November 1, 2015
I don’t want to unnecessarily offend anyone this morning, but I found an article on the Internet with which I largely agree. It listed the following events which have appeared on the sports channel ESPN that most would not consider sports:
- First is Cup Stacking – there is actually a World Sport Stacking Association
- Spelling Bees
- My personal favorite – Fishing
- Classic Car Auctions
- Hot Dog Eating – as in the world record, 69 hot dogs consumed with buns in 10 minutes at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
To that list, I would add poker – as in the World Series of Poker – which somehow requires great athleticism. It’s interesting to note ESPN drew the line at so-called e-sports – that is, electronic gaming – you know, like Wii and Nintendo. It is true e-sports require much training and thumb dexterity. Now, if you’re into any of those things, that’s fine – I’m just wondering aloud about their being on a sports station. ESPN defends broadcasting these events, noting that ESPN actually stands for Entertainment and Sports Network – and the above list contains, presumably, some level of competition and entertainment. Where am I going with this introduction? Absolutely nowhere – it’s just another opportunity to take a swipe at fishing.
You can imagine my shock when one of my daughters, spending the summer at a camp in California, without my permission, got into fishing. She even told me she was bringing her new fishing pole home, and that I was to take her fishing. First of all, I don’t own a fishing pole – Doug said that was no problem, he had several. So I thought I would take her to the Grandfather Fish Farm – my kind of fishing where you basically stick your hand in a pull a fish out. Much to my dismay, Liv broke her fishing pole trying to fit it into her suitcase. Crisis averted.
You see, I have to talk to you about fishing this morning – so this is my way of saying, I know nothing about fishing. But, we’re going to talk about a different kind of fishing. In our study of the book of Mark, Jesus is about to go fishing, and He invites us to join Him.
We know by this point, Jesus has entered His public ministry. Having been baptized by John and tempted by Satan, He returned to the region where He had grown up – Galilee. He first went to Nazareth, where He spoke of Himself as the Messiah in the synagogue. Of course, the people thought they knew who Jesus was – isn’t this Joseph’s son, they asked? And they drove Him out of the city. Jesus then made His way to Capernaum on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which would become His base of operations.
And as He is ready to start His fishing ministry, He is not going to do it alone. Oh, He could have – He could have built His kingdom all by Himself – but instead, He invites others to join Him in the work. And so He begins the process of calling disciples, later called Apostles, to follow Him. And we read about the first four in Mark 1:16-20. Let’s read that together.
I want us to look at the following two points this morning:
- The Background to the Call
- The Call to Become Fishers of Men
As we begin with background today, let’s start with the kinds of fishing used in Jesus’ day, to set the scene for us, and for the fishermen present – you might find this interesting. Back then, because they didn’t have dynamite, there were three different ways to catch fish. One was with a line and a hook. In Matthew 17, we read about a time when some tax-collectors came to Peter and asked him, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” Peter answered, “Yes,” and then went to talk to Jesus about it. Long story short, Jesus told Peter to go throw a hook in the sea, and the first fish he’d catch would have a shekel in its mouth for the tax for both Jesus and Peter. So, even then, they used the very effective and exciting means of a line and hook.
Another way they caught fish was with the use of a large drag net. They would spread the net between two boats, circle around, and pull up the fish. We read of that method in Luke 5 and John 21. Of course, that’s when Peter and his coworkers had been fishing all night, and caught nothing, but that’s another story.
The third way is what we read about here. The fishermen would use a hand-held net about 15-20 feet across that was weighted on the edges with stones or pieces of metal. They would stand in the shallow water and throw the net out to the deeper water, drawing it in with a string to see what they caught. That’s what Peter and Andrew were doing the day Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee. James and John, whom Jesus encounters later, were mending or preparing their nets; either the drag net or their smaller, hand-held nets.
Now, the Sea of Galilee was teeming with fish and supported a large fishing industry. In other places in the NT, it is called the Lake of Gennesaret or the Sea of Tiberias. There were numerous fishing villages all around it, especially on the western and northern shores. A large inland lake, 7 miles wide by 13 miles long, the Sea of Galilee formed the eastern border of Galilee. It’s almost 700 feet below sea level, and with the mountainous terrain around it, it was known for its violent storms and turbulent waters, which we’ll read about later in our study.
That gives us a little of the setting, but now, let’s look at some timing issues, because this looks kind of strange at first glance. Jesus is walking along, sees some fishermen – two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John; and He says to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
For those of us who don’t care for fishing, we can look at that and think, “Well of course they’d follow – anything to get away from a life of fishing.” It would be like if you called me up one Saturday as I was getting ready to go fishing for the day, and said, “Hey Scott, want to go watch some paint dry?” Of course I’d go.
But why would these fishermen immediately leave their nets, their boats, for James and John, their father, and follow Him? Well, you have to understand the timing here. This was not the first time Peter and Andrew had met Jesus, and very likely, it wasn’t the first time James and John had met Him either. The first time had been down in Judea. We read about it in John 1. There, we find that Andrew was one of John the Baptist’s disciples. One day, when John proclaimed that Jesus was the Lamb of God, Andrew heard it and started following Jesus. He then went and got his brother Peter, and brought him to Jesus. These two were then apparently present when Jesus turned the water into wine at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. At the end of that story, we read these words, “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” We’re not sure exactly sure what they believed, but they were certainly beginning to understand that Jesus was something special.
So now, some time later, when He calls Peter and Andrew, they respond. They had seen Jesus at work. As for James and John, it’s clear that Jesus had already been about His ministry for some time – perhaps up to a year. So, they had some knowledge of who Jesus was – and they responded.
Now, having said that, I don’t want to minimize their response to Jesus’ invitation. These men were fishermen. They made their living catching fish. They had no doubt done so all their lives. Now, Jesus says, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men – and they immediately left their nets, their boats, and followed Him. By doing so, they were leaving their livelihoods, their means of provision – their families – in short, all that they were, to become followers of Jesus.
Which is the same way He calls us today. He calls us to be willing to leave everything behind, to follow Him. Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, we leave everything we know – if necessary, we leave family, friends, vocation, lifestyle – everything, to make our way to the Celestial City. In this context of sacrificing all to follow, Jesus later says, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” We must be willing to forsake everything. This is the problem with much of Christianity today – we see a faith that requires little – just add some Jesus to your already wonderful life – you know, to insure your afterlife. And you can become a believer with little personal sacrifice.
Well, at this point, let’s ask a question – why does Mark leave out the earlier stories of these four with Jesus? Why the truncated account? What is his purpose here? From Mark’s account, Jesus is walking along, sees some total strangers, He calls them, and they come. Why? And we remember, Mark is wanting to clearly display Jesus as the Son of God – with authority. And the next few stories are going demonstrate Jesus’ clear authority. His first miracle in this book – next week – will be an exorcism, demonstrating his authority over the forces of evil. Then we’ll see Jesus healing people of every kind of disease, demonstrating His power over sickness, even leprosy. Then, at the beginning of chapter 2, we’ll see His authority to forgive sin. Authority over the forces of evil, over sickness, over sin. Jesus is the real deal – the Son of God with authority. You see, He’s worth following.
II. Which brings us to our second point, The Call to Fish. Very simply, Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
Now surely, given these men were fishermen, Jesus capitalized on their vocation to call them to fish for something else. You see, this call was more than just a call to go where He was going – but to do what He was doing. Now, this is actually important – back then, the disciple chose his own rabbi – his own teacher, and they would become followers of the rabbi’s teaching – usually some aspect the Law. Here, Jesus chooses His own disciples – later, He’ll tell them, you did not choose me, I chose you. And His was a call was to follow, not my teaching, not my particular understanding of the Law – but to follow Him. You see, this was a call to committed discipleship. Jesus was calling these men from what they knew, to become what He would make them. He was calling them from what they had been all their lives, to become what they would be the rest of their lives. He was calling them from fishing for fish, to fishing for men.
Notice, He does not say – go, catch men. He says, follow Me, and I will make you. I’ll give you everything you need to become fishers of men. What does it mean to be a fisher of men? Very simply, it means to go and cast out the truth of the gospel, and reel men, women and children into the kingdom. To rescue them for the kingdom of darkness, and bring them into the kingdom of light. To tell them about Jesus, what He has done, so they, too, can know the forgiveness of sin. It is to evangelize – to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And the call is the same for us today. Now, I know some of you are rightly sitting there thinking, “Scott, this is historical narrative – you can’t say that Jesus is calling all of us to be fishers of men.” And you’d be right. However, as we look at the rest of Scripture, we see that we do have the responsibility to be fishers of men – to share the truth of the gospel. Part of being a disciple is making disciples. Jesus gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28, which extends not only to those present, but to the very end of the age.
He further told His disciples in Acts 1:8, “but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” We are still taking that witness to the remotest parts of the earth.
We see that it was the primary function of the early church – to share the good news of Jesus with people who need to hear. Acts 8:4, after the stoning of Stephen, says the believers were scattered, and they preached the word wherever they went.
Paul asks these important questions in Romans 10, “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?”
And he says further in II Corinthians 5:17-20, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Finally, Peter says in I Peter 2:9, “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;…” We have the awesome privilege and responsibility to be fishers of men.
Now, as I said earlier, I’m not a fisherman. However, having been on a couple of tortuous fishing excursions, I have discovered some things if you want to be a successful fisherman. And these same truths apply if you want to be a successful fisher of men.
First, in order to catch fish, you must fish. I have never been walking along a body of water, minding my own business, and caught a fish. In fact, I will go further – I can look like a fisherman – all dressed like a fisherman, complete with fishing pole and a personal copy the Fisherman’s Guide to Fishing. But to catch fish, you must fish.
Second, a good fisherman must be patient, because he knows it may take some time to catch fish. He must learn to wait, to explore, to find out where hungry fish are, and go after them.
Third, a good fisherman must have perseverance. That’s my problem with fishing for fish. I want to throw the line in and pull out a fish. When I was in high school down in Greenville, my friends and I would go to the local, stocked pond to fish, but only on the days they unloaded a dump truck full of catfish. You reeled ‘em in as fast you could. We’d catch about 30 fish in half an hour, pound each other on the back like we were real fishermen, and go have a fish fry.
Now, that kind of fishing is kind of like an evangelistic crusade. But most of us aren’t evangelists who can show up to a well-stocked fishing hole full of hungry fish. Fishing takes time, and perseverance to be successful. It’s not simply a matter of sitting in one place, hoping the fish will show up, you must be willing to work, to try different lures and different spots, to be willing to go to new areas, back over the same area if necessary. Good fishermen must have patience and perseverance.
Next, fishermen must have courage – maybe not on a lazy Saturday morning, but commercial fishermen who face the elements, such as the storms that were violent, sudden and frequent on the Sea of Galilee. It takes courage in the storms of life to cast out the net in the angry waves.
Finally, a good fishermen must keep himself out of sight as much as possible. That is, you want to keep the bait visible – keep it before the fish without scaring them off. So too, the gospel isn’t about us – it’s about Jesus. True, what Jesus has done in our lives is powerful, but ultimately, people must come to faith in Jesus, not us. The truth of the gospel must be kept at the center.
Jesus has called us to be fishers of men – to share with as many people as possible the saving message of the gospel. How’s the fishing? I want to close this morning by reading to you an excerpt from a book entitled, People Sharing Jesus, by Darrell W. Robinson
Now it came to pass that a group existed who called themselves fishermen. And lo, there were many fish in the waters all around. In fact, the whole area was surrounded by streams and lakes filled with fish. And the fish were hungry.
Week after week, month after month, and year after year, these who called themselves fishermen met in meetings and talked about their call to fish, the abundance of the fish, and how they might go about fishing. Year after year, they carefully defined what fishing means, defended fishing as an occupation, and declared that fishing is always to be the primary task of fishermen.
Continually, they searched for new and better methods of fishing and for new and better definitions of fishing. They loved slogans such as “Fishing is the task of every fisherman.” They sponsored special meetings called “Fishermen’s Campaigns” and “The Month for Fishermen to Catch Fish.” They sponsored nationwide and worldwide conferences to discuss fishing and promote fishing and hear about all the ways of fishing such as the new fishing equipment, fish calls, and whether any new bait had been discovered.
These fishermen built large, beautiful buildings called “Fishing Headquarters.” The plea was that everyone should be a fisherman and every fisherman should fish. One thing, however, they didn’t do: They didn’t fish.
Large, elaborate, and expensive training schools were built whose original and primary purpose was to teach fishermen how to fish. Over the years courses were offered on the needs of fish, the nature of fish, where to find fish, the psychological reactions of fish, and how to approach and feed fish. Those who taught had doctorates on fishology – but the teachers did not fish. They only taught fishing. Year after year, after tedious training, many were graduated and were given fishing licenses. They were sent to full-time fishing, some to distant waters which were filled with fish.
Once, after a stirring meeting on “The Necessity of Fishing,” one young fellow left the meeting and went fishing. The next day he reported that he had caught two outstanding fish. He was honored for his excellent catch and scheduled to visit all the big meetings possible to tell how he did it. So he quit his fishing in order to have time to tell about his experience. He was also placed on the Fishermen’s General Board as a person having considerable experience.
Now, it’s true that many of the fishermen sacrificed and put up with all kinds of difficulties. Some lived near the water and bore the smell of dead fish every day. Others received the ridicule of some who made fun of their fishermen’s clubs. They wondered about those who felt it was of little use to attend the weekly meetings to talk about fishing. After all, were they not following the Master who said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men?”
Imagine how hurt they were when one day someone suggested that those who don’t catch fish were not really fishermen. Yet it sounded correct. Is a person a fisherman if, year after year, he never catches a fish? Is one following if he isn’t fishing?
Quite insightful. The last thought I’d leave with you this morning it this. Once you catch one, you want to catch another, then another. And as those around us find success, it causes us to want to be involved as well. I encourage you – go fishing – catch people. Follow Him, and He will make become fishers of men. How’s the fishing?