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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Called to be a Follower
Text:Mark 1:14-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 145:1,4                                                                                   

Ps 25:2,4                                                                                                        

Reading – Mark 1:1-28

Ps 119:60,63

Sermon – Mark 1:14-20

Hy 56:1,2,3,4

Hy 84:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ, are you a “follower?” I don’t think many people today would admit to that. Being called a “follower” is a kind of insult. It’s someone who just copies what the people around him are doing, wearing, or saying. It means you’re too timid and unoriginal to step out on your own.

So are you a “follower?” You should be! For that’s how the Bible speaks of God’s chosen people. We should find God’s course for life, and then stick to it closely. Consider what the Psalmist says in 119:166, “I wait for your salvation, LORD, and I follow your commands.” The idea of following God’s path is found throughout the Old Testament. Because by ourselves, we’d listen to the promptings of our selfish desires. We’d conform to the evil pattern of this world. So we need something to direct our daily path of life.

That notion of “following” changes a bit though, when we get to the New Testament. We’re still followers. But the change is that now we get to be followers of a person. We get to follow the Master who is calling us… and his name is Jesus Christ.

That’s the focus of this morning’s text. As Jesus begins his ministry, He wants people behind Him and around Him for company and for support—more than that, He wants people who will continue his work once his time on earth is done. So in our text He begins calling his disciples. These are the men given that special task of accompanying the Lord on earth. And in this call for them to follow, there’s a call for us too. I preach God’s Word to you from Mark 1:14-20,

The Lord Jesus calls disciples to follow Him:

           1) the good news before this call

           2) the hard work with this call

           3) the immediate answer to this call


1) the good news before this call: Our text begins with what we might consider an insignificant detail, “…John was put in prison…” (v 14). We might skip these first few words as basically unnecessary. Does it really matter that John went to jail? But let’s pause a moment to see how all the events in this chapter are closely connected.

John the Baptist came as an announcer, one pointing ahead to the King. This was his work. So once John is put in prison by King Herod, his work is done, and immediately God’s plan enters the next stage. For now Jesus begins his work: “After John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel” (v 14).

And what does He say? “The time is fulfilled!” (v 15). God had planned out all of this, and now it is time: Jesus has just been washed with the water of baptism, and he’s identified himself with man’s sin and filth. It is time: Jesus has been sealed with the Spirit, equipped for doing his work. It is time: Jesus has been declared from heaven to be God’s chosen instrument. It is time: the devil had tried and failed to get Jesus to abandon his work. John has prepared the way, so it’s time to go public. Jesus heads from the wilderness of the Jordan, north to Galilee.

When you read Mark with a bit of attention, you notice that Galilee is where Jesus spends most of his ministry. He might go south and visit Judea and Jerusalem once or twice in these first couple of years, but much of Jesus’ time will be spent in the northern part of the country.

As He comes to this area around the Sea of Galilee, what’s his message? Does He bring a message of fear and pessimism? You might expect that, with his colleague John just dumped into prison. Maybe Jesus should warn the people about evil King Herod, or get them to break John out of prison. But Jesus comes, “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” (v 14).

Let me first point you to that word “gospel,” or “good news.” We see it in the title and beginning of this book, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). This is that newsflash of victory from the front lines—this is the victory Mark announces, even before Jesus has gone to the cross. There’s so much bad news in the world—there was back then, just like there is today: there is so much death and suffering and evil. But Jesus comes with a word of glad tidings, with news that is good in life and in death.

The people of Galilee must have been stirred up when Jesus enters their towns. Perhaps word about John the Baptist had spread up that way, but most of John’s audience had come from Judea and Jerusalem. In the sleepy villages of Galilee, there wasn’t much excitement from strange prophets and wandering teachers. But now here was a man from one of their own towns, a carpenter from Nazareth, with a compelling message.

So what’s the news? This is what Jesus is saying: “The kingdom of God is at hand!” (v 15). A king has come to bring justice. To bring peace. Here is a King who can give you release from every enemy, even from sin itself! The kingdom is at hand! 

We sometimes have a hard time defining just what the kingdom of God is. We know that it includes the church, but it’s more than the church. We know the kingdom is now, but it’s also the future. Maybe we’re not familiar enough with the idea of kings and kingdoms anymore to appreciate what this is…

So do the people in Galilee know what Jesus meant? For sure! These were Israelites who had lived for so long in the hope of a better day. Ages ago now, God had promised the Messiah, that glorious figure who would come in great power and restore everything. The Jews also knew that there’d be another King David, who was the greatest king Israel ever had. The faithful were looking for this new kingdom, when God would reign over an obedient Israel and a world made subject to God’s glory. The Israelites sang Psalms like Psalm 145 in great expectation: “Your kingdom, O God, is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.” Imagine the excitement when they hear from Jesus that now the time has come—the kingdom is near—this is good news!

And you can be sure it would’ve been hard for Jesus’ audience not to think that this meant an upcoming battle with the Romans! By this time, the Caesar and his legions had been occupying Palestine for more than a hundred years. A hundred years of heavy taxes. A hundred years of humiliation: no real king, no army, no freedom. The Jews long to be free—they hear Jesus talk about the kingdom, and they agree: “It’s time to Make Israel Great Again.”

But Christ isn’t pushing a political agenda, and this is far more serious than defeating Rome. Two kingdoms are in the throes of war—it’s the dominion of Satan locked in battle with the kingdom of the LORD. And then Jesus shows it too: casting out demons, and showing his authority. It’d take a while for people to clue in to this. Even those that figure it out He tells to keep quiet, for the day for the final battle hasn’t come.

At the same time Jesus calls everyone who hears him: “Repent and believe in the gospel” (v 15). If God’s time is now, if Christ’s kingdom is near, then you all need to get ready. If you look back, this is what John the Baptist had been saying too. But think of the difference between John saying it, and Jesus saying it. One is the messenger, one is the King. One’s a lowly sinner, the other is God himself. One looks only at the outside of a person, while the other sees right into the depths of the heart, where there’s so much sin and pride. There’s no fooling him! When Jesus calls you to repent, then you better listen.

Repentance means that the person who was holding onto his sin comes to hate sin, and comes to love God. Repentance means a radical change of heart and life. Whenever we hear the good news of Christ, and his call to repent is like coming to an intersection: What direction are you going to go? Will you keep going straight? Will you turn to the right or the let? Or will you back up and go the opposite direction you’d been going? Will you follow Christ the King?

“Repent,” Jesus says, “and believe the gospel.” Think about that word “believe.” Jesus has just started preaching, but already He expects everyone to take him at his word. He doesn’t need to build up credibility—Christ has it already, by virtue of who He is. He exhorts us to believe that God is the kind of God Jesus tells us about. To believe that God really is giving his own Son for sinners. To believe that what sounds too good to be true really is true. It’s a good-news message that Jesus brings to Galilee. And it’s a message that needs to get out, so next Jesus starts gathering disciples to himself.


2) the hard work with this call: If you’ve ever watched a street performer, you’ll know that a crowd can gather so quickly, to see and to listen. Curiosity is a powerful thing! Well, as Jesus begins his ministry, it’s certain that people will have started flocking to him right away. Especially when He starts healing the sick and handing out free lunch, crowds come running. But Jesus doesn’t want a fan club. He wants people whom He can train and send.

Jesus wasn’t the only person who was gathering followers and disciples to himself. There were many learned men at that time—rabbis and Pharisees and Sadducees—who traveled around the country. Lots of them stayed further south, near the big city. But in other parts of the Roman empire too, wise men and philosophers wandered from place to place, spreading their ideas. They’d teach anyone who listened. And if there were some who were especially keen, these teachers would invite them into an inner circle, to mentor and mold them. They said the mark of a true student was that he was covered in the dust from his teacher’s sandals. That’s how close a good student would follow—in his dust—so you didn’t miss a word.

Jesus too, wants disciples. Notice that it’s one of the first things He does: “succession planning.” Jesus won’t be on earth forever, so these will be the men who will tell his story in the Gospels, who will shape the New Testament church, and who will preach the good news of the kingdom, even to Rome and beyond.

One day as Jesus walks along the Sea of Galilee, He sees a typical scene: fishermen, casting their net into the water. The Sea of Galilee was a fishing hotspot. A historian from that time says that there were upwards of 300 boats at any one time out on the waters of what was a medium-sized lake.

Let’s notice that Jesus calls Simon and Andrew while they’re doing their daily work. These are normal people. They’re not from the religious schools down south, not members of the upper class. By worldly standards, these aren’t wise or powerful men—not at all. But to these men Jesus calls, “Follow me!” He’s saying, “I want you to go where I go. I want you right behind me, listening to me, witnessing what I do, and learning from me.”

For they’re going to need training—lots of it. Think ahead to what kind of men these disciples show themselves to be: they’ll argue about who is the greatest, they’ll get angry when people reject them, they’ll have a hard time trusting in Jesus’ power, and finally they’ll even abandon their Master in his darkest hour. We would say they’re not strong candidates for ministry—no credentials, and of questionable character. But Jesus can work with them. He can work with anyone! In his power and grace He will change them. It was as if Jesus said, “Give me twelve of the most ordinary men, and with them I can change the world.”

We know there’s a lesson in that for us. God still doesn’t choose those who have it all together. Christ makes up his church from a whole lot of flawed people: people with weaknesses, people with difficult characters, even with difficult histories—and He changes us. His power can be made perfect in our weakness. But we should never think much about who we are right now, but we should think about what Jesus can do with us. How can the Lord use you? How can you serve him, right where you are today? How can you follow him?

From one perspective, there’s a lot of nerve in that call: “Follow me.” Jesus assumes the right to claim the service and loyalty of these men. And when He calls, He offers no promise of reward, gives no reason for why they should.

It’s probably true that these men have heard and seen Jesus before. He’d been in Galilee for a while, so word had got around. They might well have been intrigued by it, maybe chatted about it: “So what do you think about that fellow from Nazareth? What do you make of that kingdom-talk of his.” But now here He is. And now it’s time for action. Jesus doesn’t say, “Gentlemen, I have a proposition for you—think this over.” Not, “Come along—let’s talk.” But “Follow me!” He demands it. To hesitate is to disobey.

And what then? What does it mean to follow? We just said that other rabbis had groups of people around them. Those followers might have the occasional obligation, like being asked to carry the teacher’s scrolls, or to fetch him some water. But that’s where their obligations stopped. A disciple could always leave when the winter rains started falling. He could head for home when it was time to earn some money again. Followers fall away—it’s still true today: we unsubscribe, we cancel, we “un-follow.”

But Jesus is fundamentally a different kind of teacher. And He calls for fundamentally different disciples. There’s first the call, “Follow me.” Then the task: “And I will make you become fishers of men” (v 17). The call to follow Christ always comes with a job, an assignment. It’s not enough to trail behind the Master, enjoy the sound of his voice, maybe get a bit closer to Him when you’re feeling afraid. If you will follow Christ, you need to get to work.

The work He gives these men by the sea is to become “fishers of men.” We’re familiar with this phrase: Jesus isn’t talking about throwing nets around a crowd walking along the street, snaring them so that you can drag them into church. He’s talking about the work of making more disciples: preaching the gospel, training new converts, gathering people for Christ.

For Jesus to put it in terms of their current job, what message did that convey? These men knew that fishing isn’t an easy life. It is when you’re on holidays in your pleasure craft—but to earn a living at it is a serious challenge. Hard hours in the hot sun, long hours on the sometimes treacherous sea. No outboard motor, but only long wooden oars when the wind didn’t fill their sails. Fishing also calls for patience, for sometimes the fish simply aren’t biting. And when the fish do fill the nets, that means the work only multiplies: hauling in the heavy nets, rowing back to shore, and sorting, cleaning the catch of the day.

These disciples know that fishing for fish is no picnic—fishing for men won’t be any easier! To answer the call of Jesus is to say that you’re ready for work: hard work, tiring work, work that might have no immediate result. For these disciples, following Him means bringing the good news to a world that has never heard it. There’d be suffering. Sacrifice. Persecution.

So it is for the followers of Christ today. To follow Him is not to get an easier life. We want an easier life, where Jesus fits alongside everything else we like, and we still have lots of time for ourselves. But Christ doesn’t promise that. Listening to Christ’s Word means hard work in our homes and churches and workplaces. It’s harder to raise a family in God’s way. It’s harder to steward your money in God’s way. It’s hard to live in a unbelieving society, while still being true to Christ. Working for the Lord also calls for patience, for it’s sometimes without any obvious reward or success. Being faithful means holding true, year by year, even until the day that we die.

If Jesus was looking to persuade these men, He would’ve put it a different way, made it sound more inviting. But He’s honest with them. And when we start to see what it means to follow Christ in every part of our life, anyone might pause. This is going to be hard. This is going to be a struggle. We wonder sometimes if we can “un-follow.”

Yet think of the one who calls: the Lord Jesus! He’s the champion, the victorious King. He’s the one with news that is truly good. He’s the gracious Master who teaches us his ways. He’s the mighty Lord who can turn ordinary sinners and weak people into prophets, priests, kings and queens! What a privilege then, to answer his call. And what urgency, for there’s not a moment to lose.


3) the immediate answer to this call: So what do these humble fishermen do when they hear the call of Christ? “They immediately left their nets and followed Him” (v 18). They don’t know much about him—yet they’re willing. And they’re whole-hearted about it; take note of it, that “they left their nets.” Their nets is their old life: it’s their career, it’s the security of their job, the familiarity of that small lake. They’re leaving it behind to follow Christ.

We see the very same thing when Jesus calls James and John, “They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him (v 20). It’s probably the case that generations of the Zebedee family had been fishing in Galilee. In that culture, a family business would be handed down for centuries. Notice that James and John are even with their father, the very one who was going to pass all of this onto them. But they leave, sacrificing family ties, giving up a means of livelihood.  There is prompt obedience. No “if, ands, or buts,” from these disciples, but two “immediatelys.” They leave everything that they’ve known.

Isn’t that the call of Christ? He doesn’t wait for the circumstances of life to be right. His call doesn’t let us say, “I hope to get to it tomorrow. I’ll take it more seriously when I’m older, once I’ve settled down.” Neither do the mistakes that we’ve made in the past matter. Whatever has happened before, Christ calls us today to follow him.

Let’s work out what this immediate and dramatic answer means. Because maybe someone’s wondering, “They left their nets—does Christ call me to leave my tools? Abandon my desk at the office, and go to seminary? Does this mean I have to sell everything I have, and to go on mission trips for years at a time?”

Paul reminds us that not all are apostles, not all are missionaries or evangelists, for to each He has given a different gift and task. The beauty and the challenge of the Christian life is that we can follow the Lord Jesus in our present circumstances—as children, as parents, as husbands and wives, as business owners and as students and as retirees. Where we are today is important! Where we are today is where we can learn from Jesus, and can do his will.

But let’s not read over our text too quickly. Are there things that we should forsake? Are there things in your life that you need to leave behind? Is there anything that you should drop—today—so that you can better follow Christ? You can be sure that there is! The Scriptures tell us, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1). Lay it aside, everything in your life that hinders you, all that distracts you, all that keeps you from the whole-hearted service of God: a habit, an attitude, a memory, a job, another person, a grudge or some bitterness—put it aside.

Jesus says it later in Mark, in 8:34, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” If anyone desires life in Christ, he needs to join himself to Christ by true faith. We need to follow Him in a willing obedience and a genuine love.

Beloved, is that what you’re doing today? Is that what you are: a “follower?” To follow Him is to be instructed by our good Teacher. It means to listen to him, and to trust him. To follow is to enjoy fellowship with Christ, every day of your life, so close to him that you’re covered in the dust from his sandals. To follow Him is to share in all the blessings that He won for you, in his life, his death, and his resurrection.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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