Fishers Of Men
Sunday, April 23rd, 2023
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel. 16 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. 18 And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. 19 And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. 20 And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.
Father as we consider the calling of the first disciples, we ask that you would teach us to follow Your Son the Lord Jesus, more faithfully, more immediately, and more joyfully, whatever the cost. We ask for your Holy Spirit, in Jesus name, Amen.
When Jesus calls people to follow Him, He often does so at very inconvenient times. God has a timing of His own and sometimes it surprises us, it interrupts our routines, it messes with our schedules. And if that has been your experience of the Christian life you are in good company, because that was the experience of the first four disciples.
Simon, Andrew, James and John, are all called to follow Jesus in the middle of their workday. They are simply told to drop everything and follow Him.
And so the force of our text this morning is to make us wrestle with the question: Are we willing to do the same? If Christ were to come and interrupt us, in the middle of all the things we have going on, are we willing to drop everything, and do what He says, go where goes, follow where He leads?
That is the question before us this morning.
Looking at our text, there are three basic movements to these seven verses:
1. The arrival of Jesus to Galilee (verses 14-15)
2. The calling of Simon and Andrew (verses 16-18)
3. The calling of James and John (verses 19-20)
And together these three movements constitute the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. This is that moment in every great story where the protagonist sets off on his journey and is going to meet people along the way. He has already done battle against Satan, He was in the wilderness with wild beasts, and now it is time to find friends for the journey.
In the language of middle-earth, we have left the Shire and are off on an adventure! So let us to our text.
14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God…
Here we have the passing of the baton from John to Jesus. John was a man who stood at the intersection of two ages, between the time of the Law and its Prophets of which He was the last, and the time of the Gospel and the Kingdom, of which Christ is the first.
So John, with one foot in the old age, and another foot in the new, is cast into prison, He is silenced. And unlike Elijah who was miraculously caught up into heaven, John who comes in the Spirit of Elijah is locked up and eventually beheaded.
Jesus says of John in Matthew 11:11, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.”
John was greater than Moses, greater than David, greater than Elijah. And then Jesus says, “notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
So as great as John and the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Law were, the least in Christ’s kingdom surpasses them. This is how momentous the coming of Christ’s kingdom is.
And so with John’s imprisonment, the sun sets on the time of the Law. And with Christ’s arrival, the dawn of a new era begins. As it says in Isaiah 9:2, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…on them the light has shone.”
So after John (and the era he represents) is imprisoned, Jesus, the light of the world, comes into Galilee,a region bustling with commerce (he is no longer in the wilderness), and it is here that he announces the gospel: God’s kingdom has come. In verse 15 we hear the contents of this announcement.
15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
Here in this single sentenced is the essence of the Christian religion. There are two declarations followedby two imperatives. Two statements of fact, of truth, of reality, of what is, from which necessarily flow two commands. The first declaration Jesus makes is that:
1. “The time is fulfilled.” What time is Jesus talking about?
He is talking about the time that was prophesied in the Garden of Eden 4,000 years prior. The time in which a son would be born to crush the serpent’s head. The time in which a bridegroom would come to rescue His bride, and the two would become one flesh.
Jesus is talking about the time of which Nebuchadnezzar dreamt and Daniel interpreted. As it says in Daniel 2:44, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” This is the Kingdom Jesus comes to bring and the time is here for its arrival.
What the prophets called “the last days (or latter days)” is what Jesus is referring to when He says, “the time is fulfilled.”In Jesus, the last days of the old creation have come. As Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:17, “If any man be in Christ, new creation! old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
This is the time that Jesus announces as fulfilled. And with it all the prophesies about the latter days start to come to fruition.
The second declaration Jesus makes is that…
2. “The kingdom of God is at hand.” And perhaps the best way for us to understand this statement, is to imagine a great messenger going into all the state capitals, and all the central business districts, all the places where public life happens, and he announces to all who can hear that, “The Kingdom of Russia has arrived, the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of Vladimir Putin is at hand.” Imagine that was the headline on every major news network.
How would you receive that news?
Well, it would really depend on what you thought about Russia and Vladimir Putin. Are your values and lifestyle aligned with the ways of Russia? Do you welcome their arrival or resent it? Maybe you think anything could be better than President Biden and the Democrats, bring on the Russians. You might think, do I stand to benefit and profit from the kingdom of Russia, or will it be detrimental to my personal interests. You can imagine there are all sorts of potential reactions someone might have to this announcement. And so it is when Jesus announces “the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
For those who love God and are aligned with the values and morals of the kingdom, this is the best news in the world. But for those who do not love God, or for those who worship other gods, whose values and interests are at home with the kingdoms of this world, to them the gospel is a threat! It is a challenge to the present regime. And in this sense, Jesus’ preaching is spiritual warfare. It is David taunting Goliath before severing head from body. Jesus’ preaching is a king offering terms of peace before invasion. That is what the gospel is. It is an offense to those who do not love God, and salvation to those who do.
So if it is indeed true that this kingdom of God has come then the commands that follow should be obvious, Jesus says, “You must repent and believe the gospel.”
What is repentance?
To repent means to have a change of mind. To turn away from your vomit, from the corrupt and despicable things that come out of you, and to look upon all that is good and true and beautiful in Jesus.
Repentance is renouncing the devil and his works, forsaking sin, and loving and embracing righteousness. That is the repentance Jesus demands because with the arrival of the kingdom comes justice and judgment, and you want to be on the right side of that.
What is it to believe the gospel?
To believe the gospel is to live by faith, it is to believe what Jesus says. As it says in Habakkuk 2:4, “the soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: But the just shall live by his faith.”
The opposite of faith is pride and self-reliance. Faith in self instead of faith in God. And Scripture says, the soul that is proud, that person that exalts himself, is the one who will be laid low; but the just man is the one who forsakes himself and lives by faith.
This is what Jesus commands if you want to survive the arrival of His kingdom. You must repent and believe the gospel. You must live by faith in the Son of God. That is the essence of the Christian religion.
This is what Jesus comes preaching in Galilee. It is what John the Forerunner prepared and announced, and although he is in chains locked up in prison, “the word of God is not bound” (2 Tim. 2:9). Jesus, the word made flesh, is going about preaching the kingdom. This brings us to our second movement in the text, which is the call of Simon and Andrew.
16 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. 18 And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.
We know from the Gospel of John, that Simon and Andrew were formerly disciples of John the Baptist. So there was already some familiarity between them and Jesus prior to this call to follow him.
Nevertheless, this call to discipleship comes at a curious time and place. Mark seems to go out of his way to inform us that these events took place near to what he calls the Sea of Galilee.
In our minds, when we think of the sea, we think of the ocean or some vast body of water like the Mediterranean. But the Sea of Galilee is tiny compared to the Mediterranean and is really what we would call a lake. In Luke’s gospel, he calls it the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1). And to give you a reference for comparison, the Sea of Galilee (64 square miles) is about twice the size of Lake Washington. So it’s a decent sized lake, but hardly something we call a sea.
But calling this lake the Sea of Galilee is intentional in that it should call to mind all the Old Testament associations we should have with the Sea.
The sea of course is where fish and other creatures live. It is especially where Leviathan, the great dragon lives.
In Leviticus 11, God gives instructions about what kinds of fish are permissible to eat (the ones with fins and scales), while those that do not have fins and scales “shall be an abomination to you.”
And just as we saw last week that in Scripture, wild beasts, represent the foreign nations, so also sea creatures symbolize various foreign powers.
The book of Jonah is perhaps the most famous example, where there the great fish that swallows Jonah is an image of Babylon. Babylon is going to swallow up Israel for a time, take them away from the land (into the sea) and yet in Babylon (inside the fish) God is going to preserve them. And when that three days of death and exile is over, they will be spit out back onto the land (return from exile).
So in Scripture, the sea (like the wilderness) is a dangerous place. In Revelation it is where the great beast arises from (Rev. 13:1), and in the new heaven and new earth that John is shown, he says, “there was no more sea.” That is there are no more foreign nations worshipping foreign gods because they have all been turned into land: the New Jerusalem. When the kingdom comes, when the New Creation arrives, just as it was with the first creation, the sea gives way to land.
So Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee, and he sees Simon and Andrew casting a net into the sea, and he tells them, “Come and follow me, I will make you into fishers of men.”
Why does Jesus choose four fishermen to be his first disciples? Why not shepherds like Moses and David and all the patriarchs were? You read the Old Testament and everyone has sheep and cows and goats, and the setting is always the land. But then you come to the New Testament, and people are fishing, we’re on boats and there are storms and waves, and shipwrecks, in Acts we have Paul traveling like Odysseus to bring the gospel to the Islands.
Well this is all part of the promise that when the Messiah comes, He would bring judgment to the gentiles, to the isles, to the farthest reaches of the earth. And so it is fitting that Jesus chooses four fishermen to be his disciples, to be the ones who will eventually cross the Mediterranean Sea and bring the gospel of the kingdom to the whole world.
Little do they know sitting in their boat, where following Jesus is going to take them. At present they are fishing in lake, but Jesus is going to send them to fish at the ends of the earth.
When you read the Old Testament, fishing doesn’t come up very often, and the few times that it does, it is usually in the context of judgment.
For example, we heard in Jeremiah 16 that God says, “Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. 17 For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes.”
Or Amos 4:1-2 which says, “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, Which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, Which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink. The Lord God hath sworn by his holiness, That, lo, the days shall come upon you, That he will take you away with hooks, And your posterity with fishhooks.”
So in the Old Testament, being a fish, or being inside a fish, or being a fish caught in a net is a typically a sign of judgment. It is a sign of being distant from the promised land.
But there is one text that is an exception, and that is the prophecy of Ezekiel 47 which describes the time between the testaments.
In Ezekiel 40-48, God shows Ezekiel the spiritual reality of the second temple period. When God’s people returned from exile under Ezra and Nehemiah, they rebuild Jerusalem, they rebuild the temple, and although the physical building was not that impressive, God shows Ezekiel that during this era the presence of God is going to extend to places formerly unreached. The presence that was hidden in the most holy place of the tabernacle and temple, would be expanded to encompass the whole city.
Zechariah 14 says that one day, the bells of the horses, and every pot in Jerusalem shall be “holiness unto the Lord.” What was formerly written upon the head of the high priest as a sign of his holiness, would be extend to the common pots and bowls and the bells of horses.
And the image God gives Ezekiel of this expansion of holiness is that of a stream that starts from under the temple in Jerusalem and then flows out of the city, becoming deeper and wider until it cannot be crossed.
So Ezekiel 47:8-10 says, “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the desert, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many.”
So the fact that Simon and Andrew, James and John, are all fishermen, is a sign that God has made good on this promise in Ezekiel. So that when we get to the New Testament we see that there are synagogues (mini-temples) across the world. There are Gentile believers, Gentiles God-fearers, who know and love the God of Israel.
And so when Jesus says, “I will make you into fishers of men,” he is in effect saying, I am the continuation of Ezekiel’s river, and in Jesus, God’s presence is going to extend even further than before. Jesus is the very holiness of God.
And what used to be a sign of judgment under the Old Testament, being caught in a net, will now become a sign of salvation. Of men being born of water and the Spirit and gathered into the church. As Ezekiel prophesied, “every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live.”
These fishermen will soon preach the gospel, cast the net, and gather in souls for Christ’s kingdom.
Finally, we see in this third movement, the call of James and John.
19 And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. 20 And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.
Mark wants us to know what these disciples left behind. He wants us to know the cost of discipleship, and the sacrifices it may entail.
For Simon and Andrew, it meant leaving behind their livelihood, their vocation, to follow a man that claims to be the Messiah. That is a leap of faith and they take it.
For James and John, it meant leaving behind their father and the family business. And the fact that Zebedee has hired servants suggests that these were not poor fishermen, but had a rather successful business going.
In other words, these are not four men who had nothing else going on and could afford to spend a few years traveling. They weren’t taking a gap year to find themselves. These were hard-working blue-collar men, who worked with their hands, who did honest labor and made a living, and yet when Jesus calls them to follow Him, Mark says, “straightway they forsook their nets…straightway they left their father in the ship…and went after him.”
No questions, no objections, immediate obedience. That is what being a disciple of Jesus should look like.
And so we return to the question we began with, Are we willing to do the same?
What is it that you must forsake and leave behind if you will follow Jesus? What is that you are holding onto that Christ is asking you to let go of?
The answer we all must give is that in principle we are willing to give up anything and everything. Whatever He asks, we give Him. Wherever He calls, we go. We must surrender it all to Him if we would be called Christians, disciples of Jesus.
There are many people who like the idea of following Jesus, but not the reality of it. Maybe they go to church, they might even read their Bible or pray, but when it comes down to it, when God asks them to give up that thing they refuse to obey Him. And that resistance is what must die in all of us. That hesitance to heed his voice, that slowness to obey, the slowness to follow, is what we must repent of. And so I leave you with the words of Luke 9:57-62
57 Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Jesus, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.”
58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”
But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”
61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”
62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”