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Fishers of Men

Series: The Gospel of Mark

Sermon by David Strain on May 20, 2018

Mark 1:16-20

Now if you would please take a copy of God’s holy Word in your hands and turn with me to the gospel of Mark, chapter 1. We have begun to work our way through Mark’s gospel and we have come to the words of verses 16 through 20. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, you’ll find that on page 836. Last week, we began to look together at Mark’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, His preaching ministry, as we considered the marvelous little summary of Jesus’ preaching, His message, that you find in verses 14 and 15. At the heart of that message is the announcement that the kingdom of God has erupted onto the scene of human history in the coming of Jesus Christ in a new way. And that in Jesus Christ, there is deliverance from sin’s guilt and power. “And so he called all who heard him to repent and to believe in the gospel.”

And in some ways, you could say that the remainder of chapter 1 is an explanation of how that works out, what it looks like, what are the implications of this Gospel that has broken onto the scene of history good news in the person of Jesus. What will it mean for our lives? And so in verses 16 through 20, we see what it looks like, what it will do in the hearts and lives of two sets of brothers – Simon and Andrew, and James and John – as Jesus calls them to Himself. And all I want to do is consider verses 16 through 20 under two simple headings. First, Jesus’ call, His invitation to come to Himself. What does that mean? What’s involved? What are the implications? The call. And then secondly, the cost. If you answer Jesus’ call, His invitation and summons, what will that involve for your life? What will change? What is the cost involved that you may need carefully to consider? So the call and then the cost.

Before we read the passage and then begin to work through that outline together, we’re going to pray once again. So please do bow your heads with me as we pray.

Lord, to whom else can we go – You have the words of eternal life. So would You grant to us ears to hear as Your Spirit speaks to the church? We pray mindful of those who are hearing the call of Jesus Christ, perhaps for the first time or anew, but who, till now have resisted and delayed and avoided and excused. Grant that as the Gospel is proclaimed, You might draw us, all of us, whether for the first time or anew, to respond with glad obedience and true faith to the invitation of Christ to follow Him. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

Mark’s gospel chapter 1 at the sixteenth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he” – that is, 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.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy and authoritative Word.

In Luke’s gospel, chapter 5, at the tenth verse, we learn that Simon and Andrew, James and John were business partners. Almost certainly, as was common in those days, they have inherited the family business, the family trade. James and John’s father, Zebedee, has built a moderately successful business fishing the Sea of Galilee, successful enough our passage tells us, to employ several hired servants to work the boats and mend the nets. So they are a modest, middle-class family. And these two sets of brothers are devoted to the family trade, probably been the family trade for generations, working the boats on the Sea of Galilee. But somewhere along the way, Simon and Andrew, and it seems also likely James and John, have come to be attached to the ministry of John the Baptist. Maybe they had gone with the crowds that attended upon John’s preaching from the city of Jerusalem when the brothers had visited Jerusalem for one of the great annual pilgrim feasts. But however it happened, they have been swept up in the great revival that followed in the wake of John the Baptist’s preaching ministry.

One day, John chapter 1 tells us, as they are attending upon the Baptist's preaching ministry, Andrew, and another disciple, almost certainly John, the brother of James, are talking with John the Baptist when Jesus passes by and John the Baptist says, "Behold, the Lamb of God." So he is identifying who Jesus really is for Andrew and John’s benefit. John’s gospel tells us that “Andrew immediately ran to tell his brother, Simon, (Simon Peter) the good news. ‘We have found the Messiah.’” So Andrew and Simon and James and John’s association and knowledge and acquaintance with Jesus goes all the way back to those first days under the ministry of John the Baptist in the wilderness around the Jordan River. Which means, of course, that when Jesus encounters them again here now on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in Mark chapter 1, this was not their first acquaintance with Him. It’s not as though they had no idea who He was. They understood from John’s explanation that Jesus was the one for whom they had been waiting. He was God’s Messiah, the Lamb of God.

But however momentous that discovery must have been for them, life has to go on. Right? And so here they are now back mending the nets in the family business. The fish won't catch themselves. There are mouths to feed, salaries to pay, nets to mend. Maybe they told themselves, "You know, when the revolution comes we expect the Messiah to inaugurate and overthrow the Romans and restore David's earthly kingdom when that happens, you know, we'll be ready to do our part. But in the meantime, we've got to work these boats and catch some fish." And so despite their earlier knowledge of Jesus, nothing really prepared them for this new encounter with Him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ message, you will remember, is that the kingdom is already here with His arrival and it is not a political kingdom but a spiritual one. It does not call for an armed insurrection. It’s not about revolution; it is about repentance and faith. And so when Jesus called them, He was not inviting them to join an armed insurrection as they might have expected Messiah would do. Rather, He was calling them to something of an entirely different character.

The Call

Let’s look together at Jesus’ call. And I want you to notice in verse 17 the two parts to that call. It involves, first of all, an invitation to live under a new Master. “Follow Me,” He said. And secondly, it involves embarking upon a new mission. “I will make you fishers of men.” Those are the two parts of Jesus’ call. Do you see them there in verse 17? An invitation to live under the new Master that is King Jesus, and an invitation to embark upon a new mission upon which He will send His disciples.

Life Under a New Master

Let’s think about life under a new Master first. “Follow Me,” Jesus said. It’s obviously an invitation to discipleship, although it’s an unusual one given the norms of the day. You see, the rabbis in Jesus’ day, they had disciples too. But they never initiated that relationship. If you wanted to learn from a rabbi, you chose your preferred teacher and you sought him out, you pursued him, you attached yourself to him. But here is Jesus and He does what we’re going to see Him do again and again and again in Mark’s gospel – He breaks the mold. He shatters the norm. He defies expectations. In this case, He breaks the mold by being the one to take the initiative. That’s always how Jesus works in reference to us. He is the one who initiates. The initiative is His, not ours. He pursues us, comes to us, seeks us out, calls us to Himself. Later on in John 15, He would tell His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should bear much fruit.”

In every other religion, you know, in every other form of spirituality, there is a prescription, a formula, there is a practice to maintain, a path to follow in order to get to God. But the Christian Gospel doesn’t offer you a better mechanism to find your way to God. That is not our message. Our message is that God Himself has come to find you, to seek and to save you in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the one lost sheep. Jesus is the one in whom the Father is seeking true worshipers. In the Christian Gospel, God comes and finds us. He calls to you and to me and He brings us and gathers us to Himself. The initiative is all His. That’s how it was in this moment; that’s how it is every single time since that day when someone comes to know the Lord Jesus for themselves. He has drawn them, called them, and brought them to Himself.

But the oddity of Jesus’ invitation doesn’t stop there. Look again at what He said. The rabbis, when they made disciples, they taught their disciples to follow the Torah, the Law of Moses. They were to become followers of the Law and the traditions of the elders. But what does Jesus tell Simon and Andrew? Does He tell them to follow a code or a body of doctrine or a philosophy? Is Jesus just another rabbi with a newfangled teaching that trumps everything that had come before? No. Look at it. What does He tell them? Everyone else was saying “Follow the tradition, follow the sayings of the Fathers, follow the teachings of the rabbis, follow the Law, follow Moses.” What does Jesus say? “Follow Me. Follow Me.”

When a person becomes a Christian, it is true that they will have embraced a body of doctrine, of teaching; that’s vital. It’s true that they will have come to submit their lives to a set of ethical principles, the Law of God, and begin to love it and live by it. That’s true. They will join themselves to an assembly of God’s people, a local church, and they will worship together and begin to serve and further the cause of Jesus Christ and the mission of the Church in the world; that’s true. Being a Christian involves all of those things, but hear me carefully when I say that none of those things, nor any of them in combination, make you a Christian. Being a Christian involves all of those things, but not one of them, not any of them in combination, can make you a Christian. What is it that makes you a Christian? It is knowing Jesus Christ. It is following Him. It is being drawn by His Word and Spirit into union and communion with Jesus Christ for yourself. Do you know Him? There is no more urgent or important question to ask.

Who is the master in your life? When Jesus summoned the disciples to follow Him, He was saying, “I am the King. Come bend the knee to Me. Begin to live under My lordship and reign and I will be your perfect Redeemer.” Who’s the master in your life? I’m not asking you about your philosophy or your ethics or your religious practice. They all have an important place and part to play. I’m asking if you are trusting in Jesus Christ; if you are a follower of Jesus Christ. Unless and until you can say, “Christ has mastered me,” you are not a Christian and you are still in your sin. And so I hope and pray that you are hearing already the summons and invitation of Christ issued to you anew this morning to come and follow Him and to place your trust in Him alone. The call of Christ involves life under a new Master. It’s an invitation to come and be mastered and enter into a relationship that Christ Himself initiates in the Gospel.

Life On a New Mission

But notice also the second part of His invitation and call. Not only an invitation to life under a new Master but an invitation to embark on a new mission. You see that in the second part of verse 17? Look at verse 17 with me, please. "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." Jesus is obviously playing on the profession of these brothers. They were fishermen, and so He's using that imagery. He's saying, "If you will follow Me, I'm going to change the priorities of your life. I'm going to set you apart so that you will become My instruments to make My name known to the ends of the earth. You will be fishers of men. You'll catch men by proclaiming the Gospel."

It’s a powerful and beautiful and stimulating image, but it is an image that has a backstory to it. In the Old Testament Scriptures, in passages like Jeremiah 16:16, the image of a fisher of men is also used, but it strikes a more ominous note. It is always used of God Himself. God is the fisher of men who fishes for men and catches them in His wrath and final judgment. But here, Jesus uses that image, He applies it to the mission of His disciples here and now – not in an ominous way; the note of threat is missing – but in a positive way, in a note of encouragement and even excitement we might say. “I will make you fishers of men,” is an invitation meant to entice them and intrigue them and excite them.

What’s the point? I think this is how we might say it. Before the living God comes as the final fisher of men in the great and terrible day of His wrath at the end of the age, Jesus Christ sends His people, His disciples, to go fish for men by the Gospel that they might be delivered from the wrath that is to come. “Go and I will make you fishers of men.” He takes the threat, we might say, and He turns it into an adventure; the grand adventure of a life lived in the service of Jesus Christ and on the mission that He gives to us. You see, when Jesus calls you to Himself, He never calls you to keep Him to yourself. When Jesus calls you to Himself, He never calls you to keep Him to yourself. He calls you to Himself and sends you to others. Disciples make disciples. “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

If you know a little of church history, you may actually know that the grand adventure upon which Jesus was sending His disciples and sends them still to make Him known to the ends of the earth, swept up these brothers in extraordinary ways. Mark, remember, is writing from the city of Rome. He is recording the teaching and the catechesis, the memories that form the basis of the preaching of the apostle Peter. Simon, to whom Jesus issued His call in our passage, Simon became a fisher of men in the city of Rome. James, he went, we are told, as far as the borders of Russia fishing for men. John became a pastor of the churches in the city of Ephesus fishing for men. They were swept up in this great new cause that dominated their hearts and filled them with a boldness and a joy and an enthusiasm that the name of Jesus might be made known.

I usually try at all costs to avoid quotations from Tolkien’s, Lord of the Rings, just because I’m so tired of them, frankly! But there’s a beautiful scene in The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo and Sam are fleeing from the Shire and Sam pauses and says, “This is it. If I take one more step, this is the furthest away from home I’ve ever been.” “Oh come on, Sam,” Frodo replies, “Remember what Bilbo used to say? ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’” The call of Jesus Christ is like that. It’s not just a call to a nice, private, heartwarming series of experiences between you and Jesus. No, He will deploy you in His service on a lifelong adventure of mission and ministry. He will make you fishers of men, and there’s no telling where He will take you in service to His cause.

I wonder how you feel about being a fisher of men. I rather suspect, for many of us, when we hear Jesus say, “Follow Me,” we immediately respond gladly. But when we hear Jesus say, “Go be fishers of men,” we wonder if He might be talking about someone else. You know, those folks who like that sort of thing, who are gifted for it; the keen ones, the evangelists among us. But I do think we need to keep these two parts of Jesus’ call together. Those who come to know Jesus, those same ones He calls to make Jesus known. Disciples make disciples. So that’s the first thing that I want us to think about together – the call to follow Jesus Christ. Have you been mastered by Him and are you willing to go make Him known?

The Cost

Then secondly, notice how these two sets of brothers respond to Jesus’ call. And here I want us to think about the cost involved of following Jesus Christ.

Immediate Response

We’ve remarked more than once already in our series through Mark’s gospel how he has a particular preference for the word, “immediately.” It lends a certain urgency and pace and excitement to his account of Jesus’ life and ministry. But if you look in verse 18 and again in verse 20, you will see that a least here, it is more than a rhetorical device. It actually indicates the response of the heart when Jesus’ summons reached these brothers. “Immediately, they left their nets and followed Him.” They left their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired servants, and followed Him. The call of Jesus Christ requires immediate obedience. It is not a suggestion for your consideration. It is not a hypothesis to be tested and weighed. It is the command of the King to be obeyed and His summons to be answered without delay.

One of the most exciting ministries of our church is First Presbyterian Day School. We’ve been celebrating and honoring Gary Herring’s retirement as the Head of School after thirty years of service. Mrs. Ruth Smith taught until this past week, I think, for thirty-nine years in our school. We have valued our school. We value their ministries and contributions. We pray for the school’s success as it makes Christ known throughout our community. Many of you will have been involved with the school, perhaps you went to the school yourself or your children attend the school already, and you will know the First Presbyterian Church Day School declaration. Maybe you are even able to say it along with me. There’s one phrase in there that captures the point here really well. Let me read to you part of what our children are taught to say:

“We go to First Presbyterian Day School, a kingdom school. We exalt the name of Jesus. We recognize His presence here. We believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We believe that the Bible is God’s holy Word, to be complete truth; a guide to our feet.” And then, listen to this. “I am created in the image of God. He loves me beyond my imagination. God calls me to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. To listen and obey. To listen and obey the first time, not the second time, or the third time, but the first.”

When Jesus calls you to Himself, He demands an immediate response. He wants you to listen and obey, the first time, not the second time or the third time, but the first. Some of you have heard His call in the Gospel a thousand times. You’ve been raised in the church. you’ve had Christian parents teach you the Gospel. You’ve heard it from the pulpit Sunday by Sunday, in Sunday school class, in vacation Bible schools. You’ve been in Bible studies. You’ve had Christian friends. You’ve heard the Gospel over and again. You may even believe it to be true, and yet you’ve never responded to the call and invitation of Jesus Christ for yourself from the heart. You do not yet know Him for yourself. Others of you have yet to really understand the Gospel at all. You may have come to church today for the first time in years and years and have only the barest understanding of what Christianity has to offer.

But whatever the situation you may find yourself in, Jesus is calling to you again this morning inviting you today to come and trust Him, to come and follow Him. And He’s looking for your response without delay. And what do we say to our children? Delayed obedience is – what? I’m asking you. You can tell me. Delayed obedience is – what? It’s disobedience. Do not say to Jesus, “Not yet,” or “Not now.” Delayed obedience is still disobedience. Stop excusing your refusal to come and trust in Christ. He is calling you to Himself right now, today. It’s time to come and trust Him. Stop evading, stop hiding, stop running. Come and bend your knee to Jesus Christ. Delayed obedience is still disobedience.


And then I want you to notice that the call of Jesus involves this other aspect by way of cost. And that is, notice how it takes precedence over everything else for those who hear and answer His call. These brothers, they left their nets, they left their family, they left their business and they followed Him. We’re not to take from that any conclusion that in order to properly follow Jesus we must become fulltime Christian workers, or that the only way to properly follow Jesus is to renounce earthly ties of family or business. That’s not the point. The point, rather, is nothing may stand in the way of wholehearted devotion to Christ – neither finances nor family, neither partnerships nor parents, neither lifestyle nor loved ones. Jesus must be first. Jesus must be first.

Later on in Mark chapter 8 at verse 34, Jesus would spell this out in His teaching in a way that mirrors precisely how the disciples teach it to us by their example in our passage. Jesus said to the crowds who were following His ministry, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and yet forfeits his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?" Stop saying, "Not yet. I have other things to take care of, other things to live for, other things that take precedence, other things that are a higher priority." You may gain all those things, but what does it profit a man if he gained the whole world and yet forfeited his soul? Jesus calls you to something better.

In Matthew chapter 10 there’s a rich young man. You remember this story? Jesus invited him to come and follow Him. But unlike these two sets of brothers in our passage, the rich young ruler refused Jesus’ call and invitation. He went away sad because he had great riches. The call of Jesus, he believed, was just too steep, too costly. And the scope of the tragedy of his refusal becomes clear afterwards as Jesus explained what he’d really lost. You see, this rich young man thought, “When Jesus calls me, I’m going to have to let go of all my idols, of all my earthly treasure. I can’t live for the accumulation of things anymore. That’s too much for me. I can’t possibly bear that cost.” What he did not realize is that however great the cost may be for following Jesus, the gain is always infinitely greater. And so Jesus explained that there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for My sake and for the Gospel who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, house and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands with persecutions and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Here's the tragedy. If today you find yourself saying, "No," or "Not yet," to Jesus because you think there's something more precious, more urgent, with a prior claim on your life, here's the tragedy – you think you will lose, but you will really gain. You think you can become rich without Him when only the true riches are to be found in Him. There is a cost for following Jesus, but there are riches in fellowship with Christ. There's nothing so thrilling or exciting as devoting your life to the service of Christ; no relationship more satisfying nor sweet than knowing Christ. And you forfeit that and your soul when you say "No" in answer to His call and His summons. Jesus is inviting you to Himself today. Do not delay. "Immediately they left their nets and followed Him." Come and follow Him too.

Let’s pray together.

Our Father, there may be people here this morning, children raised in this church, adults who have been members for years, visitors from out of town, family and friends, who have learned to turn on and appear religious when the circumstances require, but who know nothing of the sweetness and the joy of sin forgiven and fellowship with the living Christ. We pray for them as they hear His invitation to come and follow Him. O Lord, grant that today, even now, immediately, they may leave their nets and follow Him, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

© 2018 First Presbyterian Church.

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