Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian congregation. More specifically, today’s selected passage is found in the first fourteen verses of the fifth chapter. When we come to the fifth chapter of the epistle which Paul wrote unto the Ephesians we are immediately struck with an incredible instruction given unto these saints. In a previous letter which the apostle wrote unto the Corinthian saints the apostle Paul instructed them to be followers of him as he followed Christ. It’s actually quite interesting to consider that to one congregation the apostle would give instruction to follow him as he followed Christ, and to another congregation he gave instruction to be followers of God. On the surface there might seem to be an apparent disparity and contradiction between the two sets of instructions and invitations the apostle Paul presented unto these two churches. What is actually unique and telling about the instruction and invitation the apostle Paul presented unto the Corinthian congregation is that some translations interpret that word and concept of being a follower of him as that of imitating. This is actually quite interesting, for nowhere in the New Testament do I ever find the apostle Paul instructing men and women to follow him. Nowhere in scripture do I find the apostle Paul calling men and women to follow him as though he were somehow someone to follow. I am utterly and completely convinced that this is something to be carefully considered, for when I read the New Testament there is only one man who deliberately and intentionally called and invited others to follow Him. If you study the New Testament gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ you will find that Jesus—on certain and specific occasions—instructed and invited others to follow Him.
When I read, examine and study the four gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ I can’t help but be completely and utterly struck with the reality that the call to follow Him was never a word of instruction as though it were somehow demanded of those who heard the call. If you read the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry you will find the first instance of His speaking the words to follow Him when He encountered the disciples by the sea mending their nets after spending all night laboring and toiling and catching nothin. I happen to find Jesus’ invitation unto these men incredibly challenging and intriguing for it came at a moment when the disciples had indeed labored all night upon the sea to catch fish and yet they labored all night without any success. Undoubtedly the disciples were tired, were weary, were fatigued and worn out, and personals even discouraged that they had labored all night without catching anything. We don’t know for sure whether or not they mended their nets from a place of discouragement or frustration, for as fisherman they were used to spending nights upon the sea and returning and catching nothing. On this particular day, however, they had labored and toiled all night, had come up empty and short without catching anything and began mending their nets for the next journey out upon this sea. On this particular occasion, however, they experienced something entirely different which they had not experienced before. The disciples were perhaps used to laboring and toiling all night to haul in a catch of fish. The disciples were used to laboring all night and perhaps even coming up short and coming up empty without catching anything. The disciples were used to returning to the shore and needing to mend their nets. What was totally different about this particular occasion, however, was that the disciples encountered the person and presence of Jesus from that place of laboring, from that place of toiling, from that place of fatigue, from that place of weakness. On this particular occasion they encountered the person and presence of Jesus from that place of fatigue and exhaustion and as a result their lives would never be the same.
Consider the account of James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother who were together in the boat with their father mending their nets. We first encounter the account of James and John the sons of Zebedee in the fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew. In fact, if you begin reading with and from the seventeenth verse of the fourth chapter you will find that not only did Jesus encounter James and John who were the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus also encountered Simon and his brother Andrew who were also by the sea. Beginning with the seventeenth verse of this particular chapter you will find the following words: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father and followed Him” (Matthew 4:17-22). This particular account is also found in the first chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew and is found beginning with the sixteenth verse. Consider if you will Mark’s recounting of this particular account: “Now as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway He called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after Him” (Mark 1:16-20).
While within the accounts of Mathew and Mark we don’t specifically read of the disciples labouring and toiling all night and catching nothing, if we turn and direct our attention to the fifth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Luke we will find a powerful account of such a reality. In fact, beginning with the first verse of the fifth chapter we find the following account of Simon, and perhaps even his brother Andrew, as well as James the son of Zebedee and John his brother. Consider if you will the words which the beloved physician Luke records in this particular chapter beginning with the first verse of the fifth chapter: “And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, He stood by the lake of Gennesaret, and saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And He entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s,and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And He sat down and caught the people out of the ship. Now when He had left speaking, He said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a drought. And Simon answering said unto Him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they included a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the fraught of the fishes which they had taken: and so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their chips to land, they forsook all, and followed Him” (Luke 5:1-11).
While on the surface these three passages—the passage found in the New Testament gospel of Matthew, the passage found in the New Testament gospel of Mark, as well as the passage of the New Testament gospel of Luke—seem entirely and altogether different, I am convinced that these passages are essentially two sides to the same coin. Whereas Mark and Matthew record how Simon and his brother Andrew were casting their net into the sea, Luke records how Jesus while seeking to teach the people beckoned Simon to let out his boat a little ways from the sea in order that He might be able to teach the crowds which had amassed. Whereas the accounts of both Matthew and Mark record James the son of Zebedee and John his brother mending their nets—perhaps after labouring and toiling all night—Luke records how after Jesus had finished teaching the people, He instructed Peter to launch out into the deep and to let down his nets in the waters. In fact, when the fifth chapter of the gospel of Luke begins, it does so with Jesus standing by the lake of Genessaret, and seeing two ships standing by the lake. Luke records how the ships were unattended because the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. Both Matthew and Mark record how James and John were mending their nets when they encountered Jesus, and yet Luke records how Jesus saw two ships standing by the lake, which was the sea of Genessaret. There is not a doubt in my mind that the two ships which Jesus saw standing by the lake on this particular day were the one ship belonging to Simon and Andrew, and the other ship belonging to James and John. In fact, Luke records that Jesus entered into one of the ships, which belonged to Simon—and perhaps even to his brother Andrew. Later on in the account which Luke presents us we find that James and John, the sons of Zebedee were partners with Simon, which might also seem to indicate that the one ship belonged to Simon, and perhaps his brother Andrew, while the other ship belonged to James and John the sons of Zebedee, or perhaps to their father Zebedee. There is not a doubt in my mind that when reading these three accounts of James and John the sons of Zebedee, as well as Simon and Andrew, that the lives of these four men were connected—first through the craft and trade of being fishermen, but secondarily, and perhaps more importantly, through their receiving of Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. It’s worth noting that when Jesus released the instruction to follow Him, He did so with the additional declaration that from that moment on He would personally make them fishers of men. In other words, where they once fished in the seas within the land and region of Judea, they would now fish for men together with Jesus the Christ.
What I absolutely love about Jesus’ invitation to these four brothers to follow after Him was that it undoubtedly came after they had spent an entire evening and an entire night labouring and toiling upon the sea to bring in a catch of fish.l When Jesus encountered James and John the sons of Zebedee, as well as Simon and his brother Andrew, He encountered them within and from a place of fatigue, from a place of weariness, from a place of tiredness, and perhaps from a place of weariness. When Jesus encountered these four fishermen there on the shore of the sea He undoubtedly encountered them perhaps from a place of discouragement and frustration after having spent all night labouring and toiling to catch fish, and yet coming up with absolutely nothing. What we must recognize and understand concerning these men is that for them fishing was their livelihood and the way they provided for themselves and their families. For these four men, and for these two sets of brother, fishing was perhaps the only thing they had done within and throughout their entire lives. For these two sets of brothers they had known nothing else within their lives other than fishing. With that being said, these men were perhaps used to those mornings when in addition to cleaning their nets, they were also cleaning the fish they had caught the night before. There were perhaps those mornings when these men were used to mending and cleaning their nets after having laboured and toiled all night without catching anything. I am absolutely and utterly convinced that these two sets of brothers had spent an entire evening upon the sea as they laboured and toiled in an attempt to bring back to shore a tremendous catch of fish. There is not a doubt in my mind that when Jesus encountered these disciples, He did so from a powerful place of fatigue, weariness, tiredness, and perhaps even from a place of exhaustion. What’s more, is that when Jesus encountered these two sets of brothers, He had encountered them in a tremendous place of vulnerability, for while it was their livelihood to catch fish, they had found themselves on this particular morning having caught absolutely nothing. If there is one thing we must recognize and understand, it’s that more often than not Jesus comes to us in our times of fatigue and exhaustion, He comes to us during our moments of frustration and discouragement, as well as within and form a place of vulnerability. I am wonderfully convinced that when Jesus encountered these two sets of brothers there upon the shore of the sea He did so in this wonderful and powerful place of vulnerability—a place they might not have found themselves had they not spent all night labouring and toiling upon the shores of the sea.
I absolutely love that Jesus encountered these two sets of brothers within and from a place of fatigue and exhaustion after having spent all night labouring and toiling without catching nothing. I love that when Jesus issued forth the invitation to follow Him, He did so while the disciples were mending their nets from spending an entire night upon the sea and catching absolutely nothing. I love that when Jesus came upon and encountered these two sets of brothers He did so while they were perhaps at their must vulnerable place, for they had laboured all night and caught absolutely nothing. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which Jesus spoke after He went with the twelve disciples to teach and preach within their cities. IF you journey to the eleventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find that that this chapter begins with John the Baptist being in prison and yet while in prison hearing of the works of Christ which were being performed in the region of Judaea and Samaria. After sending word back to John the Baptist in prison, and after upbraiding the cities in which He had performed most of His miracles for their unbelief, we find Jesus making a powerful proclamation unto His disciples and to those who were present on that day. Consider if you will the words which Jesus spoke beginning with the twenty-eighth verse of the eleventh verse of Matthew’s gospel: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). I absolutely love how Eugene Peterson—author of the Message translation—presents the words of Jesus: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you hot to take real rest. Walk with me, and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30). I also love how the Amplified translation interprets and translates Jesus’ words in this particular passage: “Come to me, all you labour and are heavy-laden and over-burdened, and I will cause you to rest. I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls. Take my. Yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreational and blessed quiet) for your souls. For my yoke is wholesome (useful, good—not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious and pleasant), and my burden is light and easy to be borne” (Matthew 11:28-30).
I absolutely love the language which Eugene Peterson uses when attempting to write and recount Jesus’ words in this particular passage, for Eugene Peterson perfectly describes the place and condition countless men and women find themselves in. When I read the words which Eugene Peterson writes in the Message translation he actually presents Jesus’ words with three specific questions. The first question Eugene Peterson presents as being connected to Jesus’ words is: Are you tired? The second question Eugene Peterson presents as being connected to Jesus’ words is: Worn out? The third and final question which Eugene Peterson presents as being directly connected to Jesus’ words is: Burned out on religion. When writing the Message translation Eugene Peterson presents those who read it with three all-important and all-encompassing questions. Eugene Peterson presents those who read the message translation with the true condition of their hearts and souls—namely, whether or not they are presently tired, worn out and burnt out on religion. The reason I am so drawn to the words which Eugene Peterson presents in this particular passage of Scripture is that I am utterly and completely convinced that his words perfectly describe the condition of Simon and Andrew, as well James and John the sons of Zebedee that morning after they had laboured and toiled all night. The more I consider Jesus’ encountering Simon and Andrew by the sea, as well as Jesus’ encountering James and John the sons of Zebedee by the sea, the more I am convinced that these four brothers were undoubtedly in that place where they were tired, as well as perhaps worn out and burned out. As I am sitting here right now I can’t help but wonder if these two sets of brothers had perhaps grown tired and discontented with their present condition, and where their lives were as fishermen. Of course we know and recognize that for these two sets of brothers fishing was their livelihood, and perhaps all they had known their entire lives, yet there is not a doubt in my mind that there were many nights when these brothers spent all night labouring and toiling to bring in a catch of fish, and yet came up empty having caught nothing. When Jesus encountered these two sets of brothers there on the shore of the sea, He most certainly encountered them in a tremendous place of vulnerability, as they were undoubtedly tired and worn out from the previous night’s labor, work and toil. When Jesus encountered these two sets of brothers He did so within and from a place where they were attempting to recover from the previous night’s labour, toil and work.
I can’t help but wonder how many men and women are presently in this particular place within their lives—that place where they are completely and utterly tired and worn out. Such individuals are and have been completely burned out—and perhaps not even necessarily on religion, but perhaps even on life with all its demands and pressures. In this passage of Scripture within the Message translation Eugene Peterson speaks of those who are burnt out on religion, however, I believe there are so many others whom Jesus’ words pertain to other than those who are burnt out on religion. There is not a doubt in my mind that there are a number of men and women among us right now who have grown tired and worn out because of the tremendous responsibilities of life which they experience and encounter day and day out. There is not a doubt in my mind that there are countless men and women who are right now burnt out from all the cares, all the pressures, all the demands which this life has on them, and are much like these two sets of fishermen who spent all night labouring and toiling, and coming up empty without catching anything. I am utterly and completely convinced that there are men and women among us right now who feel as though they are spending and have spent a considerable amount of time labouring and toiling, and yet they have absolutely nothing to show for it. There are men and women who right now feel completely and totally empty because their lives have not amounted to that which they thought, hoped for, anticipated and expected while growing up. There are a number of men and women among us who are discouraged and frustrated with the outcome of their lives, as well as perhaps the outcome of their week, or even the previous day. The words which Eugene Peterson present in the Message translation are absolutely and incredibly powerful, for I believe that they strike at the very heart of that which Jesus was speaking on this particular occasion when speaking unto His disciples and those who were gathered on that particular day. Those whom Jesus was speaking to were those who found themselves completely and utterly fatigued, completely and utterly exhausted, and completely and utterly tired from the cares, the pressures, the demands and the responsibilities of life on a daily and consistent basis. We would be incredibly ignorant and naïve to think that there aren’t men and women among us right now who find themselves in this particular place within their lives, as their souls are completely and utterly weighed down and over-burdened—almost to the point of despair and discouragement.
What I so love about the words which we find in the Message translation is that immediately following these three questions we find Jesus inviting those whom He was speaking to come to Him—and not only come to Him, but also to get away with Him, in order that they might recover their life. GET AWAY AND RECOVER YOUR LIFE! Oh, please don’t quickly dismiss and move on from these words—even though and despite the fact that they are found in a translation you might not routinely and regularly use. The more I read those words, and the more I consider them right now at this very moment, the more I am utterly and completely convinced that there are countless men and women among us who right now need to come unto Jesus, and in the process of coming unto Jesus need to get away in order that they might recover their lives. Do you feel as though your life has gotten away from you? Do you feel as though you have absolutely no control over your life any more? Do you feel as though you don’t know how to do this thing called life anymore? Do you feel as though your life is essentially on auto-pilot and you are no longer able to enjoy it the way you were created and designed to enjoy it? Do you feel as though your life has somehow vanished from before you, and that you no longer have any hold on it? I do not believe for one minute that these questions have absolutely no application to some who would read this immediately after it has been completed, as well as though who would read it in the future. I am sitting here right now and I can’t help but hear within the depths of my spirit a powerful invasion and declaration from the very Spirit of Almighty God—namely, that the time has come for us to go and get your life back. I believe with everything inside of me that there are men and women who right now need to rise up—perhaps rising up from their place of despair, perhaps rising up from their place of hopelessness, perhaps rising up from their place of weariness, perhaps rising up from their place of discouragement, and to go and get their life back. Like the shepherd who would leave the ninety and nine sheep in order to seek out and save that one sheep which had been lost, so also we must rise up from the place we are and seek out and save that which is lost. I am convinced that for some their lives have gotten completely and totally away from them, and they have completely and utterly lost control of their lives. What’s more, is that I am convinced there are countless men and women who might not have lose their lives as a whole, but they have somehow lost a part of who they are, and perhaps a part of their lives. You who are reading these words right now, are you in a place right now where you have lost a piece and part of you—a piece and part which you perhaps never thought you would or could lose? No shepherd every wakes up or goes to sleep thinking they will lose any of the sheep entrusted into their care, yet Scripture does present the strong possibility that it is possible for sheep to wander off and to find themselves lost in unfamiliar territory.
GO GET YOUR LIFE BACK! GO AND RECOVER YOUR LIFE! GO BACK TO THE PLACE YOU LOST YOUR LIFE AND TAKE IT BACK! In order to perfectly and powerfully present this reality, and how strongly I feel it is necessary within our hearts and lives, I feel the tremendous need to journey back into the Old Testament book of First Samuel—specifically, and particularly the thirtieth chapter of the book. If you begin reading with and from the first verse of this chapter you will find that when David and his men returned to Ziklag on the third day of being away engaging themselves in conflict and battle, they returned to a sight and reality they did not think was possible. Consider if you will the account as the author of First Samuel records it: “And it came to pass, when David and his men were come to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had invaded the south, and Ziklag, and smitten ZKiklag, and burned it with fire; and had taken the women captives, that were therein: they slew not any, either great or small, but carried them away, and went on their way. So David and his men came to the city, and behold, it was burned with fire; and their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, were taken captives. Then David and the people that were with him lifted up their voice and wept, until they had no more power to weep. And David’s two wives were taken captives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite. And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God. And David said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelech’s son, I pray thee, bring me hither the ephod. And Abiathar brought thither the ephod to David. And David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I pursue after this troop? Shall I overtake them? And he answered him, Pursue: for thou shalt surely overtake them, and without fail RECOVER ALL. So David went, he and the sick hundred men that were with him, and came to the brook Besore, where those that were left behind stayed. But David pursued, he and four-hundred men: for two hundred abode behind, which were so faint that they could not go over the brook Besor” (1 Samuel 30:1-10). In the first ten verses of this chapter we discover how the city and town of Ziklag was not only invaded by the Amalekites, but also how the entire city was burned with fire, and how their wives, their sons and their daughters were carried away as captives by the Amalekites. There is not a doubt in my mind that when David and his men left three days prior they anticipated or even thought as being possible the city of Ziklag being burned with fire, and their wives, their daughters and their sons being carried away captive. Very rarely does anyone ever expect anything like what happened to David and his men to happen unto them within their own lives.
What I absolutely love about the response of the Lord to David after he inquired of Him, is that the Lord not only instructed David and his men to rise up, pursue and attack the Amalekites, but the Lord also declared that they would certainly recover all that was lost and carried away. In fact, as you continue reading this passage of Scripture in the Old Testament book of First Samuel you will find that David and four-hundred men did rise up and pursue the Amalekites according to the word of the Lord. Beginning with the sixteenth verse of this chapter we find the account of David and his four-hundred men when they came upon the Amalekites who had invaded ZIklag, who had burned it with fire, and who had carried away captive their wives, their sons, and their daughters. Consider if you will the words which are found in this chapter beginning with the sixteenth verse: “And when he had brought him down, behold, they were spread abroad upon all the earth, eating and drinking, and dancing, because of all the great spoil that they had taken out of the land of the Philistines, and out of the land of Judah. And David smote them from the twilight even unto the evening of the next day: and there escaped not a man of them, save four hundred young men, which rode upon camels, and fled. AND DAVID RECOVERED ALL THAT THE AMALEKITES HAD CARRIED AWAY: AND DAVIED RESCUED HIS TWO WIVES. And there was nothing lacking to them, neither small nor great, neither sons nor daughters, neither spoil, nor any thing that they had taken to them: David recorded all. And David took all the flocks and the herds, which they crave before those other cattle, and said, This is David’s spoil” (1 Samuel 30:16-20). Please pay attention to those two phrases “AND DAVID RECOVERED ALL,” and “AND DAVID RESCUED HIS TWO WIVES,” for those words perfectly describe that which I am wonderfully and powerfully convinced a number of men and women need to engage themselves in at this present moment in time. I wrote about the need for men and women to come unto Jesus, and to get away with Him in order that they might recover their lives, and I am convinced that with the same tenacity and fierceness as David and his men fought and engaged the Amalekites to recover all that was taken from them, and to rescue their wives and children, so also we must recover our life—that life which has gotten away from us, and which possibly has even been stolen, robbed and stripped from us. Perhaps the single greatest question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we are willing to rise up and with the same tenacity and determination which David and his men engaged the Amalekites exercised to recover all that was taken, and to rescue their wives and children in order that we might recover our lives.
The Message translation goes on to describe Jesus’ words as being a powerful invitation to come unto Him in order that He might show them how to take a real rest. What’s more, is that Jesus’ words are a powerful and wonderful invitation to walk with Him and work with Him—and not only walk with Him and work with Him, but also watch how He does things. Moreover, Jesus invites men and women to learn the unforced rhythms of grace, for He will never lay anything heavy or ill-fitting upon them. Jesus invited those who He spoke to on that day, as well as us today who read His words to keep company with Him, and by doing so we will learn how to live freely and lightly. I would leave you with Jesus’ indictment and condemnatory words of the Pharisees and scribes in order that we might recognize and understand that which is absolutely necessary and crucial within our lives if we want to recover our life and recover all that has been stripped and stolen from us while we follow Christ and follow God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I leave you with the words which Jesus spoke unto the Pharisees and scribes in order that you might understand and appreciate the words which Jesus spoke unto those who came unto Him in order that they might receive. Beginning with the fourth verse of the twenty-third chapter of the gospel of Matthew we find the following words: “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matthew 23:4). Beginning with the thirteenth verse of the same chapter we read and find the following words: “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (matthew 23:13).