Mike McElroy

“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’” — Mark 1:16-17

Can you think of an event in your past that changed your life and altered the course you thought you'd be following? Our text today is about such a moment in the lives of Jesus’ first disciples.

Our text is a record of Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, James and John into full-time discipleship. This was not the first time these men had met Jesus. Earlier, John the Baptist introduced them to the man who would become their Master, telling them that Jesus was the Lamb of God (John 1). That happened some time before the call came in Mark 1.

I believe there are some important lessons you and I can learn as disciples from this encounter. Remember, disciples are followers and learners. We follow by "watching" his example and imitating him. We learn by "listening" to his life-changing words and putting them into practice in our thinking, speech and actions.

This beach-side calling reminds us that Jesus first chose them to follow him, not the other way around. We often think of the momentous decision that we made when we heard the gospel, believed it and surrendered to Christ. And that's true. It is a life-changing moment when a person chooses to follow Jesus as Lord. But we glorify God more by remembering that it is not by our initiative, but by his grace that we are first called. This keeps us humble, doesn't it? Christ gets the glory (and not us) for our coming to the Lord. He called and we answered.

Another lesson is here that I need to remember daily: They were called to follow Jesus—himself, personally. More than a system of religion, more than a list of rules, discipleship is relationship to the person of Jesus Christ. I like the way Jesus describes that in the parable of the vine and branches in John 15. Look at this verse: "If you abide in me," (there's the relationship), "and my words abide in you," (there's the effect of the relationship showing up in a disciple's life). Yes, we'll obey him if we're faithful disciples. But aren't you thankful the obedience grows out of the abiding, and not the other way around? Do you feel closer to someone you deeply love, or to a book of rules? I'm glad we're called to follow a living Savior, not a lifeless system.

Read the text again, please, and note that he told them he was going to change them: "I will make you." Mark told us they were fishermen, and then told how Jesus described the coming change in their lives as becoming a different kind of fishermen. They had caught fish for the family business. But they would catch people for the "business" of the kingdom of God in the days to come. Jesus didn't come to die and save us because we were already what he wants us to be. He came and died for us while we still sinners (Romans 5:8). His work of grace in our lives goes beyond our salvation to our sanctification--changing us to be his own people who give him glory by our changed lives. Remember the reaction of the disciples to the change in Saul of Tarsus? "They were only hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me" (Galatians 1:23-24). Does God get glory for a changed life in me? How about you?

Finally, note that the amazing transformational change in a disciple's life is not instantaneous. Instead it is the culmination of a process. Jesus told them, "I will make you become fishers of men." If you're discouraged because you have to humbly concede you're not all you ought to be as a Christian, take heart in this. There's a process going on. We are becoming, maturing, developing as disciples. This is not an excuse to persist in sin and remain spiritual babies. But it is a comfort for dedicated hearts that are conscious of how much more they need to grow.

As you and I think about our own relationship to the Lord as his disciples, wouldn't it be good to memorize and meditate on this verse and the one that follows? Next week will take a closer took at the disciples’ response to the call. These verses remind us of important lessons about following Jesus.

Mike McElroy is a regular faith columnist for The Tribune.