The first fifteen verses of Mark’s gospel introduces us to Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, and the King of heaven and earth. The King has come, the kingdom is near, and Jesus is proclaiming the need to repent and believe in the good news. No one proclaims a person to be king and then begs for people to accept him as king. He is the king and it does not matter if you accept him as king or not. He is king regardless of your decision. The announcement of Jesus as king who has come with his kingdom is an announcement for people to bring their lives under his rule. Jesus is the king and we must submit to his rule and follow his ways. This brings us to an important moment in the gospel proclamation in Mark’s gospel because Mark is going to show us what this looks like in the lives of those who desire to be disciples of Jesus. Turn in your copies of God’s word to Mark 1:16-20.
16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. (Mark 1:16–20 ESV)
Understanding the Disciples
Too often we have a view of these men as poor fishermen who could not do anything else. Often the disciples of Jesus are slandered as ignorant “nothings.” First century fishing was a thriving industry on the Sea of Galilee with at least 16 ports around this lake. These men are not catching fish for themselves for a simple meal. They are not out there trying to catch their lunch. Nor was the catch of fish for the local market alone. Fish was a staple food in the Greco-Roman world. Fish from the Sea of Galilee was exported to Antioch of Syria and even to Alexandra in Egypt. This is a fishing business. This is the career for these men. This is their livelihood. This is their financial stability. In fact, the success of these fishing businesses is further emphasized in verse 20. Zebedee not only employs his two sons, James and John, but owns a boat and employs hired servants for this fishing business. There is nothing small about this fishing that these men are engaged in. These are their careers. This is how they make a living wage. This is how they care for their families. This is their livelihood.
Understanding the Call
Now we are told that Jesus is walking beside the Sea of Galilee. Jesus sees Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea. But Jesus tells them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of people.” What Jesus is doing is highly unusual. No rabbi ever told people to follow him. The rabbis and sages in Jesus’ day told people to learn the Torah from them. People would learn from rabbis, but rabbis did not go around calling for people to follow them. Further, no prophet ever said, “Follow me.” All the prophets said, “Follow God!” So Mark is showing us that Jesus is not just a rabbi, or a wise man, or a prophet. Jesus is more based on his call. His call is authoritative. The King is calling for people to follow him.
Now I want us to think about this call for a moment. Notice that Jesus does not tell these men that if they will follow him they will be wealthy. He does not tell them that their lives will be made better. He does not tell them that they will have their best life now. Jesus does not tell them that their fishing business will be more successful if they follow him. Jesus does not tell them that their lives will be easier or more comfortable if they will follow him. There is no part of Jesus’ call that indicates that Jesus has come to work for you. Paul Tripp summarized the point very well: “Jesus did not come to make your life work but to employ you in his work.”
Understanding the Commitment
Following Jesus is a commitment above all other ties and commitments. We must see that the call of Jesus to be a disciple of his is not the effort of us trying to fit Jesus into our currently busy lives. We do not say that we will follow Jesus and continue doing what we are doing in our fishing businesses. Jesus’ followers leave other things behind. Following Jesus is not only repenting and believing in the gospel (1:15) but also redirecting your life. To state this another way, the message of the kingdom is not only repentance and internal transformation, but a change in life purpose. Now you will fish for people. What we are learning is that repenting and believing in the gospel means leaving your former life and following Jesus.
We need to think about what these men are leaving. We have already underscored that they are leaving their careers. They are putting their vocation aside. Leaving their nets showed their willingness to make a total commitment as disciples of Jesus. But please notice that they are also leaving their families. Jesus is put first so that family and career become second. The leaving of family seems to be an area that we have rejected in Christianity. We do not believe this can be true. We need to focus on the family. We need to put family first. We simply cannot believe that our families should be second to follow Jesus. We put family first and then we put Jesus second. But that is not what means to follow Jesus. But the Gospel of Mark will repeatedly challenge this false idea that we carry like in Mark 3:31-35 and Mark 10:29-30.
Now what does this mean exactly? Does this mean we all need to quit our jobs to be disciples of Jesus? Does this mean that we need to not get married, act like we do not have parents, walk away from our children, and the like to be disciples of Jesus? No, for this would be a misunderstanding of the call. We are going to see in this very chapter that Simon was married. The idea to leave everything is to release control of all things. Nothing keeps us from responding to Jesus for a radical life change. In traditional cultures, people found their identity from their family. So when Jesus said that he wants priority over your family, this was a drastic call, even more so than in our society today. Today, in our individualistic culture, Jesus telling us that he wants priority over our careers is a drastic call. Jesus is telling us that knowing him, loving him, resembling him and serving him must become the supreme passion of our lives. Everything else comes second.
This is what we are seeing in these first disciples of Jesus. The kingdom of God has come. One must drop everything because entering the kingdom is more important than even life itself. Whatever it takes to follow Jesus, that is what must be done. There will be sacrifices to follow Jesus. But Jesus is the king and we must give our lives to him. To be a disciple of Jesus means accepting Jesus’ call unconditionally.
I think it is important for us to consider what Mark is picturing for us regarding following Jesus and being disciples of Jesus. Discipleship is not part time volunteer work on one’s own terms and convenience. Is this not how Christianity is often pictured? How often we think of Christianity as something you do when it is convenient for you! We worship when we want. We give when we want. We sacrifice when we want. We come when we want. We help when we want. We study when it is good for us. We make Jesus revolve around our schedules, our families, and our jobs. But this is exactly what this text is telling us cannot be the case. One must be prepared to leave everything to follow him. Simon and Andrew turn from their nets. James and John turn from their father and their boat. They made a great sacrifice to follow Jesus. They will even state this point later in this gospel.
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” (Mark 10:28 ESV)
They had to leave the things in life that they depended upon for their security to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is a life of sacrifice. Following Jesus means putting everything else in our lives second to Jesus, no matter who it is or what it is.
But I want you to notice something else. Look at the text again. How long did it take for these men to decide to respond to Jesus’ call? Look at verse 18: “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Look at verse 20. “Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.” These men do not tell Jesus to wait until they are done fishing. These men do not tell Jesus that they will start following him tomorrow. These men do not tell Jesus to wait until they can get their lives in financial order and then they will follow. Jesus calls and we are to follow him immediately. The call of Jesus is an urgent call that requires an immediate response. Do we see what these men are doing? They are truly trusting their lives to Jesus. They are trusting Jesus to take care of them. They are going to follow him wherever he goes. They are surrendering their hearts to God. They are surrendering their lives to God and it was evident that this is what they were doing. The call of Jesus does not allow us to continue our pursuit of money, success, or anything else and still follow him.
Let’s take this to the heart of our problem. We want Jesus without cost or commitment. But this is not what Jesus offers. There is no offer where Jesus works for Simon, Andrew, James, and John on the boat or mending nets. There is no offer where Jesus tells these men to follow him whenever it is good for them. Nor is Jesus offering to make your life better. Jesus is not offering to fix your marriage, give you more money, make you happy, make you financially secure, or anything else in selfish physical terms. Jesus is offering for each of us to follow him and it will change your life. Jesus is king and has brought his kingdom. He is calling for each of us to cast aside this temporal world and seek the kingdom of heaven. Reject the short term, fleeting pleasures of this life and seek eternal joy and happiness that comes from knowing God.
Is your life going to be defined by your job? Is that who you are? Is your whole life about going to work every day, performing certain tasks, and going home? Is that what this life is all about? Is that going to be the sum total of your life? Give up this mundane life and seek after true heavenly riches. Follow Jesus and find true living and true happiness by living for eternity.
Is your life going to be defined by your family? Is that who you are? We cannot ignore this reality. You are going to die. Your loved ones are going to die. No one is getting out of here alive. Death is promised to every person. If your whole life is about your friends, or being a husband or wife, or being a parent or grandparent, then what will you do when death comes for you and your loved one? Then what? But Jesus says that if you will make him first above all others he will give you the relationship you need to most, from the one who will never let you down: our Lord God.
You see that the call of Jesus is not, “Look at all I have to give up” because what we are giving up is not ours to begin with and is not going to last. Trading the temporary for the permanent makes perfect sense and is why people who understood that immediately left what they were doing to follow Jesus. Jesus is offering your something far surpassing to the things of this life. Jesus’ calls us to trade in the rags of this life for the riches of eternity. Jesus offers life if you will follow him.