We’re starting a new series today called “Why I Came to Jesus.” We’re going to look at some of the reasons why people decide to follow Jesus. Some come to Jesus for healing. Some come to him for answers. Some come to him for friendship. Today, we’re going to look at the first reason people come to Jesus. Some people come to Jesus because he’s called them. Two thousand years ago, people actually heard Jesus say to them, “Follow me.” You probably won’t hear Jesus speak audibly to you today in those words, but there are many who have heard Jesus calling them – through the voice of a friend, a parent, a preacher – and have begun to follow Jesus for this reason. Some people follow Jesus because Jesus has called them.
Twelve years ago, I received a call that changed my life. I was single at the time. I wasn’t dating anyone either. I had just had two dates with a girl that I really liked, but things looked pretty bad after our last date. I had taken her to a funeral home on that date. I don’t know why, but she wasn’t too impressed. I had a friend who lived in that funeral home. It’s a long story.
The day I received this call, I had just finished moving into a house in a new part of the city. I lived alone. I had no friends in the area. I was completely alone. To make it worse, I was working as a student pastor in a church, and the only phone line in the place I lived was the church phone. This stupid phone kept ringing and ringing…it was driving me crazy. I thought, “This is going to be a long summer.” I refused to answer the phone on that Saturday, until I heard the voice come on the answering machine.
That voice belonged to the date that I had just taken out. That voice belonged to a woman who called to give me another chance. That voice belonged to the woman who would become my wife. I answered the call, and my life has never been the same. I’m glad I answered that call.
There are many important calls you’re going to receive in your life. But today I want to talk about the ultimate call: the call that Jesus gives to follow him. I wanted to start with this one, because it’s probably the hardest reason for people to follow Jesus. Some people come to Jesus for healing and end up following him. Some people come to Jesus for friendship, or for answers, and end up following him. But some people don’t come to Jesus. Jesus comes to them. And before they even see the benefits of following him, Jesus issues a summons. He says, “Follow me.” And if that isn’t hard enough to grasp, Jesus goes on to raise the stakes. Jesus was known to ask people to give up their careers, even their families, to follow him without even looking back. This is the hardest reason that you could give for why you came to Jesus. But no one who has ever answered his call has ever regretted following him.
This is important because I believe that Jesus is calling some of you. You may be scared out of your mind, because you don’t really know if you want to follow. You’re not sure what he has in mind.
That’s why we’re going to look at a story that’s found in Luke 5. It’s the story of a man named Simon, or Peter, who received a call to follow Jesus. It changed his life, and it’s changed the course of Christian history. And it all began with Jesus telling him, “Follow me.”
If we hear Jesus calling, what should we do? How do you respond when Jesus calls? Four attitudes that will help you hear the call of Jesus:
1. I MUST BE OPEN TO THE INITIATIVE OF JESUS
The first attitude you need is to be open to the idea that Jesus may be pursuing me. You may think that you’re pursuing Jesus. But the whole time, the reality is that Jesus has been searching for you. Jesus has been taking the initiative in establishing a relationship with you. It’s all God’s initiative. Before you and I ever go on a search for God, God was searching for you. You have to be open to the initiative of Jesus in your life.
When we meet Peter, his name is Simon, and he’s a fisherman. I used to have romantic ideas of what fishermen were like – rugged, sunburned, masculine men. Now I know what fishermen were really like. I can summarize it in one word – smelly. Have you ever smelled a boatload of fish? Fishermen were known as crude, uneducated, hardworking people.
Here’s a fisherman. He’s been out fishing all day and night without any success. He’s cleaning his nets – not exactly a fun job at the best of times, but imagine doing this after staying up all night without success. And then he hears this teacher. He’s listening to Jesus teach while he works. Luke 5:1 says, “One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God.” Peter’s just one of a crowd – tired, dirty, and yet mesmerized as you hear Jesus teach.
I wonder what Peter was thinking. Maybe Peter was wondering, “Is this him? Is this the Messiah – the one who is going to deliver us, the one who was promised in the Bible?” His brother had already introduced him to Jesus before as the Messiah. He was probably evaluating Jesus, the same way that some of you are evaluating him. Who is he? Is he going to let me down? Can he be trusted?
Maybe Peter was thinking about what Jesus said to him before. Remember that Peter was just a fisherman. I would bet that nobody had ever seen much potential in Peter. But Jesus did. When he was introduced to Jesus before, Jesus said some simple words that would have been shocking to him. John 1:40 says, “Jesus took one look up and said, ‘You’re John’s son, Simon? From now on your name is Cephas’ (or Peter, which means ‘Rock’)” (The Message). Maybe Peter was thinking about the promise that Jesus saw in him. Peter may have been struggling with what Jesus saw in him, not believing that he could ever measure up to being a rock. Maybe Peter was full of self-doubt.
And then Peter saw Jesus coming his way. Luke 5:2-3 continues:
He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.
One minute you’re the smelliest, dirtiest person in the crowd. The next minute you’re one-on-one with Jesus. If I were Peter, I’d be wondering what Jesus was going to say when he’s done preaching. Part of me would be breathlessly waiting for Jesus’ next words to me one-on-one. If Jesus changed my name to Rock last time, what is he going to say to me this time? And part of me would hope that Jesus would just keep on preaching. I’d be afraid of what was going to come up next.
But here’s the point. Jesus was taking the initiative in Peter’s life, just like he takes the initiative in ours. God moves near to us in Jesus Christ with welcoming arms. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, God comes to you and he keeps coming to you and he keeps extending his love to you. He’s reaching into your life, and he’s doing so with great love. He’s arranging circumstances so that he has another chance to meet you – to talk to you, to touch you. Jesus is drawing you closer to him.
Make no mistake – when Jesus speaks to you, it’s no accident. It’s never a co-incidence when Jesus begins to work in your life. It’s part of God’s eternal plan. Ephesians 1 says, “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure…He chose us from the beginning, and all things happen just as he decided long ago” (Ephesians 1:5, 11).
Have you sensed that God might be taking the initiative in your life? Drawing you to ask Christ into your life? Have you felt the gentle tugging going on at the heart level? Have people around you perhaps even been trying to point the way? Do you think the reason that you’re here this weekend is because God brought you here? You’re not here by accident. God has been working in your life. How do you respond to the call of Jesus? The firs t step is to be open to his initiative in your life. Recognize that God is at work in your life.
Here’s the second attitude:
2. I MUST OBEY HIM EVEN WHEN I DON’T UNDERSTAND
This is the second attitude that we need if we’re going to hear the call of Jesus. We must obey him even when we don’t understand. Here’s the reason why. The list of things I don’t know is staggering. The list of things that Jesus doesn’t know is non-existent. When it comes time to decide whether I’m going to follow what I know or what Jesus knows and commands, it’s no contest. I must obey Jesus even when I don’t understand.
I told you last week that my car broke down. When my car broke down, I did what everyone does, even though I don’t have a clue why. I opened the hood and looked inside. What I thought I would find I have no idea. “Yep, the engine’s still there. Well, I guess that’s not the problem then.”
I had the car towed to the garage and felt like I had to leave a note diagnosing the problem from my perspective. It’s not that I thought they wouldn’t know. It’s probably because I didn’t want them to think they had a total yahoo on their hands. They’re probably thinking, “What does a preacher know about fixing cars?”
In Luke 5, we read what Jesus finally said to Peter after he finished preaching from the boat. Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Now go out where it is deeper and let down your nets, and you will catch many fish” (Luke 5:4). If I was Peter, I would probably be saying, “What did you say you did again? You’re a preacher and, oh yeah, you were a carpenter? Leave the fishing to me.” The instructions didn’t make a lot of sense to Peter. They had just finished cleaning the nets after being out all night. The last thing I would want to do is get them all dirty again.
Here’s what Peter said: “‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, we’ll try again'” (Luke 5:5). Think about what you would be muttering to yourself under your breath. But you know what happened. Luke 5:6-7 says, “And this time their nets were so full they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.”
What I think of when I read this passage is, “What if Peter hadn’t listened? What if he didn’t obey because he didn’t understand?” The Bible contains many stories of people who didn’t obey Jesus because they didn’t understand. There was a man who had everything going for him. He was rich, he was young, and he was powerful. But the best thing that he had going for him was the fact that Jesus loved him. Mark 5:21 says, “Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him.” This man had everything going for him, but he didn’t listen to what Jesus said because it didn’t make sense. I wonder what he missed out on because he didn’t obey Jesus.
Somebody once stuck some bubblegum in my hair. I wasn’t impressed. They told me that peanut butter would get it out. I said, “Yeah, right.” I thought they were putting me on. I could see them saying, “Nope, that didn’t work. Maybe spaghetti sauce will do the trick. Nope, maybe motor oil.” Turns out they were right. Peanut butter works great at getting bubble gum out of the hair. Good thing I went along even though I didn’t understand.
A preacher in Mississauga went out jogging on a Sunday morning before church. He got sprayed by a skunk. He called around and asked different people, “What do you do to get rid of a skunk smell?” Everyone told him to bathe in tomato juice. Yeah, right. He sent his wife out to every corner store to buy V8, tomato juice – whatever they had. Then he soaked in the tub in all of that juice. Sometimes you have to go along even when you don’t understand.
Some of you may have been holding back because you don’t understand enough about what the Bible teaches. I’m all for more understanding, but don’t make the mistake of limiting your obedience to your understanding. We need to obey even when we don’t understand.
If you’ve read the Bible for any length of time, you know there are things in there that you don’t understand. It doesn’t matter. God understands. The only question is whether or not you will trust God’s understanding.
It just may be that Jesus is asking you to go against everything you know. If there was one thing that Peter knew, it was fishing. But Jesus asked Peter to obey in his area of greatest knowledge. For you, it’s probably not fishing. But it could be your career. Maybe following Jesus would destroy your career. It would take away your edge. You couldn’t do things Jesus’ way and be as successful as you are now.
Maybe it’s your relationships. Following Jesus might go against everything you know relationally. You may be about to lose friends and family if you decide to follow him. Whatever the area – Jesus calls you to obey, even if you don’t understand.
I want to ask you: what area are you not obeying because you don’t understand? Even if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ – in what area of your life do you think you know better than God? In what area are you limiting your obedience to God? If you’re going to respond to God’s call, you’ve got to obey even when you don’t understand.
There’s a third attitude that we must have if we’re going to respond to Jesus’ call:
3. I MUST BELIEVE THAT JESUS LOVES SINFUL PEOPLE
Human nature says that I must be good enough for God to use me. You and I want to make ourselves presentable before God. But that’s not what Jesus says. Jesus says that the only way to receive his grace and forgiveness is not to earn it. It’s to admit that we need it. It’s to believe that Jesus loves us despite our sin.
Peter had just witnessed a miracle. Peter responded the exact same way that people respond when they get a glimpse of God: they’re filled with inferiority. They recognize their sinfulness. Peter thought that a man of God would want to have nothing to do with a sinner. Luke 5:8-9 says, “When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, ‘Oh, Lord, please leave me-I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.’ For he was awestruck by the size of their catch, as were the others with him.”
This is a common mistake. A lot of us think that we have to come to Jesus with our acts together. We think that Jesus came to make good people better. We don’t really believe that God loves sinful people.
Was Peter wrong about himself? No. He was right. He was a sinner. I wouldn’t be surprised if the other fishermen around there were saying, “Yup. Peter’s got that one right. He’s a sinner. It’s a fact. No arguing about that.” Peter wouldn’t have dreamed that one day we’d be telling jokes about him guarding the pearly gates. He was just an uneducated, unworthy fisherman.
But Peter was wrong about Jesus. Jesus isn’t interested in people who have their act together. Jesus didn’t come to help those who are already okay. Jesus came for sinners. He came for those who’ve messed their lives up. Jesus came for you and for me. Jesus said in Luke 5:31-32, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor-sick people do. I have come to call sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think they are already good enough.”
The first thing that Peter did right is that he obeyed, even when he didn’t understand. The second thing that Peter did right is that he realized his position before God. The very thing that he thought would drive Jesus away, actually became his best prerequisite for service. Only when we admit our inability are we ready to receive God’s grace. Only when we confess our sin are we ready for his love.
Jesus said to Peter, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” (Luke 5:10)
What does the Bible teach us about sinful people? The Bible says, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). Are you a sinner? Congratulations! You qualify for God’s love. Yo u qualify for God’s forgiveness. Are you a big sinner? Then the Bible teaches that you get more grace. 1 Timothy 1:13 says, “This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-and I was the worst of them all.”
Jesus had a way of passing by the religious people and hanging around the sinners. You see it later in the same chapter. Jesus passes by all the religious people of the town, and chooses the most despised and least respected person in the town, a tax collector by the name of Matthew, and says, “Follow me.” Matthew is so grateful, he decides to throw a party for Jesus, and he invites all of his friends. What kind of friends do you think a guy like Matthew has? The religious people of the day asked Jesus, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” (Luke 5:30) The entire religious establishment had written these people off, but not Jesus. They’re the reason that he came.
If you caught a glimpse of Jesus’ power, you too would fall down before him and say, “Leave me. I’m too much of a sinner for you.” What’s more, you’d be right. All of us are in the same condition. Nobody here is worthy enough on our own to come to Jesus feeling good about ourselves.
Jesus knows all that he’s done, but he still says to us today what he said to Peter then: “Don’t be afraid!” I don’t know what’s been going on in your life, but that’s what he’s saying to you today. He’s bypassing all the religious people to take the initiative with you. You can become a new person today. Admitting your inability and your sin is a prerequisite for receiving God’s grace.
How do I respond when Jesus calls? Open yourself to his initiative. Obey even when you don’t understand. Believe that Jesus loves sinners. There’s one more attitude you need:
4. I MUST BE READY TO LEAVE EVERYTHING AND FOLLOW HIM
Luke 5:10-11 says, “Jesus replied to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!'” Jesus was asking Peter to leave his business. He had already given Peter a new identity by calling him a rock. Now he asks for more. He asks Peter to switch to a whole new set of goals and ambitions. He was asking Peter to follow him.
Luke 5:11 says, “And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.” That makes sense. Dropping the net into the water didn’t make sense, but this did. Once you’ve heard Jesus’ call, and seen his power, there’s really no alternative. The only option that makes sense is for you to follow him.
Some of you have been hearing Jesus’ voice for a long time now. You’ve been hearing his voice by reading the Bible. There may be someone in your life who’s been speaking into your life the way that Jesus did.
The good news is that Jesus wants to give you a new identity. The Bible says, “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Jesus can give you a fresh start. He can make you a new person – a new set of goals, a new kind of heart.
Jesus can also give you a new assignment. Will you have to leave anything to follow him? Absolutely. Jesus himself said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life” (Luke 9:23-24).
For two thousand years, people have followed Jesus because they’ve heard his call. Some of you are hearing his call today. I’m going to invite you to respond to his call and follow him, to receive a new assignment and a new identity. Would you bow your heads with me as we respond to his call.
If you’ve never responded to the call of Jesus, today can be the day. You can pray words like these: “Jesus, I’m a sinner. I’m not worthy. You know that, and yet you’re calling me to you anyway.”
“Jesus, I want to follow you. Today I turn away from my old way of living, and I make you the Lord, the manager of my life. I’m willing to lose my life so I can find it. Forgive me, make me a new person, and give me a fresh start today, I pray. Amen.”
If you prayed that prayer, I’m going to give you an opportunity to respond in a minute. As we continue to pray, I’d like to ask you to take out a communication card from the bulletin, or the pew in front of you, write your name on there, and check the box saying, “I’m committing my life to Jesus Christ.”
I’m going to pray another prayer. It’s for those of you who have been following Jesus for a while. You may be hearing his call to follow him into new areas – but you’ve been holding back. You’re a little bit scared to leave everything, as Peter did, and follow him. It doesn’t make sense to obey because you don’t understand. It could be in the area of your finances. It could be a career change. But Jesus is calling you again to follow him.
Would you pray these words in your heart, “Lord, I want to keep on following you. God, I want you to use me. Anytime and anywhere in any way. Make me more like you. Thank you for saving me. And thank you for calling me to serve You. Change me and grow me and use me in ways I never thought possible. Thank you for your grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”