Listening to Jesus When He Called His Followers

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 1:17

And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in 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.

Mark 1:16-18 rsv

That did Jesus say when He called people to be His disciples? How did He go about getting them to throw in their lot with Him? Have you ever wondered about that? It was quite a commitment He was expecting of them. How did He make His appeal?

We don’t know about that in the case of some of the disciples. We are simply told that Jesus appointed them, that He said to them, “Follow me,” or “Come and see.” But in the case of a little group of fishermen, Simon and Andrew the sons of Jonas, James and John the sons of Zebedee, we are told exactly what Jesus’ call was. Listen to it again. This is from the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 1, verse 17: “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men,” or “Come along with Me and I’ll have you fishing for people.”


There are four things about that simple call that impress me deeply. Let me share them with you today. The first has to do with the initiative of Jesus, the way the call always starts with Him. Listen. This is how Mark introduces the account: “And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them . . . “ (and so on.)

Now remember that what Mark is recording here was preached and taught many times before it was ever written down. This account of the calling of the disciples was probably proclaimed hundreds, maybe thousands of times, before the gospels were put in written form. That’s how the message of Christ spread at first. It was by oral tradition. It was the Word preached and taught. And when significant events are told in this way, over and over again, all the trivial data come to be trimmed away. Everything left is freighted with special significance.

With that in mind, look at the account again. Everything starts with Jesus. The fishermen are in the midst of their daily labors. They don’t go to Jesus. He comes to them. Before they are aware of Him, He sees them. Before they speak, He addresses them. The Lord is always beforehand with His people.

Think of God’s call to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). That’s how the calling of the disciples is described again and again. Listen to these words from Mark, chapter 3: “And he went up into the hills, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve” (v. 13). We hear the same note in the first Scripture verse I ever memorized, given to me on a little card by the person who introduced me to Christ (John 15:16): “You have not chosen me; but I have chosen you, and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain.”

In other words, none of the disciples were volunteers. They were all draftees. In each case, their service was His idea. It began with His call.

Friends, it still happens that way today. Jesus, the risen, living Lord, is here among us powerfully at work by His Spirit, taking the initiative with us. Just a few weeks ago, I heard a young woman in my home congregation making confession of her faith in Christ. She told of how she had had no interest in the church and had only attended a worship service among us because her fianc? had invited her. But she said that as soon as she came into the congregation she had a sense of God’s presence and before the service was over, she knew that she wanted to follow Jesus. This is how she described it, “When I wasn’t even looking for the Lord, He found me.”

Jesus still comes to us in the midst of our everyday life as He did to those fishermen by the lake side. He has His eye on us too and through His Word, by His Spirit, He invites us personally to belong to Him.


Here’s the second thing that comes to me from this passage: Whenever Jesus calls us, He always directs us to other people. Simon and Peter, James and John had been trying to catch fish. Now they were going to be reaching out for people. Maybe if they had been shepherds, the Lord would have said, “You’ve been taking care of your sheep; now I want you to look after My flock.” Or, “Matthew, you’re interested in investments; what about investing your life in other human beings?” Or, “You there, you’re a builder; come along with Me and build a church of redeemed lives.” Because, you see, God’s priority is always people.

I am an astronomy buff. My technical skills in that field are almost non-existent, but I have an amateur’s keen interest. I love to read books about the starry heavens, to let my mind be stretched and numbed by the vastness out there. I like to remember that our galaxy, the Milky Way, has in it some hundred billion stars, many of them much larger than our sun, all of them light years away from each other. And that, the experts tell us, is just one galaxy out of billions, each containing billions of individual stars. And they’re all traveling away from each other at colossal speeds!

When we begin to ponder facts like those, we can feel insignificant. What is this little chip that we call Earth in the midst of all this immensity? Can our brief lives here possibly matter very much? But then I remember this: As far as we know, God never sent His Son to straighten out the orbit of the Milky Way or to bank the fires of a great star like Betelguese. But He did send Him down here to our planet to share our humanity and bear our sins.

Isn’t that amazing? And what it assures me of is this: A million of those blazing stars out there are not as important to God as one of my grandchildren, or of yours, if you have them. Or the oldest person in your family, or the most seemingly insignificant person you pass on the street tomorrow. Human beings are supremely precious to God.

When Jesus calls us then, it’s not only for our blessing and benefit. He wants to make us channels of His grace to other people. Why didn’t He take you straight to heaven the moment you first believed? You were totally acceptable then through Christ. He left you here because He has a work for you to do, a work that involves other people. He calls you to love them, to serve them, to reach out to them, and in the magnetism of His love and joy, to bring them home to Him. That’s what we’re here for, caring about and catching people for Christ.


Now for the third great theme in this call of Jesus. When He calls you, there’s only one thing that you need to do in response: one simple thing. Aren’t you glad it’s that way? I surely am. I’m glad that when I wake up on a Tuesday or a Thursday or any other day of the week, whether I’m at home in Michigan or across the ocean somewhere, whether it’s a work day or I’m on vacation, there aren’t 34 life goals I have to keep in mind. There’s just one. Jesus said it so simply: “Follow me.” That is, my primary concern is not with carrying out a multitude of responsibilities but with nurturing a relationship.

Following could mean many things in the ancient world. Sometimes students would follow a rabbi until they had heard all he had to teach and then they would go out on their own. Sometimes to follow meant total imitation, even mimicking a leader’s eccentricities. But Jesus wasn’t looking for that in His disciples.

In the Old Testament, following sometimes meant a supreme religious commitment. Remember Elijah on Mt. Carmel? He thunders at a people prone to idolatry: “How long will you go limping between two opinions? If Baal is God, then follow him. But if the Lord is God, then follow him.” In other words, make your choice. Choose your ultimate allegiance.

That’s much closer to the heart of Jesus’ call. But in His case, it centered in a life companionship. These disciples were to walk along with Him, listening to His words, watching what He did, sharing in His ministry. They were to get to know Him better and better and to love Him more and more. They were to be more than anything else His own ones, His devoted companions, His loyal friends.

And today, as I share these words with you, that’s what I think about most of all. That’s what I’m after. I want to follow Jesus. That’s what’s behind a regular reading of His word, letting Him speak to us afresh by His Spirit. That’s what’s behind daily times of prayer in which we get to know Him better and invite Him into every part of our lives. That’s the greatest thing about the fellowship of the saints. Together we become nearer to the Lord and learn better how to live as His grateful people.

Those fishermen didn’t know by Galilee that day all that Jesus would yet do for them, how He would love them to the end, suffering for their sins, dying in their place, rising to give them forgiveness and a new life, but we know that, don’t we? We have so many more reasons on starting out to cleave to Him than they did. I invite you today to make the supreme business of your life this calling to follow Jesus.


But there’s one more element here of tremendous importance. It’s the remarkable promise that the Lord makes. “Follow me,” He says, “and I will make you fishers of men.” That word make is the same word which in the original language means “create.” “Follow me,” Jesus says, “and I’ll recreate you. Follow Me and I’ll fashion your life and ministry into something it could never be otherwise.”

That’s what Jesus does for His people. When we come to Him, He forgives and cleanses us. Wonderful! But He doesn’t simply leave us the way we are. He imparts to us new life. He works in us by His Word and Spirit amid the circumstances of our lives. He transforms us more and more into the people we are meant to be. He takes our lives and makes them over. And especially, He creates our ministry.

Remember when there were five thousand hungry people needing to be fed and the disciples didn’t know what to do? All they had was a few loaves and a couple of fish, enough to feed a handful. But Jesus said, “Bring it to Me.” They did. He took the bread and the fish, lifted His eyes toward heaven, blessed and broke the food and gave it back to the disciples. And as they started to pass it out, they found there was enough for everyone – with basketsfull left over. It was as though Jesus was saying to them, “Bring what you have to Me, however inadequate it seems, and watch what I can do with it!”

You don’t have to be a superstar for God to do a wonderful thing in your life. In fact, if you’re all taken up with what a star you are, He may not be able to use you. You don’t have to have a certain kind of personality or a great deal of education or remarkable gifts. You simply need to be available to the Lord.

I think of a lady today who felt that her only gift was that of baking pies, a humble, simple ability. But she devoted that to the Lord. She took her pies to people all over her community who were having a celebration or going through a sorrow or had just moved in. She was instrumental in bringing several of those families into our church. A number of those people came to Christ through her gift. I know a man who trusted Christ later in life, called himself an eleventh-hour laborer. He wanted to make the remaining years of his life count for the Lord. He went to seminary. He served three churches. He had a beautiful, fruitful ministry before God called him home. These people simply placed their lives and all they had in the Lord’s hands, and He made them into fishers of men.

Dear friends, Jesus is still in the business of doing that, making much out of little, multiplying the loaves, filling the nets with fish, for those who are simple enough and trusting enough to commit everything to Him. Would you do that today? Will you trust Jesus Christ as the One who died for you and rose again, the One who lives now as Lord over all? If you will make it the great business of your life to know Him, love Him, and follow Him, I can assure you of one thing on the basis of His faithful Word: He will create in you something truly wonderful. He will make your life really count.

Prayer: Gracious Father, may it happen just that way. May all who share this program so commit themselves to follow Jesus Christ that they may experience His power in making all of us fishers of men. In the name of Christ. Amen.