Saint Andrew is known as the Patron Saint of Scotland. He is also Patron Saint of Russia, Sicily, Greece, Romania, Amalfi, and Malta. He is also the Patron Saint of Army Rangers, Mariners, Fishermen, Fishmongers, Rope-makers, Singers, Sore throats, Spinsters, and women wishing to become mothers.

Saint Andrew was martyred by crucifixion but not in the same way as Jesus. According to tradition, Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross – this was because he considered himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus. It’s known as a ‘Crux Decussata’ or a “Saint Andrew’s Cross” and is why the Saltire (or “St. Andrew’s Cross”) became the national flag of Scotland.

Saint Andrew never wrote a gospel or an epistle. He never did anything we might consider ‘outstanding’ yet he is remembered because he responded to Jesus’ call to follow him and become a fisher of men instead of a catcher of fish. I believe we discover three lessons about what it means to be a follower of Jesus from Matthew 4:18-22. And, whether we’ve been a Christian for many years, or have only started down that road, these are relevant for us all. So what does it mean to follow Jesus?

1) Obey Jesus’ Command
The first discovery we make from this story is that we must obey Jesus’ command. And that was something these four men learnt that day by the Sea of Galilee.

Now it’s clear from the other gospel accounts that this is not the first time that these men have met Jesus. In fact, in Luke 5, we find that Jesus takes Andrew and his friends out on a fishing expedition and they catch the biggest catch of fish of their whole lives. And it’s likely that that happened just before our passage in Matthew 4. But even if that’s true, even if they had met Jesus and chatted with him, and even seen Jesus do extraordinary things, it’s still remarkable that they drop everything to follow him.

And notice that Matthew says vs20: “At once they left their nets and followed him.” There was no ‘umming and ahhing’. They didn’t ask to phone a friend or go away and think about it. They didn’t say they were too busy and time poor, they simply followed Jesus. And it must have been a very costly decision. Their fishing business would have been worth a few bob. All that hard work, all that experience. But Jesus came first. They followed him and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, did exactly the same.

But notice that Jesus didn’t say: “Excuse me. Sorry to bother you chaps! Would you mind awfully if you came along with me, please.” No, he’s inviting them/us to become co-workers with him in His mission to grow the Kingdom of God here on earth.  What an invitation and what an exciting responsibility we share.  The Lord of the universe invites us to follow him. Now, either we obey him or we don’t. But to have this loving, generous, powerful Saviour in our lives is the best, and only, way to live, because that is what we were made for. We as human beings were designed to be in a relationship with the God who made us. And there is only one way our lives make sense and can be lived in order and that is to submit to Jesus as Lord and King.

2) Recognise the Cost of Following Jesus
Matthew is not teaching that when you become a Christian you must suspend all rational thought and blindly follow Jesus. In Luke 9:23, Jesus urges us to think carefully and consider the cost of following him: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 

When we follow Jesus and when God calls us to move from where we are to where He is, the only security we have is that God will not let anything worse happen to us than happened to Jesus!  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ wrote: “When Christ calls a man or woman, he calls them to come and die.”

So what will it mean then to obey Jesus’ command? Well, we cannot restrict Jesus to being Lord over a bit of our lives. These fishermen dropped everything for Jesus. They unashamedly allowed him to have total control. For them it meant leaving their work and nets behind. It’s a very powerful image of saying good bye to the old way of doing things.  Following Jesus is an all encompassing commitment.

Now we might ask: “How does it all work in practice?” The best question to ask ourselves is this: “Is it obvious to an onlooker from the way I conduct myself in every area of life, that I follow Jesus?” So often we want to compartmentalise our lives and say to Jesus: “Yes you can have me on Sundays and Tuesday evenings, but let me be lord the rest of the time.” It was James Hudson Taylor the missionary to China who once said: “Jesus must be Lord of all or not at all.”

3) Accept Jesus’ Challenge
Jesus doesn’t just ask us to follow him with no further instructions. He gives us a clear challenge and shows us what following him involves. So listen to what Jesus told Peter and Andrew that day on the shores of Lake Galilee, vs19: “‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’” Throughout their working lives these two brothers have been catching fish and now they are to catch men!

They had been given a great task to do. They were to be involved with Jesus in the wonderful mission of God to tell people about the Messiah. They would be catching souls … not  lemon soles or Dover soles, but human souls! And that is something that the church carries on doing right until Jesus returns. And that is one of the key marks of authentic disciples of Jesus – a desire to tell others about Jesus and to be a fisher of people. In fact, whenever we come across Andrew in the Gospels he is always leading someone to faith in Jesus. It was his lifelong passion.

To proclaim the message of Jesus so that men and women can come to know and follow him should be one of our passions too – especially during this time of Advent as we look forward to the coming and return of the Lord Jesus. Our reading from Romans 10:14 reminds us: How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 

Now it has to be said this is one of the areas of the Christian life that many struggle with the most. Many worry that they don’t have the gift of the gab, or are not very confident in speaking to others; or feel pressured to have an amazing gospel conversation every day or every week. But when it comes to being a fisher of souls, the Bible tells us to live a distinctive life and make the most of every opportunity that comes our way – see Acts 2.

Of course, it’s not going to be easy. It’s not easy being any sort of fisherman. It involves unsocialable hours and self-sacrifice! It takes patience and persistence. But if we love the Lord, and if we love our friends and family, and if we love our neighbourhoods, then surely part of our natural desire will be to see them won for Christ too.

I recently came across some words written by the journalist and ex politician Matthew Parris. He isn’t a Christian, but his words are very challenging for those of us who claim to follow Jesus. He says this:

Friends, if I believe the Christian message, or even a tenth of it, how could I care which version of the prayer book to use. I would drop my job, sell my house, throw away my possessions, leave my acquaintances and set out into the world with a burning desire to know more, and when I had found out more to act upon it and to tell others. How is it possible to be indifferent to this message if you believe that in thirty, twenty or ten years or perhaps even tomorrow we shall be taken from this life and ushered into a new one whose nature will depend upon our obedience now to God’s will. Far from being puzzled that Mormons or Adventists knock on my door, I am unable to understand how anyone who believes what is written in the Bible should choose to spend his hours in any other way.

Here is a non Christian saying that he finds it bizarre that Christians who profess to know something of staggering, earth shattering importance should do nothing about it given the message that they claim to have! But if we truly believe that the message of the Good News of Jesus is the most important thing in life, that it’s a message of eternal significance, then we will, and must, be committed to being fishers of people, men and women and gospel proclamation in every way we are able.

Strange things start to happen when we follow Jesus. Our lives get turned upside down. Yes, following Jesus messes everything up! It’s inconvenient. He shakes us up and changes us. We are challenged about our values and priorities. We are challenged about our commitment and willingness to serve and, sometimes, we even end up in ministry.

It’s a dangerous thing to follow Jesus. It’s costly. It could cost us our possessions, our savings, our homes, our jobs and even, as it did to some of those first disciples, our lives. Yes, it will be costly as we put Jesus first and as we engage in His ministry of fishing!  But is there really any other option?

A Prayer for Saint Andrews Day

Almighty God,
who gave such grace to your apostle Saint Andrew
that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ
and brought his brother with him:
call us by your holy word,
and give us grace to follow you without delay
and to tell the good news of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This is an excerpt from a sermon I preached on 30 November 2014.  The Bible readings were Matthew 4:18-22 & Romans 10:12-18.