14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching 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 And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in 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 Zeb′edee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zeb′edee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him.
This selection from the Book of Mark gives us a nice story about some men hard at work who left everything at Jesus’ words and started following him. With only Mark’s accounting of this story, we are left to believe that these men just blindly and obediently left everything and began to follow Jesus.
Over the years, I have heard many sermons about the urgency of Jesus’ calling for us to follow him in like manner, and how we should drop everything and follow Jesus without question. Sermons like that always left me feeling inadequate because, of course, I have not just dropped whatever I was doing, gave everything up, and followed Jesus. Accompanying these feelings has always been a sense that there maybe something missing in me, or that somehow I am less of a Christian for not doing what Simon and Andrew, James and John, had done all those years ago.
Have you ever felt that way as well? Have you ever felt guilty, or that there may be something lacking in your faith because you have not measured up to Simon and Andrew’s willingness to just drop their nets and follow Jesus?
I have, and for years, the lack of further information and elaboration by Mark’s account left me to wonder, “Really, does anybody actually do that?” Well, what we’re not told, however, in Mark’s account is that these men did not just drop what they were doing and followed Jesus in a vacuum, and a little further dive into the story will give some light to what was actually going on.
You may be surprised to find out that a brief look in the Bible shows us that it is actually contrary to human nature to do such a thing. Consider Moses for a moment. Not even Moses, standing in front of a burning bush talking to God in person, was just willing to drop everything and head back to Egypt on the command of God. At the end of their conversation in Exodus 4:13, Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” And neither did Jonah, in fact, Jonah ran the other way at first. We read about it in the book of Jonah, chapter 1, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” Over and over again there are accounts in the Bible of people reluctant to do as God asked them to do at first. In fact, people actually tended to argue with God or did the opposite when called by the Lord. Just as an aside, we know the rest of Jonah’s story, and how he finally did relent and obey the Lord, but only after being swallowed by a whale for 3 days. That changed his mind. And with Moses, God agreed to send Aaron, Moses’ brother, with him into Egypt to speak to the people.
So the short of it is we are not alone in our feelings of inadequacy. Actually, we are in good company. So why does Simon and Andrew, for instance, just drop their nets and start following Jesus as Mark implies? What was different about them?
The Gospel of John fills in the gaps for us. In John’s account, we find out that they did so because they were first disciples of John the Baptist during the time around Jesus’ baptism, before Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. They heard John the Baptist witness about Jesus. In John, chapter 1, verses 32, John the Baptist bore witness about Jesus saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him.” And then the very next day after Jesus’ baptism, in verse 35, we read that, “Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. 36 And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’” The story goes on to tell us that the two disciples heard John speak, “and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned to them, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” The two disciples were literally following Jesus the day after his baptism. John’s gospel goes on to tell us that, “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter),” (John 1:40-42).
So the first chapter of the Book of John tells us that these men had knowledge and already a relationship with Jesus when he arrived at the Galilee to call them. This means that everything that happened at the Sea of Galilee when these men dropped their nets to follow Jesus had a pretext of the days surrounding Jesus’ baptism. Jesus met these men through John the Baptist the day after his baptism because they were first John the Baptist’s disciples. They followed Jesus at the Jordan River at the urging of John the Baptist. Jesus even changed Simon’s name to Peter while at the Jordan. Sot it’s clear that Jesus knew them from before he even went into the wilderness for 40 days, and when Jesus was done with his 40 days in the wilderness, he went to Galilee.
When Jesus arrived at the Galilee and called these men to follow him, they may have even been eager to follow Jesus, because as our lesson states, Jesus had been preaching all through the Galilee, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news.” To these men, at that time, the Kingdom of God was upon them, and from what they experienced through John the Baptist and what they had seen in and around the Jordan at the time of Jesus’ baptism, surely the time to act had come.
Makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it?
If anyone knows the human heart, it would be the one who created it, and made it in his own image. And from the heart, we are still called to follow. But know there is never anything lacking in us that God has not already accounted for in his design and plan for us. There will always be those who want to follow God, and there will always be those who do not. I might add that from what I understand, God has never looked for mindless drones, or those who would follow blindly, without questioning, thinking, or hearing a good reason to do so.
To follow Jesus, to answer the call of Jesus, is to walk with Jesus, as those men physically did all those years ago. It would be great if we could do that today, but we will never have the opportunity to do so like those people did back then. There is, however, in the Bible this idea of to walk in the ways of the Lord is to follow the Lord. To hear the words of the Lord and listen to them, and do them, is to follow the Lord.
In this context, then it’s not too terribly different for us, when you think about it, because the Lord still calls us today from the witness of His word to turn to Him and walk in His ways. For to walk in His ways is to follow Him. “It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him,” (Deuteronomy 13:4.) “For the ways of the Lord are right, and the righteous walk in them,” (Hosea 14:9). In this context, then, the call of Jesus for us to follow can make sense, and the time to follow, then, is always now. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other,” (Isaiah 45:22).