Jesus had entered the heavily populated region of Galilee and begun preaching the gospel: repent and believe. Now Jesus began calling the first disciples to follow Him and become fishers of men. Jesus still calls us to follow Him in faith today.
“And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fisherman. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him.
“When they had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him” (Mark 1:16-20).
John’s gospel tells us that Andrew and probably Simon Peter and John, too, had been disciples of John the Baptist (John 1:35-42). These fishermen had left John’s ministry to follow Christ for a time, and then they had apparently gone back to their fishing businesses on the shores of Galilee. But this time Jesus called them to permanent discipleship. His call to them was clear but packed with meaning: “Follow Me.” They had to make a decision. They had seen Jesus teach and do miracles, and they were beginning to believe that He was more than just a great teacher or prophet. He might indeed be the promised Messiah. Now they had to decide. Would they stay with the safety, comfort, and prosperity (note that James’ and John’s father’s fishing business was big enough to have other employees or “hired servants”) their current lives catching fish? Or would they really put all of their faith and trust in Jesus and become His “fishers of men”?
These fisherman could not have known then what all they would experience as Christ’s disciples. They did not know all the joys and sufferings that a life of following Christ would entail. But they knew that they had to do it. As Peter would explain later, they knew Jesus alone had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). These first disciples had counted the cost and decided that they had to follow Jesus. “Immediately” they left their nets and followed Him. Now their lives would be lived for Jesus, not themselves.
Jesus still calls us to follow Him today. We still face the same choice that those fisherman faced: Are we willing to submit our wills to the will of Christ? Young children often understand the concept of Jesus as Savior and will express a desire for Jesus to save them from their sins. These salvation experiences can indeed be real; I have friends who know that they were saved at age 5 or age 6 and my wife knows that she was saved at age 8. But it is often not until middle school (or sometimes even later) that the concept of surrendering to Jesus as Lord really hits home. What I think we saw a lot of in the class of 2023 this spring was God waking students up to make decisions to not just believe in Jesus in their heads, but to see and submit to His call to follow Him. For the first time for many of you, you recognized the cost of your salvation. As one wise pastor told me after the light bulb went off for me in college and I got saved, “If salvation didn’t cost you something, it wouldn’t mean anything.” I don’t what God called you to give up to follow Him this spring or whenever it was that you gave your life to Christ. But you and God know. For me, I know my big obstacle was religious pride. I was the classic older brother from the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 (I am literally an older brother, too), seeing everyone else’s sin problem but missing my own. To be saved, God broke my pride and made it clear that I had to humble myself and tell others that I was a sinner who needed to be saved by God’s grace, too. I fought that call to follow Christ for a year before finally surrendering. It was the best “defeat” of my life. No doubt, if you have surrendered your life to Christ, you have experienced the same joy of giving up trying to run your life and giving control of your life to God.
Every time you see people come to faith in the Lord in the Bible, you see a change in their lives. Watch for this pattern as we study Mark’s gospel. People get saved, they overflow with joy, and they live differently. Following Jesus as His disciple is not an optional, advanced level of Christianity that you can take and leave as you please. It is the result of true salvation. As Christ’s disciples, we will ultimately grow in Him. We may struggle at times in our faith. We may have periods where we backslide and fall into sin. But if Christ is truly in us, then we will press on and follow Him as His disciples. You can be “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). The important thing it not to focus on when exactly we began to follow Jesus, but instead to focus on following Him now, today. Each day Jesus calls us to take up His cross and follow Him. Today he calls you to submit your will to His will. And the really cool thing is, as we grow in Christ, the desires of our hearts will begin more and more to be the same as the desires of God’s heart. His will becomes our will. We begin to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).