Now we're turning in our Bibles again to Mark's gospel chapter 1 for our eighth study in this series in the gospel, and this morning we want, in the time that we have, to look at verses 16 to 20 under the heading 'The Call to Follow and Fish'.
Verse 16 is where we take up our reading: "Now as he walked", that is, the Lord Jesus, "by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him".
Now last week, if you were with us in the morning, we looked at verses 14 and 15 at the beginning of our Lord's earthly ministry. We saw that the Lord Jesus' task was to preach the Gospel of God, and we had outlined for us the content of that Gospel: repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and His saving message. But the application to what we learned last week was that there is something for God's servant to do - this is the gospel of the suffering Servant and, whilst it outlines the life of our Lord Jesus, it has instruction to give us as servants of our God today. We, too, have something to do. We have a task, and we saw last week that our task is the same as our Saviour's in that we too are to proclaim the Gospel of God, and even though we may not be public preachers, we can gossip the Gospel to those who we come in contact with.
But if we follow our Lord's example we will not just be public proclaimers of the gospel as He was, and as pastors and evangelists, missionaries and preachers are and always have been; but we also will be those who are engaged in personal evangelism. That's what we see this morning from verse 16 to 20; that our Lord was not just used preaching to the great multitude, but He also knew what it was to speak to individuals and to bring very definitely, intimately and personally into their life His claims and His call. We see that in Andrew and Peter's, James and John's experience - but what we're also going to see this morning is not only that there is a responsibility upon us as the servants of God to proclaim the gospel, there's something for us to do, but there is something for the hearers of the word of God and the Gospel to do - that is, obey the word of God. We have a great example of this in the life of Andrew, Peter, James and John as they are called by Christ as His first disciples - how they respond to the call in obedience.
Now let me say: we all, as believers in the Lord Jesus, are called; and we are called not only to be saved, we are called to serve. We will see this morning that we are called to be His disciples. There are many lessons that we're going to learn from Christ's call and from the disciples' response. Let us look first of all at Christ's call - what can we learn from Christ's call? Well, the first thing I want you to note is that it was a gracious call. The Bible says in verse 16 that 'He walked by the sea of Galilee', and He saw them, and then He called to them. Now the first thing that shows us this was a gracious call, I believe, is that He came to where they were. Now first of all He came to them, they did not essentially come to Christ, but He came to them and where they were.
Now the gospel of John tells us that Andrew and Simon had met the Lord Jesus already a few months ago, and in fact they started following Him then at the very outset of His ministry. It was at the baptism of the Lord Jesus by John the Baptist, when He was declared to be the Son of God not only by John's witness of him, but by the Dove coming down, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and by the declaration of the Father from heaven. At that baptism John said: 'Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world', and these two brothers, Peter and Andrew, followed the Lord Jesus, it would seem, from that point on. Now something happened that made them go back to their nets, something that made them pause in their following of Christ. It may have been the arresting of John the Baptist, but now Christ comes to them again where they are, by the sea mending their nets, and He calls them graciously again to permanently follow Him.
Now I fear today that in the church, with evangelistic glasses on, we ask questions that relate to our experience rather than what relates to the experience of those in the Bible. What am I talking about? Well, as soon as I look at this passage, I think to myself: now where were these two chaps saved? Were they saved when they followed Christ at His baptism, and are they now backsliders because they've gone back to their nets? Or are they being called to salvation here? Now let me say that it's not like that, it's not to be viewed in those simple terms. Some people think to themselves: 'Well, they were saved at the first call when Jesus was baptised, and then this second call is for to serve the Lord Jesus in being fishers of men'. Other people say: 'Well, this is not to be seen as a call to service at all'. In fact, one commentator says this: 'It is a mistake to attempt to apply these words to all disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ'. 'This wasn't a call to service', this person is saying, 'this was a call to apostleship - and we, therefore, cannot follow them in this call to be fishers of men'.
Let me say: it is a mistake for all of us not to apply these verses of the Bible to our lives. Often we love wrongly to divide the word of truth, in order to put it into compartments that suit us. Whilst there is a distinct call to serve as an apostle, or a distinct call to serve as a pastor, an elder, a teacher, an evangelist, or a missionary - because those are gifts from God that only He can give - I believe there is no such distinction in Scripture between the call to be saved and the call to serve. You cannot split that one call in two. The call to be saved is the call to serve. The call to be saved is the call to discipleship. We have created, in evangelicalism, language that is unhelpful at times. You, if you're a Christian, are a disciple. The call of Christ in the gospel is not simply a call to get all your sins washed away and get a safe ticket to heaven, it is the call of discipleship.
People ask, even me in my position and others like me: 'When were you called?'. Really I ought to ask the same question back: 'Well, when were you called?' - because we're all called! If we are saved, we are called! Now here's the lesson that I want you to see: He came to them, and Christ is always, constantly, graciously calling us to obedience. He's always asking us to go a little further, and when we go back to our nets or we get distracted by other things, He is constantly coming to us and saying graciously: 'Come on a little farther with Me'. He came to them, but graciously He came to where they were.
Simon and Andrew were working as fishermen on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in other places in the Bible it's called Lake Gennesaret or the Sea of Tiberius. It was an inland sea about 12 miles long, 6 miles wide at its widest point. It was 690 feet deep [below sea level] - now that makes it the deepest freshwater vicinity on the whole of the planet, nowhere else deeper. Many of the towns and fishing villages on its shores, their thriving industry was fish. The waters teemed with life. Josephus, the Jewish historian, who for a time was governor of this Galilee, he states that in his day 330 fishing boats sailed the waters of the lake, and various kinds of fish were taken which are not found elsewhere. Of course, fish was the staple diet of the day. People maybe only ate meat once a week. The fish was mainly salted in order to preserve its long life, and fresh fish was a delicacy in Jerusalem and in places like Rome. But this salt-fish industry, it was big business in Galilee, transporting all this fish to various parts of the empire. Here is James and John, cleansing, mending and folding their nets in preparation for the next night's fishing, and Christ is coming to them where they are, in the midst of their daily occupation, and calling them - not only to salvation, but to service. He's calling them to be disciples!
I wonder has Christ come to you, asking you to follow Him? To follow Him is not just to be saved, it is to serve, it is to continually, constantly in your life go that little bit farther in following Him. It was a gracious call, He came to them, He came to where they were. Here's the second thing: it was a demanding call, 'Come follow Me'. Someone has said that that has the sense of a military command, sharp: 'Follow me!'. To follow Christ is discipleship, to follow Christ is demanding because it means the breaking of all other ties to follow one Master as His servant. If I could put it in our vernacular, like this: it means to drop everything! That's what it is to follow Him.
Now we have invented a gospel - and it is, I believe, a false gospel - that you can be a Christian without being a disciple. I believe the New Testament knows nothing of that. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called that type of doctrine 'Cheap grace'. He knew what he was talking about, of course. He opposed Hitler in the Second World War, and because of his opposition on April 9th 1945 - a month before the Germans surrendered - he was hanged. A little before that in 1937 he wrote a book entitled 'The Cost of Discipleship'. It was a call to a more faithful and radical obedience to Christ, and it was a severe rebuke of comfortable Christianity - much of which, in Germany, it has to be said, was willing to tolerate or even comply with Adolf Hitler. This is what he said in this book 'The Cost of Discipleship': 'Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance. It is baptism without church discipline. It is communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate. The call of Christ on our lives, if we are Christians, is demanding. It is the call to be a disciple. It is the call to follow'.
Are you following? I'm not asking 'Did you ask Jesus into your heart?'. I'm not asking 'Did you sign a decision card, stick your hand in the air, or pray the sinner's prayer?'. I'm not despising those things, but none of those things are mentioned in the Bible - none of them. What is mentioned is that we are to be disciples - that's demanding.
Thirdly, His call not only was gracious, demanding, it was equipping: 'Come after me and I will make you to become fishers of men'. One man has said: 'He commands as God commands. He makes of these fishermen something new'. It has been well said: 'God doesn't call equipped people, He equips people who He calls'. The old puritan put it like this: 'Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks'. Christ calls us as disciples. Yes, it is a demanding call, but it is an equipping call. He doesn't leave us to our own devices to do His work, but He gives us everything we need because Christ makes fishers of men - but let me add this: only Christ makes fishers of men. Education is not to be despised, as often it is in evangelical circles, but education will never make you a fisher of men. Instructional training in a seminary or a college or university will never make you a fisher of men. Seminars and workshops in churches will never make men and women fishers of men and women. Theology will never make you a fisher of men. Someone has put it well: 'The invitation here to the disciples was not, 'I have a theological system which I would like you to investigate, I have certain theories that I would like you to think over, I have an ethical system I would like you to discuss with me'. No, it was 'Come after me! Follow me, and I will make you...''. He's saying: 'Come with me! Learn of me! Enrol in my school, my university, my course of discipleship and I will do it!'.
Can I ask us this morning: are we being discipled by Jesus Christ? Are we? Are we in His school? Are we with the Master, at His feet every day? Are we following His commands in obedience? We become fishers of men by following Christ. Let me add to that: it is not by following our favourite preacher. I heard someone say not so long ago: 'What we need today is to get back to the days of D.L. Moody, we need to get back to W.P. Nicholson's era, or Willie Mullan, we need to reciprocate what they were doing' - that is utter nonsense! These were men of God, yes, but Christ makes fishers of men, and Christ can make us fishers of men if we follow Him! The more we follow Him, the more we will become like Him, the more successful we will be in winning others to Him. Our responsibility is to follow Him, His responsibility is to take care of the rest and make us fishers of men. Perhaps the reason why there is such lack of fruit in my life and yours is because we are following afar off.
He equips, He trains, but at the end of the day we must fish. He makes us fishers of men, but He will not do that apart from us going out with our rod over our shoulder, and going down to the river or the lake. We've got to fish. Christians are to be fishers of men, pastors, evangelists, elders, deacons, church members are to be fishers of men. This title 'fishers of men' is an older title than 'Bishop', 'elder', 'pastor', 'deacon', 'evangelist'. It's the oldest title a disciple ever knew, because it is the primary responsibility of the servant of God to fish men.
There are many lessons in soul-winning from this analogy of fishing, and I haven't got time to go into them all. There is a book published in America called 'The Ultimate Fishing Book' - it's a book on literal fishing, and it says this: 'To be great at fishing you have to fish'. Are you fishing for men? Here's how it goes on: 'And you need to study fish'. Do we study people out in the world to know and understand where they are, where they're coming from, what they need? Then it goes on: 'You need to study fish so much that you mentally enter the great chain of the life of the fish'. That's what Christ did for us! He came to where we were in our flesh, and we need to go to where the fish are! Now fishing is an art, and this is where we start to learn the great wealth of truth that there is in this analogy. Soul-winning is an art - Thomas Boston, the Scottish puritan, wrote a book all about it and entitled it 'The Art of Man Fishing'!
Now here are some similarities between fishing and soul-winning. One: both require patience. They involve lonely hours, at times, waiting. If you're going to win men it's not going to happen overnight at times, there's got to be a lot of work, groundwork, loving, praying, spending, toiling, preaching - patience. Second: skill is also needed. You need to use baits, lure, you need to have nets that are effective in your fishing. We're not talking about gimmickry here, but we're talking of how Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22: 'To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some'. The fish don't jump out of the water and onto the shore! There needs to be skill in knowing what bait to use, what net. Not only is there patience and skill, but there must be discernment. Some people are very unwise in how they go fishing, and great common sense is needed - not only to know who to go to and when to go to them, but to know where the fish are. Skilful fishermen will grow to learn the parts of a lake or a river where the fish go most. Are we going where the fish are? Did you ever hear of a fishing boat that opened up its doors for all the fish to come in, so that they could catch them? No. They go out into the ocean, risking their very lives, to catch a great crop of them.
Discernment is needed, persistence is needed - you don't need to be easily discouraged in the work of fishing for men. You've got to be hard-working and - I stand to be corrected on this point - but I have never seen a lazy man who God called into his service. They were all at their work. Moses was keeping sheep. Gideon was threshing wheat. Elisha was ploughing. The apostles were fishing. They were persistent, hard-working men. Then fifthly - there's patience, skill, discernment, persistence, but there needs to be a quietness. You don't bring your stereo with you when you're going fishing, unless it's a personal one, because you want to avoid disturbances of all kinds. You see even when you're at the shore? You want to be a little bit detracted, away from the water far enough that you are kept out of sight, because you'll frighten the fish away. That's the way we need to be: out of sight, that everyone might see Christ and not us! Warren Wiersbe put it well: ''Fishers of men' in that day was a common description of philosophers and other teachers who captured men's minds through persuasion. They would bait the hook with their teachings, and catch disciples. It is likely that as many as seven of our Lord's disciples were fishermen. Surely the qualities of successful fishermen would make for success in the ministry of winning souls: courage, team work, patience, energy, stamina, faith, tenacity'.
Christ's call is gracious, He comes to us where we are. It is demanding: 'Come follow Me'. It is equipping: 'I will make you fishers of men' - but at the end of the day, we need to fish. But here is the response of the disciples to Christ's call, and there is much to learn from it too. First thing I want you to learn: it was instant. Mark says: 'And immediately they followed Him'. They forsook their nets and followed Him. Now, if that was me or you, we'd be expecting there to be a pause there for a moment as they weighed this thing up and thought about it for a moment. But Mark tells us - probably, remember from our introduction, hearing it first hand from the apostle Peter who is Simon here - that at once, immediately, they followed! Kent Hughes says: 'Christ came with a radical message, and then a radical call, and these four responded in radical obedience' - instant! I wish my obedience was instant - theirs was.
Secondly: it was absolute. Simon and Andrew left their nets. James and John left their nets and their father. So compelling was the call and claim of Christ upon their life, that all prior claims, interests, lost their validity. Picture the scene now, and the impact of it to those men and their families and those around in the village. This little boat is pulled up on the shore of that tranquil lake, and these two strapping brothers, fishers since they were knee-high to their father, leave their aged grey-haired father and step out of the boat; leave their hired servants; leave what was probably a lucrative family business - and they follow Jesus along the shore! They have a new occupation: not catching fish, catching men! Not mending nets, but mending broken lives!
I want to ask you this morning: is Christ calling you? Is He calling you to leave all that you have previously known in order to serve Him? He's calling every Christian to do that, but many don't hear His call. As you see from Simon, Andrew, James and John, though the cost meant a loss of livelihood, loss of family relationships, loss of general reputation in the community; Christ is still calling men and women on the same terms today: to forsake all and to follow Him! 'So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has, cannot be my disciple', Luke 14:33. Whether your pressure to not obey comes from possessions, or from parents, or from some other preventing factor: Christ's call still demands an instant and an absolute response.
By the way - just to remind you - this isn't for the folk that are thinking to be missionaries, pastors, evangelists, teachers. It's not for folk who think they could maybe be a Sunday School teacher in the church, it's for all of you. Thirdly, in the disciples' response we see it was instant, absolute, but also life-changing. It's very humbling and encouraging to know that the first followers of our Lord Jesus Christ were not great people in the eyes of this world. Paul reminded us in 1 Corinthians 1: 'Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty'. They weren't rich, they didn't have rank, they wielded no power, but the kingdom of God is not dependent upon those things. It's not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit saith the Lord - and isn't it wonderful that out of such human weakness, God's strength is made perfect in these humble fishermen, in our experience, if we would only follow Christ and allow Him to make us fishers of men? Second Corinthians 4:7: 'We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us'. First Corinthians 1 again: 'The base things of the world', are what God calls, 'the things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence'.
Whoever you are, whatever you've done, wherever you've been - God can use you, if you would follow and fish! Even the humblest person in our midst, the least gifted, educated - it was George Bernard Shaw that said scathingly: 'I have never had any feeling for the working classes, except a desire to abolish them and replace them with sensible people', nice fellow, wasn't he? Abraham Lincoln said, to the other opposite extreme: 'God must love the common people, He made so many of them' - that's more like the spirit of Christ. He came to these ordinary working class fishermen and called them to be His ambassadors. Now can I ask us, in relation to how we fish: have we lost our affection for the common people who gladly heard our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ? Jesus' vision was: 'Give me twelve ordinary men, and with them - if they give themselves to me - I'll change the world' - and He did.
What you think of me, what I think of you, what we think of others matters little, or what they think of you - all that matters is what Jesus thinks of us, and what He can make of us if we would only but follow Him! Listen to what Kent Hughes - I can't put it in better words, so I'm going to quote him to you - 'The horizon of these fishermen's lives was bound by the margins of Galilee. They knew little more than the deck of their boat, the currents of the lake, and the handful of people in the marketplace. Their conversation consisted of trade talk, local gossip, family affairs, Galilean politics. In a word, they were remarkably provincial, even to the extent of having their own tell-tale accent. Then Christ came, and how their world changed: in place of Galilee came the world. John', here, this John, 'was to become the Bishop of Ephesus! Peter went to Rome, Andrew went as far as Russia! Their hearts were enlarged to take in the whole world! Their minds, once circumscribed and committed to the smallest interests, now overflowed with the deep thoughts - all because of the Gospel'.
Now let's conclude. Someone has well said: 'What every man needs is something in which he can invest his life'. Let us be under no illusion: the Christian is called by Christ to invest his life in discipleship, and discipleship means following, and following means fishing. Don't call yourself a Christian if you're not following - I don't care what you've done, what you've prayed, what you've said! A Christian follows, and a Christian will fish, for He has called us to a task - and in that task those first four disciples and the rest after them spent themselves, burned themselves up, and in the end died fishing for men! They knew the wisdom of Solomon, that 'He that winneth souls is wise' - whoever captures souls is wise. They knew what Daniel had said: 'Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars will last forever and ever'. Let me say to you plainly: do something lasting, eternal, God-glorifying with your life! May we all start following and fishing, for that is a lasting work that will shine for ever to the glory of God.
Father, we pray that You will teach us to seek first the kingdom of God, and may all of us here this morning - whether we profess the name of Christian or not - may everyone, converted and unconverted alike, go from this meeting like Simon and Andrew, James and John, and follow Christ. But Lord, we pray that all of us will learn what it is to serve as disciples in the task that You have appointed for us to do in fishing for men. May we learn what it is to go out with courage, with persistence, with waiting, hiding ourselves behind Christ and His cross. May we know what it is to catch a great draught of fishes, not because of what we know but because Christ has made us, with His power, fishers of men. Lord, if there are those who Your call is upon to go elsewhere, to go into another field of work, to leave their daily occupation, to be occupied fishing full-time for men - Lord, would You draw them out this morning, send labourers into the harvest field, for there are not many. Thank You for Your word Lord, bless it and write it upon our hearts indelibly, to the glory of Christ we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eighth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Call To Follow And Fish" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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