The First Followers

Mark 1:16-19

 

Whether or not we realize it, so much of life is all about people.  Whether or not we want to admit it, it’s people that make the world go ‘round.

Of course, people get to us.  Too much of people can cause us strife and frustration.

We all need those moments of quiet—those moments to be alone with our thoughts and alone with our God.

But such needs must be balanced by the reality of the people around us—and our need for regular human contact and relationships.

 

I’ve heard of ministers quoted as saying, “Ministry would be great, if not for the people.”  That’s a pretty silly thing to say.

In fact, that could be a very hurtful—and even stupid—thing to say.  Ministry would not exist without people.  Ministry is people.

Jesus most certainly knew that during His earthly ministry.  He, without question, was a master at investing in people.

We’ve talked at length this year about what the beginnings of His earthly ministry were like.  We talked about His miracles.

Those most certainly involved people.  Often they involved Jesus bringing healing to people, improving their circumstances, or even making them alive again.

We also talked about His preaching and teaching.  Once again, we see very clearly that this involved other people.  He was constantly surrounded by crowds.

Many people heard His words.  Whether or not they were listening is a different story.  But Jesus definitely taught the people.

A large part of His mission involved opening people’s eyes to the God who is there, who is at work all around them.

 

But here’s the thing about miracles and sermons.  A person can perform and deliver those things without actually investing in the recipients.

If I had the power to heal—and you were in need of healing—I could bring that healing to you without knowing anything about you, even so much as your name.

If I wanted to teach a class or deliver a message to a group of people, there is no prerequisite for knowing the background and circumstances of my audience.

Now Jesus, of course, did know the people who He healed and taught.  He was God’s Son.  He created them.  He most definitely knew them.

But the fact of the matter is this.  As I said a moment ago, miracles and sermons don’t require an investment in the people involved.

 

And yet, very early on in His ministry, Jesus let it be known that He would without question be investing in people.

We will get into the “how” and the “why” of His investment a little bit later on.  But, for now, I’d like us to take a look at this group of men known as “disciples”.

Later on, they came to be known as “apostles”.  There were twelve of them, chosen by Jesus.  We are going to look at His selection of some of them, from Mark 1.

You’re welcome to turn there as we continue discussing this band of misfits, so to speak.  They came from different walks of life.

Some of them have trades.  We know for sure there were fishermen and tax collectors.  One of them was Jesus’ betrayer.

I speak, of course, of Judas Iscariot.  Traitor or not, he was still chosen by Jesus.

Later on, in the book of Acts, he would be replaced.  The remaining eleven cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias to take Judas’ place.

Those probably weren’t the hardest shoes to fill.  Just don’t, for thirty pieces of silver, turn over the Savior of the world to folks who’d have Him executed.

Succeed in that, and you’ve already got a leg up on Judas.  The rest of these disciples were better than that, but by no means perfect.

They had shining moments, but also had moments to hide in the shadows.  But however we want to categorize them, one thing is clear.

For roughly three years, they walked and talked with the Savior.  They ate at the same table and slept in the same house as God the Son.

They learned.  They grew.  They fell.  They got back up again.  And Jesus led them all the way, much as a shepherd leads his sheep.

He invested in them.  Let’s take a look at how that process got its start.  I’ll begin with verse sixteen of Mark, chapter one.  (Read Mark 1:16-19.)

 

In John’s gospel, we see the public ministry of Jesus kicked off with the miracle of turning water into wine.

Last week, we talked about Jesus kicking things off in His hometown with a rather moving and controversial sermon, found early in the gospel of Matthew.

This came shortly after the Spirit anointed Him at His baptism, preparing Him for what was in store in the coming days, months, and years.

Now, in Mark’s gospel, we see His earthly ministry inaugurated in a different way.

It happens when He calls some fishermen to follow Him.  Which of these events—miracle, sermon, calling—came first isn’t really the point here.

In fact, each gospel writer is making his own point.  Mark seems to be indicating that Jesus didn’t plan to go it alone.  He had lessons to teach and a legacy to hand down.

 

So what are we to make of these fishermen—Simon and his brother, Andrew, along with Zebedee’s two sons, James and John?

Some might say this was a continuation of God’s typical practice, choosing the lowliest of the low to do great and mighty things.

But, while fishing might not appear to be the most glamorous career to us, it was a thriving industry in that day.

In his commentary on the gospel of Mark, James Edwards points this out, citing that there were no fewer than sixteen bustling ports on the Sea of Galilee.

That sea—more of a lake, really—was where Jesus found these four fishermen.  There were towns along this lake that were even named for this fishing industry.

Some of these towns are even mentioned in scripture, including Bethsaida—which means “house of the fisher”—and Magdala—which means “fish tower”.

 

The Sea of Galilee was a body of water praised for its pure water, its beautiful scenery, and its plentiful fish of all varieties.

Therefore, its fish were sought after throughout the Greco-Roman world.  Edwards puts it this way:

“That fishermen in Galilee competed in the larger Mediterranean market testifies to their skill, prosperity, and ingenuity—and probably to their command of Greek, which was the international language of business and culture.  The fishermen whom Jesus called were scarcely indigent day laborers.  In order to survive in their market league, they needed to be—and doubtlessly were—shrewd and successful businessmen.”

 

What does all this mean?  Well, it means that these were no “nobodies”.  While they might not have been famous, they were likely good at what they did.

They likely made a fair amount of money.  This sort of occupation was no minimum wage work.  There’s every reason to believe they were successful.

The notion that these men enjoyed comfortable lives is not out of the question at all.

This gives new perspective and puts new emphasis on the call of Jesus Christ.  He walks up to these men, as they are in their boats, and calls out, “Come, follow Me!”

 

Jesus, who was so often referred to as “Teacher” or “Rabbi”, is carrying Himself in very “un-rabbi-like” fashion.  What do I mean by this?

First of all, in Jewish culture, rabbis did not pursue followers, whom they might then mentor or teach.  The student initiated the relationship.

Furthermore, such students didn’t necessarily pledge themselves to the rabbi whom they approached.  They pledged themselves to knowing the scriptures—the Torah.

But, in the case of Jesus, He initiated everything.  And His call was not to follow a teaching or a path, as we read so much in the OT and as was common in that culture.

His call was to follow a person—namely, Him.  This is a rare, frightening, and wonderful concept.  It’s rare because there was little cultural precedent.

It’s wonderful because we know the results, after the fact.  It’s frightening because of what is required of these fishermen.

 

First of all, the gospel of John seems to indicate that these men knew at least something about Jesus before this moment.

They had encountered Him or heard of Him beforehand.  The same was perhaps true of Levi, the tax collector, who we read about earlier in the service.

But, even still, this was a dramatic call from someone who, albeit captivating and seemingly supernatural, was still nothing more than an acquaintance.

This call is frightening because Jesus is calling them to leave behind something significant.  As we said, they made a solid living from their fishing.

What’s more, as we read throughout the gospels, these men were required to sacrifice more than jobs and money.

This call to follow Jesus also led them to make great sacrifices in regard to family.

This is no, “Hey, come check this out for a minute!”  This is, “Hey, come learn from Me, be a part of what I’m doing, and carry it on after I leave.”

 

Of course, this call included more than those three words, “Come, follow Me.”  Jesus said also, “I will make you fishers of men.”

Once again, we see the concept of people coming to the forefront.  A fisherman catches fish and dramatically alters the animal’s life forever.

Those fish lose life as they know it.  They lose freedom, belonging to somebody now.

They are at the mercy of their new owners, used as the new owners see fit.  And Jesus makes a comparison between this and what they will do with people.

They will now fish for people.  They will invite people to lose life, as they know it.  They will invite people to sacrifice themselves and to entrust themselves to Jesus.

They will invite people to be used by God, and to find the unlimited mercy, grace, and love, found only in Jesus Christ.

 

In truth, the literal reading of this call from Jesus is that He will make them become fishers of men.  This will be a process.  These men will have to go through the fire.

They will learn from Jesus’ words, even when they are difficult to understand.  They will watch how He does things, and see how they can apply that to their lives.

They will rejoice when He rejoices and suffer when He suffers.  It’s a costly call.  They are commanded to change allegiances.  Furthermore, there will be very little immediate, tangible results or benefits.  The call is a call to a process.

The same is true of us and our call to salvation.  I would love to tell you that, once I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, that everything changed.

I’d love to tell you that all bad habits and sinful behaviors ceased.  I’d love to tell you that all my passions and all my attention were immediately directed toward Jesus.

But I’m still in process.  He’s not done with me yet, and thankfully He hasn’t given up.  Jesus is inviting these men to a process of radical life change.

 

We know that this is a radical life change by the way Mark communicates the responses of these men.  Peter and Andrew left their nets behind.

James and John left their father in the boat, along with the hired men.  Levi left his tax collector’s booth.

The Samaritan woman at the well, from the fourth chapter of the gospel of John, left behind her water jug.

Now, tell me, what’s inherently wrong with fishing nets and family and workstations and water jugs?  Of course, the answer is, “Nothing.”

 

But these material things symbolize greater concepts, especially in regard to the individuals involved in the scriptures.

These specific material things can became bad, harmful, idolatrous objects.

If you can’t leave the net, it means you can’t leave the comfort and security of your career and your earnings.

If you can’t leave your father, it means you can’t leave other relationships that may very well hold you back.

If you can’t leave your workstation, it means you can’t leave behind the dishonest gain that gave you so much profit and so much material gain.

If you can’t leave your water jug, it means you can’t leave your old way of life—your old sinful life.

We don’t have the stories of the other seven disciples.  We have only this brief account of these five men.  I’d love to know the other stories.

I’d especially love to know about the calling of Judas.  But all we know is that Jesus chose and called these twelve.

And we know that they, with varying degrees of understanding and commitment, answered the call.  They were a small band of followers.

Others were obviously around Jesus.  He was always surrounded by crowds.  But these twelve held a special place.

Even within the twelve, three men—Peter, James, and John—held even closer fellowship with Jesus.  So we see that Jesus started small.

Obviously, the kingdom grew exponentially, but it all began right here, with these “disciples”, as they came to be known.

 

Based on that small group—especially small in proportion to the larger crowds that gathered around Jesus—we might be inclined to fall into misunderstanding.

Perhaps only a select few, throughout the history of God’s kingdom on earth, will be designated as disciples.  Perhaps Jesus will have throngs of followers.

But only a few will have the sort of intimacy that these twelve experienced.  We must remember, however, that Jesus called these twelve to fish for men.

Later, He would call these twelve to “go and make disciples”.  They were not to fish for men simply to add to the growing number of converts.

They were to fish for men, with the express purpose of making disciples.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is the call to all of us.

He may have specifically called those twelve, but those twelve were to invite others.

And those were to invite others.  And on and on it goes throughout the ages.  And the call is the same today:  “Come follow Me, and I’ll make you become fishers of men.

 

The disciples failed—regularly.  They even failed after Jesus’ resurrection.  Failure did not disqualify them.  And we, too, will fail.  You already have.  So have I.

But our failure does not mean that God’s Kingdom has failed.  His kingdom cannot fail, because it is led by the power of His Holy Spirit—God the Spirit.

The possibility of failure is just another one of those excuses we fashion to keep Jesus at a distance—and ourselves from becoming disciples.

 

Here’s the thing I need you to know and to hear this morning.  And here’s the thing—at least, this is what I think—about Jesus’ mission and ministry on earth.

The same call rests on each one of us.  We are called to follow Him.  We are not called to live a certain way.  Maybe you are a good husband or wife.

Maybe you are a great mother or father to your children.  Maybe you have been a hard-working, dedicated employee or businessperson.

Maybe you have been an upstanding, moral member of society.  Maybe you have been charitable and generous in your lifestyle.

Jesus didn’t call you to follow that path of life.  He called you to follow Him.  As the disciples followed Him, they learned something about their lifestyles.

Their moral standing, their money earned, their solid family relationships, and good intentions meant nothing.  It was all just window dressing.

And the same is true with all our achievements.  Deep within us is a spiritual bankruptcy, a festering selfishness that infiltrates every corner of our being.

Often, our good deeds and stellar behavior is nothing more than a selfish play to curry favor with God, to achieve certain spiritual benefits.

But Jesus never called folks to allegiance to a moral code.  It was always—and always will be—about allegiance to Him and knowing Him personally.

 

A disciple always leaves something behind.  It may be a person.  It may be a place.  It may be a thing.  It doesn’t matter what it is.

If you call yourself a follower of Jesus—yet following Him meant leaving nothing of your life before Him behind—something doesn’t fit.

Volumes and volumes of biblical evidence indicate that this isn’t possible.  Jesus is not an amicable addition to your own way of life.

He didn’t join them in their boats and then instruct them.  Being a disciple involves sacrifice.  If no sacrifice has been made, then no discipleship can exist.

 

And finally, Jesus has made it at least a little bit easier on us.  He could have called those first disciples from His home in heaven.

Even after coming to the earth, He could have called them in the middle of a church service—you know, the Temple or a synagogue.

Instead, He came right where they lived and worked.  He came to the shore.  He came to the boats.  He came to the office.

Right where everyday life happened, He beckoned, “Come and take my yoke upon you.  My yoke is easy and My burden is light.  Learn from Me and follow Me.”

 

And you might say, “That’s all well and good, but He’s in heaven now.  When has He come to me, right where I live and work?”

And that’s where these “fishers of men” come into play.  Upon leaving, He sent down the Holy Spirit of God—the Comforter, Instructor, and Encourager.

He came to dwell within Jesus followers, reminding them of everything He taught them.  He led them to bring the presence of God to all they encountered.

Christ, through that Spirit, is very present within each of His followers.  So when has Jesus come to you, where you live and work?

It happens every time a follower of Christ invited you to come experience something different, something better.

It happens every time a follower of Christ invites you to come experience Jesus—to come and follow Him.  Perhaps, it’s even happening right now.

 

Is it time for something new?  Is it time for a change?  Is it time for you to answer Jesus’ call?  Is it time for His reign to take hold within your life?

You respond, as you feel led.  (Pray.)