Summary: Every Christian has a part to play.
THE CALL OF THE FIRST DISCIPLES
1. The call of the Gospel (Mark 1:14-15)
After Jesus’ baptism by John, and His successful wilderness encounter against Satan - this short passage introduces a seemingly ominous note to Mark’s gospel narrative: John was put in prison (Mark 1:14). However, this was nothing less than what the Baptist had come to expect: as he had himself said, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (John 3:30). Perhaps this may serve to inform the ensuing call and commission of the first disciples: there is a cost to pay for following Jesus!
John had preached a baptism for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4). The Baptist had also proclaimed beforehand the coming of Jesus (Mark 1:7-8). Now Jesus announced “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” - and to this indicative He added His own imperative: “repent, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
For centuries, the world had awaited a Saviour. Now He was come - fulfilling prophecy, and meeting expectation and hope. The kingdom of God was manifested amongst His people in the Person of King Jesus.
The general call of the gospel goes out on the initiative of God, and it is for us to make the right response. If we are saved, it is because of His mercy. If we are lost, it is our own silly fault.
As Jesus walked along the shore of the sea of Galilee, He saw two fishermen casting a net, the brothers Simon and Andrew. “Follow me,” He said, “and I will make you to become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Similarly Jesus called the two sons of Zebedee, who were mending their nets in their father’s ship (Mark 1:19).
Some translations treat this word as if it was a verb: as if He was saying, ‘I will make you to fish men.’ But the word is a noun: “they were fishers” (Mark 1:16); and the Lord was going to make them “to become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). The difference is that the Lord was not calling them to do something: ‘to fish for men’ - but to BE something: “fishers-of-men.”
Our call by God does not have anything to do with who or what we are, but rather with what He might make us to become. This was particularly true of the first little band of disciples, whose call to “repent and believe” was immediately followed by a more particular calling to Apostleship. Yet in some ways, the call to be “fishers of men” belongs to the whole church, and is a paradigm for each one of us.
The call of King Jesus is totally authoritative. The response of Simon and Andrew was immediate, and complete: they left their nets and followed Him (Mark 1:18). And James and John, like their ancestor Abraham before them, ‘left their father’s house, not knowing where they were going’ (Hebrews 11:8) - and followed Jesus (Mark 1:20).
Not everyone is called to the office of Apostleship, but every Christian does nevertheless have a part to play. Not everyone belongs in a pulpit, but each has a message to share. The fisherman’s tasks are many: Simon and Andrew were casting their nets; James and John were mending theirs in their father‘s ship, surrounded by servants who no doubt had their own tasks to fulfil.