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How Greedy A Thing Is Fishing

Mark 1:14 -- 21

This passage is often quoted in reference to evangelism. In this lesson, however, I would have you consider another aspect to it. The four men who are called here are always listed as the first of the disciples. They are the closest friends Jesus had on this earth. How does one become a close friend of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God? Let us look and see.

The Holy Bible, New International Version

14After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18At once they left their nets and followed him.

19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

21They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.
Mark 1:14 through Mark 1:21 (NIV)

The character of the friends

It would be foolish to suppose that Jesus selected his best friends at random. We must suppose that he gave it some thought; indeed, that this is a divine selection. From that we may learn a few things.

Faith and obedience

The first remarkable thing about this call is the quiet acceptance of these four. There is, in this account (Luke gives more detail) no detail about casting of the nets. Mark’s judgment was that this was unimportant; the call was important. In that we see the primacy of faith.

Sadly, most of us see faith as an end result, not as a starting point. We see it as something we hope God will give us, if we work at it long enough. How does one show such faith as this? By the simple act of obedience. As Bonhoeffer pointed out, we all know that only those who believe, obey. But it is equally true that only those who obey can believe. By the act of obedience they commit themselves to faith.

Faith, it seems, comes in varying degrees – even among the closest friends of Jesus. You will recall that when the women told the disciples about the Resurrection, John and Peter raced to the tomb. Peter went in first – but wondered. John believed. Jesus loved them both.


It’s hard for us to think otherwise. We commonly have the impression that certain types of people make “good Christians.” The impression is conveyed because our eyes see certain types of people as good Christians – most of whom can speak in public rather well. But it would be naïve to conclude that public speaking is a prerequisite to being a friend of Jesus Christ.

Peter, we know, is the man of action. This is the one who sees his Lord walking on the water and wants to do the same. At the last encounter, it is Peter who jumps into the lake to go to him first. Action first, thought later (maybe never) – that’s Peter. Heart and strength are his strong points.

John is much more contemplative. Though not particularly a scholar (that’s Paul) he is a deep thinking man. To this man is accorded the title, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” His is not so much intellectual skill as mystic vision. If Paul is the representative of those who love with the mind, then John is the one who loves with the soul. Apparently, the friends of Christ come in all types. That is a comfort.

Men of labor

One thing such men have in common: they are honest laborers at their craft. This is not always the case – Matthew, also known as Levi, was a prize skunk – but for those closest to the Carpenter, hard work is a necessity.

It is not just hard work; it is diligence. These men are mending their nets, taking care of their equipment. Jesus wants those who will take care of his church. Faithful in small things, they will be faithful in much – and an example for us.

Men of power?

One thing these friends of Jesus are not: men of power. These are not the rich and famous, the influential – the shakers and movers of the day. With twelve unarmed men Jesus would turn the world upside down. Not one of them was a man of power. Why?

  • First, so that God’s glory might be seen. Anyone who examines the church from the world’s view must be struck that its beginnings were made by those who were so few and powerless.
  • Next, so that our own pride might not overwhelm us. To be so close to the Lord of Creation would be a temptation to pride – so we must be able to look back at our roots and know that he chose us.
  • Finally, so that He may be lifted up. Nobody pays attention to a fisherman’s tale – but if Christ be lifted up, he will draw all to him.

The One who calls

We must also understand the very nature of the one who makes the call.

My call, my family

If you will note what the disciples did not do, it will be clearer. They did not consult with their families, in particular with their father – who owned the boat! This call is one which is above such considerations.

But that does not mean that the heartstrings were not pulled. Can you imagine James and John leaving their father – who by now is rather old, in the standards of the time – in the hands of the hired help? The call to serve the Lord cost the house of Zebedee rather severely, and perhaps dad paid the biggest price. It is a fact: if you would be the friend of Christ, your family will appear to suffer for it.

How, then, can we say that following the call of Christ is a good thing, if the family suffers for it? It is a matter of authority.

All authority is given to Christ; in particular, all moral authority – the definition of right and wrong – is his, by his very nature. The very authority that tells you to care for your parents is the same authority that says he takes precedence over them. So when the call comes – and eventually it will come for most of us – to choose Christ over our families, the choice should be clear. Painful – but clear.

The second call

It is not clear from this account, but this is the second time Jesus has called the disciples. The first was before John the Baptist was thrown in prison. Evidently the fishermen went back to the boat after John was arrested. Peter in particular likes fishing; after the Resurrection, it was what was on his mind. As Chrysostom said, “You know how greedy a thing fishing is.”

But the desire of our Lord is that all might be saved; he is, as some have called, him, Lord of the Second Chance. So he does not just hint that it would be OK to come back; he calls. It is in his very nature to stand at the door and knock.

It is also his very nature to forgive and restore those who answer the call. Remember how he restored Peter at the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection? You may think you were called once, but now it is too late. Consider again: your Lord may return to you and call again. Be listening.

Fear not

Luke’s account includes the story of the huge catch they make at Christ’s command – and Peter’s reaction. He was afraid, because he was a sinner. But Christ’s call comes with the injunction, “Fear Not.”

  • Some of us are afraid because we have the cares of this world on our minds. What shall we eat, if we follow him? It is foolishness and lack of faith! Is the one who created all things so powerless to feed and clothe you?
  • More often, we care what other people will think of us. We might get the reputation of being a fanatic. Consider: if you are a child of the most high God, should you care? Does your ultimate approval depend upon the vote of the fashion police, or upon your Lord?
  • Once in a while we get the chance to see the opposition clearly. We know that being a friend of Christ is to be enemy to the world – and the world is very powerful. Do we really believe that “greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world?”
Follow me

The call is personal. It is not to a system of doctrine; it is not to a particular group of people; it is a call to follow Jesus, the Christ. Beside this call, what else could matter?

The call

For almost two thousand years men have been hearing this call. It has attracted the weak and the mighty, the rich and the poor, from all tribes and tongues. Often it has resulted in sacrifice and death, willingly faced. In western civilization, if you want a suicide squad, you must put a noble task before noble men.

The promises

It’s interesting. Peter and Andrew are told that they will be fishers of men; a great promise. James and John receive no promise at all. But the promises of Jesus Christ are indeed awesome.

  • There is the promise of the work in this life – a challenge that dwarfs all others. The Christian must – quite literally – be willing to take on the world.
  • There is the promise of reward in the life to come.
  • There is also this promise: that Jesus will be with you, every step of the way.

The truth is rather simple: you can buy good performance with money, prestige and power. That’s the world’s method. Christ offers instead the pearl of great price, which costs us everything we have. There are no half measures here.

Fishers of men

What does it mean, to be fishers of men? A clue is given to us in the word used for the net. This word is used only in this context. It is a huge net, shaped like a giant balloon. You use it when you want to catch all the fish in a given area. You throw it out, wait until it balloons out, and then drag it in – and then separate the fish, good from the bad. The kingdom is like that; we will bring in those whose love for Jesus fades quickly; we will face those who will not listen; we will deal with those who endure only until it gets risky. Our job is to use the net; he’ll sort it all out at the end.

Their fates

It seems that our Lord rather customizes things. We know the fates of three of these men:

  • James was beheaded – rather early in the history of the church.
  • Peter was crucified upside down, as an old man.
  • John lived through much persecution to a ripe old age (approaching 100) and died a natural death.

Who can say what the fate of a man might be? Only God, who works all things for the good of those who love him.

Tests for us

Would you want to be a friend of Jesus, the Christ? There are some simple tests in this passage:

  • What is your character? Are you faithful in little? Hard working? A man of faith and obedience?
  • How do you see Jesus – as a nice guy handing out celestial candy bars, or as the Lord of All? Including you?
  • Are you willing to hear the call he makes to you? “Softly and tenderly” says one hymn; he stands at the door and knocks. Will you listen?

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