Fishers of Men
Jesus' Galilean Ministry began with the preaching of "the gospel of God" (Mar. 1:14). This involved the proclamation of God's kingdom, and the call to repentance and faith (v.15). It is during this initial phase of Jesus' career that He summoned a variety of men to be His disciples. Among these were Simon and his brother Andrew.
Here is a simple yet profound scene. Jesus speaks to these men in a straightforward manner, telling them to drop everything and submit to His Lordship. The ramifications of this call are mind-boggling. The program Jesus has in mind would embrace every fiber of their being and every part of their lives.
The command to follow Christ involves reaching out to others. Whatever else may be true, the disciples would be "fishers of men."
In context here, Simon and Andrew had been going about their trade, having cast a net into the sea in hope of making a big catch. As they involved themselves in their work, Jesus happened to pass by.
Seizing upon the metaphor most appropriate to the situation, Jesus said, "Follow Me and I will make you to become fishers of men" (v.17). They had been pursuing fish; Jesus said they would catch men.
Jesus' words here have great relevance to the topic of evangelism. Most agree that Jesus had the spread of the kingdom of God in view as He gave this summons. Not many, however, are apt to apply this text to real-life, contemporary evangelism. Though some Christians grope about in hope of discovering some new method or formula which might enhance their witnessing attempts, few seem to notice the broad (and inspired!) pattern found in this passage.
Jesus touches upon two important truths, our responsibility and His promise. In essence, He tells us: 1) Follow Me, and 2) If you do, you will evangelize men. Let's take a closer look.
"Follow Me" is an early example of Jesus' great authority. Throughout Mark's Gospel we see this same emphasis. Whether we speak of Jesus' healing of the sick, or His ability to raise the dead, always there is the element of sovereignty. So it is here.
Jesus enters Galilee with the kingdom of God in His heart and on His lips. He proclaims the "in-breaking" of the divine reign, and implicitly declares Himself king. As He intervenes in human and religious history, His determination and forcefulness are undeniable. He knows Himself to be the Messiah of God, and as such He wields His irresistible power by calling these men into intimate fellowship.
"[Jesus] embodies the divine initiative; they embody the appropriate human response." And the call is not without promise. Though Simon and Andrew could have little knowledge of the full import of Jesus' words, there is even here a hint of kingdom related excitement. After all, they would be fishers of men!
O.T. passages which develop this "fishing" theme seem to stress the judgement of God (e.g., Jeremiah 16:16; Ezekiel 29:4f; 38:4; Amos 4:2). If this idea is in mind, Jesus would be stressing the fact that divine wrath awaits the unrepentant sinner. The disciples are the spokesmen who amidst impending judgment announce salvation for all who believe.
Some commentators, however, feel that judgment is not primarily in view here. "Fishers of men" is merely the metaphor chosen to depict the disciple's new occupation. "Instead of living by the fishing business, they will live to reach others [with the gospel]."
Whatever the precise interpretation, the basic meaning is obvious. These men were beginning an entirely new life in which Jesus was the focal point, and "fishing" the vocation. Consequently, they would become the means by which other men and women come to God.
In all this, notice again the pattern which Jesus establishes. They would follow; He would train them to be fishers of men. Thus we have what might be termed an "active" and a "passive" side to Christian evangelism.
The Active Element: What We Do
What does it mean to follow Jesus? Though there is range of meaning to the term, we will remain brief. Mark's record employs this concept a number of times. Sometimes "following" refers simply to the act of physically pursuing Him, as often occurred during His ministry. On numerous occasions groups of people journeyed to see and hear this unique man from Galilee (e.g., 1:45; 6:33ff; 9:15).
But in a different sense following Jesus signifies a commitment to His cause, total allegiance to Him, whatever the cost. For instance, Jesus told a rich man: "sell all you possess, and give to the poor, . . . and come follow Me" (10:21). Peter bluntly stated: "we have left everything and followed You" (10:28). And the pivotal passage involves that sequence of events after Peter's confession near Caesarea Philippi. Here Jesus sets the terms of discipleship. The one who wishes to "come after Me," He says, "must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me" (8:34).
To follow Jesus, then, is to enlist in His kingdom and bow to His rule. "The idea is that of responding to a summons, attachment to a person, acceptance of authority, and imitation of example."
This is what Jesus demanded of Peter and Andrew, and the same holds true today. The call of the Son of God is to a life of consecration and total dependence upon His grace, strength and guidance. We, like those disciples of old, must embark on a spiritual journey through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Passive Element: What Christ Does
Spiritual growth is ultimately a divine accomplishment. As we do our part, God—often through our efforts—intervenes on our behalf. Notice in the text before us that Jesus assures His disciples of the outcome of following Him. A promise is made that His disciples will be transformed into true heralds of the kingdom. There does not appear to be any doubt as to the certainty of this fact. These men will indeed become fishermen in the kingdom of God; Jesus guarantees it.
The passage here does not elaborate, but there are plainly a number of key ideas tied to the concept of becoming fishers of men. Certainly the invisible hand of God is in view. He intervenes in the lives of His children, and equips them for evangelism. We may surmise that this involves a deepening of their love for God, a realization of the plight of lost men and women, and the courage to proclaim the much needed gospel message. Also, it must include a deeper knowledge of the things of God, a greater ability to communicate truth, and the wisdom needed for the variety of challenges we encounter. The Christian evangelist has many needs; these are divinely supplied, according to Jesus, for all who make following Him their highest ambition.
A number of helpful resources are available on the subject of evangelism. Much has been written concerning witnessing methods, and many formulas have been suggested. It is refreshing, however, to see the simplicity of the pattern which Jesus lays out here. Those who follow Him will indeed become true evangelists in the kingdom of God.
Yet the simplicity of the pattern does not negate the difficulty of the process. There are no short-cuts to becoming successful messengers of the truth. It is not so easy as plugging in a formula or memorizing a few trite phrases. Rather, evangelism seems to be integrally tied to the workings of God on behalf of (and within) His people. Furthermore, His dealings with us are related to our cooperation with Him. We are all evangelists "in the making."
All of this, of course, is closely tied to the means of grace, the influences by which God effects sanctifying change in His people. These include prayer, fellowship, meditation, and, especially, the preached and studied Scriptures.
Jesus said "follow Me," and that means, in part at least, coming in contact with the God-given aids to spiritual growth. Evangelists are those who take their Christian lives seriously, and determine to utilize every opportunity for progress in grace. As a result, they become better witnesses for Him.
Do not fret, therefore, as you contemplate your own inadequacies when it comes to evangelism. The very best thing you can do is to realize that God is the One who directs our efforts (even over-rules them at times!) and shapes us into more suitable messengers of Christ. The fundamental principal of evangelistic success is the cultivation of a deeper and more consistent walk with the Savior. Simply stated, we must follow Him. Those who do have this promise: They will become fishers of men.
1. "After" or "behind me" is used here to convey the thought of following Christ.
2. "‘Casting nets into the sea, for they were fishers' prepares for emphasis on the force of Jesus' command. Its force will prove so compelling that the brothers will forsake their occupation right in the midst of practicing it." Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), pp. 66-67.
3. "The dominion of God has come near—so near that Mark believes you can touch it in Jesus." David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), P. 60.
4. Donald English, The Message of Mark, BST (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), p. 53. Note that the disciples "immediately left the nets and followed Him" (v. 18). The Greek term here conveys a sense of vividness, and highlights Jesus' authority.
5. "The summons to be fishers of men is a call to the eschatological task of gathering men in view of the forthcoming judgment of God. It extends the demand for repentance in Jesus' preaching." William L Lane, The Gospel of Mark, NICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974, 1988), p. 68.
6. Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1:1-8:26, WBC 34a (Dallas, Texas: Word Books Publisher, 1989), p. 51.
7. "The church which began with a few fishermen, and yet overspread half the world, must have been founded by God." J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1857, 1985), p. 9.
8. James A. Brooks, Mark, NAC (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1991), p. 48.
9. "The future tense (poieso) indicates what will transpire in the disciples' lives and anticipates their future ministry." Guelich, p. 51.
10. E.g., Michael Green, One to One: How to Share Your faith with a Friend (Nashville, TN: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1995), Michael Green and Alister McGrath, How Shall We Reach Them? (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers, 1995), Paul Little, How To Give Away Your Faith (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1966, 1988).
11. Though concise summaries of the gospel can be very helpful, some popular formulas may actually hinder Christian witness by offering overly simplistic solutions to the myriad of human problems. We must know the truth, and we must apply it in contemporarily relevant ways. Let's face it; this takes effort.
12. What does it mean to "fish" for men? While we shouldn't push the metaphor too far, the picture here is quite rich. Evangelism, we are told, is something like fishing. Perhaps this includes the ideas of skill, foresight and diligent effort. Certainly it involves the process of learning how to fish. Amazingly, our instructor is the Son of God!
Fishers of Men: Our Part and God's in the Evangelistic Enterprise
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