In Mark 1:16-20, we see Jesus calling His first disciples:
Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 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. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
(To read previous sermons from our ongoing study of the gospel of Mark, click here.)
If you scan the New Testament, you’ll find many references to God calling people to Himself through Jesus (for example: Romans 8:30; Romans 11:29; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:4; Philippians 3:14; Colossians 3:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 1:19; 1 Peter 2:21; 2 Peter 1:10; Jude 1:1).
Note who initiates the calling process. The four men whom Jesus calls in Mark 1:16-20 were working, focusing on their nets when Jesus saw them and called them. Jesus does the calling. He initiates, His followers respond.
This means there is never any reason to be proud of being a Christian. We didn’t do anything. Jesus did the calling. If He didn’t, we would still be in our boats fiddling with our nets.
It also means that there is hope for even the most sinful of people because becoming a disciple doesn’t require willpower or moral fortitude. It requires Jesus’ call. It’s not about what we do, but what He does.
Jesus Calls Ordinary People
The first people Jesus called were fishermen – common men working a common trade. Historians say that an average of about 300 fishing boats would be in the water on any given day in the Sea of Galilee, which is about 65 square miles large. There would have been many fishermen out there that day, and Jesus handpicked four of them.
Jesus doesn’t pick disciples because they are extraordinary, but because He is extraordinary. This is very comforting in an audition-based world. This was the opposite of an American Idol tryout.
We Don’t Have to Be Awesome
My first years as a pastor were difficult and full of intimidation. I was 27 when I began the work and had never held such a position of responsibility or leadership before. In the midst of some of the hardest days, my wonderful wife put 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 on a sticky note on our bathroom mirror and it has given me great strength ever since:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
We don’t have to be wise, powerful or from noble stock to follow Jesus. We only have to hear His call and respond.
Jesus Calls Ordinary People to Follow Him
Jesus did not shout to the four fishermen, “Here’s a link to my latest talk titled 7 Ways to Be a Godly Man.” Nor did He say, “Enroll in my new seminary for aspiring ministers.” Nor did He say, “Try my new spiritual workout regimen.” He shouted across the waters, “Follow me.”
The call of Christianity is to follow someone: Jesus Christ. This means the currency of Christianity is allegiance, loyalty and emulation. These are different from many of the currencies to which we gravitate: attendance, appearance, participation and practice.
Christianity is laser-focused on Jesus Christ. If you aren’t following Him, you aren’t a Christian.
Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” Part of following Jesus is listening to what He says in the Bible and living accordingly. This seems obvious, but many of us miss it.
Following Jesus Means Doing What He Says
“‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength'” (Mark 12:30). How many in church pews do this? How many strive for this?
“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). How many church members live prayerless lives?
“‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?'” (Matthew 6:25). How many claim to be Christians yet continue to worry?
“‘But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also'” (Matthew 5:39). How many know this verse but ignore it when cut off in traffic or betrayed by a friend?
“‘Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back'” (Luke 6:30). How many rationalizations have we come up with to step over this one?
“‘What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate'” (Mark 10:9). How many among us have separated without doing all they could to obey this command?
“‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …'” (Matthew 28:19). How many of us have assumed that this command was meant for an elite band of super-Christians and ignored it in our own lives?
Following Jesus Means Living As He Lived
If we’re going to follow Jesus, we’re going to have to do what He says. It also means living as He lived.
When Jesus called these four fishermen, they were able to physically disembark their boat and walk the shoreline with Jesus. They were able to physically spend their days and nights following Him. Jesus is no longer here in physical form, but He left a figurative trail for us to follow with His life.
In 1 Peter 2:21, God says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” We are to live as Jesus lived, to endure suffering as Jesus endured suffering, to speak as Jesus spoke and to react to people as Jesus reacted to people. He left us an example so that we might follow in His steps.
This is what following Jesus looks like today. This is what we’re called to when we’re called to be His disciples.
- Read Mark 1:16-20 together. Was there a time when Jesus called you to follow Him? Even if you’ve shared this with the group before, share briefly your experience of Jesus’ call to be a disciples.
- What does the fact that Jesus initiates the call mean for evangelism? How does this effect the way we go about “making disciples of all nations?” How does this effect the way we think about prayer in regard to evangelism? (Romans 10:13-17 may help.)
- Look through Mark 1:16-20 and find all the clues you can about these four men whom Jesus called. What sort of men do you suppose they were? What might they have looked like? How were their family relationships? How was their work-life?
- With 1 Corinthians 1:16-20 in mind, think about how you feel in conversations with people at work or friend. Think about how you feel in your interactions on Facebook or other social media. Think about how you feel about your “image” in the church or the community. Do you feel any pressure to be extraordinary? How does the fact that Jesus calls mostly ordinary people to follow Him affect all these areas of our lives?
- Based on your knowledge of the Gospels, what did it look like for these four fishermen to follow Jesus? How is this different from what it looks like for us to follow Jesus today? How is it the same?
- What teaching of Jesus’ do you have a hard time “doing?” (Luke 6:46)
- Read 1 Peter 2:21. How might following Jesus example lead to suffering in this world?
- Identify one next step in following Jesus and share with the group how you’ll take it (in practical terms).
- Take some time to pray for one another.