A Compelling Call (Mark 1:16-20)

“This job is like something akin to the world of Harry Potter, in it you must learn the defence against the dark arts….” so roughly read the job description. I wonder what you think it might have been advertising? Reaching a junction in life is often a strange experience, especially when you know that it is coming and you find yourself trying to discern which road you will end up going down before you get to that junction point.

In the Church of Ireland, most curacies are around three years, which means in the months before that metaphorical crossroads, you want to have some idea about the direction you might be going, if not even the road you might end up travelling. However, I quickly learned that finding the proper role and path takes time. No matter how stressful that season was, I often found myself amused as I scanned the internet for jobs in the Anglican church. I often found some of the strangest role descriptions you could think of: like the one describing being an assistant minister as something similar to Harry Potter.

Yes, how we describe something is essential, because it shows our understanding of what that role or responsibility might be. Thus, we need to get it right and have clarity around the language we might use to outline the thing we are looking for or the scenario we might explain. Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen how John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah and proclaimed his imminent coming, and then how Jesus identified himself as Messiah and made clear his messianic mission. Before being brought into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tried and tested and prove himself worthy of the work and call of God. Imagine with the knowledge that if Jesus came to you and asked you to write the profile of the type of person he needed to be His disciple and the job description for such a role.

What sort of person do you think would be needed to learn about such work and then carry it on? How would you even begin to describe the role and potential employer? What we know this morning is that no matter the personal profile we might build or the job description we might write, it looks nothing like the reality of Christ’s call and working in his Kingdom! In five short verses Jesus makes clear to us the type of person who he will call to follow him and just what that call looks like.

Passage: Mark 1:16-20 NIV

As 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 send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once, they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delayHe called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

The Type of People That Jesus Recruits (16)

If you want to see what unreal expectations around a job might look like, then the first place you should look is Church Times or other places that might be used to advertise ministry jobs. It always fascinates me how churches come up with the type of person they are looking for and the amount fo work they expect them to do, the joke often being among ministers that Jesus would not make the standards that some of his vacant churches are looking for.

We know that the ethic and way of Jesus defines the Kingdom, two things that should look nothing like the world, yet, when it comes to recuitment in the church, what often shapes our expectations around people and leadership are earthly notions of success, power, and prestige. We think we need the people that the world looks to in order to have any success or impact on the broader world. I am sadly not just talking about churches hiring new staff; I find myself thinking about this in terms of every aspect of church life and services; we don’t just want anyone to step up and serve. We want the best people that we can find! It’s not that there is anything wrong with finding skilled people; it is, however we think with the wrong lens and the wrong understanding. We believe that God can only work through the pinnacle of humanity. Hence, when something needs to be done in church, we tend to look beyond ourselves and the normal everyday people because we think “How could God possibly work through me.”

We might view ourselves, our service and the worth of others for use in the kingdom of God and the work of Christ; however it is not the lens through which Jesus sees us, and it is not how he teaches here. It is the way of the Kingdom summed up in the most mundane of scenes, as there along the shores of the Sea of Galilee walks Jesus on a recruitment drive. Who is he among? The most mundane and normal of people, there is nothing fancy about this scene as Jesus sets out to recruit the first members of his movement, but this is where he has chosen to look because he knows the type of people he is looking for and what qualifies them (trusting in him).

Hence, as much as we notice where Jesus is and who he calls, we need to see where he is not and who he does not contact! Jesus does not recruit his first disciples among the hustle and bustle of the city of Jerusalem; he is not walking among his culture’s finest looking for the well-educated, pious, righteous, or those born of the right family. Jesus is not where the powers of the world are, and he is not looking for the power of the world. No, he could not be any further away from the centre of his culture and context as he walks along the sea of Galilee among everyday people doing everyday things. Why is he there? Because these are the people that Jesus came for and the people that Jesus will use. Now we are not saying that Jesus will not use people who are highly skilled or qualified; anyone can enter into the Kingdom of God and live in service for God as long as they know their sinfulness, need for saving and acknowledge the Lordship and work of Jesus in their life; then in the power of the Holy Spirit God can and will use anyone. But what we are being drawn here is how the location of recruitment and the recruited people confronts the notions of the world and his time. There as Jesus walked along the shore of Galilee and laid his eyes upon the most ordinary of people and called “Come, follow me” to Simon and Andrew, this is what we are meant to see. Sometimes we, when hear the bible so used to it growing up or so far from the context of the original stories, we loose some of the potency and teaching moment but as Mark records this moment, the lesson is simple for all who will read. In the days of Jesus, Fishermen where the least likely to ever be called as disciples or respond to such a call, and yet there on the shore of Galilee, two brothers heard the voice of Jesus and left everything to follow him. Mark writes to make it clear that the kingdom of God will look nothing like the world, and what qualifies people to work in it is nothing of the world; we do not qualify ourselves rather we are limited by the one who calls us when we respond.

Thus, in the most ordinary of places among the most mundane people, we are reminded that (to use an old Christian quip) “Jesus does not call the qualified. Rather he qualifies the called!” Today, no matter who we are, what our history is, our qualifications or lack of them, or skills or distinct unskillfulness – if we are Disciples of Jesus (those who bear his name and have responded to what he has done), then we have no excuse to makes when it comes to knowing our usefulness or qualifications for service in the call and Kingdom of God.

If we are children of God, then the words that rang in the ears of Andrew and Simon-Peter still reverberate two thousand years later to all whom the Holy Spirit is bringing to faith as Jesus goes on to outline that he is not looking for the qualified, and he will qualify what it means for EVERYONE to follow him. Not only does he call the two brothers, but he also clarifies what he is calling them (and every disciple): work that will not depend on our quality but on our faithfulness and trust in the one who calls.

The Job Description of Discipleship (17)

Once when I saw a new role that I had thought I might have been interested in, I sent an email asking to see their profile and role description. When I heard the ping of the returning email in my inbox, I was excited to read about the opportunity and the person they were looking for. That was until I opened up a Role/ Personal Description PDF that was eight pages long! Sometimes we can get loose in detail about something we are either looking for or considering – either way when there is too much information, it can cause us to lose interest and look for something else. Sometimes the devil can be in the detail and not in a good way.

The beautiful thing about the Kingdom of God, where grace is the ethic and mercy the norm, is that there is little detail about requirements or specifications for those who wish to enter it and serve in it. Why? Because we do not meet the requirements for entry or service, they are met by the one who calls us in. Hence, as Jesus calls his first discipleships in the most normal places, the call is simple yet all-consuming. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Hearing him call out: “Come, follow me”, and responding to it. Knowing that the call is simple, and what qualifies us is nothing we bring but what He has done for us—yet, knowing that while the call is simple and the response easy for those who love him, it is all-consuming and demands our all. To be a disciple of Jesus and enter into His Kingdom is hearing him call you and responding to it by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in you. Yet, while this hearing and responding is a vital part of entering and living in the Kingdom of God beautifully, there is more to it, as Mark Dever says:

“The Christian life is the discipled life and the discipling life.”

The Christian life is the discipled life (meaning hearing the call and responding to it) and the discipling life (meaning sharing the call and helping others to listen to it and react to it). It is that “discipling life” that Jesus goes on to outline in the second part of his teaching what it means to follow him as he takes working imagery all too familiar to the brothers and applies it to what they will do with Him and for Him through the power of the Holy Spirit: “and I will send you out to fish for people.”

The Only Response: All or Nothing (18-20)

I wonder what the most exciting thing you have ever experienced is? Have you ever found yourself with someone or somewhere and been drawn towards someone or to do something? If I think back through all the years I have lived, I cannot remember one moment or experience where I felt drawn to do something at the abandonment of everything else. Thus, when I think of my life and how rare such a moment is, to be drawn by such beauty, compelled towards something by its sense of power. Most of us will float through life without ever experiencing such a moment.

All or Nothing

That is why I find the flow of this passage so intriguing and compelling: here is the most ordinary of situations, and something extraordinary happens. As two brothers hear the call of Jesus and what it looks like, what do they do? They respond! Verse 18 lacks any detail but contains so much drama as in nine English words (NIV), Mark tells us that the brothers leave their net at once and “followed him.” We must be clear about the severity of such a movement and what it is meant to teach us about following Jesus. These might have been working-class people, but two successful brothers who, in our language, owned their own business, which was their livelihood and support for their wider families. Yet, when they heard the voice of Jesus calling them to follow him and become fishers of people and when their eyes gazed upon him in his splendid normality, they could do nothing but leave it all behind and follow him. This is not a limited following to see what it might be like; no, the language Mark uses makes it clear that this is an all-encompassing movement. To the call of Jesus, they had responded by abandoning all that they had and all that they had trusted in and committing all that was theirs to his teaching and cause.

Even though they would have had no idea what that might have looked like, even though they had no clue what would be ahead, the brothers knew and believed as they gazed upon the person of Jesus and heard his voice of Jesus speaking to them that they had found what they had been waiting for, more than that: they had found what they had been made for. They had weighed the value of all that was theirs and compared it to Jesus at that moment and knew that in him, his call, and their future with him, they had found something infinitely more valuable than all they had known and all they could know without him, so the happily left it all and moved to him.

There is little detail in Mark’s writing, but the fact there is vital for us, our living and eternity, as Mark wants us to see what the only response to Jesus can be. It is all or nothing! There is no half measure in the Kingdom of God; thus, what the brothers display to us in verse 18 is the only response to the call of Jesus: we either hear the voice of Jesus calling our name, to be his disciple and to join in the work of his Kingdom and delight in accepting it by the power of the Holy Spirt or we do not. There is no half measure, no grey area in between or not. When we look upon Jesus each and hear his voice, we are confronted with a choice of trust and value: will we trust in created things or the creator? Will we try to find value in the things of the world, or will we see the eternal value of Jesus and knowing him.

The brothers did not know what was ahead. Still, each time we read the bible, encounter Jesus and hear the good news of the Gospel, we do so with access to the fullness of what he has done for us on the Cross, where he died upon the cross and was raised again and in one glorious movement defeated death and made possible for all who bear the image of God to become children of God through Grace and Mercy by faith. When the good news of Jesus and the call of Christ to each of us, there is only one response: we must leave it all to follow him because we know in him we have found something of infinite worth, beauty and value – something that the world cannot give us nor take forms us.

The call of Jesus requires all of us, or it affects none of us. There is no grey area or between; we are either God’s children and Disciples of Jesus, or we are not. So let us not lesson the worshipful and delightful response that the Grace of God demands us because to respond to it is to see the beauty of Jesus and what he has done, and to ignore it is still to trust in other things or ourselves. Maybe we have been coming to church for a lifetime; perhaps we live good ethical lives concerned for others and shaped by Christian values. Those are all good things, yet as Timothy Keller notes: “If there is a God, you owe him far more than a morally decent life. He deserves to be at the centre of your life.”1It is this that Mark makes clear in this passage and the rest of his writings: The only thing that counts in light of eternity is our first response to the call of Jesus, like the brothers our movement from the world towards a life with Jesus and for Him in the power of the Holy Spirit to the Glory of God. Then everything flows from that. To encounter Jesus is to be changed by him and to delight in committing to him.

Thus, to clarify the point, Mark includes another scene almost identical as Jesus moves down the shore and spots two brothers, James and John, preparing their nets in the presence of their father and the hired workers. Men again of great wealth and work ethic – what do they do when they hear the call of Jesus? They leave it all to follow him, and they might know not why, but they know that in the person of Jesus, they have found what they have been waiting for! Hence, for them, there is no other choice. It is all or nothing when it comes to following Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer captured it perfectly when he wrote: “No, God and the world, God and its goods are incompatible, because the world and its goods make a bid for our hearts, and only when they have won them do they become what they really are. That is how they thrive, which is why they are incompatible with allegiance to God. Our hearts have room only for one all-embracing devotion, and we can only cleave to one Lord. ” 2

Conclusion: A Compelling Call

In a few short verses, as we continue to walk our way through the Gospel of Mark, we have seen the type of person who Jesus wants: not the qualified nor the elite of the world; no, the person who Jesus wants to become his disciple, enter his Kingdom receive from him is the one who is responsive and trusts in Jesus’s work and Lordship over all the. Who is it that Jesus wants? Someone who will respond to his call and saving work. Then we know what it means to be his disciple and enter into his Kingdom: That we come through Mercy’s Gate by responding to his Grace, knowing that its nothing for us and everything of him.

We know the type of person Jesus wants, and now we also know what it means to come to him. To become a disciple of Jesus is not an inactive reality but an active one where the movement continues until he comes again. Jesus calls the brothers to himself and calls them to a purpose – to become fishers of people. That which was true for them is true for all of us; today, we must wrestle with what it means to live as Christ’s disciples where he has placed us. What does it mean for us to continue to walk with Jesus as he calls us forward and “fish for people” in the normal of our everyday? Discipleship is an active existence, not an inactive waiting, so let’s ensure we are getting on with the call of Christ and producing Gospel fruit with the help of the Holy Spirit, where God has called us to build his Kingdom. Let us each consider as individuals and a church family what it means to live out the great commission call in this city, share God’s love, build the Kingdom and make the compelling beauty of Christ and his Gospel in word and deed.

Finally, let us consider the lesson and challenges of the two sets of brothers who delighted in leaving everything behind at that moment to respond to the call of God. They saw Jesus and heard the ring, and even though they knew not the cost or hardship, they knew the value of living for him and being in his presence. They remind us that there is a cost to our discipleship, and while Christ has paid it, we must should the value of that purchase by our pursuit of Jesus and our living out his kingdom call. Today let us consider :

  1. The Type of Person who can come to know God and how they look nothing like the world.
  2. That Call to follow, how the call to follow is continuous and purposeful; thus, we must weigh what that looks like in our context.
  3. The cost of Grace as made known by the cross and how the brothers model what true repentance and trust look like for us today. What it means to respond to His call; is that our lives must show that value.

The call of Christ is compelling so let us make sure we have considered it to its fullest, what it means to live out each day and how our lives must display the value of his Grace by the fullness of our commitment to him. There are no better words than to finish with that a famous quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“And if we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? We shall have to go to him to answer this question, for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy.” 3

  1. Encounters with Jesus
  2. Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
  3. Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

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