Have you ever gone fishing? I have. I’ll never forget my very first experience. It started by waking up long before the sun came up and getting in the car with my dad, uncle, and cousin. Six hours—and many bags of Corn Nuts later—we had arrived at Hume Lake, the same lake where i would eventually obey Christ’s calling me. The weather was foul, clouds floated on the surface of the lake, but i was anxious to try my luck at fishing. It felt like an eternity waiting to get my line in the lake. But once in, it felt like a moment before i felt a tug at my line. I reeled it in, and it proved to be the largest fish any of us caught the whole week.
I’ve only gone fishing a handful of times since then. But funnily enough, one of my earliest blog posts was titled “Gone Fishing,” and it discussed evangelism. Throughout today’s post, i hope to show you why Jesus described His disciples’ mission with a fishing metaphor.
Mark writes, “And passing by the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting their nets in the sea (for they were fishermen). So, Jesus said to them, ‘Come after Me, and I will make you to become fishermen of people.’ And immediately, after abandoning [their] nets, they followed Him. After going on a little [farther], He saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, and they [were] in the boat, repairing [their] nets, and immediately He called them. After abandoning their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers, they came away after Him.”
Where we’ve been…
So far in our study of this book, Jesus has been active. But if we think He’s been busy so far, His busyness is about to increase exponentially. We first saw Jesus when He came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, the baptizing one. Immediately after that—after the Trinity presented itself for Jesus’ comfort and encouragement—the Spirit remained and drove Jesus into the wilderness, where He was tempted for forty days. When the forty days ended, Jesus came rolling into town preaching the gospel. He had overcome the temptations of the devil. The Kingdom of God was breaking into the world. Jesus comes into Galilee proclaiming this, the greatest news—the gospel—to ever be announced.
And in our text today, Mark continues the theme of Jesus’ untiring momentum by showing us how Jesus acquires His first followers. And in Mark’s telling, it isn’t because of Jesus’ charisma or preaching style. It is much more fundamental. When Jesus calls, His people respond.
We will begin by looking at specific things in the text, and then we will move on and see if we can glean anything for our personal lives from the portion of Jesus’ life.
Jesus Calls (1:16-20)
Jesus calls His followers; they don’t choose Him. Mark writes the following in Mark 1:16-20. “And passing by the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting their nets in the sea (for they were fishermen). So, Jesus said to them, ‘Come after Me, and I will make you to become fishermen of people.’ And immediately, after abandoning [their] nets, they followed Him. After going on a little [farther], He saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, and they [were] in the boat, repairing [their] nets, and immediately He called them. After abandoning their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers, they came away after Him.”
What we have here are two parallel stories. The differences between them are telling, but instead of making more out of the differences than Mark likely intended, let’s focus on the big picture. Jesus calls two sets of brothers. Andrew and Simon, James and John.
All four of these men are fishermen. Their livelihood is made at the lake. If they catch fish, they can eat and sell and survive. If they fail to catch fish, they will starve. Andrew and Simon are in the process of casting their nets when Jesus shows up; James and John are likely concluding their workday—fixing the tears in their nets after a long day’s work—when Jesus shows up.
Before Jesus calls to any of them, the text tells us that Jesus saw them. Christian, Jesus sees you. In fact, when you were pursuing your career in ignorance of Him, when you were pursuing sin in ignorance of Him, when you were running from Him in rebellion to Him, He saw you. Jesus knows you. He saw you. He sees you now. How does this affect your outlook on life?
When Jesus calls to them, He uses their livelihood to draw a parallel for them. But even more than this, Jesus is drawing on Old Testament imagery of judgment, and flipping it on its head. The clearest example is in Jeremiah 16:16-18.
Jeremiah 16:16-18 (HCSB)
“I am about to send for many fishermen”—⌊this is⌋ the LORD’s declaration—“and they will fish for them. Then I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and out of the clefts of the rocks, for My gaze takes in all their ways. They are not concealed from Me, and their guilt is not hidden from My sight. I will first repay them double for their guilt and sin because they have polluted My land. They have filled My inheritance with the lifelessness of their detestable and abhorrent idols.”
In the original context, God sends for fisherman and hunters to fish and hunt for people to be judged; here, Jesus uses the metaphor as a good thing. I think it is fair to look at the conquest in Joshua in a similar way: originally it referred to death and destruction of those who were under the wrath of God, but now it is a picture of the piercing, soul-baring power of the gospel as it goes forth and conquers people into the Kingdom of God. The Gospel is never physically violent, but it is always spiritually destructive against sin and unbelief. If it doesn’t “catch” or “kill” a person by regenerating them, then they will face the wrath of God forever.
Jesus calls these four men and promises to make them into fishers of people. In Andrew and Simon’s case, the text tells us that they immediately follow Him. In James and John’s case, the text is explicit that they abandon their father and coworkers and go away with Jesus. There are two points to be made from this. First, when Jesus calls a person, resistance is futile. Secondly, when Jesus calls a person, it may cost him/her close relationships.
Following Jesus is worth it. No true follower of Jesus has ever been disappointed in the end that he spent his life following Jesus. No true follower of Jesus has ever wished that she had practiced more sin instead of following Jesus.
Have you heard His voice and followed?
His People Respond (1:16-20)
There are several points of application to make on this text. By way of reminder, Mark wrote in Mark 1:16-20, “And passing by the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting their nets in the sea (for they were fishermen). So, Jesus said to them, ‘Come after Me, and I will make you to become fishermen of people.’ And immediately, after abandoning [their] nets, they followed Him. After going on a little [farther], He saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, and they [were] in the boat, repairing [their] nets, and immediately He called them. After abandoning their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers, they came away after Him.”
First, i would be remiss if i failed to share a quote from J. C. Ryle about the primary task of ministers.
We ought to mark this expression well. It is full of instruction. It is the oldest name by which the ministerial office is described in the New Testament. It lies deeper down than the name of bishop, elder, or deacon. It is the first idea which should be before a minister’s mind. He is not to be a mere reader of forms, or administrator of ordinances. He is to be a “fisher” of souls. The minister who does not strive to live up to this name has mistaken his calling.
Does the fisherman strive to catch fish? Does he use all means, and grieve if unsuccessful? The minister ought to do the same. Does the fisherman have patience? Does he toil on day after day, and wait, and work on in hope? Let the minister do the same. Happy is that man, in whom the fisherman’s skill, and diligence, and patience, are all combined!
Pastor, do you call people to follow hard after Christ?
Secondly, i would be remiss if i failed to share the last paragraph from Ryle on this text. You see, ministers might be called to fish for souls, but all believers are called to pray that souls would be caught for the Kingdom.
Let us resolve to pray much for ministers. Their office is no light one if they do their duty. They need the help of many intercessions from all praying people. They have not only their own souls to care for, but the souls of others. No wonder that Paul cries, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16.) If we never prayed for ministers before, let us begin to do it this day.
Do you pray for your minister—and others—to preach Christ accurately and boldly?
Third, i must point out how Jesus called Simon and Andrew. Mark is clear that they were fishermen. One commentator explains,
“[The Greek word for casting their nets] is a shorthand term for fishing by means of . . . the circular casting net thrown out either from the boat or by a man wading into the lake. The addition [of the Greek for they were fishermen] should be unnecessary for anyone who knows the meaning of [the Greek casting their nets] . . . Its inclusion serves, however, to prepare the way for the declaration of their new role as [fishers of people].”
Without negating the Old Testament allusion—which we will return to in a moment—i think Mark’s reiteration of the brothers’ role as fishermen is so that we would more quickly draw the connection between their livelihood and Jesus’ mission for them. More specifically, this is how He calls them after Himself. In essence, this is how He preaches the gospel to them. He takes something familiar to them and relates it to His mission in the world. If He had walked past a group of carpenters (for instance), He might have said, “Come after Me, and I will make You builders of a temple.” Jesus contextualized the gospel. If we—in our stubbornness—refuse to contextualize the gospel for our hearers, it’s no wonder that no one is interested in turning from sin to Christ.
Fourth, on the heels of number three, Jesus called His disciples to action. Following Jesus required movement. It’s not enough to raise your hand at an altar call and go home and watch football every Sunday instead of going to church. Perhaps, if we called people to action more regularly, saw the church as a command center, and didn’t focus exclusively on numbers, the church would win the world for the name of Christ. JC Ryle said, “I have heard it calculated that if every believer in the world were to bring one soul to Christ each year, the whole human race would be converted in less than twenty years.” But instead of getting out and fishing for souls we prefer to sit back and discuss theology. We need gospelogy—the study of the gospel—and Christology—the study of Christ—more than any other theological topic that Christian publishing houses want to put out. If we knew these two topics forward and backward, inside and out, rightly and sincerely, then we would be more eager and prepared to speak about the One our lips claim we love Sunday in and Sunday out.
Fifth, if we look closely at Jesus’ call of James and John, we see that Mark writes, “And immediately He called them.” Jesus called them immediately. The immediately here is not describing their response. Why would Jesus call them immediately? At the very least, it is a reminder to us that as soon as we hear the urge of the Spirit to speak to someone about Christ, we must not wait. We must immediately engage in a conversation about Christ. Hell is full of people that Christians decided didn’t need to hear the gospel.
(Don’t let your theological persuasion of the sovereignty of God comfort you in spite of this statement. God is sovereign. Those in hell are there because it is part of God’s sovereign, hidden plan. But, according to Ezekiel 3:16-21 and 33:1-9, God holds you responsible for them if you fail to share the truth with them.)
Sixth, what are you holding onto that is preventing you from following Jesus as closely as you could? James and John left their own father to follow a complete stranger. I’m sure he was shouting after them, “Sons, where are you going? Are you crazy? You don’t even know that man!” It didn’t matter to them. Christ called them, and they walked away from everything that might prevent them from following Jesus. What are you trying to hold onto?
Seventh, look at the word that describes Andrew and Simon’s response to Jesus. “Immediately, after abandoning their nets, they followed Him.” Their response was immediate. In both our preaching and our hearing, we must be quick to respond. We must tell people, “Today is the day of salvation! Make a decision now!” And we must respond right away when we hear God speaking to us through His Word. Is He telling you to walk away from a sin? Leave it and follow Him! Is He telling you to walk away from an unhealthy dating relationship? Leave it and follow Him! Is He telling you to stop avoiding church? Get up, find a church, and follow Him!
The Catch of the Last Day
But perhaps you stumbled upon this article, and you don’t believe in the gospel. Maybe you think Christianity is a joke, or at least not worth your time. If you’ve read this far, i beg you to keep reading. Give me another two minutes to explain why Christianity is worth all the time in your life.
And if you are already a believer, don’t think that this section doesn’t apply to you. No one should ever graduate from the gospel!
Jesus called the disciples to be fishers of people. There is an allusion here to the Old Testament and prophesies of judgment. I already explained—by comparing it to Joshua 2-12—that there could be a gospel connection even in those judgment passages. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus preaches a parable about a fisherman.
Matthew 13:47-50 (HCSB)
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a large net thrown into the sea. It collected every kind ⌊of fish⌋, and when it was full, they dragged it ashore, sat down, and gathered the good ⌊fish⌋ into containers, but threw out the worthless ones. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out, separate the evil people from the righteous, and throw them into the blazing furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The judgment is coming. Everyone will be caught in the net. The question will be: Have you already been hooked by the gospel? If so, you will be saved in the end. If not, you will be condemned.
Here’s how this works. The Old Testament describes a judgment of those caught in the net. Everyone in the net will be judged, and every human being to have ever lived will be hooked. That is simple. What they will be judged by is what varies.
You see, Christ joined humanity, as Mark’s gospel describes. He lived a perfect life amongst those created in His image. While those surrounding Him were full of sin, He never sinned once. After thirty-three years, He was crucified on a cross. While on that cross He was treated as though He had sinned all the sins we sin every day so that we could be treated as though we lived the perfect life He lived. Three days after He died, He rose from the grave to declare that sin had been defeated and had no hold on Him.
The people caught in the net who never trusted in Christ will be judged and condemned. The people who are caught in the net who did trust Christ were already judged in Christ, and will now live because of Christ.
So the question becomes: Have you trusted Christ? I pray that you have! If not, i beg you now: Follow Him! He has everything you need, even though the journey might be difficult and confusing at times. It will be worth it in the end.
If you’ve already trusted Christ, are you presently trusting Him? If not, follow Him! Whatever else is drawing you away is not as worthy as He!
In conclusion, fishing is fun, and i don’t do it as much as i would like. In all honesty, i would love to go back to Hume Lake and reenact that retreat with my dad and uncle and cousin even now. But much more important than that, i am called to be a fisherman of people, and i don’t do it as much as i should. I must pray for opportunities, and i must immediately speak when they present themselves.
What do you need to do with what you just read?
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
The next post can be found here.
Thanks for reading.
 J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: The Four Volume Set [Fully Linked and Optimized] (Kindle Locations 5700-5706), Primediaelaunch eLaunch, Kindle Edition.
 J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: The Four Volume Set [Fully Linked and Optimized] (Kindle Locations 5706-5709), Primediaelaunch eLaunch, Kindle Edition.
 RT France, The Gospel of Mark, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 95-96.
 J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013), 42.