The Essential Jesus

Jesus Calls His Disciples

Mark 1:16-20

Teaching t12693


Reiterate series topic.  One of the key themes of Jesus’ early public ministry is the calling of His disciples.  On one level, of course, Jesus’ calling of these men was unique because they went on to become the apostles – His official and inspired spokesmen.  But on another level, His calling of these men is typical because He calls all people (including you and me!) to be His disciples.  And the principles that guided Jesus’ calling of the twelve also apply to His calling of us.  I want to look at four such principles this morning, using Mk. 1 as our base text, where Jesus calls four young men.

Starts by beginning a personal relationship with Jesus

Read Mk. 1:14,16-20.  At first glance, this sounds very disturbing – like Jesus walked up to total strangers and mesmerized them and/or they were gullible cult candidates.  But this is an inaccurate understanding of this event.  For one thing, it was common and honorable in this culture for young men to become disciples of a rabbi.  More importantly, this was not their initial encounter with Jesus, but rather an important juncture in their relationships with Him that had been developing for some time.

Re-read 1:14.  By telling us this was after John the Baptist had been taken into custody, Mark is notifying us that he is skipping over about one year.  The material in Jn. 1:35-4:45 transpired during this time.  Jn. 1:35-42 records their initial encounter.  Notice how different this encounter is from the one in Mk. 1 (read).

Two of them were already disciples of John the Baptist, who told them that Jesus was the Messiah.  The others had credible relatives or friends vouch for Jesus.

When they approached Jesus cautiously, He did not insist that they make a radical change.  Instead, He invited them to spend the evening with Him, during which He (presumably) answered many of their questions.

When He met Peter, he did not call on him to leave his job.  Instead, He demonstrated insight into Peter’s weakness and a positive vision for his life.

For the next year, they developed a relationship with Jesus while still working at their jobs (a common arrangement between young Jewish men and rabbis).  They heard Him preach and teach, watched Him turn water into wine, clear the Temple, converse with Nicodemus, reach out to the Samaritan woman, etc.  In other words, only after they began a relationship with Him and experienced His love and power and faithfulness did He call them to make radical life-changes. 

This is the first principle: Discipleship starts by beginning a personal relationship with Jesus.  Don’t get the cart before the horse!  Jesus will call you to follow Him into a very different life than you would have lived – we’ll talk more about this in a few minutes.  But He begins by inviting you to get to know Him so you can experience His love and wisdom and goodness.

Read Rev. 3:20.  I began my relationship with Christ through this verse.  That decision began a two-year period of discovery of Jesus and gradual understanding of the new life into which He was leading me.  Only after that time did He challenge me to sign over the title-deed of my life to Him.

Jesus is issuing the same invitation to you!  Has He been “knocking at your door” (friends’ testimony; speaking through this study; exposing your emptiness; attracted to his “truth & grace;” providing evidence of His claims)?  Do you feel attracted to His invitation – but also afraid of what might happen if you open the door?  That’s normal.  Ask Him to come in, and begin getting to know Him!

Involves being in community with other disciples of Jesus

Re-show Mk. 1:16-20.  Jesus didn’t call just one disciple – He called a group of disciples.  He called Andrew and Peter together; He called James and John together.  He called people together who would never have known one another otherwise (read Mk. 3:15-19).  This wasn’t merely for efficiency’s sake – it was intrinsic to His discipleship plan.  He developed them as individuals in the context of a community.  He taught them together, He prayed with them together, He sent them out two by two, He created group learning opportunities, etc.  And He told them that loving each other the way He lad loved them was critical to their mission (read Jn. 13:34,35).

There is continuity on this point also.  Jesus calls and guides each one of us individually, but He also calls us to follow Him by being in community with other disciples.  As with these men, He will deepen and transform some pre-existing relationships through your common relationship with Him.  And as with these men, He will bring you together with people you would never have otherwise known (or wanted to know!).

This is why most of the New Testament metaphors for the church emphasize this communal feature of discipleship.  We are God’s family, brothers and sisters who have the same Father and Teacher.  We are the God’s Temple – each of us living stones indwelt by God’s Spirit, but being built together by Him into a living building that manifests His presence.  We are God’s army – each of us soldiers with individual roles in the battle, but effective only as we fight in formation with other fellow-soldiers.  We are the Christ’s Body – each of us like different members of our physical bodies, but interdependent on one another under Jesus as the Head.

This is antithetical to our culture’s obsession with autonomous individualism.  “Alone I cannot serve the Lord effectively, and He will spare no pains to teach me this . . . This is the very opposite of humans’ condition by nature . . . (which) is essentially individualistic . . . I may have gotten over (some specific sin problems), and yet still be a confirmed individualist . . . God must therefore deal with me on this matter, or I will remain in conflict with His ends.  God does not blame me for being an individual, but for my individualism . . . When I see this, I will be done with independence and will seek fellowship.  The life of Christ in me will gravitate toward the life of Christ in others.  I can no longer take the individualistic line.”[1]

This was a key decision for me (1970-1971).  What step is Jesus asking you to take into Christian community (e.g., HONEST TALK; COMMIT TO HC; PERSONAL DISCIPLESHIP)?

Involves learning how to influence others toward Jesus’ kingdom

Jesus called His disciples into community with one another, but He also called them to reach out with Him to others (re-read Mk. 1:17).  The phrase “fish for people” does not mean that He would teach them how to manipulate people, or to treat them as sub-human objects, etc.  It means that He would teach them how to do what He was doing – reaching out to gather lost people into God’s kingdom (quote Lk. 19:10).

Read Mk. 3:14 – Jesus called them to Himself to be with Him together – but also to send them out to tell others.  He called them into community to be Him and with one another.  But always His eye was on those outside their band; His heart of love always went out beyond the reached to the unreached.  He was clear on this from the start, and there was no give on this.  What if Peter tried to get Jesus to become his full-time fish-finder so they could build a world-wide fishery empire?  Jesus wasn’t there to fit into Peter’s plans to catch more fish – He was there to call Peter to fit into His plans to gather more people into God’s kingdom!

This is the way it is with us.  If you chose to follow Jesus as His disciple, He will call you to learn how to influence others toward His kingdom.  Read Phil. 2:14-16 (NIV) – Christian community that fails to do this (by lifestyle and word) is “for nothing!”  Jesus knows your unique “fishing” role.  He is able to make us the “fishers of men” He has designed us to be (HARVEST CELEBRATION OUTREACH  DIVERSITY EXAMPLES).  Will you try to get Jesus to facilitate your purpose for your life (most of start out this way), or will you let Him teach you how to influence others toward Him? 

“You have a choice to make.  You will either be a world-class Christian or a worldly Christian.  Worldly Christians look to God primarily for personal fulfillment.  They are saved, but self-centered . . . Their prayers focus on their own needs, blessings, and happiness.  It’s a me-first faith: How can God make my life more comfortable?  They want to use God for their purposes instead of being used for His purposes.  In contrast, world-class Christians know they are saved to serve and made for a mission.  They are eager to receive a personal assignment and excited about the privilege of being used by God.  World-class Christians are the only fully alive people on the planet.  Their joy, confidence, and enthusiasm are contagious because they know they are making a difference.  They wake up each morning expecting God to work through them in fresh ways.  Which type of Christian do you want to be?”[2]

Involves following Jesus even when He disrupts your life

Re-show Mk. 1:16-20.  Responding to Jesus’ call had immediate practical implications for these four men.  In their case, it meant walking away from their vocations so Jesus could train them full-time.  It also meant a change in family relationships (Zebedee’s reaction).  And this was only the first of many changes Jesus mandated.  For the next three years, He introduced all kinds of changes into their lives – geographical mobility, multi-ethnic exposure, conflict with the religious authorities – in order to train them for their future roles as apostles of His church.  It also involved sharp rebukes for wrong attitudes and behaviors, following His directions into danger and ministry situations way beyond their human abilities.  Discipleship was always strictly voluntary, but Jesus never apologized for His disruptive directions and corrections.  At various points, people decided that following Him was too uncomfortable and dropped out (read Jn. 6:60,66-68).  But those who stayed experienced the joy of deepening intimacy with Jesus and the exciting privilege of being involved in His mission!

It will be the same for you and me.  Discipleship involves following Jesus even when He disrupts your life.  Being Jesus’ disciple is following a living Leader who personally initiates change in our lives in the areas and ways and timing that he knows is best both for us and for His purpose in our lives.  Because of this, there will always be an element of unpredictability.  He wants to teach you that true security comes from trusting Him, not from controlling things yourself.  Because He wants voluntary disciples, He will never force you to follow Him – but because He is committed to developing your full potential as His disciple, there are always new challenges that require new decisions to keep trusting and following Him.  Consider Christopher Adsit’s comment on this:

“A disciple is a person in process. The process begins when a person receives Christ . . . and will continue as long as the person keeps learning . . . A (disciple, therefore) will  . . . never ‘arrive,’ because the Lord will continue to expose areas where He wants to bring about deeper commitments and more profound changes . . . From time to time in this process, Jesus will up the ante for His learners . . . To the growing disciple He’ll say, ‘You’ve been doing well . . . But now it’s time to graduate to the next class.  More will be expected now.  Are you willing to accept this new challenge?’  If the disciple says yes, he continues to learn, he continues to grow, he continues to be used in the work of the kingdom – he continues to be a disciple.  But if he is not willing to go on, Jesus says, ‘Then you cannot be My disciple.  Your eternal destiny is by no means in jeopardy, and you can change your mind at any time and we’ll resume class.  But as long as you maintain that stance, you are not My learner.’  That being the case, you will find that most (young) Christians are disciples, because they have such an intense drive to learn more about their relationship with God and they haven’t had much opportunity to bail out yet.  On the other hand, you may find (someone) who has been pastoring a large church for 25 years, has a seminary doctorate, has memorized half the Bible, has led hundreds to the Lord, and yet is not a disciple, because there came a time when he said, ‘No.  I am not willing to go any further.  I will not make that sacrifice.  I am not interested in any more learning.’  To him, Jesus has said, ‘You cannot be my disciple.’”[3]


SUMMARIZE 4 lessons: Where are you?  What next step is Jesus is calling you to take?

[1] Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life (Christian Literature Crusade, 1961), pp. 151,152.

[2] Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), pp. 297,298.

[3] Christopher Adsit, Personal Disciplemaking (Here’s Life Publishers, 1988), pp. 34,35.