Fishers of Men – Mark 1:14-20
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be one under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we’re going to be in Mark 1, this morning.
For the past couple of weeks we have been going through our sermon series on the Gospel According to Mark, looking at this picture of Jesus as the Suffering Saviour and Conquering King.
Last week, we looked at how Jesus is shown to be the perfectly obedient Son of God through His baptism and His temptation, and how, through faith in Jesus, we can be well-pleasing in the sight of our heavenly Father. As we saw last week, this is where Jesus meets us, but this is not where Jesus leaves us.
And so, this morning, we are going to look at what Jesus calls His followers to, because it’s not simply that we have been saved from a life of sin and death, but that we have been called to a life of following Jesus. We have been called to go where Jesus would have us go and do what Jesus would have us do.
A few months ago, I read a book by J. Mack Stiles called, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus. I have currently lent the book out, but I will pass it on to anyone who wants to read it when I get it back, because I thought it was an excellent explanation of evangelism and how to create a culture of evangelism in the church.
But what really struck me was actually what was written in the forward of the book. If you normally don’t do a lot of reading, the forward is written by someone other than the author of the book, who has had some interaction with the author. And the forward for this book was written by author and pastor David Platt.
And if you know anything about David Platt, you know that he is very mission-minded and evangelistic in his preaching and his life. But here is what David Platt writes in the forward of this book that I wanted to share with us, this morning:
I remember the first time I met Mack Stiles. We were speaking at a conference together in the United States, and while I and other conference speakers spent most of our time talking with each other, Mack was rarely to be found among us. I wondered why not, until I discovered that Mack was spending most of his time talking about Jesus with the people who worked behind the scenes at the facility where the conference was being held. From that first interaction with this brother, I knew I had much to learn from him.
Not long thereafter, I had the privilege of being overseas in the location where Mack leads a ministry to college students and serves as one of the elders of a church. I was preaching at the church one morning, and after I finished, Mack started introducing me to all sorts of people. Here's the general gist of how those conversations went (though I've changed the names).
“Hi, my name is Abdul,” one man said to me. “I grew up as a Muslim, but a couple of years ago, God graciously saved me from my sins and myself through Christ.”
“That's wonderful,” I responded. “How did you hear the gospel?” “Through my friendship with Mack,” Abdul said. “He asked me one day if I wanted to read through the Gospel of Mark with him. I told him I was willing, and within a few months, the Holy Spirit had opened my heart to believe.”
Then I turned to another man, who introduced himself. “Hey, I'm Rajesh. I was a Hindu all my life until someone invited me to this church. I didn't know anything about Christianity until I got here, but Mack and others started meeting with me and showing me who Christ is and what Christ has done. I was overwhelmed, and after exploring all sorts of questions that I had with Mack, I trusted in Christ for my salvation.”
Behind Abdul and Rajesh was Matthew. Matthew said to me: “I grew up a nominal Christian devoid of any relationship with Christ, but last year God opened my eyes to what faith in Christ truly means. I repented of my sins and believed in him.”
“Let me guess,” I said. “Mack led you to Christ, right?” “No,” Matthew said. “Abdul and Rajesh did. They spent hours with me in Scripture, showing me what it means to follow Christ.” Then Matthew asked me: “Can I introduce you to Stephen? He's a friend of mine who is exploring Christianity right now, and he came with me to the church gathering this morning.”
These conversations went on and on with person after person. I stood literally amazed by the grace of God, not just upon one Christian passionate about sharing the gospel, but upon an entire community passionate about sharing the gospel. Platt goes on to say that what he observed was “a culture of evangelism that is built on people filled with the power of God's Spirit proclaiming the gospel of God's grace in the context of their everyday lives and relationships.”
Doesn’t that sound like an incredible ministry? But notice how it started: It started with one follower of Jesus asking another guy to read through Scripture with him, in this case, it was the Gospel of Mark. And from there, the Holy Spirit does the work of exposing him to his need for God, and he ends up believing in Jesus.
And then, he goes and takes the gospel to another guy, and they read through Scripture together and discuss what it means to follow Jesus. And then, that guy believes, and he goes and takes the gospel to someone else, and he does the same thing. And it’s this continuous cycle of people reading the Scriptures, being changed by God’s Holy Spirit, and going and doing the same thing with others.
This is what we should desire to see in this church. The church is where we are growing together in following Jesus, and then taking that to those who don’t know Jesus. One of the reasons why I chose to preach through Mark was so that we could study it together as a church and then take it to study with someone else.
If we are followers of Jesus, this is where Jesus is going to confront us, as we move into the next passage in Mark. This morning, we are going to look at how the mission of disciples of Jesus is to make disciples of Jesus.
Let’s read Mark 1:14-20. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’ 16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”
Right after the baptism and temptation of Jesus, we are told that John the Baptist is arrested and Jesus begins proclaiming the gospel of God.
Now, if you were here two weeks ago, when we looked at the definition of gospel in Mark 1:1, you would remember that the word “gospel” literally means, “good news.” When Mark writes that this is “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” he is saying that Jesus is the good news that has finally come.
But notice that Mark writes that Jesus came “proclaiming the gospel of God” after “John was arrested.” The two events don’t seem to go together. It certainly doesn’t seem like what John is experiencing is “good news.” It actually sounds like bad news for John. And so, we’re all wondering about the potentially poor timing of Jesus’ message.
But look at what Mark is doing here. Mark is showing us that the gospel is proclaimed and believed in adversity and suffering, not in ease and comfort.
For example, on September 16, 2001, the following Sunday after 9-11, churches overflowed with distraught visitors. At Redeemer Presbyterian Church, in New York City, the ordinary attendance of 2,800 ballooned to 5,400. That’s almost double their average Sunday morning attendance.
Tim Keller, who is the pastor, said that the morning service was so full that he had to tell people to come back and they would have another service right after that one. And they have had a second service at their church ever since.
The reality is that when life is going well, we don’t think we need God. We don’t think we need a Saviour from our sins when we think we have everything we need. But when tragedy strikes, or when we are confronted with human frailty, or when we realize that we don’t actually have everything under our control, then we are made keenly aware of our need for God.
And so, Mark is showing us that the gospel is proclaimed and believed in adversity and suffering, not in ease and comfort. The fact that John is arrested is all the more reason to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, because it means that there is hope in adversity and suffering, where there is no need for hope in ease and comfort. John now had something to grab hold of, and that was that Jesus had come “proclaiming the gospel of God.”
And look at the message of Jesus—the first words of Jesus in Mark. In verse 15, Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
A really simple message. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth are the words that Jesus says the most. If I were to ask you what Jesus talks about the most in the Gospels, you might say money or love or hell, but Jesus actually talks more about the Kingdom of God than He does about anything else.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” There is something that has been going on, up until now, that has been anticipating this moment. And the time is now fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. In other words, Jesus is saying, “I am what all of history has been waiting for?”
I mean, if Jesus wasn’t God, this would be problematic, but because Jesus is God, He can say this. And because Jesus says this, there is an immediate implication for each one of us.
Remember, the goal of Mark is not that we would know about Jesus really well, but that we would know Jesus and love Jesus and follow Jesus, better. So, this isn’t just good information; this is Jesus demanding a response from us. Jesus is summoning us to “repent and believe in the gospel.”
We discovered two weeks ago that the word, repent, means “to change one’s mind,” or “to go in the opposite direction.”
If you have never heard of Rosaria Butterfield, I encourage you to read her story. Rosaria was an English professor at a small liberal arts college, who hated the way Christians spoke against her beliefs and community. She was living a lesbian lifestyle and was an outspoken feminist, just to give you a sense of who she was.
And she wrote a scathing criticism of one of the local Christian gatherings, and to her surprise, she received a thoughtful and kind reply from Ken Smith, the pastor of Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. Rosaria eventually connected with Ken and his wife, and through her interaction with them and her study of the Bible, Rosaria came to the conviction that God was real and worth believing.
This is what we would call repentance. She made a complete 180 in her life, and as a result, she lost everything — her job, her friends, her students and colleagues’ respect, her partner, and her old life. But what she gained was something much greater than she could have ever imagined.
We need to realize what Jesus is calling us to here. It’s not like Jesus is saying, “Hey, you're basically good, you're heading in the right direction, and you could just use a little tweaking here and there.” No, Jesus is saying, “You're going the wrong way in life. You're not lined up with God’s ways, and in fact, you're going in the wrong direction of God, entirely. You're whole life needs to be reoriented.” That’s the basic understanding of repentance, and it’s what Jesus is calling us to.
And our natural inclination is to say, “I’m not that bad,” or “Doesn’t God love us just as we are?” But bear in mind that God loves us not because of who we are, but because of who He is. And because God is love, He will love us enough to meet us as we are, but He will love us even more than that, in that He won't leave us as we are.
If we want to follow Jesus, there is going to be repentance, there is going to be a change in our lives. But recognize that this is a good thing we get to do. We have the opportunity to repent. The time is fulfilled, where we now have the opportunity, because of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, to repent.
But the thing is, we won't always have this opportunity. The time will come to an end for us. And this is why Jesus, immediately after He begins preaching about the good news of repentance and the Kingdom of God, verse 16 says that He starts calling people to be His disciples.
And I just want to be clear that to be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus. It’s not like average Christians are down here and disciples are the super-spiritual Christians who are up here. If you are not a disciple of Jesus, then you are not a Christian. It means that if you claim to follow Jesus, then you are going to be a disciple of Jesus, learning to obey Jesus.
Look at verse 16. “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”
In this passage, we see two sets of brothers mentioned. And Jesus sees the first set of brothers, Simon and Andrew, and He says to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
Now, what we need to realize is that fishing was not a hobby for these guys. Fishing was their livelihood. They were fishermen. I have fished maybe a handful of times in my life, so I don’t exactly have a lot of experience when it comes to fishing. I don’t have a problem with going out on the water, and even gutting the fish doesn’t bother me. Fishing just hasn’t been something high on my to-do list.
But here, these guys are at work, they're in the middle of making a living, and a pretty good one at that. In the first century, fishing was a thriving industry on the Sea of Galilee. Fish was the staple food of the Greco-Roman world. It was even exported from there to other countries. So, fishermen would have needed to be shrewd and successful businessmen.
And here, Jesus comes along and says to them, “Follow me.” And it’s not like Jesus is saying, “Hey, when you're ready, or when it’s convenient for you, I have something for you to consider.” No, Jesus is saying, “Come to me, now, because I have good news to give to the whole world.”
And notice that Jesus isn’t asking them to do anything before they become disciples. It’s not like they need to have a certain level of knowledge, like a video game, where you get to a certain level and now you're a disciple. No, Jesus is simply asking them to follow Him. “Don’t follow a set of beliefs. Follow Me.”
And what will happen if they follow Jesus? Because Jesus is asking them to stop what they're doing in order to follow Him, so what's the end result? Jesus says, “And I will make you become fishers of men.”
And that’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? We can easily get this image in our heads of Simon and Andrew with their fishing poles and nets, fishing for people. But the imagery that Jesus uses isn’t too far off.
You see, what we’re doing when we’re sharing the good news about Jesus with other people is we’re trying to rescue from something into something much better. It’s like everyone is drowning in the ocean, and Jesus is, one-by-one, fishing them out of the water and bringing them into the boat.
This is not going to be easy. Those of you who like to fish know that fishing takes time. The fish aren’t exactly trying to help you catch them. They're not telling you where to drop your hook. And it’s the same way with fishing for men. People are not going to think that they are in need of saving. They are going to be antagonistic to being saved. And this is going to make fishing for men, difficult.
But notice who it is who make us fishers of men. Jesus says, “I will make you become fishers of men.” In God’s economy, there is no room for pride when it comes to sharing the gospel with people. There is no room for any one of us to think highly of our ability to “fish for men,” because who ultimately fits us for the task? Jesus does.
This also gets rid of any excuse of ours to sit out on evangelism. It’s not like we can say that it’s not our gifting. It’s not like we can say that we’re not suited to advance the Kingdom of God in this way, so we’ll just leave it for the Billy Grahams and the J. Mack Stiles of the world.
No, that’s not what we see here. Instead, it’s Jesus who makes us become fishers of men. And if we are disciples of Jesus, then we are committed to Jesus and to His work of calling people to repent and believe in the gospel of God. This isn’t about us; it’s about the Kingdom work that followers of Jesus are called to.
Look at the response of Simon and Andrew, in verse 18. It says “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” As abrupt as Jesus’ call to follow Him, was the response of the first disciples to drop their nets, their livelihood, to do what Jesus called them to do. It doesn’t seem like a good business move, but it’s their obedience to Jesus that we should admire.
In verse 19, we are introduced to another set of fishermen brothers. It says, “And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”
Typically, during this time, your work life and your family life were the same thing. If you were a fisherman, it was because your family was a line of fishermen. You simply did what your parents did. Mark is showing us the gravity of Jesus’ call.
Just to put this into perspective: Ellwood and Fred, this would be like Scott and David, leaving their combines in the field, and packing up their families to take the gospel to unreached people groups in Papua New Guinea. This wasn’t the kind of thing that you just did.
But notice that Jesus isn’t telling them to ditch their work and their families and their commitments to follow Him, because after Jesus died, these four would once again go back to their fishing nets, so they clearly still had them.
What Mark is saying here is that following Jesus means that Jesus comes first and everything else comes second. When my dad was called by God to pastoral ministry, he sold all of his tools. He was a framer for over 10 years and owned a couple of businesses. But he sold all of that, so that he wouldn’t have an easy out, if things got hard. He didn’t need to sell it all, but he wanted to.
Following Jesus means that Jesus comes first and everything else comes second. And if there is someone or something in our lives that is taking first place and it isn’t Jesus, then we need to evaluate the benefit of that person or thing.
You see, Christianity isn’t this cool addition to our lives like a “Jesus fish” bumper sticker. It’s not like we can have our life with a little bit of Jesus on the side. No, when we decide to follow Jesus, we see everything through the paradigm of: Is this helping me follow Jesus?
When it comes to whether something is a sin or not, is it helping me follow Jesus? When it comes to our work and whether or not we take Sundays off, is it helping me follow Jesus? When it comes to our families and our friends and what we do in our off time, is it helping me follow Jesus? Because if it’s not helping me follow Jesus, it might be an indication that something needs to change.
And our first response is often to give Jesus a certain portion of our life, but no more than that. Like, Jesus can have my family life and my work life, but my private life is off limits. He can have this part of my life, but my finances, or my relationships, or my future goals, or whatever it might be, I’m going to hold back from Jesus and keep for myself.
But the thing is, Jesus doesn’t want our 95%. He wants all of us. And we might be parading that 95%, like, “Look at what I'm giving to Jesus.” But Jesus is like, “What about that part of you life? Don’t I get that too?”
I read this quote this week. It said, “Disciples are not those who simply fill pews at worship, fill out pledge cards, attend an occasional Bible study, and offer to help out in the work of the church now and then. They are not merely eavesdroppers and onlookers. When one is hooked by Jesus, one’s whole life and purpose in life are transformed.”
And that’s it, isn’t it? When we come to grips with the gospel—that Jesus came to this world, and He lived the perfect, sinless life that we were unable to live, and He would bear our sins on that cross, and He would die, and He would come back to life in victory over sin and death, so that we could be pulled out of the water that we were drowning in—we are not the same. We cannot be the same.
And if you are here right now, and you have never put your faith in this Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, there is still time to repent and believe in the gospel. But that time is running out. Don’t put it off any longer. Come and follow Jesus.
The call to follow Jesus is put out to each one of us. How we respond to His call will determine whether we believe Jesus to be the good news or whether we are holding out for something or someone greater. The choice is in front of us, but make no mistake, we must make a decision. We cannot put it off any longer. We can no longer stand on the fence with half of us on the world’s side and half of us on God’s side. The call to discipleship requires an immediate response.
Now, maybe there are some of us here who think they are too messy or too broken, and that they need to clean up a bit before God will accept them. Maybe you want to give yourself over to King Jesus, but you are afraid of what He’s going to see when He opens the door?
I get that. None of us are perfect. We aren’t going to get this right all the time. But don’t you think that Jesus already knows where you're at? Don’t you think that Jesus knows what's behind that door? Because He does. And not only does He already know you at the deepest level of intimacy that anyone can be known, because He created you, but He still wants you for Himself.
Jesus didn’t tell the disciples, “You need to get your act together before you can come follow me. There's a process. First, you need to do this, and then this, and then this, and then you can follow me.” No, Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
There’s nothing we can do that will make that happen, but rather, it’s what Jesus has already done. And when we choose to follow Jesus He will make us become what we were always intended to be.
You see, it’s the mission of disciples of Jesus to make disciples of Jesus. We don’t just want to see people saved from sin and death, we want to see them telling other people how to be saved from sin and death.
The only way that we can have the kind of ministry that I spoke about earlier, where people are learning and growing in the Word together and then taking that to other people, is if we respond to Jesus, and go where He would have us go, and say what He would have us say, and do what He would have us do.
Do we want to see that? Do we want to be part of that? Because Jesus is going to the very ends of the earth with the gospel of God, and He wants us to be part of that mission. Are we ready to follow Him where He leads us? Are we willing to submit to the Suffering Saviour and Conquering King, Jesus Christ? Let’s pray…