A Unique Calling
Good morning and welcome to Dishman Baptist Church.
I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men. I will make you fishers of men if you follow me.
This is a familiar chorus that many of us probably sang in Sunday School. We may have even cut out little fishing poles and little fish or men and run around with them for an hour or so after church until the string broke. This morning we have the distinct privilege of looking at the passage where both the song and the craft come from. What I expect that we’re going to find though is that the point of that passage is not necessarily for each of us to be fishers of men. An interesting observation emerged as I studied this passage this week - this specific phraseology “fishers of men” is only used once in the entire New Testament - well it is used twice, once in Matthew 4:19-22 and in our passage this morning - but each of these passages relates the same story. In no other call that Jesus issues does He ever use the phrase “fishers of men” again. My observation is that this phrase that we so key in on is an individual call for just these men at this time because it was a calling they could relate to.
So what is Christ saying to each of us through this passage this morning? Let’s open our Bibles to Mark 1 and read verses 16-20 and then we’ll dig in and explore what His message is for us.
As he passed alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. “Follow me,” Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat putting their nets in order. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Just to catch us up to where we are - after being baptized by John in the wilderness and the coronation that took place there, Christ went into the desert to be tempted by Satan. Following that, in Mark’s account, He makes His public coming out in Galilee with a message that involved both repentance and belief. The events that we just read are going to expand and explain the extent of what Christ meant by His message.
Mark writes that as Jesus passed alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting a net into the sea - for they were fishermen. Let’s camp out there for a few minutes. The sea of Galilee is not a sea by the classic definition but rather is a large inland lake that is formed by the runoff from Mt. Hermon. We live in a rich region for lakes and many of them are fed the same way that Galilee is. The lake measured around 13-14 miles in length and was 7-8 miles wide. By comparison Lake Coeur D’Alene measures 25 miles in length and around 3 miles wide. The closest lake that I could find that would compare to Galilee is Bear Lake on the Idaho-Utah border which is around 18 miles long and 8 miles wide. Geographically the sea sits 690 feet below sea level and is nestled in a valley between mountain ranges that rise to the east some 4000 feet and to the west 2000. The lake was well known for it’s temperamental climate as cold air and hot air frequently clashed resulting in violent storms such as we will see later in Mark in chapter 4.
The semitropical climate was also favorable for the growth and development of many species of fish, some sources say up to 18 different species, with three that fed a bustling fishing industry. There were sardines, probably the source of the two small fish for the feeding of the 5000, a fish called barbels and a form of tilapia known as a musht or more commonly now known as St. Peter’s fish.
This industry supported more than sixteen ports and thousands of families around its shores. The region was so fertile that it is referred to by the Jewish historian Josephus as a place in which “nature had taken pride.” The fishing industry shipped their catches all across the ancient Mediterranean basin.
Now as interesting as all that might be to a select few in the congregation who are fishermen, there are a few points here. The first is that sometimes we sell these particular disciples short saying they were dull or maybe not the brightest individuals. Their endeavors were most likely not simply subsistence fishing - but instead competitive in a bustling market that involved discipline, determination and some measure of intelligence.
Their labor was intensely physical in nature. The fishing that Peter and Andrew are engaged in involves casting a circular net approximately 20 feet in diameter with heavy bars of metal and rocks attached to the edges. After being flung the net would spread out and then sink trapping fish underneath and the fisherman would either swim down to the bottom to gather the weights together or drawing the net tight by a cord attached to the net.
The second point I want you to notice this morning is the verb saw. From information later in the passage regarding James and John putting their nets in order - a phrase that points to the idea that they were preparing their nets for that days labors - this event most likely took place in the morning or possibly early afternoon. There is Biblical evidence to suggest that much of the fishing life involved all night endeavors to catch fish. Whether it was morning or afternoon, the shoreline would have been full of men starting their daily labors and Christ walks past all of them to select these four.
There is Biblical information that tells us that this is not the first meeting between Christ and these men. Andrew was with John the Baptist as one of his disciples when Christ came to be baptized. It was the following day when John looked up and saw Christ and told his disciples the He was “the Lamb of God”. Andrew then went and found Peter and brought him to Christ. So we know that they had already had some exposure to Christ and to His teaching. What had transpired between Christ’s baptism and John’s arrest is not entirely clear. Six months had passed between His baptism and His proclamations in Galilee. Involved in that time was His temptation, Christ’s initial ministry in Jerusalem and transit back through Samaria. We know there were some disciples with Him during that trip because John tells us in John 4 that His disciples had gone into town to buy something to eat when Christ encounters the woman at the well.
So what had happened that had separated Christ from these men and why they had returned to fishing is a bit unknown. One thing we do know is that this was their standard default. Whenever something seemed to be going different than what they expected it seems they returned back to their old life. We see it here at the beginning of Christ’s ministry and we see it again at the end. Following Christ’s crucifixion when the disciples finally left Jerusalem to go to Galilee as Christ had commanded them, the disciples find themselves in familiar territory and they do what comes natural to them when they’re not really sure what the next step is.
“I’m going fishing,” Simon Peter said to them. “We’re coming with you,” they told him. They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
It is significant I think that in our text this morning Christ calls the disciples to follow Him and during the events that John recounts after Christ appears on shore and the disciples join Him for the best fish breakfast ever that Jesus goes through the process of restoring Peter following his denials during Christ’s trial before crucifixion. And so at the beginning and the end of Christ’s ministry He has to call them and get them moving again. This is a great encouragement to us today as we often will relapse into what is familiar and comfortable when it comes to our discipleship with Christ. But just as with these disciples, when He calls us we are to drop our nets or whatever we have retreated to that is safe and comfortable and immediately follow Him.
Christ’s call to these disciples and to us this morning involves three components that we can see demonstrated for us in this text - first He calls them from something, second He calls them to something and finally He expects them to do something. For the rest of our time together this morning I want to explore these three facets first in the lives of Peter, Andrew, James and John and secondly in our own lives.
Because you see - this command “Follow Me” is not one that can be simply glossed over. It wasn’t a timid request but instead it was an authoritative command that carries the same weight as a military order. In and of itself this command is striking - it belies a status and authority that enables the issuer to deliver such a command. Christ was not just another prophet or rabbi or scribe. He was in fact God and had the authority to call men to follow Him. Prophets never called men to follow them but instead pointed them to follow God. The rabbis and scribes of Jesus day didn’t call men to follow them but to rather subscribe to a particular teaching or philosophy of the Torah that had been handed down to them and that they were handing down to others. In fact rabbis did not seek out their disciples, their disciples sought them. So this calling of Christ to these men was significantly different on several levels.
Peter and Andrew, James and John had a relatively decent life going for themselves. We’ll learn later in Mark that Peter is married and has a home. He worked hard at fishing, ran his kids around to the first century equivalent of soccer and karate. His brother Andrew was close by and often, following a long night out on the water they may have gotten together and hung out discussing local politics or the price fluctuations of fish. They had ties to the local synagogue but, with Greek names, they were probably only occasional attenders. Andrew had a brush with a more serious religious life recently when he’d heard about a man down south who was baptizing and calling people to repentance. Andrew had sought him out and surprisingly been accepted as one of his disciples. They had both had an encounter with a man name Jesus but now life was returning back to normal and their fishing business was continuing on as normal.
Just down the street the brothers James and John worked hard to manage the business their father was training them to take over one day. In the Jewish community it was incumbent upon the father or patriarch of a family to pass on three things to their children - a working knowledge of the Torah, in the history of the Hebrew nation and a trade. He was also required to find his son a wife and teaching him to swim.
And one day into all of this relative normalcy a man comes walking down the sea shore and changes their very lives with two words - Follow Me. And immediately the men dropped not simply their nets but their very livelihood, their family dynamics and everything to follow this man.
I can only imagine the conversations that took place in Peter’s household when he informed his wife of what he was planning. And there was no consultation - no family meetings. Christ called and they went. The remarkableness of this entire event is demonstrated for us at the end of John 6. Jesus popular ministry was taking a beating as people were turning back and not continuing to follow Him. He turns to the disciples and asks “You don’t want to go away too, do you?”
Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
This calling may have been revolutionary for its time - but it isn’t unusual when the whole Biblical corpus is taken into account. Throughout the Bible we are presented a consistent picture of men and women obediently responding to the call of God. We are also consistently presented with a picture that true discipleship requires sacrifice.
Noah responded to God’s call to build the ark when he had never even seen rain with faith that what God had said would happen would come to pass but it cost him his reputation.
Abram was called at the age of 75 to leave his homeland and become a nomad following only the command of God but leaving behind his family, their gods and his home.
Moses left behind the opulent lifestyle of Pharaoh’s palace to be with the people of his birth, and even rejection by them at his initial attempts to become their leader.
David was called off of the farm and the life of a shepherd and called to become king.
The entire passage of Hebrews 11 demonstrates this principle for us.
The consistent picture of Scripture is that discipleship requires sacrifice.
Then there are more modern examples in the stories of men like William Borden and Jim Elliot.
In 1904 William Borden graduated from a Chicago high school. As heir to the Borden family fortune, he was already wealthy. For his high school graduation present, his parents gave 16-year-old Borden a trip around the world. As the young man traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he felt a growing burden for the world's hurting people. Finally, Bill Borden wrote home about his "desire to be a missionary."
One friend expressed disbelief that Bill was "throwing himself away as a missionary."
A story often associated with Borden says that, in response, he wrote two words in the back of his Bible: "No reserves."
Even though young Borden was wealthy, he arrived on the campus of Yale University in 1905 trying to look like just one more freshman. Very quickly, however, Borden's classmates noticed something unusual about him and it wasn't that he had lots of money. One of them wrote: "He came to college far ahead, spiritually, of any of us. He had already given his heart in full surrender to Christ and had really done it. We who were his classmates learned to lean on him and find in him a strength that was solid as a rock, just because of this settled purpose and consecration."
During his college years, Bill Borden made an entry in his personal journal that defined what his classmates were seeing in him. That entry said simply: "Say 'no' to self and 'yes' to Jesus every time."3
Borden's first disappointment at Yale came when the university president spoke in a convocation about the students' need of "having a fixed purpose." After that speech, Borden wrote: "He neglected to say what our purpose should be, and where we should get the ability to persevere and the strength to resist temptations."4Surveying the Yale faculty and much of the student body, Borden lamented what he saw as the end result of an empty, humanistic philosophy: moral weakness and sin-ruined lives.
During his first semester at Yale, Borden started something that would transform campus life. One of his friends described how it began: "It was well on in the first term when Bill and I began to pray together in the morning before breakfast. I cannot say positively whose suggestion it was, but I feel sure it must have originated with Bill. We had been meeting only a short time when a third student joined us and soon after a fourth. The time was spent in prayer after a brief reading of Scripture. Bill's handling of Scripture was helpful. . . . He would read to us from the Bible, show us something that God had promised and then proceed to claim the promise with assurance."5
Borden's small morning prayer group gave birth to a movement that soon spread across the campus. By the end of his first year, 150 freshman were meeting weekly for Bible study and prayer. By the time Bill Borden was a senior, one thousand of Yale's 1,300 students were meeting in such groups.
Borden made it his habit to seek out the most "incorrigible" students and try to bring them to salvation. "In his sophomore year we organized Bible study groups and divided up the class of 300 or more, each man interested taking a certain number, so that all might, if possible, be reached. The names were gone over one by one, and the question asked, 'Who will take this person?' When it came to someone thought to be a hard proposition, there would be an ominous pause. Nobody wanted the responsibility. Then Bill's voice would be heard, 'Put him down to me.'6
Borden's outreach ministry was not confined to the Yale campus. He cared about widows and orphans and the disabled. He rescued drunks from the streets of New Haven. To try to rehabilitate them, he founded the Yale Hope Mission. One of Bill Borden's friends wrote that he "might often be found in the lower parts of the city at night, on the street, in a cheap lodging house or some restaurant to which he had taken a poor hungry fellow to feed him, seeking to lead men to Christ."7
Borden's missionary call narrowed to the Muslim Kansu people in China. Once he fixed his eyes on that goal, Borden never wavered. He also challenged his classmates to consider missionary service. One of them said of him: "He certainly was one of the strongest characters I have ever known, and he put backbone into the rest of us at college. There was real iron in him, and I always felt he was of the stuff martyrs were made of, and heroic missionaries of more modern times."8
Although he was a millionaire, Bill seemed to "realize always that he must be about his Father's business, and not wasting time in the pursuit of amusement."9Although Borden refused to join a fraternity, "he did more with his classmates in his senior year than ever before." He presided over the huge student missionary conference held at Yale and served as president of the honor society Phi Beta Kappa.
Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high-paying job offers. It has been reported that in his Bible, Bill Borden wrote two more words: "No retreats."
William Borden went on to do graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. When he finished his studies at Princeton, he sailed for China. Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead.
When the news of William Whiting Borden's death was cabled back to the U.S., the story was carried by nearly every American newspaper. "A wave of sorrow went round the world . . . Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice" wrote Mary Taylor in her introduction to his biography.10
Was Borden's untimely death a waste? Not in God's perspective. As the story has it, prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in the back of his Bible. Underneath the words "No reserves" and "No retreats," he is reported to have written: "No regrets."
Now it may not be to the mission field - Christ may not be calling you to give up your career or your family but there is something that He desires from you that will require sacrifice. One of the components of American Christianity is that we have just added salvation to our lives and we have avoided the discipleship component. We’re saved and we’re good so in some cases there is nothing further required of us. But that is not the picture that we are given any where in Scripture. We are called out of a life of sin but we are also called to so much more than just that.
And this should not be a difficult concept for us if we remember, as the missionary Jim Elliot used to say
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
The words “Follow Me” were not simply a call away from something for the disciples - they were a call to something as well. And as I’ve already said these words were in the form of a military command that were to be obeyed without question. Christ doesn’t merely stand at the door and knock - when He calls us to a life of discipleship He blows the door off of its hinges and commands you to follow Him. For the disciples on the banks of the Sea of Galilee there was no debate or option - they dropped their nets and followed Christ. We have a clear picture of what the life of a disciple in the first century looked like. But what about now - what about in the 21st century. Every single one of the disciples with the exception of John did follow their Master all the way to a martyrs death.
There is no such thing as a part-time disciple. I’ve already said this once - but it seems in American Christianity that we’ve simply added Christianity to the lives we already have and nothing really has to change. We still go about our normal daily activities and as long as we make it to church most Sundays we’re good. But that is not the life that Christ called these disciples to and it’s not the life He is calling us to either. He is calling for every aspect of our lives to be a model of Him. There are no bench seats in the Christian life and there really aren’t time outs either.
All of which is nice but what does following Christ look like? Is there really a formula for everyone? If you take Bible study + church attendance + x + Y you’ll get a mature Christian. Well, yes and no. I was at a lunch recently with several of the pastors from around the Spokane area and one of them made this wise statement.
“Every single aspect of the Christian life needs to be discipled.”
And that means everything. We should be walking with people through their education choices, through job transitions, through marriages and babies as well as how to study a Bible passage, how to evangelize and how to pray. This Christian life that we’re called to is so revolutionary that every aspect of our being is changed and we need to learn how to live in a new lifestyle. But what a new lifestyle it is - it is one of immense gain and only a little loss. Too often Christianity is viewed as the religion of loss - loss of freedom and loss of fun. But there is so much that we have gained. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it this way
“ Do not think of what you have to leave; there is nothing in that. Do not think of the losses, do not think of the sacrifices and sufferings. These terms should not be used; you lose nothing, but you gain everything. Look at Him, follow Him, and realise that ultimately you are going to be with Him, and to look into His blessed face and enjoy Him to all eternity.”
But there is also a danger in this for each of us as we fall to our natural tendencies of wanting to accomplish something and so the Christian life becomes a list of things we have to accomplish to keep ourselves saved because we forget the words that Christ used in this passage - not Follow the system or Follow the Law but Follow Me. We are called to emulate a person. And it is having our desires molded from thinking that church and the Christian faith are something that has been simply added onto the life we were already living - minus the sins we lived in previously - to genuinely desiring to be with one another more and to grow from one another and support one another as we each move down the road toward maturity and Christ-likeness. I listened to a sermon recently from a pastor named Mike Fabarez and at one point in the sermon he was talking about people’s interactions with the church and one lady said to him “I don’t understand why you have added all these programs and nights for us to be at the church - it’s just too much.” And his response was both pastoral and wonderful. He said something to the effect of “I wish you were here more - we are the body of Christ and I wish we were together more. If I could schedule something here every night I would.”
When Christ issues His command to us to follow Me - it is not a part time commitment that we can fulfill when our schedules allow but instead it is a full life change, it is a paradigm shift from a life that is lived facing inwardly to one that is lived looking outwardly and otherly - and most primarily it is a life transformed from living a human existence in this world to one that is a spiritual existence passing through this world. And it is also one that requires something of us.
When Christ issued His command to the disciples to follow Him, He followed it with the words that all of us are very familiar with “and I will make you fish for people.” At the beginning of this message I said that those words were specific for Peter and Andrew and James and John as well (although there is no Biblical account of Christ using the exact same words for them). In no other issuance of a call to Follow Me was this same phraseology recorded. And so I say that this phrase was specific to the four men in this call. Now understand that I am not letting any of you off the hook for evangelism because there are plenty of texts that tell us that evangelism is every Christian’s responsibility.
What I do contend is that each of us receives an individual calling or gifting for service in our own way. Christ calls us to Follow Him not simply for our own benefit but also for the benefit of others. The follow on portion of these men’s calling lets us know that they weren’t just going to be grown into mature followers of Christ without having a service expected of them. And we have the same expectations on each of us who have submitted to Christ’s call to repent and believe and to follow Him. The sad thing is that in our modern iteration of church this doesn’t always get demonstrated. One of the challenges in the mega-church era is how to engage our people in a lifestyle of service to the church. In large churches and small churches alike this challenge is ever present.
It seems you have three categories of people when it comes to service. You have those who are like Barnabas - who are always looking for how they can bless the church whether it is with time, finances or bringing someone like Saul or Mark to help with service. And those who fit that characterization hear a sermon portion like this and they are cut to the heart because they don’t think they’re doing enough and wondering how they can do more.
Then there are those like Timothy. Their conversion experience took place, they were commissioned for service by Christ and they took off with fire in their bones. But after awhile whether through lack of acknowledgement or lack of appreciation or just general wear and tear, that fire has dimmed and now they’re out of service and they don’t realize that there is still more for them to do. They’ve become timid or unwilling - depending on what led to them stepping aside - and they simply need to seek Christ and remember the call that initially brought them to the faith - that call to follow Him for the fire of service to be reignited in them.
And then there are those, and thankfully these are generally few in number, like Ananias and Sapphira. Those who only serve when there is a chance to be seen and recognized. Who try to look like they are accomplishing much but really are holding back all that they could be doing and instead only appearing to serve. They want the recognition without the sacrifice and they aren’t truly following the path and model of discipleship that Christ has given.
The fact is that no matter what congregation size you have there will be people in all of those categories. And the hard thing is that it is only the Spirit who can convict those who are in the latter two conditions of where they are and then start to move them back to a true life of discipleship that seeks to be a model of Christ. And really there are times when all of us fall into any one of those categories and we have to examine ourselves the way Paul encourages the believers in Corinth to do to see if we are still in the faith and that what we submitted to is not even a what but instead the we have submitted to Christ and that we have left everything to follow Him.
We’re about to come to the table for communion - a time for believers to commemorate what Christ has done for us on the cross. A time traditionally when disciples have taken the time to recommit themselves to service and to following Christ. It could be this morning that there are some here who have been worn out and had their fire quenched by circumstances and so have stepped away from the life of discipleship that Christ has called us to. Or maybe you came to Christ as an addition to the life you already had, substituting His provision of salvation and even calling Him your Lord for the sins that used to control your life, but have never fully submitted to what it means to truly follow Him and have Him provide an entirely new life for you. Peter didn’t leave his wife - we know that from writings of Paul that said that Peter took his wife along with him during ministry - so this isn’t a call to lose the life you have but instead it is a call to have you priorities changed so that the single most important factor in your life is your discipleship to Christ. Or maybe this morning you simply desire to recommit your life to what you have already desired - to continue to see the beauty of Christ as He is grown and magnified in your eyes and heart and that continues to pour out of your life onto the people around you.
Only the Spirit can know your heart this morning. Only He can reveal to you where you stand and only He can help you to make it right. Take a moment, reflect and pray. First and foremost remember that this is a commemoration of what Christ accomplished for us on the cross when He took the penalty for our sins on Himself as He died to provide for our salvation. That we, before we were saved, stood condemned under the just wrath of God for the sins that we committed against Him and that we were powerless to change our condition or fate. That Christ came and lived a perfect life and then willingly gave Himself up to death and punishment for us so that we could be granted peace and forgiveness by His Father through the breaking of His body and the shedding of His blood. And that on the night before He was killed on our behalf that He took the bread and shared it around to His disciples saying that this was a representation of His body which would be broken for them. And then taking a cup He shared it around saying that it was a representation of His blood which would be shed for them. Whenever we come to this table we are to come looking through the lens of the cross to see the beautiful Savior who hung and died there on our behalf, to see the One who has called each of us in His sovereign authority saying Follow Me.