The E Word: Go Fish

One of the central questions that I’ve struggled with over the years is how do you get someone to believe.  Ultimately, most evangelistic efforts are centered around convincing people to change their belief system.  It always seemed difficult to me because I rarely ever want to change my beliefs, even after I’m proved wrong. So why should it work on someone else?

Ask Yourself This:

  • How do you get someone to believe?   More specific, how do you convince someone so they begin to believe in Jesus?

There is an interesting story about how Jesus got people to believe and follow him.  It’s a very famous story many of us have heard, and it's found in the Gospel of Matthew.


As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. — Matthew 4.18-20


This story always brings up all sorts of questions in my mind, very practical questions.  I’ve always thought it to be strange, yet we seem to accept this story as normal. We even have songs we sing about it!

Some of the questions I’ve always wondered… Why did Peter and Andrew simply stop working and follow a strange man they never met?

How on earth do you fish for people???

Most fish don’t like to be caught… do people like being caught? Is there some sort of bait for people that you can use?

Why did Jesus use this as his method of evangelism? 

The context of this story is very important to understand why Jesus said and did what he did, and why it works.  You need to understand two things at play in the society at the time.  

 

  1. The Education System

The Jews believed the Torah was the center of life, therefore their education system was centered around it.  The education process had three stages. 

  • Beit Sefer (Ages 5-12) — Children would go to school usually at a synagogue to study, memorize the Torah.  By age 12, most students had memorized the first five books of the Bible.  At this time they were ready for their first Passover.  Many students then went home after this school and learned their family trade. 
  • Beit Talmud (Ages 12-15) — The best of the best students continued to study at the synagogue under a Rabbi, learning the rest of the prophets and writings and oral interpretations.  By the end of this education process students had memorized the entire Old Testament.  Most students after this went to their homes and began their family trades. 
  • Beit Midrash (Ages 15-20’s) — The very best of the best who wanted to continue to try to be Rabbi would then travel to the Rabbi of their choice and ask if he could follow that Rabbi to be his talmidim, or disciple.  A disciple was one who not only knew what the Rabbi knew but lived and became just like the Rabbi himself.  If the Rabbi thought that the boy could do this he would say follow me.  If not, he would send him home.  Only the absolute best were chosen.

Ask Yourself This:

  • Have you ever stopped to consider that the center of ancient society education was focused on God, yet our education system has removed God completely?
  • What does it mean about the education level of Peter and Andrew if they are fishing?
  1. Fishing 

Most of the fishing was done with nets at this time.  It was a difficult job, and usually done at night.  This is why repeatedly the disciples are on boats at night in Scripture.  They would normally use a dragnet process and pull the nets to shore, or use multiple boats and pull nets together to trap fish.  Fish were a staple of the diet in that area and a tough job.  When fishing at night, often fishermen used light or torches to attract fish to a central location so they could net them.  

Ask Yourself This:

  • Does any of that background stick out to you? 
  • Does any of that culture shed new light on the story for you?

I always wondered why Peter and Andrew would they follow Jesus. Peter and Andrew... they are fishermen.  Meaning that they weren’t any longer in beit sefer, or bet Talmud, meaning they weren’t "the best".  Most of the scripture refer to the disciples as uneducated men.  And the Rabbi is one of the most honored and respected people in this culture and he’s walking along the shore and says, “Follow me.”  He’s saying come be my Talmidim, which—wait. Weren’t the students supposed to ask the Rabbi that? It’s all completely backwards.

Why would Jesus say follow me when normally the students asked if they could follow the Rabbi? 

Jesus essentially looks at them and says "you got what it takes".  I chose you, to come and learn from me because you can be like me.  In short, when you’re done learning from me, you’ll catch people.  And how do you catch people? With light, as you do with the fish. Only you will be the light itself.  I think what Jesus is saying is simple... 

I believe you can be the light that draws the world to me.


So there is this invitation for these kids not simply to believe in Jesus, but to believe in themselves.  To believe that they could actually become like Jesus, that they could become a person whose lives would be so changed that people would be drawn in, that they would be drawn to God’s Kingdom. These kids could become this light.  But first they had to choose if they believed what the Rabbi was saying: "you can become the light of the world". They had to ask themselves "am I gonna believe what the Rabbi says or not, what this Rabbi sees in me or not." 

This is Jesus’s method of evangelism.

Ask Yourself This:

  • Have you ever considered the amount of faith it took for Peter and Andrew to follow Jesus?
  • Do you think it would have been easy to believe they could be Talmidim when the world said they didn’t have what it took? 
  • What did it mean for Peter and Andrew not just to believe in Jesus, but to believe in themselves?

 

 

Let’s just talk about this evangelistic method for a second because for the longest time I always thought about evangelism as a technique to get people to believe in Jesus.  It’s always on changing people’s belief.  But what if evangelism doesn’t start with other people. What if it starts with me? What if it starts with how Jesus started this whole thing, with him inviting us to follow him and believe who we really are in Christ.

Ask Yourself This:

  • Do you think God sees you differently than you see yourself?
  • What does it mean for you to believe who you are in Christ (a new creation, the old gone and the new has come)?

God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
— 2 Corinthians 4.6-7


Paul says that the light of Christ is the Holy Spirit in us, waiting to be shown to the world.  Jesus' method was to tell people who they are and invite them to believe and live in that.  When they began to believe in who they were they then were changed.  As we become more like that light, people are attracted to light just like fish are.  People are drawn to those who encourage, to people that listen, to people who uplift, to people who are generous and willing to help.  That is light for people. What if evangelism means first and foremost believing who we are and being more like that person in Christ?

Then the next step in evangelism isn’t telling people what to believe, but in turn telling them who they are in Christ. That they are loved, they are amazing, they have potential, that God has made them special and unique to be like Him, to be used for Him.

Evangelism for Jesus was a different conversation.
It wasn’t to persuade them to believe in God,
but to believe who they are in Christ.

Ask Yourself This:

  • What does it look like for you to believe who you are in Christ? 
  • What does it look like for you to be light in the world around you? 
  • What would happen if we evangelized by telling people to believe who they are in Christ, instead of trying to get them to believe simply in Christ? 

MY FAVORITE STORY OF evangelism is by a person who lived next to an old man.  His small group saw that his house was old and needed painting, so they asked if they could paint his house with him. And he said why are you doing this? They said because God loves you and thinks you're special and important and I wanted to show you that. He argues with them about who he is, and they just keep telling the man through word and deed that he is God’s beloved.

One day this man came to their church and sat down and said to the neighbor I always thought God hated two people in the world: truck drivers and Irish people…and I’m both!  But now I know that’s not true.  That’s how you get people to believe.  It’s how Jesus did it; he invites people to first and foremost believe in who they are in Christ, and then to follow him and live into that.