Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Christ’s Call to Follow: Mark 1:16-20

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is like most other seminaries in many regards. Of course, it is the greatest seminary in the world as you know, but we will put that qualitative distinction aside for now. One thing that I assume is the same at every seminary is that there is an office where students and alumni put their résumés on file for churches to request when they are looking for a new pastor. Those of you who have served on search committees know how this works – you call the seminary, tell them what you are looking for, and they send you 312 résumés to filter through to find “God’s called and anointed leader.” A disclaimer: that is NOT how I became pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church. And it is not how Jesus sought out those whom He would use to turn the world upside down. He found them one day when He was out walking by a lake.

This is not what we might imagine, but then again, Mark is piling up paradoxes to indicate that this Jesus is not coming in the manner that many expected of the Messiah. In verse 7, John the Baptist declared that the Messiah was the Mightier One who was coming after him. In verse 9, however, we meet Him as Jesus of Nazareth (of all places) coming to be baptized by John. In verses 10 and 11, He is anointed with the Spirit of God and declared from heaven to be the Son of God. But in verses 12 and 13, we find Him out in the wilderness doing battle against Satan’s temptations. In verses 14 and 15, He declares that the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand. We might imagine that His next stop would be Jerusalem, where He would overthrow the government and establish His kingdom. However, in actuality, we find Him walking by a lake.

This was not the place to go looking for theologians. But Jesus wasn’t looking for theologians. He was looking for followers, and on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, He called four fishermen who would become the central core of His early church. There is Simon, whom Jesus will later call Peter. Morgan describes him as impulsive and wayward, lacking the principle which masters passion and makes it strong.[1] And then there is Andrew, his brother. And two other brothers, James and John – one of whom will go on to write five of the 27 NT books, and the other of whom we will come to know relatively little. Just regular guys – ordinary fishermen – who heard and responded to the call of Christ.

Having issued a call to salvation in vv14-15, Jesus now issues a call to service with two simple words: Follow Me. And I suggest to you that this is Christ’s call for us as well, so as we look at this passage, we will note the condition of His call, the consequence of His call, and the cost of His call.

I. The condition of His call (v17)

Follow Me. Just two simple words, that’s all. We know that this was not the first encounter that these men had with Jesus. John’s Gospel tells us that Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist and heard him point out Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And Andrew began to follow Jesus then and there. Andrew went hurriedly to find his brother Peter and told him, “We have found the Messiah!” And he brought Peter to Jesus. Perhaps James and John had encountered Jesus before this seascape Mark paints for us also. Perhaps Andrew had told them of the Messiah also. But this we know – before Christ calls us to service, we must respond to His call to salvation: Repent and believe in the Gospel (v15). And once we say “yes” to that call, the next words of Christ to us are “Follow Me!”

Notice if you will that Jesus takes the initiative. Rabbis in those days did not go out seeking disciples. If a young man wanted to devote himself to rabbinic studies, he would seek out the rabbi under whom he wanted to learn and appeal to him for instruction. They may have to demonstrate a prior knowledge of the Scriptures or take an examination in Old Testament theology to demonstrate their readiness, and if accepted, the rabbi would lead the young man to be a follower of the Torah. But Jesus turned this on its head. He didn’t teach Torah. He IS the Torah – the Word made flesh that John speaks of – and He sought out individuals to follow Him. His only criteria was a willingness to trust and obey.

We might expect the Messiah to recruit His followers around the Temple or near the synagogue. But Jesus went to the lake – the workaday world of boats and nets, of blood and sweat. And the men he called were fishing. They weren’t just out for a guys weekend on the lake. They were fishermen. He called them while they were busy with their work. Kenneth Wuest says, “When God looks for someone to use in a special mission, He looks for the person who is already busy, the energetic individual.”[2] God is not interested in using the idle hands of lethargic people to do His work. He is not looking for those who don’t have anything better to do, but those who prove themselves faithful to work in whatever role they are in.

I was working at a sporting goods store when I sensed God’s call to ministry. I told my pastor I was going to quit my job and wait for God to show me what to do next. He gave me the best advice I think I ever got. He said, “No, you work hard like you are going to be the next president of that company, and you make that your ministry, and when God is ready for you to do something else, He will let you know.” I did just that and within a month I was manager, and within two more months, I had the top store in the company. And about six months later, God assured me that the time was right for me to pursue the calling to preach. And when I left, the owner of the company called and offered me any position in the company if I would stay on – my pick of stores to manage, district manager, home office (in Virginia Beach no less). But I knew God was calling me to preach, so I followed Him. But I believe to this day that I had become idle while waiting for God to confirm His call, I would still be idle today.

I have had the privilege over the last eleven years to give that same advice to a number of people who want to serve the Lord – get busy serving Him where you are, doing whatever you do for the glory of God, and God will let you know when He wants to put you in another role. I knew a lady in one church who wanted to serve God in the church, but she turned down every opportunity anyone ever offered her. She said she wanted to do something big and important. Understand that God is looking for those who are faithful in the small things before He opens the door to bigger things. You want to be effective for Christ in this church? Take that Sunday School class nobody wants to teach, get on that committee nobody wants to be on, pick up that trash in the parking lot that everybody else walks past, and do it for the glory of God and He will begin to open other doors for you in His time. He is calling us to Follow Him and if we trust and obey Him to follow Him into the work that everyone else deems insignificant, He will in His time open up more opportunities for you. But don’t be idle and call it waiting for the Lord. He is not looking for idleness, but willingness. He found these fishermen casting and mending their nets and said, “Follow me.” That is the condition of His call. If you want to serve Him, you must follow Him. And if you follow Him, He will lead you into avenues of service. That brings me to the second point.

II. The Consequence of His Call (v17)

I will make you fishers of men. Mark uses technical vocabulary for the kinds of fishing that these four were doing. Simon and Andrew were using a circular casting net that could be cast by an individual into a school of fish for a small catch. James and John were using a heavy drag net was pulled behind a boat for a large catch. And Jesus says, “I want you to take what you are doing, and use it for Me and for the Kingdom I am building.”

Fishing metaphors are common in the Bible, but usually in another context. In Jeremiah 16:16, God says He is going to send fishermen to gather people for judgment. Similar passages occur in Amos, Habakkuk, and Ezekiel. Indeed, it is no blessing for a fish to be entrapped in a net or hooked in the jaw and dragged out of the water. But the kind of fishing for men that Jesus is talking about is a part of His good news. How is it good news to be caught by the net or the hook of the gospel? Well, the fact is that all of humanity is swimming along with the current of sin, and the tributary in which we swim will empty eventually into a lake of fire. But Christ in His mercy has commissioned fishers of men, not to destroy them but to rescue them from destruction. He is drawing the net and setting the hook of the Gospel to deliver us from judgment and bring us salvation. Jesus said that no one comes to Him unless the Father draws him, and though we may not think to highly of the idea that God draws us, even drags us in some cases, once we find ourselves swimming in the fresh and clean ocean of His grace, we can’t help but give thanks and praise to Him. Thank God for those fishers of men He sent into my life. Thank God for the net that dragged me into His kingdom and the hook that pulled me from the lake of fire. And thank God that He is still calling us to fish for men to pull them from the sea of judgment.

Now I have to confess to you, the metaphor of the fisherman didn’t appeal to me at first. I have never liked fishing. Don’t get me wrong – I like catching, but you have to do a lot of fishing before you do any catching. This is not a metaphor that would appeal to everyone. He used it with fishermen because they would understand it. To those who knew farming better than fishing, he said, “The fields are white to harvest,” (John 4:35) and “Put in your sickle and reap” (Rev 14:15). The principle behind His calling is that calls us to entrust ourselves and our abilities and endeavors to Him, and whatever it is that we do, we can do for Him in the Kingdom if we will follow Him. In fact, He will make it happen.

Notice that the consequence of His call is stated as a promise. Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men. This is a promise, not of what we will do for Him, but what He will do in and through us. It is a process – I will make you become. And it a work only He can do. But His promise is that if we follow, He will make us to become fishers of men for Him. So, you want a little litmus test for your following? Look at your fishing. If you are not fishing, then you are not following. If you aren’t walking closely with Him, then you are not serving Him; and if you are not serving Him, then you aren’t walking closely with Him. Following leads to fishing. That is His promise. It is the consequence of His call, and if we trust and obey Him, we can expect Him to bring it to pass. If it doesn’t, it is a commentary on us rather than Him. His word is true and trustworthy, and to everyone whom He calls unto salvation, He also issues a call to service, and He promises to bring it about.

Now finally consider with me …

III. The Cost of His Call (vv18, 20)

There is only one appropriate response to the call of Christ – prompt and complete. That is what these men did and it is what we must do as well. But it isn’t always easy – it is almost always costly. In verses 18 and 20, we notice the repetition of the words, “they left.” What did they leave? They left their nets (v18); they left their father; they left their boat; they left their hired servants (v20). Why? Because following Him takes precedence over everything else in life. And the price these men paid to follow Christ is the same price that we may have to pay as well as we follow Him.

A. Following Christ may cost our possessions (nets, boat)

These men walked away from their nets and their boat. You have to understand that these possessions would have represented a significant financial investment on their part. They didn’t come cheap. But the glory of these possessions is no rival for the glory of Christ, and they left them behind to follow Him. Is it necessary to walk away from all earthly possessions to follow Christ? Not necessarily, but when our devotion to those things becomes a threat to our devotion to Christ, they must go. Otherwise they become an idol, they become our lord, and they begin to take ownership of us. And if that is the case, or if there is even a hint that it may become the case, we must walk away in order to follow Him.

B. Following Christ may cost our occupation (they were fishermen v16)

They didn’t just leave the tools of their trade, they left their trade. It may be the case that following Christ will require us to walk away from a career. This won’t always be the case, for the Lord can use us in many capacities in secular employment. In most cases, I think that laypeople who are faithful to God and hard workers in their secular careers are more effective witnesses for Christ than any pastor or evangelist could ever be. Paul didn’t stop making tents – he used his tentmaking to support his ministry. But in some cases, God calls us to walk away and follow Him, and our following becomes our occupation. One of my heroes is Ray Mushinski. You probably don’t know him. He was a very successful accountant with Miller Brewing Company, but as he followed Christ, he came to the conviction that he could not continue to grow rich off of the sale of alcohol. So he walked away, not to be a preacher or a missionary, but to open a Christian bookstore in Hanes Mall. I got to know Ray while I was managing the sporting goods store around the corner from him, and later I worked for him. And I respect him immensely. Following Christ cost him his occupation. He will probably never make the money selling books that he did keeping books at Miller, but if you ask him, he will tell you that following Christ is worth it. I could tell you about countless others who left high-paying jobs to enter the ministry full-time. I could tell you about others who walked away from lucrative careers, not to enter full-time ministry, but in order to find another career where they could serve Christ more effectively. We are called to follow Him, and as we do, He may lead us away from our occupation.

C. Following Christ may cost us our relationships (father)

There is no worldview which values the importance of the family more than Christianity. But even within the parameters of Christian love and honor for the family, there is a recognition that sometimes our family and friends are standing in the way of our service to Christ. In that case, we sometimes have to walk away like James and John did. We don’t know that they turned their backs on their father forever. We know they maintained close ties with their mother, because she shows up in the gospels later. My family thought I was crazy for entering the ministry, but I did it anyway, and today I enjoy a better relationship with them than ever. But for some it is not this way. Ask any Christian who converted from Islam. They will likely tell you that they were cut off from their family and friends for following Christ. But they followed Him anyway, knowing that He takes precedence over all else in life.

Hear me very carefully here: Following Christ may mean walking away from mother, father, sister, brother, or any other earthly tie – except one. Let no one, I repeat no one, ever say that they are divorcing their spouse for the glory of God. You are no longer two, but one flesh with that person, and the Bible says that even if your spouse is an unbeliever, you are to remain in the relationship as a witness to the grace of God in your life. The cost of following Christ in such cases is the cost of enduring a troubled relationship and doing all within your power to demonstrate the love of Christ to that individual. But God says in no uncertain terms in Malachi 2:16 that He hates divorce, and following Him will never lead you to do something He hates.

D. Following Christ may cost us our comfort zone (they went away, v20)

How far away did Peter, Andrew, James, and John have to go? In 2000 I preached in the harbor of Sevastopol, Ukraine, and I was told by some Christians there that Andrew had preached in that same port in the first century. That was a long way from the Sea of Galilee. They didn’t know where the road would lead them, but they weren’t following the road – they were following the Lord and they were willing to go wherever He took them. I know some who say, “God I will serve you anyway I can, as long as I can do it in Greensboro,” or “as long as I don’t have to do it in Africa.” We cannot put boundaries on the call of God. I got a call one November evening in 1997 from Emory Holbrook in Conowingo, Maryland. Never heard of it. Couldn’t find it on a map. But if I was going to follow Christ, I was going to have to go where He led me. And everybody I knew said, “There’s plenty of churches around here that need pastors,” and I had my résumé in every one of them. But God didn’t see fit to leave me here, and four months after we were married, Donia and I moved 450 miles away and spent the next five years there – which we would not trade for anything in the world.

E. Following Christ may cost us our lives.

James became the first martyr of the church; he was put to death by the sword of Herod Agrippa in Acts 12. Peter was crucified upside down in Rome. Andrew was martyred on an X-shaped cross in Achaia. John died at an old age, but suffered much, being imprisoned at least once on the desolate isle of Patmos. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When calls a man, He bids him come and die.”[3] And for an untold multitude around the world and throughout the centuries, this is exactly what the call to follow has cost. I wonder, is this a price we are willing to pay for Jesus? If not, then how on earth can we say we are following Him who died for us?

Understand, there’s nothing wrong with nets, and boats, and families, and comfort zones, and life itself. But when these things become encumbrances to us, preventing us from following Christ promptly and completely, we have to loosen our grip on them and let them slip from our fingers for the sake of following Christ. It is to Him and Him alone that we must cling steadfastly, choosing rather to lose everything else in the world for Him if necessary.

You ought to hear the testimonies. Every now and then, I attend our International Mission Board’s Missionary Appointment Service. And you ought to hear what these precious men and women have given up to follow Christ to the ends of the earth. You ought to hear the testimonies of the students at three theological schools I have attended, and the one where I teach now. You say, “Oh, I am too young, too old, too rich, too poor, too ___________ (you fill in the blank),” and I will introduce you to someone who will give the lie to your excuse. Every mission trip I have ever been on, I’ve been with 60, 70, sometimes 80 year old saints who are following Christ. In every school I have attended, there have been folks who have given up the fight after too many years of resistance, and now in their 50s, 60s, even 70s, who are preparing to spend the rest of their years in active ministry. He can use you – but you must follow Him, and allow Him to make you become a fisher of men.

Today some of you need to say yes to Him. He is calling you to follow Him and let Him make you His servant. For many of you that means that in your present state, with your present job, abilities, experiences, you commit to use your daily existence to bring Him glory and fish for men. But there may be someone that God is calling to leave it all behind – possessions, a relationship, an occupation, a comfort zone. And the only acceptable response is to promptly and completely trust Him and obey.

Others of you need to heed His call to salvation – to repent and believe in the gospel. Others need to make this your church home. But however it is that God is leading you today, as we sing our invitation hymn, we invite you to come and let us pray with you and encourage you as you say yes to the call of Jesus today.

[1] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1927), 34.

[2] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994), 45-46.

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 99.

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