When Jesus Calls

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Mark 1:14-20 (Jesus Calls the Disciples)

INTRODUCTION: Today’s passage begins a new section in Mark. The events described in verses 1-13 were all preparatory to Jesus’ ministry. John the Baptist came preparing the way for Christ. Jesus was baptized for ministry and tested in the wilderness. Now he is ready to begin his public ministry in Galilee. (Read Mark 1:14-20)

What do you do when Jesus calls? What is the appropriate response to Christ? This is the question that four young fishermen faced one morning along the shores of Galilee. And it is a question that we must still face today. Jesus is no longer here in the flesh. He has returned to heaven, but he still issues his call through the preaching of the gospel and the drawing power of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus calls you, what will you do? How will you respond? That’s what this morning’s passage is all about.

I. Jesus’ message (verses 14-15)

And it all begins with Jesus’ message in verses 14-15.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)

“After John was put in prison” sets a somber tone here. The last we heard of John, he was baptizing and preaching in the wilderness, and everyone was coming out to him. Things were going well. Mark will fill us in on some of the details of this later in the gospel, but for now it is enough to know that things turned for John, and he was arrested and locked away.

We don’t know exactly how much time takes place between verse 13 (when Jesus was in the wilderness) and verse 14, but we know Jesus did not immediately begin his preaching ministry in Galilee. Jesus had come from Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan, and there was an interval of time where Jesus stayed in Judea with some of his disciples. Jesus’ ministry overlapped with John’s as Jesus’ disciples also baptized people in the Jordan River. During this time John’s ministry began to decrease until: “The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.” (John 4:1-2)

It was around this time that John was arrested, and Jesus returned to Galilee. And as Jesus went into Galilee, he began his public preaching ministry, proclaiming the good news of God.

That phrase “good news” can also be translated “gospel,” that’s what the word “gospel” means, “good news,” but of course the people Jesus was speaking to did not have the same understanding of the gospel that we have today. When we hear the word gospel today, we think of the whole story of the gospel: that Jesus came, Jesus died, Jesus rose again, and we may have new life through him. At this time in history those things hadn’t happened yet, and yet Jesus could still proclaim the good news of God in terms of what was happening right then and there.

What was happening? Look at verse 15: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) Obviously Jesus spoke and taught much more than that, but this is a summary of Jesus’ message, and it has two parts.

    A. The time has come; the kingdom of God is near.

The first part is this: “The time has come; the kingdom of God is near.” John the Baptist had come to prepare the way for Christ, and now Christ was here. The time of which John had spoken had now arrived in the person of Jesus. Verse 15 can also be translated, “The time is fulfilled,” and so there is this sense that with the coming of Jesus the promises of God are being fulfilled. “The time has come; the kingdom of God is near.”

The people of Jesus’ day were familiar with the concept of God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom referred to God’s reign or his rule over all things. They knew that God was the sovereign ruler over all things, and yet they also knew that God had allowed his people to come under the rule of other nations. They knew from the prophets that this also was part of God’s rule: that God had allowed this to happen because of their own sin and idolatry. But they also knew that one day God would deliver them from all of their enemies, and that he would rule all the nations with perfect justice and righteousness.

And now Jesus says the time had come, that the kingdom of God was near. This was good news! This is what they had been waiting for. This is what all the Old Testament promises pointed forward to, and now Jesus announced that the time had come. As we continue through the gospel of Mark we will see that the kingdom of God arrived in the person of Jesus, and yet it still awaits its final fulfillment. This is one of the reasons why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come.” (Matthew 6:10) The kingdom has arrived with Jesus, it has begun its work in and through the gospel, and yet it will not arrive in all its fullness until Christ comes again.

    B. Repent and believe the good news.

And so that was the first part of Jesus’ message: “The time has come; the kingdom of God is near.” That was the good news. And so the second part of Jesus’ message was this: “Repent and believe the good news!”

The word “repent” carries the idea of turning away from your sins, but it also carries the idea of turning back to God. We turn our back on our sins and face God instead. Repentance means a radical change, a new mindset, a new attitude towards God. We could even call this conversion: turning from our old way of life in order to follow God instead. And so Jesus says, “Repent, be changed from your old way of life, and believe the good news.”

“To believe” means “to trust” or “have faith,” and in Scripture repentance and faith always go together. You cannot repent without believing, and you cannot believe without repenting. They are like two sides of the same coin, and you cannot have one without the other. True repentance is “believing repentance,” and true faith is “repentant faith.”

And so Jesus says repent and believe the good news. Believe that the time has come. Believe that the kingdom of God is near. Believe that God is about to fulfill all his promises. Repent, and believe the good news.

II. Jesus’ call (verses 16-17)

Now in the next verses, the scene shifts to the Sea of Galilee. Look at verse 16: “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.” (Mark 1:16) Although we call it a sea, the Sea of Galilee is really an inland lake. The Jordan River flows through it from the north to the south. The lake is about 12 miles long and 7 miles wide. It is located in the Jordan Rift Valley about 700 feet below sea level. In Jesus’ day it was famous for its fishing, and many small towns and fishing villages dotted its shores.

As Jesus walks beside the Sea of Galilee, he sees Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake. These were casting nets. They were circular nets up to twenty feet in diameter with stone weights attached all around the circumference of the net. You would cast the net out on the water, the weights would sink, and then you would pull the net back in with an attached rope that would draw the net together catching any fish in its path. Mark tells us that Simon and Andrew were both fishermen, and so I am sure they were quite expert at this.

And as Jesus walks up and sees them casting their net into the lake, he issues his call to them: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)

    A. Come, follow me.

Jesus’ call had two parts to it, and the first part was, “Come, follow me.” Now this was different from the rabbis of Jesus’ day. The rabbis also had followers, but a rabbi didn’t call followers to himself. You went to the rabbi and asked if you could be one of his disciples, and then he either let you or he did not. Also, when you became a disciple of a rabbi, you did not follow him personally, but rather you studied under him. In other words, you were not following him so much as you were following his interpretation of the law.

But when Jesus called the disciples, he called them to follow him. This was not a call to follow a religion or a set of teachings or a way of life, but a call to follow a person. And this is still true today. Christianity is primarily about a person – the person of Jesus Christ. Yes, the Bible contains plenty of teaching and instruction for life, but none of that matters apart from the person of Jesus. If you take Jesus away, you do not have Christianity. Christianity means first and foremost following Jesus.

You might wonder, what does it mean to follow Jesus? For the disciples, it was very clear. Jesus was right there, and it meant you followed him around. Where he walked, you walked. Where he went, you went. So what does it mean to follow Jesus today?

Following Jesus is not the same as Twitter. Twitter is a service that allows you to “follow” other people online as they post brief messages throughout the day (similar to Facebook status updates). It is a relatively simple and painfree way to keep up with friends, relatives, or business associates. Following Jesus does not mean simply keeping up with him or checking in on him periodically.

Rather, the call to follow Jesus is the call to discipleship. It means that you put Jesus first, that you give him your complete loyalty, obedience and trust. Just as the disciples left everything to follow Christ, you re-orient your entire life around Jesus. He is your Master; he is your Lord; and he calls you to follow him.

“Come, follow me.” (Mark 1:17) It is a simple, absolute call. There is no wiggle room; there are no other parameters. You are either a follower of Jesus or you are not.

    B. I will make you fishers of men.

That was the first part of the call: “Come follow me.” The second part of the call has to do with the reason why Jesus calls you to follow him. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17) In other words, when Jesus calls you, he not only wants your loyalty and trust, but he wants to change you. He wants to make you into something you were not before. He wants to make you into fishers of men.

Now obviously Jesus used this phrase “fishers of men” with Simon and Andrew because they were fishermen. It was a play on words and a play on their occupation. They were used to catching fish. From now on they would catch men. What was Jesus saying here? The call to follow Jesus includes the call to bring other people to God. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost, and so if you are following him, you will join him in this all important task.

This idea of catching or winning other people for God was not a foreign concept to the disciples. Proverbs 11:30 says, “He who wins souls is wise.” The book of Daniel says, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3) God’s people have always been called to lead others to God. Jesus calls you to follow him, so that you may extend the call to others

Jesus’ first and last commands to his disciples both had to do with witnessing. His first command found here in Mark is “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” His last command in Acts 1:8 was: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus’ call to Simon and Andrew is the same call he issues to you today. He calls you to follow him personally, and when you do, he promises to change you; he will make you to become fishers of men.

    III. Our appropriate response (verses 18-20)

If that’s the call, then what should be our response to Jesus’ call? Mark presents the disciples’ response in a positive light as something that we should follow in our own lives. Basically, their response was two-fold.

    A. Immediate obedience to Jesus’ call

First, they immediately obeyed Jesus’ call. Look at verse 18: “At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mark 1:18) Now that is awesome. “At once they left their nets and followed him.” Remember, Mark said that when Jesus saw them they were casting their net into the lake. You almost get the impression that they didn’t even take the time to pull the net back in. They cast their net into the ocean; Jesus calls them; they leave the net, fish and all, and immediately begin following Jesus.

Notice that this is how we should respond to Jesus. But the truth is we don’t always do this. More often than not we take a long time to come to this decision. But let me assure you, every person who has ever come to Christ always wishes they had done it sooner. They always ask, When Jesus calls, it’s time to go. “Why did I wait so long? Why did I keep putting this decision off? Why did I waste so much of my life not knowing and following Jesus Christ?”

Jesus is Lord. He is the King, and the only proper response when Jesus calls you to follow him is to do so immediately. Anything less is sin, but thank God he is gracious to us and patient with us, even in our sin of delaying to follow Christ when he calls.

    B. Leave everything else behind

Not only did the disciples immediately respond in obedience to Jesus’ call. They left everything behind to do it. Look at verses 19-20: “When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” (Mark 1:19-20)

Jesus, now followed by Simon and Andrew, walks a little further on down the shore and he sees James and John. They are in a boat with their father preparing their nets for the next round of fishing. Jesus calls them, and they leave everything behind to follow him. Simon and Andrew left their nets behind. James and John left their nets, they left the boat, they left the family business, and they even left their father in order to follow Jesus.

Does Jesus always call us away from our possessions, our occupation or our family? No, but he does call us to follow him without hesitation or reservation, which means we must be willing to leave all those things behind should Jesus so command. Why? Because the time has come. The kingdom of God has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ. We must repent, and believe the good news.

CONCLUSION: This passage of Jesus calling his disciples is a challenging passage to us this morning. It is meant to be. It is meant to challenge you with the message of God’s kingdom, with the call to discipleship, and your appropriate response.

Are you following Jesus? If not, you need to ask yourself, “Am I really a Christian? Am I really saved?” A Christian is someone who follows Jesus. That’s the call. If you are not following Jesus, then what are you doing?

Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17) Jesus calls you to follow him, and in following him you are to bring others along. God’s kingdom is meant to be shared. We need to be wise and looking for opportunities to lead other people to Christ. Is Jesus making you a fisher of men?

The disciples left everything behind in order to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is actually a whole series of leaving things behind. When we first begin to follow Jesus, we leave our old way of life behind, but as we continue to follow, we will have to leave other things behind along the way. What might God be asking you to leave behind? What is standing in the way of you following Jesus today?

The call to follow Jesus is the call to discipleship. Christ is calling you. How will you respond?

© Ray Fowler

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