A Little Game Of What If
Matthew 4:18-22 / Mark 1:16-20 / Luke 5:1-11
Marvel’s “What If?” – Marvel’s “What If?” comic premiered on my birthday in 1977. I was 14 years old, old enough to understand the significance of the question. Marvel took a pivotal moment in a story and asked the question, “What if?” What if it didn’t happen that way? What if it happened to a different person? Then, they ran with the story as if the second decision had been made. This, by the way, was the beginning of Marvel’s formation of the multiverse. The first question asked, “What if Spiderman joined the Fantastic Four and it became the Fantastic Five?” You’ll have to read it for the answer. For now, I move on to my point.
The world is full of “what if’s?” And we could truly lose ourselves pondering just a few of them. Let me begin with my family. What if my father had listened to his father and never went to college? What if he never went to that revival to see that pretty girl? Not my mom by the way. What if they’d kept to their plan and stopped after two children? I’m the third. As I pondered these questions, I thought of all the youth my parents hosted at our house when I was growing up. I thought of my dad’s leadership and his push for a mission program for boys, called Royal Ambassadors. I thought of his teaching of high school, college and career, and other adult classes. How many lives has he touched? Where would they all be now, if he hadn’t chosen the path he did?
I think of the many things I did growing up at that church: children’s sermons, singing solos-ensembles-choir, teaching, participating in RA’s and bringing dozens of boys to it…even leading it later in my life. I thought of the decision I made in the early 80’s. The choices ahead of me were to stay in my hometown of Carbondale, to head on to Baylor University, to play football and become a minister of music at Southwest Baptist University, or transfer to Belmont College. What if I’d chosen one of the other three options? What if I never met Natalie my final semester at Belmont? What if she didn’t bring me here? What if we didn’t take our young son and go to seminary in Kentucky?
Like dominoes in a long line that depend upon the subsequent dominoes to continue, just one missing piece of my life…just one different decision that made me who I am and got me to where I am at this moment…and I’m not here today. I’m not in the ministry. I didn’t move here or adopt five kids. Go back further and you have my dad’s decisions that could have erased me entirely…or taken his life away from Jesus. What if?
The Disciples – The Bible is not immune to “What if?” discussions. Today’s set of passages are no exception. First, let me say the video we showed earlier isn’t exactly biblical. I mean it doesn’t detract from the Bible or conflict with it. It’s just adds speculation…what might have happened. So, you don’t leave here thinking that’s exactly how it happened and can all claim to be biblical scholars when you leave here today, let me compare and contrast what the gospel authors tell us about this moment.
Matthew’s account (Matthew 4:18-22) Believe it or not, Matthew’s account is as short as Mark’s. Matthew writes, “Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.”
We assume Matthew was either an observer, as The Chosen seems to believe, or he was told the event by one or more of the participants (Jesus, Peter, Andrew, James or John). He focuses on what he believes to be the most significant aspects of the story: WHO made and received the call to discipleship; WHAT that call was exactly (to become fishers of men); WHERE the call was made (on the shores of the Sea of Galilee), WHEN the disciples answered the call (immediately); and HOW they responded (following Jesus). Mark’s account is nearly identical (Mark 1:16-20).
Luke’s account (Luke 5:1-11) – Luke’s account is more indicative of the video we watched earlier. Luke includes the situation before the calling of His disciples. We get more of Peter’s frustration and exhaustion in this version. Listen how Luke’s research filled in a little of the details of the event. Tell me what aspect of the video account is missing.
5 Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little distance from the land. And He sat down and continued teaching the crowds from the boat. 4 Now when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon responded and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they caught a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to tear; 7 so they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, to the point that they were sinking. 8 But when Simon Peter saw this, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and likewise also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.”
The main part the video adds is the interaction between Zebedee and his sons. We don’t know what Zebedee said (if anything) when Jesus called his sons. We do know that James and John left the boats and their father and followed Jesus. I can imagine Zebedee’s delight when his sons were called by name by the Messiah. I can imagine his conversation with his wife when he got home. I can imagine the pride he must have had…along with the fears. What we know is that he didn’t stop his sons from following. He didn’t demand they tend their nets and continue on in a real job that provided for real needs.
But “What if?” What if Zebedee stopped his sons, refused to let them follow? Imagine losing my favorite gospel account…the book of John. Can you remember any verses that come from the gospel of John? Tell me. (Pause to have the congregation list verses from the book of John) How about his letters? The book of Revelation? All missing if his father interfered with the calling of James and John. So many passages of love and confession…all gone.
I’m so glad this “What if?” didn’t happen. I’m so glad Zebedee not only allowed his sons to follow, but he more than likely encouraged them to do so. Fathers, don’t you want to be a Zebedee? Don’t you want your children to follow Jesus? Don’t you want your children to be an encouragement to others to follow Him too? Let me pose that question to all people here in person or joining us via the internet. Would you be a Zebedee who raises children to respond immediately and positively to Jesus? Would you point other to follow Him?
As I thought back this week to all the decisions that had to be made just so I’d be right here, right now, saying these exact things, and I’m grateful. I’m grateful for all good and the bad…for without them, who knows where I’d be. And who knows who I’ve helped or encouraged along the way. The choices you make not only affect your life and your future, but they affect the lives and futures of others. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). The disciples chose the narrow path. Will you? Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I encourage you to take the narrow path…the path less traveled by…the path of righteousness. Once on it, you will find that its name is Jesus, who is The Way…The Truth…The Life (John 14:6). Choose the way of life. Choose Jesus and see what a difference it will make in your life and the lives of others. Don’t get to the end of your live and ask, “What if?”