(This is the second in a series of posts featuring lessons from Israel, a trip that—as one of our fellow travelers put it—takes the Bible and moves it “from black and white into color.” If you don’t have time for a post but want a good prayer, scroll down to the end for some life-shaping verses you can pray for yourself or for someone you love!)
That’s what Jesus tells his first disciples, Andrew and Peter, when he finds them fishing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (as depicted in this tile mosaic at Magdala).
It’s a story repeated in all four of the gospels, but Luke gives us the most detail—including the fact that Peter was awestruck and afraid.
What was he scared of? How come the guy dropped to his knees?
Maybe it was the fact that Peter and his pals had been fishing all night and caught nothing—and then, at Christ’s command, they hauled in so many fish that the nets started to break. Who has that sort of change-agent power?
Or maybe it was because the boats started to sink. Our tour guides told us that Galilee’s fishermen tend to stay close to the shore, since fierce storms can whip up on the Sea without notice. Capsizing—and drowning—was no idle threat. And when you see what some of those early boats looked like, you get it. They found this one, preserved under the mud for the past 2000 years:
Or maybe (and I like to think this was the case) Jesus knew exactly what Peter was feeling—sinful, unworthy, and of no use to God—and he wanted him to know it was okay. Maybe “Don’t be afraid” was the short version of the reassurance he gives us today, when we know that we’ve blown it: “Don’t worry. I know. It will all be okay. And I love you.”
Whatever the reason, Don’t be afraid is a command that’s repeated over and over again in the Bible (sometimes it goes by “Fear not”), by some counts as many as 366 times. That’s one for each day of the year, even when Leap Year rolls around.
(How clever and gracious is God?)
The fear factor, though, is just part of this story. As Matthew tells it, when Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, the command’s got an invite, built in:
Follow me. No wonder Jesus had to speak to their fears! To “follow,” in Greek, is apparently the same thing as “attach,” and it comes from the same root word as “appendix.” The invitation Christ offered meant leaving the only job Peter and Andrew had ever known—and attaching themselves to someone they didn’t! Not yet, anyway.
(Which raises the question, for me: How “connected” am I to Jesus? Am I truly attached? There are plenty of days when I feel like my dog, at the end of a retract-o-leash. I’m attached…but sometimes I find myself off in the bushes and I need my sweet Jesus to reel me back in.)
Ty Saltzgiver, our dear friend and trip leader, stood right where Jesus did (well, in the same general area; we gave it an A- cuz who knows if we sat on the same exact rocks?) and shared his thoughts on this passage.
Ty said that in addition to the command and the invitation, Jesus offered a promise:
I will make you fishers of men.
“I will make you.”
That’s a pledge the Lord offered 2000 years ago, and it’s one that still holds true today. Because, as Ty pointed out, Jesus is always making us: Shaping us, growing us, conforming us so that we look more like he does. Even when our boats start to sink, or we are not at all sure where we’re headed.
Two of my all-time favorite parenting promises (I’ve shared them here in the past, and I’m sure I’ll do so again) are Philippians 1:6 (which is where Paul tells us that God will finish the good work that he starts in our lives) and Philippians 2:13 (which is where we realize that we don’t have to do it ourselves, because God is the one who gives us—and our kids—the energy to desire and to do the good stuff). Both of these verses (and so many more) point to why Jesus came.
He came to give us a rich and satisfying life. He came to give us freedom and purpose. He came to fill up our nets—so full that they burst—and lead us into the life he describes in John 10:10.
And you know, if you’ve been around this blog for awhile, that I can never read that verse without thinking of our daughter Virginia and the time she jumped out of a plane in Australia, strapped onto some stranger named Ollie, and called it a John 10:10 experience.
(Robbie’s response, back when Virginia sent us that photo, was not all that uplifting. I think his exact words were, “You’re dead.”)
But here’s the thing: Whether you’re jumping out of an airplane or leaving your job, if you’re doing it to follow Jesus (which I am not 100% sure was the case with Virginia), your choice involves a measure of risk. Things will change. They might get painful, or awkward. God might stretch you in ways you don’t think you want to be stretched.
And that’s okay. Because it doesn’t matter where we’ve come from, or what we’ve done. Like Peter, when we decide to pursue the life Jesus offers—when we choose to turn away from our old life and take hold of the new—we can stake our trust in Christ’s words:
Don’t be afraid.
I will make you.
Please give ______ freedom from fear. (Luke 5:10)
Help _______ to follow you. (Matthew 4:19)
And work in _______ to will and to act in ways that line up with your good purpose. Thank you for the good work you have already started, and for the blessed assurance that you will, indeed, bring it to completion. (Philippians 2:13 and 1:6)