We are looking at the gospel according to Mark. We will be considering Mark 1:16-20:
Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.
Now, as we look at these verses, there are two main elements from which we derive instruction. The first is the call to discipleship that He gives to these four. The second is the statement He gives to these disciples: “I will make thee fishers of men.”
This brief passage is very instructive for you and me personally as disciples of Jesus Christ. The word “disciples” does not appear here in Mark 1, but it is there in the commandment of Jesus, in verse 17: “Come after me” or “follow me.” That is what a disciple is: a follower of Jesus. Now, just as these four were called by Jesus to be His disciples and forsook all to follow Him, so we are called. The call may not be to a full-time ministry; the call may not have such a radical impact on our minds that we have to forsake our occupation and leave our family. Nevertheless, the call to follow Jesus is a call to forsake all and to go after Him.
There are three elements in the call of these four disciples-to-be that I want us to think about that are especially instructive for us. The first is the disciples themselves. Who are they whom Jesus called? Four of them are named here: Peter and Andrew, who were brothers, and their fishing partners, James and John. These four were very ordinary men. They were not rabbis, they were not highly educated, they were not lawyers, but they were fishermen, common laborers and tradesmen. This is what they did for a living. And, besides this, what was true of them all is that they were men of weakness, men with weaknesses and men who were sinners.
Why did Jesus call such men to do this work? Why did He not just do it Himself? Why call Peter, who is so often proud in his own strength, or James and John, who, when there is no fruit on the gospel in Samaria, want to call fire from heaven to destroy the listeners? Or we can look at all the twelve and see this: Levi, a tax-collector; Simon, a zealot—a former political radical. I think there are three things for us to see here in this. The first is that, for the sake of the glory of God, Jesus is pleased to use weak vessels to communicate the good news of the gospel. So aware of this was the apostle Paul that he says in II Corinthians 4:7: “We have this treasure [that is, the treasure of the gospel] in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” God is pleased to call ordinary people to be His disciples and to be the instruments to communicate the gospel so that all the glory may go to Him.
Then, looking at these disciples and who they were, we see also this, that no one really qualifies to be a disciple of Jesus. He calls people to be disciples from every walk of life. His saving grace comes to people young and old, male and female, from every nation and every color. And in this way, we see His grace is indiscriminate. So in the New Testament they had to learn that it was both Gentile and Jew, kings as well as common people. In I Timothy 2, Paul says to Timothy, “I exhort, first of all, that supplication, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men.” Then he says, “for kings and for all that are in authority,” and so on, for this reason: “that God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” He does not mean there that God will have every last person to be saved, but all kinds of men. And that is what we see here in the call of the disciples.
That means that, whatever your situation or occupation is, Jesus calls you as a disciple to follow Him right where you are. As I said, it may not mean the abandonment of all other occupations, but it does mean the abandonment of all other masters, so that Christ is your master as you are His disciple and follower. If you are a king or a ruler, if you are a painter or a cook, if you are a mother in the home or a pharmacist or a police officer or a dad—in every occupation, forsake all other masters and follow Christ. Ordinary men.
The second thing that we should notice here as regards discipleship is the call of Jesus. That comes in verse 17 in a very striking way when He says, “Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” Now, Mark knows as he writes this that this is not the first time these men encountered Jesus. If you read the gospel of John, chapter 1, you see that they were there at Jesus’ own baptism, almost a year earlier. They became acquainted with Him and they even began to follow Him, so that in John 4 we see that they were with Him as He traveled back to Galilee, from Jerusalem, through Samaria. But what Mark wants to emphasize here in the clearest way is both the demands of discipleship and the power of Jesus as He calls to discipleship. This is a summons. It is clear. Come after Me. He means, Fall in line, follow Me. He means that in a very literal way. They followed Him for years in His public ministry. There is no negotiating here. It is binding. As He said elsewhere, there is no going first to bury the dead or to sell some land, but come after Me, forsake all.
And the setting here at the Sea of Galilee emphasizes this sovereign aspect of the call of Jesus to discipleship. History tells us that this fishing spot was so popular that, on a typical day, two to three hundred boats would go out unto the Sea of Galilee. So you can imagine that, on this day, as they were casting nets and cleaning nets, there was a buzz of activity on the Sea of Galilee in this little village of Capernaum. And Jesus walks along the shore, through all this activity, looking for these four. He picks them out and says to them, “Follow Me.” He knew them. And He knew them not just because He had previously met them. He knew them eternally. In love He had picked them out and chosen them to be His, to heed His call and to follow Him. This brings home the effectual call of the gospel that we talked about last week. It is a very important and a very comforting truth for us today. Are you a disciple of Christ? Do you follow Him? Do you daily take up your cross and carry it after Him, dying to self in repentance? Are you one who walks in His steps in obedience to God? If so, that is because He has come, He has called you, He knew you. He came with the gospel and effectually called you in your heart, by the Spirit, to follow Him.
The third thing you notice here is the impact of this call on these disciples. In verse 18 and in verse 20 it is repeated this way: “And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him…. And straightway…they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.” That is discipleship. They were aware of the sacrifice, but they were convinced of the importance of the task to which He called them. So immediately they forsook all and followed Him. You see, God had opened their eyes to see who Jesus was and to see the infinite worth of His kingdom. To this day, no one will forsake the world and take up a cross and follow Jesus but those who see Him as incomparably valuable to everything else. Psalm 73:25: “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.” That is the heart of the disciples of Christ.
Have you counted the cost of discipleship? Have you taken up a cross and died to yourself? Do you forsake the world and all other to follow the Savior? Are you willing, come what may, to lay down your life for Him? That is discipleship.
The second thing we learn in this text is from what He says His purpose is for them. He says, “Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” Now, before I explain those words, I want to say two things that are really two dangers that we can fall into here. The first is this. Even though all Christians are called to be disciples of Christ, to follow the Master, not all are called to be “fishers of men” in the way that these four disciples are called. What I mean by that is this, that God can call you to be a disciple without calling you into full-time ministry. A Christian must not feel guilty if he or she has some other employment than full-time ministry. So long as what you are doing is not immoral, you can, and you must, serve God in that calling, whatever it is, just as Joseph served the Lord as a slave in Potiphar’s house. That is one thing.
But, second, I want to say this, that even though the work of the ministry of the gospel, that is, the preaching of the gospel, is limited to those who are called and sent by Christ and the church, there is a calling that we all have to be a witness to those who are lost, both in word and in deed. The church cannot do its work of missions and evangelism without members of the church being active in personal witnessing. Yes, the official means of grace is the preaching of the gospel. But we must not limit the work of God to the preaching from the pulpit, or use the principle that the preaching is primary for the salvation of sinners as an excuse to do nothing ourselves by way of being a light and a witness to those who are unbelievers. So, really, as we look at this call to be “fishers of men,” what we should see is that what Jesus has in view here is what the New Testament church will do collectively, under the direction of the apostles, after His ascension into heaven. “I will make you to become fishers of men.”
Fishers of men. What is Jesus talking about? He has in view, very specifically, the work of the preaching of the gospel to which these four and the other apostles will be called. He uses the occupation of the disciples here, something that they are very familiar with, as a metaphor for the preaching of the gospel. What Jesus is saying here, as He uses this metaphor of fishermen (I will make you fishers of men), is that the world is like a sea filled with lost men. And these disciples must go out with the gospel and cast it forth as a net to catch, to gather, men and women and children into the church of Jesus Christ. “I will make you fishers of men.”
Now, we can develop this metaphor a little bit, and it is appropriate that we do that. How will Jesus prepare these men to be “fishers of men”? The disciples, as I said, are very familiar with this work because they were fishermen themselves. A fisherman needs equipment. Jesus is going to equip these men, He is going to give them the equipment they will need to be fishers of men. You cannot go out and fish without the right equipment. If, for example, you are going to catch king salmon that swim very deep in cold, dark waters, then you are going to need something (some big weight) that will take your line hundreds of feet deep into the water where those king salmon are. Jesus will equip these men, and He will equip the church, to catch men. What will He equip them with? He will equip them with the gospel, the gospel of salvation, which He has just proclaimed in verse 15, the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation. He will prepare them by giving them the proper equipment.
But these disciples also know that fishermen need a certain expertise. Just as they had learned from their father Zebedee how to fish, so they will have to learn from Jesus what it is to fish for men. Then think of all the hours over the years that they watched and learned from Jesus. I think that it is important for us to see that, right here when He calls them to follow Him, He is not yet calling them to preach the gospel. He speaks about the future: “I will make you to become fishers of men.” Now He says, “Follow me.” So He is calling them now to be disciples, and He is saying, “I will train you.” I think that teaches us some important things. Before one can be a preacher of the gospel, he must first be a disciple and a follower of Christ. A man who is called to preach must be properly prepared and equipped for the great task of preaching the gospel.
These disciples, familiar as they were with fishing, also understood that a fisherman needs diligence. To catch fish, a fisherman has to give himself to the work. He has to go out in the night, sometimes fish all night long. He must, as they were doing here, cast out the net. And Jesus is saying here that the work of the ministry will be, for these men, a life calling that will require diligence on their part.
Further, something that is required of a fisherman is patience. As we are fishers of men, engaged in the work of missions and the work of evangelism and in the work of preaching the gospel, we need patience. And that patience is a trust that God will draw in with His gospel, that God will fill the net. It is God who gives the increase. What is required of us is not success in numbers but faithfulness and diligence in the work. And we wait on Him with patience. Sometimes He gives much and sometimes little.
But there is one more thing that is required of a fisherman and that is this: a fisherman needs a certain optimism and confidence as he does his work. We ought to have the same as we do the work of preaching the gospel. It would be hard to be enthused in fishing if you believed that there were no fish in the lake. And it is important for us to remember that, as long as earth remains, both of these are true. First, that there still remain out there God’s elect who must be gathered by the gospel and, second, that we still have the task of preaching the gospel and we can do it with the confidence that God will use that to gather His own. We have sometimes much, sometimes little. But we must be confident as we do this work. Follow Me, He says, and I will make you fishers of men.
I want to finish with the encouragement here for the disciples and for all disciples, for us as well. You see this in the promise of the text. It is a promise that we can easily overlook, but it is there, in the words of Jesus in verse 7: “Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” Especially there in that word “become.” The promise is really twofold. First, it is a promise here, for the disciples personally, of individual growth and change (personal growth). They are fishermen, and He will make them fishers of men. You can imagine that they may well have thought, “Who me? A fisher of men?” Certainly that was the mind of the apostle Paul when he said, “I am the least of the apostles and not worthy to be called an apostle,” and when he says of himself, “chief of sinners.” Jesus says here, with promise, to these disciples, “I am going to make you to become fishers of men.”
The Christian life is a life of becoming. Jesus is saying, “I will change you, I will equip you.” And for these disciples, that was not merely an intellectual preparation, for the gospel ministry, but it was especially a spiritual preparation in which they had to learn to take up the cross, to deny themselves. They had to see more of their own pride and selfishness. And they had to learn especially what it was to follow Christ, to be a disciple of Christ. They were prepared, in the end, every one of them (except, perhaps, for John), to die by martyrdom for the sake of the gospel. You talk about change! Last week we saw that this is the basic meaning of the gospel call: Repent and believe. Repent is change. Are you being changed as you follow Christ? Are you willing to be humbled, to have your prejudices be defeated, to undergo the painful process of sanctification, of dying to sin and self? This is the Christian life. And Jesus is saying here (it is a promise), “I will change you, I will make you to become what you were not when first I called you.” How is God working change in your life? He that has begun a good work in you will perform it to the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). I will make you to become, He says.
Then, the second thing. He promises to prepare them for a task far greater than any earthly occupation. That is the privilege of being used as an instrument to bring others to Christ. What a high, noble calling! Proverbs 11:30: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.” James 5:20: “He which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” Daniel 12:3, “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” Shining in glory. That is an encouragement.
I want to close with this. That we stop and realize the wonder, the privilege, of now being called to be instruments of Christ to communicate the saving grace of the gospel to sinners. That is certainly a privilege that I have personally as a preacher of the gospel. With Paul I marvel and say, “Who is sufficient for these things,” and with Isaiah, “I am a man of unclean lips,” and yet I know that God has been pleased to use my ministry to bring salvation and spiritual growth to His sheep. What a privilege!
But it is not just a minister’s privilege, it is the church’s privilege. And not just here in Spokane, but everywhere. We are able to be involved in the proclamation and spread of the gospel through our missionaries, through the Internet and printed material, through the radio. And God has actually given fruit on that work. What a privilege!
And it is a privilege that we have personally as well. Are you a father in the home who reads the Scripture with your family and goes over the catechism with your children? Are you a mother who gently leads her children, encouraging them with the promises of God’s Word? Are you a member who has prayed for and reached out to a needy person in the congregation? Have you spoken the good news of the gospel and testified of your joy and your hope to an unbeliever? What a privilege, that God is pleased to use us as the funnel through which He pours the good news of the gospel.
Let us never forget that privilege as parents, as Christians, and as the church of Jesus Christ. Follow Me, He says, and I will make you to become fishers of men. Are you following Christ?