Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
‘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. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
‘And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little further, 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.’
Mark 1:16-20 (ESV)
Over the last few weeks, we have been challenged by people’s responses to Jesus when he was just a baby. This week, we move on a few years to the start of Jesus’ ministry, to see how the demand for a response heightened, and how Jesus demands a response from us today.
I’m sure I’m not alone in finding the response of the fishermen to Jesus utterly amazing. When Jesus asked these four men to follow him, not one of them was in the least bit hesitant; in fact, Mark tells us that Simon and Andrew “immediately” left their nets. Similarly, James and John showed no hesitation in following Jesus. They were willing to leave their family business, even their father, to follow him! Jesus didn’t promise them money, success, or fame, yet they still dropped everything and followed him. There was clearly something special about Jesus for him to have this reaction on the fishermen. Maybe the fishermen recognised there was something special about him. Maybe they even recognised that he was the messiah promised to the Jews throughout the Old Testament. Maybe they just felt themselves inexplicably drawn to Jesus, who, after all, as they would find out later, was the Son of God. Whatever it was, the fishermen chose of their own volition to leave their families and their jobs behind them and to follow Jesus. This decision would change their lives forever. For each of them, choosing to follow Jesus would be a turning point in their lives, as they dedicated themselves to spreading God’s gospel of salvation to the world. For James and Peter, this decision would ultimately lose them their lives; James was killed for his faith by Herod Agrippa I, whilst Peter was crucified upside down for his faith. At any time, these humble fishermen could have walked away and returned to their homes and jobs, yet none of them did. From the day they accepted Jesus’ calling, their lives took on a new purpose which they pursued with constant vigour up to their deaths.
The call of Jesus continues today. Just as those first disciples were called, we too are called. In the same way that Jesus appeared before the fishermen whilst they were at work, Jesus comes to us in our everyday lives and invites us to follow him. Through the Bible, Jesus tells us that he is the Son of God, and, as he demanded a response from those in his earthly ministry, his claims demand a response from us. If we accept the claims that Jesus makes, we must drop our priorities and follow Jesus’ teaching as found in the New Testament, in the same way that the fishermen dropped their nets and followed Jesus. If we do, we can be sure that as Jesus turned the lives of the disciples upside down, so too our lives will be transformed. Jesus demands that we put him first, and live according to his priorities. No longer should we live for ourselves, but for Jesus. Jesus insists that we adopt his agenda over our own, and accept him as our leader. In a world in which success is measured by the amount we earn and the things we own, it can be difficult to put Jesus before ourselves, but that is precisely what he demands from us.
What about Jesus’ statement that he will make the disciples “fishers of men?” What is Jesus’ expectation of the fishermen – and of us – if we decide to follow him? He expects us to share the good news of his death and resurrection with those around us. In this passage, we have a fantastic model of how to share the gospel with those around us. Too often these days, Christians expect non-believers to stumble into a church building if they want to hear about Jesus. So often, when they do, non-believers find the services in our churches totally incomprehensible, packed with jargon and bizarre activities that none but the hardened churchgoer understands. In this passage, we see that this is not what Jesus had in mind! He didn’t erect a building, and sit in it waiting for his disciples to come to him – he went to them! We need to be far more proactive in sharing our faith. We need to share the gospel with people wherever we find them – be it over a sandwich at lunch, at the gym, or even outside Marks and Spencer. Jesus expects part of our response to him to be the desire to share our faith with others. He also expects us to take the initiative and approach people, and not just to sit back and wait!
There are two very important points in this short and snappy passage from Mark’s Gospel. The first is the amazing way in which the first disciples responded to Jesus – the way they dropped everything to follow him. As Jesus called them, he calls us today. As he demanded a response from the fishermen – whether they would follow him or not – he demands the same from us. Will we put him first in our lives, over everything else, including our family and our career? Are we willing to cast aside our own priorities and focus instead on his? The second point is the intention with which Jesus calls the disciples to him – to make them “fishers of men.” Jesus has the same expectation of us! Will we actively share Jesus’ gospel of salvation with those around us? Are we willing to take the initiative, and approach people on their own ground to tell them of Christ’s love for them? Both of these ideas are very challenging, but both are right at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Why not use the coming new year to reflect on how you come up to Christ’s expectations, and to refocus your priorities in the year ahead? Let’s all strive to follow Christ better in this coming year.