Reading Time: 11 minutes

Winning in the fourth quarter

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

facebook twitter instagram

Topical Scripture: Matthew 4:12-25

Today’s Super Bowl will be the biggest sporting event of the year. Last year 144 million people saw all or part of the game, in 230 countries around the world. Television ads are going for $2.4 million each. Imagine the pressure for the players on the field.

But the pressure is nothing new to the New England Patriots. In the 2002 Super Bowl they were 14-point underdogs to the St. Louis Rams. The Patriots drove 53 yards at the game’s end, and Adam Vinatieri kicked the game winning, 48-yard field goal as time expired.

Then it happened again last year. This time there were nine seconds left on the clock when Vinatieri kicked a 41-yarder to win the biggest game of the year. The final score is all that counts. The scoreboard doesn’t care how but how many.

In football and in life, it’s not how we start that matters–it’s how we finish.

Many years ago, John Bisagno, the long-time pastor of First Baptist Church in Houston, didn’t believe his father-in-law when he told him that one in ten who start in the ministry end in it. Bisagno wrote in his Bible the names of 24 men who were his young contemporaries in the ministry. 30 years later, there were only three names remaining.

Howard Hendricks at Dallas Theological Seminary recently studied 246 men who experienced moral failure in the ministry within a two-year period. That’s nearly three a week. And all of them started strong.

We all want to finish well, but what makes you think you will? Why will you win in the fourth quarter? How should you invest your time, opportunities, money, and abilities in such a way that you finish life well? That you don’t climb the ladder to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall?

Here’s my thesis: you can’t finish the right race tomorrow if you’re running the wrong race today. You must invest your life eternally. Let’s learn how.

Be strategic with your place

Our text tells us that Jesus “went and lived in Capernaum,” to fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah would bring God’s light to “Galilee of the Gentiles” (vs. 13, 15). Why there? Why would a Jewish rabbi go so far from the Holy City and her Temple and religious leaders? For this reason: “gentiles” is the Greek word ethnos, peoples or nations. From here Jesus could literally touch the world.

Three million people lived here in 204 cities and villages, the smallest of which had a population of 15,000 inhabitants. This was the most densely populated area Jesus could have found in all the Middle East.

Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, states that the Galileans were volatile, open to change, fond of innovation, tough and courageous. Unlike the more religious Jews to the south, they were not steeped in tradition. Gentiles lived among them in great numbers. They were extremely cosmopolitan, as some of the oldest and most significant trade routes in the world passed through their borders.

They were exactly the right people with whom to begin Jesus’ public ministry strategy.

And Capernaum was the most strategic place in all of Galilee. The town, situated on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, was one of the centers of Galilean political and commercial life. It was a bustling town, a fishing port used by both Jews and Gentiles–the New York City of Galilee. A place of strategic influence.

From here he could proclaim across Galilee his message, the same as John’s before: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Because he had found his place.

Where is your life located today? Ask God if you are where he intends you to be–in the office or school or home which is his place for you. Then serve him there. Make that place your Capernaum and your Galilee. Begin thinking about ways to use your place for your Father right now. Serve God where you are, because you certainly cannot serve him where you are not.

When Janet and I were married in 1980, we moved to Arlington so I could attend Southwestern Seminary. I had been a youth minister, college preacher, and summer missionary. I knew God had great plans for me in our new church. We soon found a church in Arlington to join. They made Janet a junior high Sunday school teacher, where she did a wonderful job. Then they made me the junior high attendance taker. That was my job. A year later, Janet got a job on the staff of First Baptist Church in Arlington, so we moved our membership there. They made me the choir attendance taker.

Eventually I learned the lesson: bloom where you’re planted. Use the place where you are today. Janet and I began investing in the young people in that choir and church. God opened doors to other ministry. And our service became useful and fruitful. But I had to make my place strategic, first. So do you.

Be strategic with your purpose

From here, Jesus called his first disciples. Why these four fishermen? For the same reasons he calls us.

First, they were prepared. As fishermen, they brought skills and experiences to “fishing for men.” Fishermen in those days must be courageous, willing to work in all kinds of weather. They must persevere, going days and nights without catching fish. They must be patient and flexible, willing to use whatever nets and methods would work. And they must be humble and invisible–fish don’t want to see a fisherman. All this they would need in the work to which they were called.

God has prepared you for the purpose he intends you to fulfill. He wants you to succeed. His will never leads where his grace cannot sustain.

They were teachable. They knew that they didn’t know. They learned from Jesus and followed his leadership because they knew they had no other. “I will make you fishers of men,” he promised (v. 19)–“make” means to equip, prepare, create. I will make you into the men and ministers I mean for you to be. So long as we are teachable, he’ll do the same for us.

And they were obedient. They left their “nets,” their jobs, to follow him. James and John left their boat and nets, the hired men (Mark 1:20), and their father. Peter had a home, a wife and mother-in-law in Capernaum. They all had families. And they left it all to follow him. If we will obey his word and will, we will always know them.

God has prepared you, and will use you if you are teachable and obedient. So, what is his purpose for the place where he has put you? These fishermen would “fish for men” in all they did. What is your life purpose?

William Barclay warns us: “A man will never become outstandingly good at anything unless that thing is his ruling passion. There must be something of which he can say, ‘For me to live is this.'” What is your “ruling passion”?

How can you define it? Know your spiritual gifts, using our church’s inventory to help you discover them. Determine what kinds of service God seems to bless, and that which brings your heart joy. If you could do anything to serve Jesus, what would it be?

Paul was apostle to the Gentiles, Peter to the Jews. James’ life purpose was to pastor the first church in Christian history. God has a purpose for you, a way for you to “fish for men.” Seek your purpose for your place, and you will know it for each day as each day comes.

Be strategic with your plan

Jesus has a place and a purpose. Here is his plan, and ours. First, go to the people. Jesus traveled “throughout Galilee” (v. 23a), going to the people wherever they were to be found. This was his essential ministry strategy–go to the people where they are, as they are, and bring them to God. Who will be your next Galilean?

Share the good news: “teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom” (v. 23b). Synagogues didn’t have professional preachers. Any rabbi in town could be invited to speak. It would be like having a “guest preacher” each Sunday here. The synagogues were strategic platforms for Jesus’ ministry throughout the area. What is your synagogue?

Meet their needs, “healing every disease and sickness among the people” (v. 23c). “Disease” is the Greek word for debilitating, incurable illness. “Sickness” is the word for less serious problems. Jesus healed them all, “every disease and sickness among the people.” Find a need and meet it. Adults are open to faith during a crisis if they are open at no other time.

And trust that God will use you. People from northern Syria, 300 miles away, came to him (v. 24). Crowds from across Israel came as well. And his public ministry was launched.

For whom will you pray this week? How will you use your office or school as your “synagogue” and mission field? Find a need and meet it–someone whose hurt you can help, whose heart you can touch. Earn the right to be heard by going to the people where they are with the good news of God’s love in yours. Assume that your vocation or role in life is your means of ministry, because it is.

And pay the price of success. These men gave their jobs and livelihoods to God’s call. Not just the Sabbath, but every day of the week. Not just “church” but life. Surrender to him the tithe, the tenth his word expects you to give to his work. Put him in charge of the rest. Invest your life in his eternal purpose for you. To quote Barclay again, “A man progresses in life in proportion to the fare he is prepared to pay.” It’s been said that those who want to lead the orchestra must turn their backs on the crowd.

Conclusion

God has a strategy and plan for your life: “I know the plans I have for you–plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Choose to invest in that purpose, to be strategic with your life. Decide that you want your life to count. Even a dead fish can float downstream.

Begin where you are. Ask God if you are in his place for you, then use it as your Galilee. Assume that the people you know and influence are your field of ministry. Ask the Lord to guide you to his purpose for this day, as you “fish for men.” Go to them with the good news of God’s love, meeting their needs with God’s love in yours. Pay the price of success with the courageous and sacrificial giving of your time, money, and abilities.

And know that as you invest in the eternal, your life will develop a sense of joy and significance which will make each day worth living.

Steve Farrar’s book, Finishing Strong, closes with this restatement of our theme: “If you could go back in a time machine, two thousand years ago, to the times of the New Testament, it might give you some perspective. If you were to plant yourself in a busy market near the temple in Jerusalem, you could gather some real insight. Stop and think what it would be like to randomly interview the citizens of Jerusalem as they went about their daily business in the times of the early church.

“You would only need to ask them a couple of questions. ‘Who do you think that people two thousand years from now will remember from your generation?’ My guess is, many of those citizens of the Roman Empire would answer, ‘Caesar.’ Others would respond, ‘Nero.’ ‘But what about this group of people known as Christians. Don’t you think that anyone will remember them or their leaders?’

“‘Are you kidding? That group of nobodies? They don’t have any influence. They aren’t important.’ ‘You mean you haven’t heard of Paul or Peter? Don’t you think they’ll be remembered? Or what about Mary and Martha? Wasn’t their brother involved in some miracle?’

“‘I’m telling you, these people are insignificant. They only thing I ever hear of their leaders is that they’re always winding up in jail. Trust me, in two thousand years, nobody will give them a thought.’ So here we are, two thousand years later. And isn’t it interesting that we name our children Peter and Paul, Mary and Martha? And we name our dogs Caesar and Nero.”

Invest eternally. Start today.