Christ Calls Us to Be Fishers of Men
A sermon based on Mark 1:16-20
Sunday, January 22, 2012 – Epiphany 3B
My dad used to own ¼ of a fishing boat that was docked in the Puget Sound in Seattle. And on that ¼ of a boat (really, on the whole thing, just ¼ as often) Dad used to take my brother and I fishing quite often. Armed with rods, fish finders, drinks and snacks, we were in pursuit of the elusive king salmon. We didn't always catch something, but we did always end up having a good time either way and a lot of memories were made even if we came back empty handed.
But that wasn't the case with Peter, Andrew, James and John. They weren't hobby fishermen, but professionals. Which meant that, a) they were probably a whole lot better than my dad, my brother and me, and, b) if they didn't catch something that day, they were in a lot of trouble. They had nothing to sell in the market which meant they had nothing to eat.
On one particularly bad morning, when they were skunked, catching nothing after fishing all night, they suddenly had quite the change of luck. Though they hadn't caught anything all day, with the right tip (a divine tip from Jesus) they caught so many fish the nets broke. That's in Luke's version of the events that day.
But this morning we'll take a look at Mark's account of that day, which leaves out the catch of fish. He focuses on the greater blessing of the disciples—not the great number of fish they caught, but how Jesus caught them. He called them to be his disciples. And that meant that he called them to a life of total commitment. But it also meant that he called them to a life of glorious service.
Listen now to Mark's account of The Calling of the First Disciples and hear how Jesus calls us to be his disciples; his fishers of men. Mark 1:16-20 reads…
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. 17 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
I. He Calls for a Life of Total Commitment
In John's gospel, we find out that these men already had become Jesus disciples in the sense that they were believers. They believed that he was the Messiah, the one promised throughout the Old Testament, the one to whom John the Baptist had been pointing. But now, Jesus takes that discipleship one step further. Now he calls for a career change. And it wasn't an easy change to make.
Pay attention to the details. In verse 20 Mark points out what James and John left to become Jesus disciples. It says, "…they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him." We don't know about Simon and Andrew, but James and John were in the family business, "Zebedee and Sons Fishing Co." And it seems their business had been doing pretty well too since Zebedee was able to afford hired men. James and John had great jobs, were making a decent living, got to work with their dad, and could look forward to taking over the family business one day soon. But now, they gave it all up.
James and John gave up the wealth, they gave up the financial security, they gave up their family and left it all behind. And we can imagine that Peter and Andrew gave up similar comforts and blessings to make Jesus their number one priority. But why? What would cause them to throw away everything they'd worked for? Why would they abandon their plans, their familiar environment, their comfort zone, to travel along the Galilean countryside?
And without hesitation too! "18 At once they left their nets and followed him." And "Without delay… they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him." What could make them respond so suddenly, so decisively, so quickly?!
Well, I'll tell you what I don't think it was first. I don't think it was because these men were better educated than most, that they could recognize the true Messiah when others couldn't. I don't think it was because they were more spiritual or pious, the rest of the gospels rule that out. I don't think they left because they had an adventurous spirit that wanted to see the rest of the Promised Land. They seem rather timid at times. In fact, I don't think it was anything in them.
While these men did leave everything behind to follow Jesus, don't praise the disciples for such sacrifice and obedience. Instead, praise God. For it was his Word, the gracious call he gave to become his disciples, that moved the disciples to respond the way they did.
Though they had already met Jesus before and believed the truth that he was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, now they had an opportunity to follow Jesus around and learn what exactly that meant. They had the opportunity to watch Jesus drive out demons, heal incurable diseases, raise the dead to life, and countless other displays of his divinity first hand.
They were privileged to hear Jesus himself preach the good news of God—the best sermons ever! What a wonderful opportunity they had! And it was all by God's grace.
When most disciples chose the Rabbi they would follow, the Rabbi Jesus chose the disciples that would follow him. Just like we heard last week with Philip and Nathanael, he took the initiative, not the other way around. He called them. He enlisted them to follow him and learn from him over the next exciting and unforgettable three years of their lives and forever. That gracious call he extended moved them to respond… at once… without delay.
It's understandable that Mark leaves the miraculous catch of fish out of his version of The Calling of the First Disciples because the faith that Jesus created in his disciples—a faith that took everything in their lives and put it all underneath Jesus in their list of priorities—that faith that Jesus created is by far the greatest miracle that took place that day.
Now how about us? Are we really any different than Peter, Andrew, James and John? We too were once minding our own business, looking only to our own interests, mending our nets, caught up in the shuffle of the day to day, destined for eternal destruction. But in his grace, God acted. He chose us. He took the initiative. He called us. And he took up his net and caught us.
But Jesus idea of fishing for us was like catch and release. He didn't catch us to gut us and throw us in a cooler, but to set us free. But not like when fishermen catch a fish and throw it back in the water. God didn't throw us back where we came from. He caught us by creating faith in our hearts—faith in Jesus' death on the cross in our place—faith that releases us from our sins. So now we're released from the guilt we feel because of our sins. We're released from the eternal death in hell as a result of our sins. And we're released from the despair of wondering how we can ever do enough to make God love us. We have true freedom because Jesus caught us and released us.
In light of such grace God has shown us then, we, like the disciples, can't help but respond. We can't help but gladly and eagerly put everything in our lives underneath Jesus on our list of priorities. We can't help but gladly and eagerly giving up every comfort, luxury and security of this life in order to follow him. We'll gladly give back to God our wealth, giving not just 10% to the offering plate, but 100% in service to God. We'll gladly give back to God our time, serving him not just once in a while when we're asked to volunteer, but every day, all the time, using every opportunity to express our thanks and praise to him. We'll gladly use all the blessings God's given us to thank him for the greater blessings of forgiveness, life, heaven itself. Or else, we'll leave it all behind. And when we do, what a glorious life that is…
II. He Calls for a Life of Glorious Service
Now, when Jesus called the disciples to leave everything behind, everything they had grown to love, he wasn't calling them to a life of poverty and gloom. He wasn't calling them to a life of monasticism, where they were to try to eliminate every source of joy in their lives. No, he was calling them to experience some of the greatest joy they would ever know in a life of glorious service…
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. 17 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."
Jesus called the disciples to a career change. These men who were formerly fishermen would take part in the exciting work of being men-fishers.
A friends of mine did something similar. He's a second-career pastor who was a lawyer for quite some time before he decided to become a pastor. When I first found out, I jokingly said, "Boy, the two careers you've had seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. From telling lies to telling the truth. But seriously, that's quite a carreer change. How have you been able to make the transition?"
He didn't get mad, but patiently replied, "Well, it really hasn't been that hard at all. I used to work with the written word of the law, which can't be changed, only interpreted. It was my job to understand that law to arrive at the truth. Then I would stand up in front of an audience and try to convince them of the truth that would save a man from prison.
"Now I work with the written Word of God, which can't be changed, only interpreted. It's my job to first understand that Word for myself to arrive at the truth and then to stand up in front of an audience to try to convince them of the truth that would save them all. So, really, it's been a pretty easy career change."
And it may have been an easy career change for the disciples too. They needed courage, persistence, hard work and determination, they needed the ability to think on their feet and quickly adapt to their environment, and they especially needed patience as fishermen—all useful qualities to have as men-fishers. But finally, they didn't need to worry about what skills they did or didn't have because it wasn't up to them. Jesus promised them they would have the skills they would need. He told them, "I will make you fishers of men."
And what exciting work it was for the disciples! Luke tells us that after some of Jesus disciples returned from a mission trip they were thrilled at the opportunities they had. "Lord," they said, "even the demons submit to us in your name!" (cf. Luke 10:17) They had the opportunity to see hardened hearts soften and turn to Jesus in repentance and trust. They had the opportunity to see people come to faith, escape and eternity of torment to find Jesus and an eternity of glory! And not only did they get to see these things, but they got to be a part of it!
And dear friends, so do we! God calls us to the same glorious life of service. He doesn't leave us here on earth after we come to faith so we can just sit around and enjoy ourselves. If that were the case, why not take us to heaven where we'd enjoy ourselves a whole lot more? No. He leaves us here with work to do. We are to be his fishers of men. Jesus addressed not just the twelve, but all disciples of all time, when he gave the Great Commission to "go and make disciples of all nations…" And we get to be a part of God's exciting work!
Now that it may take patience, like when my dad took us fishing out on Puget Sound. Often we would sit on the boat for hours on end without a single bite. But Dad would always reminds us, "Boys, that's they call it fishing, not catching." It might take that sort of patience as we fish for people too. We won't always have hundreds of visitors waiting in line to sign up for the Bible information class. We won't always get the one we were after, that we thought we had on the hook and almost into the boat. We might have a bad day or week or year, and say with Peter, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything." (Luke 5:5a)
But, thankfully, it's not up to us. Jesus promises us that we have all that we need to carry out his work. He tells us, "I will make you fishers of men." And because Jesus doesn't call the qualified, but instead qualifies the called, we can also say with Peter, "But because you say so, I will let down the nets." (Luke 5:5b)
And really, God does all the hard work anyway. We get the easy part. One of things I used to hate about actually catching a fish (which thankfully didn't happen too often) was Dad's rule "You catch it; you clean it." But with God it's different. One of Dad's T-shirt he'd wear fishing read something like, "Jesus' Fishing Charters—You catch 'em, he'll clean 'em." We simply throw the bait out there by sharing the message of Jesus life and death in our place. He'll reel 'em in. He'll take 'em off the hook and he'll do the cleaning.
Just like he cleansed us of all of our sins by his blood, shed for us on the cross, he'll clean them too. He did the hard work of going to hell in our and their place. He does the hard work of bringing us and them to faith in him. He will take away their every sin by that faith. And having been cleaned by God, they too will have heaven awaiting them.
Not only do we get the opportunity to see hardened hearts soften and turn to Jesus in repentance and trust, not only do we get the opportunity to see people come to faith, escape and eternity of torment to find Jesus and an eternity of glory, but we also get to be a part of it! Thanks be to God for calling us to be fishers of men! How exciting! What a glorious life! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen!