds left on the clock when Vinatieri kicked a 41-yarder to win the biggest game of the year. The final score is all that counts. The scoreboard doesn’t care how but how many.

In football and in life, it’s not how we start that matters–it’s how we finish.

Many years ago, John Bisagno, the long-time pastor of First Baptist Church in Houston, didn’t believe his father-in-law when he told him that one in ten who start in the ministry end in it. Bisagno wrote in his Bible the names of 24 men who were his young contemporaries in the ministry. 30 years later, there were only three names remaining.

Howard Hendricks at Dallas Theological Seminary recently studied 246 men who experienced moral failure in the ministry within a two-year period. That’s nearly three a week. And all of them started strong.

We all want to finish well, but what makes you think you will? Why will you win in the fourth quarter? How should you invest your time, opportunities, money, and abilities in such a way that you finish life well? That you don’t climb the ladder to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall?

Here’s my thesis: you can’t finish the right race tomorrow if you’re running the wrong race today. You must invest your life eternally. Let’s learn how.

Be strategic with your place

Our text tells us that Jesus “went and lived in Capernaum,” to fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah would bring God’s light to “Galilee of the Gentiles” (vs. 13, 15). Why there? Why would a Jewish rabbi go so far from the Holy City and her Temple and religious leaders? For this reason: “gentiles” is the Greek word ethnos, peoples or nations. From here Jesus could literally touch the world.

Three million people lived here in 204 cities and villages, the smallest of which had a population of 15,000 inhabitants. This was the most densely populated area Jesus could have found in all the Middle East.

Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, states that the Galileans were volatile, open to change, fond of innovation, tough and courageous. Unlike the more religious Jews to the south, they were not steeped in tradition. Gentiles lived among them in great numbers. They were extremely cosmopolitan, as some of the oldest and most significant trade routes in the world passed through their borders.

They were exactly the right people with whom to begin Jesus’ public ministry strategy.

And Capernaum was the most strategic place in all of Galilee. The town, situated on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, was one of the centers of Galilean political and commercial life. It was a bustling town, a fishing port used by both Jews and Gentiles–the New York City of Galilee. A place of strategic influence.

From here he could proclaim across Galilee his message, the same as John’s before: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Because he had found his place.

Where is your life located today? Ask God if you are where he intends you to be–in the office or school or home which is his place for you. Then serve him there. Make that place your Capernaum and your Galilee. Begin thinking about ways to use your place for your Father right now. Serve God where you are, because you certainly cannot serve him where you are not.

When Janet and I were married in 1980, we moved to Arlington so I could attend Southwestern Seminary. I had been a youth minister, college preacher, and summer missionary. I knew God had great plans for me in our new church. We soon found a church in Arlington to join. They made Janet a junior high Sunday school teacher, where she did a wonderful job. Then they made me the junior high attendance taker. That was my job. A year later, Janet got a job on the staff of First Baptist Church in Arlington, so we moved our membership there. They made me the choir attendance taker.

Eventually I learned the lesson: bloom where you’re planted. Use the place where you are today. Janet and I began investing in the young people in that choir and church. God opened doors to other ministry. And our service became useful and fruitful. But I had to make my place strategic, first. So do you.

Be strategic with your purpose

From here, Jesus called his first disciples. Why these four fishermen? For the same reasons he calls us.

First, they were prepared. As fishermen, they brought skills and experiences to “fishing for men.” Fishermen in those days must be courageous, willing to work in all kinds of weather. They must persevere, going days and nights without catching fish. They must be patient and flexible, willing to use whatever nets and methods would work. And they must be humble and invisible–fish don’t want to see a fisherman. All this they would need in the work to which they were called.

God has prepared you for the purpose he intends you to fulfill. He wants you to succeed. His will never leads where his grace cannot sustain.

They were teachable. They knew that they didn’t know. They learned from Jesus and followed his leadership because they knew they had no other. “I will make you fishers of men,” he promised (v. 19)–“make” means to equip, prepare, create. I will make you into the men and ministers I mean for you to be. So long as we are teachable, he’ll do the same for us.