MBTS Spring 2017 Convocation Sermon: “Follow Me and I Will Make You Fishers of Men” (Mark 1:14-20)

I invite you to be turning in your Bibles with me to the Gospel of Mark, chapter one. We will be looking at verses 16 through 20, in particular, and we will be thinking about these verses in light of Jesus’ great charge, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Mark 1: 14-20 says,

“Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’ As He was going 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.’  Immediately, they left their nets and followed Him.  Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.”

We gather this morning for Convocation, a tradition that is rooted in the Medieval University. We gather together in places like this to celebrate the dawn of a new academic semester, and to remind ourselves and consecrate ourselves anew to the task that God has called us unto. With an awareness of this history, and with this purpose in mind, we gather together this morning. For us, as a Baptist Seminary especially, it is impossible to celebrate convocation, either institutionally or personally, without reflecting anew on our calling and our commitment, and without, again anew, recommitting ourselves to what God has called us unto.

In fact, so much of this goes back to one word, does it not? This word, “calling.” It is a concept that runs throughout the Scriptures. We are called to follow Christ. We are called to serve him, called into the ministry, and to some degree at least, we are called specifically to this place to teach and to study here. We are reminded that we are not the first to receive such a call, are we? Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets of old received that call from God to be his spokesperson, to be his servant, and through these men of old, God shaped and changed the Ancient World. Into the New Testament, like this passage we read this morning, Jesus gave calls. He called disciples, who we would come to know as apostles, to follow him, indeed to change the world as well. When we read deeper into the New Testament we see Jesus’ pattern of calling out ministers, servants, teachers, pastors, and missionaries to serve his church, and to fulfill the Great Commission.

We study in church history great men and women of God who have done great things for God as they heard that call. The Careys, the Judsons, the Spurgeons, the Luthers, the Edwards, and so many others that we look to and are awed and inspired by. They heard a call, and they obeyed that call. Similarly, we are here this morning, I trust for you, and I know for me, not because we stumbled to this campus, or stumbled to employment here, or stumbled into a position of study here. We believe God called us here and set us apart to this work. This calling is what I want us to reflect on this morning. In particular, Jesus’ calling of these disciples as it is representative or symbolic to the call of all of his disciples and the call that we feel here today. We are called his servants. We are here because we have sensed and submitted to that call, and it is good for us to reflect on it this morning.

J.C. Ryle, in reflecting on these verses that I read this morning says this,

“The meaning of this expression is clear and unmistakable. The disciples were to become fishers for souls. They were to labor to draw people out of darkness, into the light and from the power of Satan to God.  They were to strive to bring people into the net of Christ’s church so that they might be saved and not perish everlastingly.”

Jesus makes a statement, issues a command, and asserts a promise as well. “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.”

Some of you this morning, in reflecting on that phrase in verse 17, in particular, might be asking yourself, “Which call leads to Evangelism? Which call leads to the work of fishing for men? After all, did not these disciples wind up wearing different hats? Is the call to fish for men a call that was given to apostles, because these men were apostles? Is it a call to ministry that leads to fishing for men, or is it a call to Christianity – to following Christ – that leads to fishing for men? Which call, specifically, is Jesus extending, and by way of application, which of the three should we think of from verse 17? Which of the three applies, that if we are called, we are called to fish for men?” The answer is, “Yes.” The call the apostles heard to fish for men, is a call that the minister hears to fish for men, is a call that disciples here to fish for men, is a called that everyone who has called upon the name of Christ, everyone, feels it and knows it. God has set us apart to this task.

Indeed, the Great Commission applies to everyone, right? To all who have repented and been baptized. We receive these marching orders to go into all the world, making disciples. Of course, these 12 men were unique, but their call, that charge, is applicable to all who labor in the fields for Christ.

I want to make three simple observations about this passage this morning, reflect on it together, and walk through it together. There are three different observations that have implications for us as well. The first, simply, is the team that Jesus assembled.

“Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” As He was going 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.“(Mark 1: 14-16)

A little further down, we see in verse 19, “Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets.” We see Jesus going along, seeing these individuals, and calling them. It is no wonder that he saw them because he knew them and had set them apart for this service. He sees them, and he calls them to be his disciples.

Now, there are many preaching points commonly associated with these fishers of men that we could easily spend a few minutes on each. I want to, yes, reflect on the obvious preaching points we get from this passage, but not cruise past them too quickly, because they do urgently apply to us. These men are fishermen. Jesus is going along, verse 16 tells us, by the Sea of Galilee. This was northern Palestine where Jesus spent about 90% of his time in ministry. The Sea of Galilee, of course, was a prominent theater of Jesus’ public ministry. The Sea of Galilee was a lake about 12 ½ miles long and 7 ½ miles wide. Its water was warm, and it was a home to a thriving fishing industry. Josephus tells us that there were about 240 boats regularly fishing the Sea of Galilee, making it a hub of commerce and activity. Jesus is there, and he sees these two men, Simon and Andrew. John 1 tells us that Jesus had encountered them before, so it may be, and perhaps likely is, that these two men were converted about a year earlier, and for them, this is their call to follow Jesus as disciples, or what we might think of as apostles.

Since they were fishermen by trade, they were hardworking, industrious, unafraid of a hard day’s work. They toiled, and often at great peril and often in terms of great fatigue. They would cast out nets, not with lines and hooks one at a time, but with large nets, seeking to catch schools of fish at one time. They were hardworking, industrious, and willing to take risks. Most notably of all, though, they were common folk. They were normal men. They were common people.

When you think of who Jesus populated his ministry with, you notice it was common people. In fact, it is almost startling when you reflect on the types of individuals Jesus called. Were they hardworking and industrious? Yes, but at the same time, they were not people who would typically distinguish themselves by any of the typical metrics of social or religious distinction like education or social standing. These certainly were not the most religious or the most moral. The conventional wisdom of the day would have been for Jesus to go to Jerusalem and line up a group of Pharisees to be his team. Not only does Jesus pass over the religiously qualified, throughout his ministry he rebuked, eschewed, and pummeled the religiously qualified. Jesus, after all, was not after their credentials, certainly not their legalism; he was after their hearts–those who were committed to following him.

Let me remind us this morning, there is a difference between being unqualified and not feeling qualified. The former reflects 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:6-9, where we see the qualifications of the elder. We must hold that standard high for ourselves and for the ministers that would serve the church. If one is unqualified morally or theologically, then he is unqualified, period. We must be intentional and clear about that. Yet, if one feels too qualified, or quite qualified, or surpassingly qualified, that ought to raise alarms as well. We all ought to have a healthy dose of, “I just do not feel like I am quite qualified for the great work God has called me to do.”

Notice verse 19: “Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother.” These two would come to be known as “The Sons of Thunder.” Evidently, they were fiery and passionate. In Luke 9, Jesus and his disciples were traveling to Jerusalem and they stopped by a Samaritan village, but they did not receive him. How did James and John respond? We are told they asked, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” These are my kind of guys. I like that zeal. I like that passion. They are ready for the fire of judgment to fall. They are “Sons of Thunder.” They are passionate, bold, high justice, low mercy types.

We see they were in the boat mending the nets as fishermen do. These four apostles were fishermen. They were tough. They were scrappy we might say. They hustled. They were industrious. This is important because Jesus chooses again and again to call ordinary people to do extraordinary works. It is instructive for us as well because the church is so often after better methods, but Jesus is after better men. The church is often after better plans, but Jesus is after better people. By “better” I do not mean the most self-righteous. Obviously, Jesus did not choose the Pharisees. But by “better” I mean in their passion, their energy, their true conviction and devotion to him.

Some of you in the room today, this is your first time to be in chapel at Midwestern Seminary. You have been here a short period of time and you are still processing, still orienting yourself, perhaps even still wondering about that great classification I mentioned a minute ago about, “Am I qualified or am I not quite qualified?” I want to say to you this morning, these are encouraging words because Jesus called precisely that type of person. Sure, a few times a year we put on dresses and robes and medallions and hats. That is a nod to the gravity of our work. That is not a statement of our own accomplishment. We are common folk. Your professors are surpassingly accomplished with degrees from many of the great seminaries and institutions around the world, but they are common people, set apart by God to do this work. You might be asking yourself, “Can God use a person like me with my past, my limited abilities, or my lack of experience?” And I say, “Not only can God use people like that, that is precisely the only type of person God will use.”

What do we find out in I Corinthians? Remember what Paul tells us in I Corinthians 1:18-31.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who [are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

What do we know about the team Jesus assembles? They are common folk. Why? They are pliable, malleable, bendable, and most importantly because he gets the glory when he uses such people. His son is lifted high when he uses such people.

Look with me back in verse 17. Notice secondly, the call that Jesus extended.  “And Jesus said to them…” a personal call, “Follow Me.” This is the essence of discipleship, and Jesus would say this 13 times in the gospels– “Follow me.” Remind yourself this morning that the Christian life is the Christ life. He does not say, “Follow my rules, follow my church, follow my activities, follow my morality, or follow my teaching.” Though all of these are associate realities with discipleship; he says, “Follow me.” Christianity is knowing Christ, loving Christ, worshiping Christ, obeying Christ, serving Christ, and cherishing Christ.

Notice this call, “Follow me” is a personal call, and it is also an unconditional call. We know this both in the simplicity and the directness of it, but also in their response. Jesus does not first give them a job description. He does not give them a track for promotion so they can know what their future holds. He does not give them a ministry calendar to know what the weeks or months or years ahead will look like. He does not give them any geographical definition so they will know whether or not they have to leave their mother’s basement. He does not say any of these things. Instead, he gives them the unconditional call, “follow me.” People go.

I pastored for a number of years right by Fort Knox military base. About half of the church was military, therefore, I got to know some of the greatest people on the planet. I greatly admire our military. I greatly appreciate what they do. We tend to think of the obvious reasons why: their devotion, their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way, and if there is a time of conflict, their resolve. But one other reason I admire them is that they are gone from their families a lot. During a deployment, they are, perhaps, away from their families in a dangerous context for six months to a year. I cannot stand to be away from my wife and kids a few days, much less a few months or a year. When you look at a cycle of a 20-year service in the military, often there are multiple deployments for many months, totaling many years. That is quite a commitment. What did these men get? They were called in an unconditional way that would often lead them to leave their families for work that was not only dangerous but also distant.

Now back to our text, notice this call again. It is a personal call, an unconditional call, and an evangelistic call. When we read our Bibles, we must be careful about thinking of what Jesus could have said. It is an easy game to play, for instance, “Jesus said, ‘Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.’ He did not say, I will make you a seminary student or I will make you a religious achiever.’” To play games about what he did or did not say is not a healthy hermeneutic. But I do want to emphasize that he did choose to say, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” At its essence, that is what the minister is. We are called to that end.

Our jargon used to be better about this. In the church a generation or two ago, when a person went into ministry, they would say, “He is called to preach the gospel.” They would say things like, “He is surrendering to gospel ministry.” The jargon we used, the nomenclature we used, tended to reinforce this. Maybe it is just me, but it appears we have whittled away the gospel edge that is implicit within a call to ministry. Jesus says, “Follow me…” and inseparably linking this call to him, get this, “…making you become fishers of men.” I love the certainty of, “I will make.” I have told you before, one of the best ways to assess my own spiritual fervor, as much as I know my own heart and can track these things as I walk with Christ, is my prayer life and my witnessing life. If either or both of those are stagnant, that points to a deeper reality of stagnation and a coldness of heart. But, when I find myself cherishing Christ and close to Christ, I find my prayer life most naturally taking place, and I find my witnessing life doing similarly.

I do not want to over torque the metaphor here, but Jesus did choose the metaphor “fishing for men,” so let’s think about it for a moment. What does it mean to fish for men? It takes effort, right? You have to get up early, you have to get a rod and real, and you have to get a boat. You have to do something. Fish do not come into your bedroom or jump into your boat. You have to go find them. Fishing takes intentionality. I remember as a kid going fishing with my dad. We grew up on the water. My parents still live on the water in Mobile. My brothers and I would get up early and we would go. As a young boy, my attention span was brief. If they were not biting in about 10-15 minutes, I would begin to sluff off. In about 30 minutes, I would be sitting in the boat not holding my rod. I would then say something like, “Well, are we going to catch any fish?” And my dad would say, “Well, you are not going to catch a fish if your line is not in the water.” That is true.

Sometimes in ministry, we find ourselves going through seasons with few converts, seasons without much discernable spiritual activity, and we might be inclined to shift our energies to other things. But I know this, we are not going to catch any fish if our lines are not in the water. Fishing requires going where the fish are, does it not?

As a young boy, 5,6,7,8-years-old, I would fish on the bank. My parent’s house was on the water. I could literally fish in my backyard. I got a little older and more intrepid, and I could walk through our neighborhood and fish in other people’s backyard if I thought that was a better fishing place. I got a little older and my dad got me a little Jon boat with a little engine on it and we could go in the river and fish. I got a little older and we would go deep sea fishing. We would go up to 80 miles offshore fishing. There were a lot of different places to fish. I never caught a king mackerel in the little freshwater 3-foot-deep canal behind my house. But going deep, not only did we catch big fish, we caught many fish. I think there is a metaphor here that we can play with in our minds, think about, and reflect on the fact that we do have a “Jerusalem, a Judea, a Samaria, and an uttermost part of the earth.”. We can fish anywhere; we are called to fish everywhere.

Finally, in this metaphor, fishing requires something. It requires drawing the net, actually getting the fish in the boat. You are hearing more about my childhood than you care to know, but I would hear my dad say it 1,000 times, “Get the fish in the boat.” If you have a fish beside the boat it is easy to celebrate and high-five because you see you have a big fish on the hook. But you have no reason to celebrate until the fish is actually in the boat on ice. That is when you know it is not going to get off the line or flop away. We understand the Lord has to work in the hearts of people, yet we need to be tugging on the net, pulling the net, drawing the net, understanding that it is an indispensable part of our work. This is the passion of every disciple. This is to be the primary work of every minister.

See with me thirdly, the response that Jesus received. He extends this call to these four, and then notice their response in verse 18-19:

“Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.  Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.”

They said, “Dad, you clean the fish.”

Do you ever wonder what you would have done if you were on the shore of Galilee that day attending a boat, cleaning a net, dealing with fish, and this man walks up and calls you? He, in fact, looks like a religious fanatic. He looks like a person that might be a nut because all the respective religious leaders have rejected him, but he says to you in a manner that has never been said to you before, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Verse 22 tells us, “They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as [their lousy] scribes.”

This man looks at them and says, “Follow me.” What would you have done? What would I have done? I fear I would have feared. I fear I would have thought of practical realities of why I cannot quite get around to this. I fear I would have reflected upon the need to take care of my family, and be a good son to my parents, and make a living as a decent person does, and rationalize if it would be a wise decision to follow this man, whom I know little about. I know my own call to ministry. It was not like this. I know it took some wrestling. I bet for many of you, if not most of you, in the room, that call took some wrestling. Their response, we see here, was immediate. They left their nets, they followed this man. They jumped out of the boat. They cut their losses and they went. There is no need to draft a T-square with the pros and cons, the potential upside, and the potential downside. No need to T-chart it. No need to seek wise counsel. No need to spend three months praying and fasting about whether or not to follow this man. No, they were following that man. They followed him and their lives would never be the same.

We understand our call through a human and a divine lens. I understand that God divinely set me apart, as he set you apart, for his work. Humanly, in time I submitted to that call. Sometimes I play a game on a rainy Thursday afternoon when I have a few minutes to spare and I begin to think about my life and what God has done as I look back. And I have thought this many times, “what would I be doing if I was not in ministry? What if fear, complacency, or sin or something had me saying, ‘no, no, no to ministry?” Then you get into what measures God may have taken to turn that ‘no’ into a ‘yes.’ In the inscrutable wisdom of God, we will never know that and I do not want to know that. But I know this, I stand before you today and say to you will full conviction from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, with all that I am, if I had a thousand lives to live, I would want to live every one as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not merely based upon the eternal reward that is mine, but additionally based upon the joy that is mine currently as I get to serve him. These men did something. They dropped their nets and followed him. I trust this is a story, a narrative that each one of us to some degree identifies with.

Some of you dropped your nets and left parents or in-laws who thought, “This is not a prudent decision for your professional future.” Some of you dropped nets and left the comforts of home where you lived in a decent place, had a decent job, and you uprooted yourself to move here. Now you are finding yourself in this first week of classes thinking, “Woah, Hebrew is not easy.” You find yourself looking at the syllabi, reading lists, and assignments. Understand that all of that is done by professors who love you and are seeking to give you all that we can to equip you to maximum faithfulness. This is the messiah who calls, who saves, and who commissions. This is the call he has given to us. Let us be faithful and do it. And let us know the true North Star, the point of orientation in our ministry is this call when Jesus tells them– “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”


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