The Call to Follow
Our Scripture this morning is Mark 1:14-20. We continue our series in the Gospel of Mark. Last week we saw Jesus enter into the story Mark is telling with his baptism and testing in the wilderness. Today, we will hear Jesus speak for the first time. I invite you to follow along as I read from God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’
16 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. 17 And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. 
The grass withers and the flower fades but the word of the Lord endures forever.
Prayer of Illumination:
O Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. May I only speak your Word to your people. May your Spirit be working in our hearts so that we can receive your Word and be transformed. In Christ, Amen.
When I was about 10 or 11, one of the most popular songs was “Follow Me”. You couldn’t escape the song. It was everywhere. It was on every station. The song is about giving into forbidden love. The chorus goes, “Follow me and everything is all right, I’ll be the one to tuck you in at night, and if you want to leave I guarantee you won’t find nobody else like me”. The man is encouraging his love to follow him in giving into their love.
While that’s a cheesy song, Jesus calls his people to follow him. Last week, Jesus made his entrance into Mark’s gospel with his baptism, the symbolization that he identified with his people and would bear their judgment, and his testing in the wilderness. Today, he begins the proclamation of the gospel calling his people to “follow him”.
That is virtually unheard of. Rabbis in Jesus’ time did not go around calling disciples to follow them. The way it usually worked back then was students would go to a rabbi, prove his worth, and the rabbi would then decide whether or not to take him on as a student. But Jesus did and still does. He is the one who initiates the call to follow.
The first words out of Jesus’ mouth were “follow me”. That call to follow him changed the world. The men he called to follow him became the leaders in the Church; they proclaimed the gospel throughout the Mediterranean world. By the fourth century, the Church went from a persecuted religion on the edge of the Roman Empire to the dominant force in Europe. As we examine this passage, we’ll see what the message of Jesus consist of, the radical nature of the call to follow, and the progressive nature of the call.
The Message of Jesus
We read in verses 14 and 15, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” Mark is incredibly succinct his reporting of Jesus’ message. There are two words that are important in this passage; the words gospel and kingdom.
The word gospel, sometimes translated as good news, today is used almost exclusively in a religious sense. But until Christianity, the word was used in connection with significant events that gave people a reason to rejoice. One of the most prolific uses of the word “gospel” is in conjunction with Augustus Caesar. We have pieces of papyrus that reads, “This is the beginning of the gospel of Augustus Caesar …” This is the story of Augustus’ birth. It was heralded as good news. That was a historic event that brought peace throughout the Roman Empire. It was good news.
When the Greeks defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, the messenger who ran from the battle to Athens said, “Good news”. It was a historic event in that the Persian Empire was not invincible and the Athenian democracy would continue.
What Mark is saying is that the “gospel of God” is a historic event that should cause us to rejoice. This is what separates the Christian religion from every other religion. Every other religion, at least as far as I can tell, is not “good news something has happened”. Every other religion says, “Do this. Complete this.” That’s not good news. That’s law.
Christianity says something completely and utterly different. Christianity says, “Good news something has happened. Jesus came, he lived the life we fail to live, he died in our place on the cross”. Christianity is a historic religion. The truths of the gospel are based in historic facts. This is good news.
Because this a religion based on historic facts, Jesus calls his people to “repent and believe”. The first thing he says is repent. Repentance is the recognition of sin and then the turning away from that sin. The first thing is to recognize that we sin. To repent of our sin is to first admit that we have lied, we have cheated, we have failed to meet God’s standards as found in Scripture.
Then it is the turning away from those sins. If we’re a liar, repentance means that we stop lying. If we’re a gossip, it means that we stop gossiping. If it’s worshipping something other than the triune God, we cease worshipping that idol and worship the true God.
Now, if Christianity was just “repent” that wouldn’t be good news. That wouldn’t be gospel. That would be the law. But after “repent”, Jesus says “believe in the gospel”. He calls us to repent of our sins but he also urges us to believe the gospel. Jesus urges us to believe that on the cross he bore the sins for his people so that we wouldn’t. That is the gospel. That is the message of Jesus.
Our worship is designed to reflect Jesus’ message. We have a confession of sin where we confession as a body our sin before taking a moment to silently confess. The point of that is to give an opportunity for us to take a moment and acknowledge our sin and allow us to turn away from it. It gives us an opportunity to repent.
But if we stopped there, that would not be the gospel. That would law. After our confession of sin, I read a passage of Scripture that assures of that God has pardoned our sin; that Jesus has born the consequences of our sin so we wouldn’t.
The reason we do that is twofold. First, it is to expose the basic gospel rhythm to people who might not know it. When someone comes into our worship who hasn’t heard the gospel they are exposed to the gospel message of repent of your sins and believe that Jesus has borne the consequences of them on the cross throughout the service. One of my favorite theologians calls this doxological evangelism. Non-Christians, or people who think they’re Christians but aren’t, hear the gospel re-presented during our service and the Holy Spirit can take that time to illumine their hearts to their sin and comfort them with belief in the gospel. That’s only possible because of the dual call to repent and believe; to confess our sins and be assured of our pardon in Christ.
Secondly, our worship reflects the gospel call to repent and believe so that we can grow and progress in our faith. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this here because we’ll be talking about the progressive nature of Jesus’ call in a few minutes. But I want to say right here that the gospel rhythm of confession / repentance and then assurance of pardon is meant to help us more deeply believe the good news. It is meant to help us mature as believers and know more fully that Christ bore the penalty for our sins.
The first word of importance in this passage is gospel. The second is kingdom. Jesus says that “the kingdom of God is at hand”. Back in Genesis 1 and 2, God is depicted as king. About a month ago when we were looking at the prophecies from the Old Testament that prepare us for Christ we looked at Genesis 3. And in Genesis 3 we saw that we rebelled against God and his kingship. Ever since then, the world has been in a state of rebellion against God and his kingship.
Here in Jesus, the rebellion is finally being put down. Jesus’ life and ministry is the in-breaking of God’s kingdom into hostile territory. It is in Jesus that God’s kingdom has come and will fully come when he returns.
The Radical Nature of Jesus’ Call
In verses 16-20 we read, “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. 17 And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him”.
Jesus has been proclaiming his message of repentance and believing in the gospel. But he also calls people to him. We don’t recognize just how radical this call is. In traditional culture, family was the most important thing.
Many of you have met my parents and some of you know that my dad is an engineer. Now in a traditional culture, I would also be an engineer. You should be very happy I’m not. Math is not my strength. But in a traditional culture that’s the family line of work, and you continue in that line of work otherwise you shame the family.
Even today in traditional cultures, the family is more important than the individual. Some friends of mine were missionaries to Afghanistan for 25 years. They told me just how important the family is compared to the individual. That’s why people take insults against their family seriously; that’s why they take someone’s shame seriously. It’s not just a reflection of that individual but the entire family. The family is more important than the individual.
That was true of the culture that Jesus ministered in. The family was more important than the individual. And yet, Jesus calls them to leave their families behind and follow him. In Luke 14:26 he says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple”.
When Jesus says hate here, he means hate comparatively. The call to follow him must come first and everything else should pale in comparison to that. That was a radical idea back then just as it is now. That doesn’t mean we never see our families again or never work again. We know that Simon Peter continued to be married. One of Jesus’ first miracles is healing Peter’s mother-in-law.
The call is not to abandon our families or our jobs. The radical nature of the call is that Jesus comes before our parents, our children and grandchildren; that Jesus comes before our work, before our hobbies and activities. The radical nature of the call is that we follow Jesus before everything else in our lives.
Maybe you’re thinking that leads to fanaticism. Maybe you’re thinking, “If I follow Jesus before everything and everyone else won’t I just end up like the Westboro Baptist Church?” If you’ve forgotten, the Westboro Baptist Church they were a church from Topeka that would go around protesting pretty much everything. The culture at large considered them fanatics and tried to avoid them at all costs.
Many, when they hear Jesus’ radical call, following that will lead to becoming like the Westboro Baptist Church. So they think the way to not become a fanatic is to not follow as closely; they think the way not to become a fanatic is to dial it back.
If we truly follow Jesus like he calls us to, then we actually won’t be fanatics; we won’t be like those who are only known for their hatred. If we actually follow Jesus’ call to put him first, we won’t become angry fanatics. If we follow Jesus’ call to put him first, we will become like that. We will become more patient, more loving, more forgiving. We will become better parents and grandparents, better employees and employers. We’ll become better neighbors. But that only happens if we put him first. That only happens if we love him so much our love for everything else looks like hatred in comparison.
The Progressive Nature of Jesus’ Call
While Jesus’ call is radical, it’s also progressive. For many of us, the bible that we read is the NIV. While I have nothing against the NIV, occasionally there are issues with the translation – as there are with any translation. The NIV translates verse 17 as, “Come follow me … and I will make you fishers of men”. When we think of Jesus’ call, that’s how we think of it in our minds. We think, “I will make you fishers of men”.
There’s actually this Greek word right before “fishers of men”. The word is “to be”. What it actually says is, “Come follow me … and I will make you to become fishers of men”. Do you see the difference? In the NIV’s translation the implication is that you follow Jesus and boom you’re now a fisher of men. But in the ESV’s translation is that you follow Jesus, you learn his ways, and progressively you become a fisher of men. It’s subtle but it’s important. There is a progressive nature to Jesus’ call. We progressively become more like him. It doesn’t happen in an instance.
So how does that happen? That happens as we worship. As we confess weekly, hopefully daily, and assure ourselves that in Jesus Christ our sin is pardoned we progressively become more like him. As we regularly repent and believe we progressively stop our habitual sins and look more like Jesus. That’s why it’s good for us, even if we’re mature believers, to be constantly reminding ourselves of the gospel rhythm of repent and believe; confess and the assurance that we are pardoned in Christ. That rhythm in worship helps progress us in our Christian faith.
The progressive nature of following Jesus means that the more we believe the gospel, the more we look like Jesus, the more we are able to be a fisher of men. As we continually repent our of sins and believe the gospel, our habitual sins will progressively disappear from our lives. That is the Holy Spirit working in us, sanctifying us.
As we are sanctified, we begin to resemble Jesus more and more. Then our family members, our coworkers, our neighbors see a change in us. They notice that our temper has disappeared. They notice that we are more forgiving and gracious. They notice that our words build others up. That will cause them to ask, “What caused you to change?” And we’ll gladly and joyfully tell them about Jesus. That’s when we will be the most effective fishers of men we could ever be.
The call of Jesus is to follow him, to repent of our sins and believe the good news. It is to follow him and love him more than everyone and everything else. It is to progressively become more like him. That is the call of Jesus. That is what it is to follow him.
 Edmund Clowney, “The Singing Savior,” Moody Monthly, July–August 1979, 42; also Timothy J. Keller’s reflections on Clowney’s work in Carson, Worship by the Book, 218–19.