Dropping Everything for the Call | Mark 1:16–20

Last Sunday's sermon: Dropping Everything for the Call | Mark 1:16–20

In today's passage, Jesus calls His disciples to absolute commitment. In a similar manner, He calls us to follow Him above all else—no matter who you are. We’ll notice who He calls and what He calls people to.



Notes (PDF):

Dropping Everything for the Call | Mark 1:16–20
Shaun Marksbury | Morning Service | 5 February, 2017

I. Introduction
Peter tells his story through Mark, and the words here have all the marks of an eyewitness.  As we read, he takes us beside this lake and describes what was to be a normal day of work.  As such, we receive a vivid picture of the power of Jesus’s call.

Now, you might assume that this is the first time these men meet Jesus.  That would makes this a strange episode, however.  That would mean experienced and successful fishermen decide to abandon their trade because someone they never met walks up and says, “Follow me.”  It is not as though He wowed them with His appearance, for Isaiah 53:2 says that “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

Remember that last week, we noted that John 1–3 covers the previous year, and these men had met Jesus then.  They were even baptizing in southern Israel, until John the Baptist was arrested.  John 4 records their journey back north, passing through Samaria.  So, now they’re back in Galilee, a hub of trade and commerce in northern Israel.

The text is silent here as to why they took back up fishing, but Jesus gives them a new calling in this passage.  They were already following Him in one sense—having stayed with Jesus in the south, returned north for the wedding in Galilee, south again for Passover and then baptisms, and finally north again with Him.  Still, they and their families seem to be settled here, with Peter even owning the very house that will become vital to future ministry.  There seems to be some providence for this period, but that’s all we can say.

So, His disciples have been with Him a while.  In today's passage, Jesus calls them to absolute commitment.   In a similar manner, He calls us to follow Him above all else—no matter who you are.  We’ll notice who He calls and what He calls people to.

II. Who does Jesus call?
We have two sets of brothers bearing the focus of this chapter, four men.  We won’t spend too much time on them today—we just want to see the characters set on the stage before us.  Let’s see them as individuals first, and then we’ll look at their occupations.

A. Who are each of these men?
The first name we run into in v. 16 is Simon, the brother of Andrew.  Typically, the elder brother is listed first, so that may be the case here (see also Mt 4:18; 10:2; Mk 1:16; 3:18).  Even so, Andrew is listed first in John 1:40 and 44, so we can’t be certain of that.  Jesus will later rename Simon Peter, which we’ll talk about at a later date.

The second name we encounter is Simon’s brother, Andrew.  Andrew was with John the Baptist when he identified Jesus (Jn 1:36).  After some time with Jesus, Andrew went and found his brother Simon (vv. 40–42).

The third name we encounter is in v. 19, and that is James.  Jesus also had a brother named James who wrote the Book of James, and there is James, son of Alpheus (3:18), and finally, James the Younger (15:40).  This James is still another, the son of Zebedee, and John’s brother.  He is probably the elder brother since he is listed first.

Finally, the fourth name is John, the brother of James.  He is the youngest disciple of Christ, but that doesn’t make him the quietest.  Jesus will call he and his brother the “Sons of Thunder.”

MacArthur notes, “Their mother and Jesus’ mother may have been sisters (cf. 15:40; Matt. 27:55, 56 with John 19:25). If so, they were Jesus’ cousins.”

Now that we’ve know the names of the characters, let’s move onto their occupations.

B. What sort of men are they?
Of course, obviously from the text, they’re fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.

Why here?  Fishing was lucrative work.  Not many people could afford meat, and fish was a staple in their diet.  The fish caught here could be packed in salt for preservation and sent to Jerusalem and even to Rome.  Josephus said that there were some three hundred thirty ships fishing the lake (Barclay, Mark, 27).  Enterprising men could build a successful business here.

Just like our roads and cities can go by more than one name, that is the case with the Sea of Galilee.  In fact, we call it a sea, but in today’s language, it’s a warm, freshwater lake, roughly 13 mi. long and 7 mi. wide, about 690 ft. below sea level.  That makes it the second lowest lake in the world (right behind the Dead Sea) and the lowest body of freshwater.

Galilee is a common term for the region, but this sea goes by other colloquial names.  Chinnereth comes from a Hebrew word that means “harp,” which is roughly the shape of the lake—which is why it’s called that in the OT (Nm 34:11).  In Greek, that word is Gennesaret (Lk 5:1).  Since Herod Antipas founded the city of Tiberias on the northern shore, it is also called the Sea of Tiberias (Jn 6:1).  Whatever name it goes by, by this point in history, with so many ships fishing it, the Sea of Galilee is a populated area.

These are not line-and-reel sportsmen—they get wet and sweaty.  We first see Simon and Andrew in the water casting nets.  These are probably a circular net that could be as large as twenty feet in diameter.  They would cast it from their shoulders so that it would land flat on the surface of the water.  Weights on the edges of the net would pull it down quickly, trapping any fish underneath.   They would then pull its rope to cinch it tight and drag it to shore.

We could translate this that they were “casting a net around,” a vivid word picture that indicates a touch of an eyewitness.  A.T. Robertson notes here that the word literally mens “casting on both sides, now on one side, now on the other.”

Now, you might think that the two sets of men here represent different fishing enterprises.  This assumption may seem warranted since Simon and Andrew are casting their nets in the water and James and John are further down the lake in a boat, mending nets.  However, Luke 5:7 indicate that they are all partners.  That makes sense considering have all been together as Jesus’s disciples.

So, James and John have boat duty.  This wouldn’t be a large vessel, just big enough for up to a dozen men, equipped with oars and a sail.  They were preparing a similar net to what Simon and Andrew use, but this one would be tied the rope to the boat and then hauled to shore (cf. Jn 21:8).

So, what do we see in these four men?  Simply put, they’re workers.  Even though they have served with Jesus, they didn’t become ivory tower intellectuals.  They didn’t become like the scribes and the Pharisees, afraid to get their clothes dirty.  They weren’t weak-willed, pliable, milquetoasts.  They knew their work and they got to it.

To put it another way, they were faithful.  It’s popular to point out that they were poor and unlearned.  They had a growing business, so they were both successful and intelligent.  Considering the fact that Peter owned a house, it is not as though they were completely without means.  They worked hard.

They even knew about their faith before they met Jesus.  They needed to repent, and they knew what John the Baptist meant when he called Jesus the Lamb of God (John 1:36–37).  We see examples of people who both rolled up their sleeves during the workweek and knew their God.

III. What does Jesus call people to?
A. What did He call them to?
Now that we’ve seen who they are, let’s consider their call.

Jesus walks up and simply says, “Follow me.”  Jesus issues the same command used in John 11:43, when Jesus commands the dead Lazarus to come forth.  This is the most repeated command of Jesus in the NT (2:14; 8:34; 10:21; Matt. 4:19; 8:22; 9:9; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21; Luke 9:23, 59, 61; 18:22; John 1:43; 10:27; 12:26).

In fact, it’s not even a command as a direction (although used imperatively)—this way!   Those seeking discipleship must come to Him.  Surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Follow God,” or “Follow my piety,” but “Follow me.”

What is says to them v. 17 is fascinating, “I will make you become fishers of men.”   Not just “make you fishers” (Mt 4:19), but “make you become.”  The noun form of “make” is found in Eph 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  The future tense here and the aorist stative verb speaks of what Christ promises to do progressively in the lives of these men.  In other words, He promises to transform them for the purposes of the kingdom of God.

The image of fishing for men isn’t new in Scripture.  In fact, it’s often used in judgment.  In Jeremiah 16:16, it’s used to speak of the Babylonians hooking Israelites and carrying them off.  God also speaks of putting hooks in the jaws of the Egyptians (Eze 29:4).  Rabbinic literature similarly notes the idea of fishing for men to be negative.

So, why does this become a positive with Jesus?  This fishing will not result in death, but new life in the gospel.  On commentator explains, “When the fisherman hooks a fish, it has fatal consequences for the fish; life cannot go on as before.  This image fits the transforming power of God’s rule that brings judgment and death to the old, yet promises a new creation (see Rom 6:1–11).”   An individual who wishes to trust in the gospel must acknowledge his sinful state before God and an inability to save himself.  It’s a painful and humiliating process.  But, the result is salvation.

This play on words highlights the primary duty of the disciple of Christ—evangelism.  Consider the Apostle Paul’s view: “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).

Following Jesus becomes at this moment their number one life mission.  They drop their nets.  James and John even leave their father.  The business will survive without them (they will still have access to their boat, 3:9; 4:1; 5:31; 6:32, 45; 8:13).  Sometimes, the cost of the call to follow Christ means leaving everything behind, as it did for James and John.  Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26).

Nothing will get in the way of Christ’s mission for them, however, even family obligations. Peter later says in Mk 10:28, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”  Our primary commitment must be to the Lord, not to material wealth, as the rich young man in Mark 10 had to learn.  Jesus responded to Peter in vv. 29–30 by saying, “Truly, I say to you, 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, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

By way of contrast, someone came to Jesus once and said, “ ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ 62 Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’ ” (Lk 9:61–62).  The disciples here and in verse 20 demonstrate the total commitment the Lord requires.  We either love the Lord with our whole heart or we’re double-minded.  Too often, the latter is the case, and we need to develop a singularity of focus.

Even so, it doesn’t mean that those left behind won’t follow, and it seems that Zebedee became a high-profile disciple (cf. Jn 18:15).  However, we need to wrestle with how Jesus is calling us, which brings me to the next point.

B. What does He call us to?
He calls us.  He extends that same call to repent of your sins and to believe in the gospel.  Just as these fishermen had met and been with Jesus, you need to know the Lord before you can follow Him in ministry.  There are far too many lost souls serving in ministry.  You cannot work your way into heaven—you must know the Christ of Scripture and have Him take your sins away.  These verses demonstrate the perfect picture of repentance and faith—leaving all to follow Him.

He calls us to transformation.  The primary change He calls us to is from death to life, from darkness into life.  Again, only He can accomplish this in our lives.  Beyond that, He also calls us to good works.  Just as He says to the disciples “I will make you become fishers of men,” He will also change us through the providential circumstances in our lives.  As you learn, you grow.  As heartache grips your life, you become stronger.  As you fail, you gain wisdom.  Throughout the whole time that God places steel into your soul, the Holy Spirit causes you to bear more and more fruit until He knows you are ready—and then He’ll change you some more.

He calls us to ministry.  Jesus won’t appear on the bank of your life like He does for these men, but He delivered His Word, may place a desire into your heart, and surround you with people in to confirm the mission ahead.  In fact, He may not even call you to leave your job.  As Steve Lawson put it on this passage, there are fish in the pond that you’re swimming in, so obey the call of the Lord.  If God is calling you to greater ministry, or to serve in some way in this church, then do it with excellence and integrity.  Do not allow excuses and concerns make you shrink back.  Just as these men didn’t know what was ahead of them, follow the Lord with humility, trust, and full obedience (which brings us to the next point).

He calls us to be faithful.  One of the earliest charges extended to this church after I took over is this: the measure of a ministry is not success, it’s faithfulness.  It’s not an accident that Jesus chose men at work, men who were not idle—they have the kind of mindset essential for ministry.  If you only serve until the going gets tough, then Satan can easily destroy what you’ve built in the Lord.  Take a lesson from Mark here, who gave up early on his mission, repented, and became a faithful servant of the Lord.  This church may never be large, but by God, may we be faithful to His call in our lives!

IV.  Final Thoughts
I repeat that these were everyday people.  Compare this to Amos 7:14–15, “Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. 15 But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ ”  This is the normal way of God operating.

So, don’t think this message is for someone else—someone more talented, more gifted.  Christ calls us not because of potential, but because He wants to receive the glory.  As 1 Cor 1:26–29 says, “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. 27 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; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

So, no more excuses.  Follow Him today.

[1] John MacArthur Jr., ed., The MacArthur Study Bible, electronic ed. (Nashville, TN: Word Pub., 1997), 1457.
[2] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Mk 1:16.
[3] David Garland, Mark: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 69.

Not a transcript.

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