Perseverance

Perseverance is a beautiful thing in the Christian life. To know that God doesn’t just abandon us to fend for ourselves in the fight against sin, but that He actively engages us in the pursuit of holiness. The doctrine itself states that those whom God has truly saved will by no means lose their salvation. There certainly are counterfeit saved people out there who appear to be saved, but fall away. These people were never really saved in the first place. That is, they were never truly united to Christ.

This perseverance depends on the decree of God and the efficacy of election. It depends further on the efficacy of the merit of Christ who intercedes for us, and the abiding of the Holy Spirit in us (that seed of holiness planted in us).

Certainly, some who are truly saved will fall away for a time through grievous sins and the neglect of the means of the grace. But all those who are truly of God’s flock will indeed be brought back by Christ Himself. Philippians 1:6 says this: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

There are some out there who will argue that there is no ontological difference between the elect and the non-elect within the people of God, and that the only way to tell the difference is by perseverance. Some will persevere and some will not. However, this is based on a misinterpretation of John 15. John 15 says that those who do not abide in Christ will be taken out of the vine. But is the vine salvation, or is it simply the visible church? There is a difference between fruit-bearing branches, and non-fruit-bearing branches.

The warnings in Hebrews 6 and similar places are real warnings. But that does not mean that the elect can fall. it is precisely to keep the elect from falling that such warnings are given to us. In logic (of the Boolean variety), this is known as the null set. The sign “All trespassers will be prosecuted” is posted in order that there be NO trespassers. The home owner posts such a sign as a deterrent. So also the warnings in Scripture: all those who fall away are hopeless of remedy. This sign is posted so that there will be no members of the set “fallen away.” A failure to understand the nature of this function of the warnings has resulted in gross misunderstanding by the Arminians and by the Federal Vision.

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Gone Fishing

Matthew 4:18-25

The greatest story about fishing ever told in literature is the story of the great white whale Moby Dick. It is a story about revenge. Captain Ahab, of the ship called Pequod, had had his leg bitten off by a great white whale. And he was going to have revenge no matter what the cost. It is a story of how revenge can blind a man to anything else. Now, I myself am embarrassed to say that I have only gone fishing about two or three times in my entire life. But I do remember that fishing is not about revenge. It is about patience most of all, perseverance, sometimes courage, an eye for the right moment, getting the right bait for the fish, and keeping out of sight as much as possible. These are also the qualities of those who would fish for men. Jesus calls the church to be fishers of men.

Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee. Many teachers of the day and many philosophers were what are called peripatetic teachers. That means that they taught as they walked about from place to place. “Peripatetic” literally means “walking around.” Jesus was one of those. And in his travels He comes across two of His disciples, though they don’t know it yet. We see an unusual thing happen: Jesus calls them. Most of the time, if a student wanted to study under a particular rabbi, he would seek the teacher out, and work out an arrangement. But here, Jesus follows a different pattern. He follows the pattern of Elijah calling his successor Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21: “So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. [20] And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” [21] And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.” The teacher called the student. Jesus does it to prove that He is Lord. Elijah is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ministry, a type. In fact, Elijah’s name means “The Lord is God.” That is exactly what Jesus is saying here. We can never call to God unless God has first called to us. In the book “The Silver Chair” by C.S. Lewis, two children are called away to the land of Narnia. They were calling out to Aslan, who is the Christ figure in the book. But when they get there, Aslan says to them, “You would not have been calling to me unless I had been calling to you.”

So the first two people whom Jesus calls are Peter and Andrew, who were brothers. They were fishermen. They had been going about doing their job when Jesus called them. They were casting a net into the sea. This net was a circular net with weights attached all around the outside edge to make the net sink. Then they would row the boat gently down the stream, pulling the net behind them by means of rope attached to the outside edges. Any fish wandering into that net would not be able to find their way out again, one hoped.

It is important to recognize that fishermen were not poor people in Galilee. We often think that they were poor. However, fish were in high demand in that society. They were probably lower middle class, rather than lower class. Often, they had workers hired to help. They even formed small companies, such as “Peter’s Pikes.” In short, discipleship for them was going to be costly. Jesus was demanding much more than the average rabbi did. Jesus was demanding that they leave everything, the whole business, including the family ties that were so important to the Galilean, and follow Him.

If someone were to tell us to follow him, we would have the right to ask the question, “Where are you going?” That is the question, isn’t it? The answer Jesus gives is, “I am going fishing. But it is not fish that I am after. I have bigger fish to fry. I want humanity.” As one writer has said, “It is no longer a question of taking fish from the lake, but of drawing men up out of the abyss of sin and death, catching them in the great net of God.”

Jesus gives a command and a promise. Not only will the disciples be commanded to obey Jesus, but also Jesus promises that they will be just as effective in catching men as they were in catching fish. They will exchange one fishing net for the better net of the Word of God, which catches all the fish that God wants caught. They are exchanging one set of fish for another. The fact is, Peter and Andrew were well-qualified to catch men. Jesus saw great potential in these fishermen. So Jesus calls them.

Now when Jesus calls, they answer. There is no hesitation, no disobedience. They jump to it. They renounce father, brother, house, lands, and they receive a hundred fold in this life and in the life to come, eternal life. Notice that Jesus does not call Zebedee. Zebedee is left to mind the store. This does not mean that Zebedee was an unbeliever. Rather it means that all kinds are needed for the kingdom work. Zebedee is left to bear witness to other fishermen. Not all are called to be specifically an evangelist. All are called to witness. Evangelists might not be as effective at reaching business people as a Christian businessman would be. I would not be as effective reaching out to farmers as you farmers would be. Jesus wants all types, all honorable professions, to be evangelical in how they work. The next time you take your grain in to the elevator and there is a man there you know doesn’t know Christ, talk to him about it. Who better than you? The next time you go to have some equipment replaced or repaired, talk to the man there about salvation, and what Christ has done. There is this pernicious idea floating around that only pastors are qualified to share the Gospel. That is a lie of Satan. Every Christian has the story of their own life to share. What has God done for you? That is the way to evangelize. You know what? Your testimony is unshakeable. You might be afraid that a smart unbeliever could take you apart when it comes to argumentation. That is not true. They cannot argue with your testimony. Your testimony is unshakeable. You might think, “With whom could I share the Gospel?” Open your eyes a bit, and you will see. Pray that the Lord will open your eyes and see. Why, there are people within a mile of each one of us, I dare say, who does not know Christ. You see them all the time. But you say to yourself, “Someone else will do it.” Jesus calls us to discipleship. That means that we are all evangelists. We all have the good news.

Some people think that they cannot have anyone over to their house until the house looks absolutely perfect. Some people think that they cannot share the Gospel until they are completely ready. But you know what? God uses the foolish things (what the world calls foolish) to shame the wise. Jesus did choose fishermen, after all. The world would have told Jesus to go to the rabbinical schools and recruit people who already knew the OT inside and out. Jesus picks perfectly ordinary people to do extraordinary things. That is the same way with us today. God gives words to people who ask Him to guide them in conversation. You might not see the fruit right away. You might think that what you said had no effect whatsoever. However, let us not be enslaved to a conversionistic mentality. The Word of God is like a seed. You plant it, and it doesn’t come up right away. It doesn’t have to. Are we farmers discouraged because our crops are not fully grown the second we plant them? No, that would be utter lunacy. We wait patiently for the crop to come up. Fishermen wait patiently for the fish to bite. It is God who brings the fish to the hook. You see, the church has always been tempted to be the keepers of the aquarium rather than fishers of men. We would rather tend to our own people, which is comfortable, rather than tend to the needs of people who are not like us, those people who are hurting. But Jesus calls us to be His disciples.

The second part of the passage, which is verses 23-25, tells us about Jesus’ ministry. Jesus does three things: He teaches, He preaches, and He heals people. Now, we should not separate teaching from preaching too much. They are not separated here in Matthew. Often we think that teaching involves only head knowledge, while preaching aims at the heart. That is simply not true. Both teaching and preaching should aim at the head and the heart. Let us not be overly concerned that one or the other be the most important: they are both important. Here, we see that Jesus came to defeat ignorance, misunderstanding, and pain.

It is not difficult to see why a doctor who gives no fees, heals instantaneously, no matter what the problem is, and who sees all comers, would be quite popular. His fame would spread. That is indeed what happened. This is quite a list of diseases in verse 24. Both spiritual and physical illnesses are healed. The term “epileptic” means literally “moon-struck.” The word is similar to the word “lunatic,” which comes from the Latin word “luna,” meaning “moon.” A “lunatic” is someone who is “moon-struck.” However, the word at this time does not mean a lunatic, but one who is struck by seizures. The moon was thought to have strange powers, including sending people into odd fits. So Jesus is the master of the moon, as well as of the disease. Jesus also heals paralytics. These are the people that nothing can heal except someone who is God Himself. Jesus proves that He is God by healing those whom no one else can heal.

The response was tremendous. Galilee is NW, the Decapolis (which means the area of ten cities) was NE, Judea is SW and the Transjordan is SE: all four points of the compass are represented in this list of cities. And Jerusalem is at the center. What Matthew is saying here is that the whole world will feel the effect of what Jesus is doing. God’s work is for the whole world. God is redeeming the world to Himself. No longer is God’s people limited to only the Jews. Now all people groups can come to God, and become the followers of Jesus. That s the call to us as well. We are to follow Jesus. We are to help others to follow Jesus.