“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. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
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”.
This is Mark’s description of the calling of Andrew, Peter, James and John. There are 12 disciples, so what about the others? If we read on in Mark and through the other gospels, we can find the accounts of the calling of Matthew (Mark 2, Luke 5, Matthew 9) and Nathaniel and Philip who are both mentioned in John 1. But we do not know how the other 5 of the 12 disciples were first persuaded to follow Jesus. The best we can do is guess. My suspicion is that they had exactly the same ‘call’ as the others. The ‘come follow me’ invitation.
I would posit that the ‘call’, “come, follow me” is the foundation of all discipleship, the root of the call of the disciples and this is the first thing we’ll look at.
The second thing we will consider is what Jesus says next: “and I will send you out to fish for people”. There are a couple of aspects to this:
- “fish”: These four disciples were fishermen. So Jesus’ call incorporates who they were, their experiences and their skills.
- “for people”: Their call included an element of engaging with other people.
So, that’s what we will look at this morning:
- for men
When Jesus spoke to them, we read that “at once they left their nets and followed him”. Jesus said, “follow me” and they followed him. Note the ‘at once’ as well. No hesitation, they simply did what he asked.
The primary call to discipleship is not belief, it is not obedience it is to following Jesus. There are over a dozen separate occasions when Jesus says directly to someone ‘follow me’. Some of them are well known (i.e. to the disciples), some not so much:
- a teacher of the law in Matthew 8:22
- a rich man in Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22
- an unnamed man who wanted to bury his father first in Luke 9:59.
Here in Mark 1:16-20, Jesus calls four of the disciples: Peter, Andrew, James and John. These four all left their place immediately and followed Jesus. The same thing happens when Jesus cals Levi (Matthew). Matthew 9:9 describes it like this “as Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him”.
The gospels do go on to develop what discipleship is and it includes:
- belief: “the work of God is this: to believe in the one he sent” (John 6:29); and “you believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1).
- and obedience: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46); John 15:10 “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love”, and 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command”.
But fundamentally, being a disciple is all about following Jesus. Jesus calls himself the good shepherd, and on two occasions he reminds his hearers that sheep follow their shepherd:
- John 10:2-4 “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice”.
- John 10:27 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”.
He says: John 12:25-26 “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me”.
Jesus connects following him with sacrifice, specifically the cross. We must remember that at this point Jesus us still with the disciples, so He hasn’t yet given us his example to follow, and the significance of the cross is not apparent to his disciples:
- Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”.
- Mark 8:34 “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”.
- Luke 9:23 “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”.
- Luke 14:27 “whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”.
In Matthew 10:38 Jesus says this: Matthew 10:38 “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me”.
Being a Christian includes belief and obedience, but the crucial thing is that our faith is about following our master, following our shepherd. I am not a Christian because I believe in Him, I am a Christian because I FOLLOW him.
I am going to next think about the fishing promise Jesus made to Peter and Andrew (I’ll make you fishers of men). But you might be surprised to hear that I’m not going to talk about evangelism. Not for this point anyway.
What I am going to talk about is the fact that these men were already fishermen. My point being, God will frequently use who we already are for His glory.
When he was faced with the prospect of going up against Goliath, David is taken into Saul’s tent. Saul gives him his own armour to wear. you can read the account in 1 Samuel 17:38-40
Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.
“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
Did you pick up on that? David tried on Saul’s armour and realised immediately that he isn’t Saul and can’t use his armour. We cannot become someone else to do the work God has given us to do. We must be who WE are, we must know our own strengths and weaknesses and we must allow God to work through them.
David knew who he was – a shepherd who protected his sheep from bear and lion, he knew how to fight with the weapons of the shepherd, not the weapons of the king. He used sling and stone, not armour and sword. God gave him the victory – as a shepherd.
Paul was a pharisee, a leader and a teacher. And although he was itinerant and someone who planted churches and proclaimed the gospel, I don’t think it is any surprise that much of the most significant teaching we have in the Bible is found in his letters. Paul is responsible for 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament: over 1/4 of its content.
If we can understand and know who we are, our gift, and strengths and weaknesses. If we then submit them to God and allow Him to use us according to His purposes, we will be much more successful and much more fulfilled as Christians.
So, what sort of things am I talking about?
personality – quiet and shy people are unlikely to be comfortable in front of an audience. They are much more likely to be fulfilled serving in the unnoticed places (which, incidentally, are the places that God notices and esteems.
talents – a talented linguist? perhaps using your skills to translate or proclaim the Bible to people in a mother land. musically gifted? perhaps leading people in sung worship. ability to present truths in an accessible way? a teacher. notice those who are unnoticed, or an ability to see when someone is hiding pain of some description? Pastor material I think. I could go on, but you get he point.
experience – sometimes our experience trains us to be effective in ways we haven’t imagined. Was David a shepherd because he was the best at it? or because he was the youngest (I suggest to you it was the latter). Would it have occurred to him that his experience chasing wild animals off the sheep would train him for defeating Goliath? Sometimes we go through experiences and we have no idea why. Consider that perhaps, just perhaps, God is giving us our experiences for a reason.
gifts – What I mean by gifts are the specific talents and abilities that God gifts us with. We do have the lists of gifts in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4, but there are other gifts not found in those lists which God gives to people.
So, for example God gives certain instructions to Moses about the work in the temple in Exodus 31:1-6. Make a particular point of noting why the people who are to be appointed as craftsmen are skilled enough: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you”.
It is at least possible that you have a particular skill because it has been given to you by God.
At the very least, don’t fall into the trap which I’ve raged on about before of believing that it’s only God calling you if you don’t want to do it. I believe your skills, your gifts, your experience, and your personality are all indicators as to the likely calling of God on your life.
Fishing is a parable of the mission of God for the Disciples, the calling, and description, ‘fishers of men’ gives us a clear image about what the mission of God is for the disciples (and for us).
There are not many analogies in the Bible about fish and fishing. Except for the call of the disciples, there are neither the Gospel accounts nor writings in the letters, not prophetic words. There is nothing else in the Bible which reinforces this analogy of fishing with the proclamation of the Gospel.
But we cannot get away from this analogy because it seems so significant. It is after all the first reference in the gospels to Jesus giving the Disciples a commission to go and gather people to God.
Fishing as the disciples knew it was not the kind of fishing we recognise today. Most people think of someone on a riverbank or lakeside with a rod and line, but this kind of fishing was very much more like the trawler fishing we see in the open sea. It was fishing with nets.
Just some things ….
We need to know where the fish are. Whether it is with rod and line, or with nets, we can’t catch fish if they’re not there. Likewise, we can’t hope to ‘catch’ people for the gospel if they’re not there. We must go where the fish are. What that looks like for each Christian and for each church will depend on all sorts of factors, especially skills and gifts and personality.
There will be times when we catch nothing. In both the Biblical occasions, the disciples had caught nothing. Let’s not forget that whilst if we go where Jesus calls us to go, we can expect some form of catch, we must beware of judging every time we don’t receive a response as an occasion when we’re not following the Lord’s guidance.
Fishing is hard work. Often with unsociable hours. Fishing requires us to make all sorts of sacrifices to get the best catch. Stuart, some years ago, Wendy’s brother Stuart, spent a year or so on a boat going out of Newlyn, and he had to get up early, work hard all day and come home late at night. It was not an easy life. Neither is fishing for men.
Having said that, Biblically fishing involved boats and nets, there are a couple of things we can pick up from rod and line fishing …
We must understand the fish. Our technique will change according to the fish we are going after. Will use different techniques and different bait to fish for tench than I will to fish for trout. They live in different environments, and they feed in different ways and find different foods attractive. A key to catching fish is to target and fish FOR a specific species, and to tailor your technique to that species.
Fishing requires patience, hours can be spent reading the water, the weather and finding the right spot and bait. It is not simply a question of throwing a line in the water and pulling out a fish.
If we are called to be fishers of men as the disciples were, then let’s take this calling seriously and get fishing!
We are on a rescue mission. Although the gospel will have many benefits, our focus must always be on people and on proclaiming how they can achieve peace with God.
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).
When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the tear in the relationship between man and God affected all people everywhere. Fishing for men is part of our response to that. It is rescuing people from the effects of the fall.
We read in 2 Peter 3:9 that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”. and 1 Timothy 2:4-6 puts it this way, Paul says that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people”.
In Titus, Paul writes that “the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11).
There is a saying. Not sure where it came from, but it is true nevertheless:
“There are many who love things and use people. The best amongst us love people and use things”.
Always prioritise people. If you take nothing away from this morning take that away. The heart of anything is found in its people. That’s where the life is, it’s where the hope is, it’s where the future is.
Without people, even the greatest castle will become a ruin, a playground will become a wasteland. When I worked as a surveyor I had to go into and survey and measure places which relied on crowds for their atmosphere. If you’ve ever been in a nightclub during the day, you’ll know they are awful, dingy places to be in. Without people even the most prosperous business will fail.
And for sure, without people, the church will die (although without people, church is unnecessary).
This is interesting, as it is very common to put a great emphasis on one’s ‘testimony’. One’s story about becoming a Christian. We can even go on courses or buy books which train us in the most effective way to present your testimony effectively.
most tell us we should follow this basic sequence:
- my empty life before Christ
- meeting Christ and hearing the gospel
- making a decision to become a Christian
- my full life since becoming a Christian
I lived for many years with a sense that I don’t really ‘have’ a testimony. I’d read a number of books written by people recounting what their lives were like and how they had become Christians. The most well-known I guess would be the one by Nick Cruz who had been a violent gang member in New York and had become a Christian under the ministry of David Wilkerson. The book was titled Run, Baby Run and his story was turned into a film. My point is this, like many people, I didn’t have that kind of experience. I was never a drug addict, or a criminal. I didn’t live a sinful life, and it seemed to me that my testimony had no real evangelistic value. In fact I’d sometimes dream about becoming sinful so that I could be saved and forgiven by Jesus and then I would have a testimony to tell. I would suggest that for lots of people would express similar feelings.
I wonder what the testimony of the disciples would have been. With Peter, we have more details about his calling. Luke pads out the interaction between Peter and Jesus with the reporting of the putting down of the nets.
But bluntly, even given this extra information, the basic testimony of the disciples would’ I think be something along the lines of “I met Jesus, he called me to follow Him and I followed Him”.
as Alexander the meerkat would say …. “simples!”
My point here is that becoming a Christian is very, very, simple. You don’t have to have had a sinful lifestyle to be saved from. All you have to do is make a decision to follow Jesus.