Reconsider Jesus – The Calling (Mark 1:16-20)

Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents

The Calling

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 Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him.

Mark 1:16-20 – RSV

When I was eleven years old an evangelist came to our church and met just with the Sunday School department. There were three rows of children lined up, and the guest evangelist gave a twenty minute appeal just for us, complete with an invitation to come forward and be saved. Everyone went forward – except me, little Mike Spencer, and I was the Pastor’s nephew! I can still feel that moment of isolation and the determination to not be manipulated. My best friend was up there. All the other kids were up there too and would go on to be baptized a couple weeks later. But not me. Maybe I was stubborn. Maybe I had my dad’s Eastern Kentucky Mountain recalcitrance. Whatever it was, I would not go up front, and I didn’t like the tactics that were used to try to get me there.

I have heard bizarre appeals, emotional appeals, irrational appeals, mystical appeals, pragmatic appeals and brazenly manipulative appeals. I was turned off by them all, and increasingly started to say so. I didn’t believe in arm-twisting, bribery, scare tactics or crass emotional manipulation.

But as manipulative as these appeals have been, the requested response has been deceptively easy – I’ve now heard it for years: “Come to Jesus….here at the front.” “Leave your seat. Leave your sin. Come to the cross.” And so, at least in my denomination and many other revivalistic traditions, millions and millions of people came to believe they had “accepted Christ” because they had done something. They had left their seats and walked down the aisle. It was efficacious and easy.

Really, really easy.

In contrast, when Jesus says “Come follow me” to his first disciples it means something far different:

At the outset of his ministry Jesus asks people to abandon their security and follow him, defining their entire life by their relationship to him. He is their future and he is their way.67 Today it is popular to speak of “accepting Christ” and “asking Jesus into your heart.” These phrases are not found in the Bible and they define the Christian life in terms that are deficient. When we make the decision to believe in Jesus as Savior, we are answering his call to follow him. Learn from him. Imitate him. Accompany him. While it may be initiated as an event, it is a call to a never ending journey. We can never exhaust the possibilities of what it means to follow Jesus.

I try to resist the temptation of seeing a follower of Jesus as a finished product. We are all called to follow Jesus, so our response to him is constantly the call to move forward, to drop what hinders and to move into the future that is God’s Kingdom. This means that even when I have failed, I can always follow Jesus. The greatest expression of response to Jesus is simply following him. The faithful response of the follower is what Jesus desires: To follow him in order to know him in order to serve him.

I have always appreciated this aspect of the Gospels because it serves as a counterpoint to the increasing tendency to see Christianity in terms of mystical experience or esoteric knowledge. Even a child may follow. One need not be eloquent or gifted to follow. To follow does not require me to be a “Holy Joe” or even especially religious. Jesus simply asks me to follow. Following may mean learning the simplest lesson or making the smallest step or doing the lowliest deed. But I am still to follow.

The men Jesus called to follow him were businessmen. We have some indication from this passage that they were not poor.68 They were however, as the Jews later observed in Acts 4:13, “unlearned and ignorant men.” This is particularly true in terms of formal religious training. Even though Mark often shows the disciples as very slow to learn and confused, he does not mean to portray them as stupid. They are simply typical men who have defined their lives in terms of making a living and providing for their families. They are practical men, not scholars and scribes. We should remember that there is no previous resume needed to follow Jesus. Jesus’ focus is not the religiously inclined, but rather he holds up the unreligious as the ideal subjects of the Kingdom. Christianity does not ask its followers to become monks, scholars, or mystics in order to understand the truth of the Gospel. What God has to show any of us, does not depend on IQ or whether we are spiritually inclined. In a sense, the Gospel is the perfect message for the nonreligious person. Let’s always treasure this truth. Most of the trouble in Christianity has been caused by the religious and the so-called experts!

Jesus also lays out another important truth: Discipleship is transformational. He will take what we are and make us useful to him. “Fishers of men” may have been an image used in Jeremiah 16:16, but most likely Jesus is simply using the available imagery of his followers’ world to describe what the journey will mean. Those who have spent their lives catching fish will become “fishers” of another kind, catching men and women for the Kingdom of God. It is entirely acceptable to look at whatever we are and whatever we do and see it as the very thing Jesus will transform and elevate for his service. We need not desire to be something new and exotic in order to be a useful Christian. God will demonstrate his power and his love by taking the ordinary and making it useful and even extraordinary for him. When God took the staff that Moses held in his hand, and turned it into a snake,69 it was God’s way of telling his Old Testament servant that he could take whatever Moses had to offer and use it. In a similar way God took David, a shepherd of sheep, and made him the shepherd of a nation. God is doing the same through Jesus, taking fishers and making them fishers of men.

Mark also includes an immediacy to the disciple’s response. Decisiveness is a hallmark of humanity’s response to Jesus. In Mark, men quickly react to Jesus as either worthy of faith or worthy of death. Discipleship is not a hasty matter to be pursued thoughtlessly, but at the same time Jesus is not calling us to consider at our leisure and respond when ready. No, “today is the day of salvation.”70 The Apostle Paul makes it clear that we already know enough and have seen enough to respond rightly to the invitation to repent and believe.71 But this immediate response must also be a laying down of our current lives and the taking up of a new one. As we read these names, we realize that these are people with families and obligations just like us, yet they were so changed by Jesus that they left all and followed him. Jesus was aware of what this meant. He told his disciples to count the cost72 and to not follow him with a divided loyalty.73

In the time of Jesus, rabbis were generally sought by disciples who would ask to become followers.74 In contrast, Jesus initiates the discipleship relationship in every instance we know. “Come follow me” is a sentence that rings to the core of what Jesus Christ not only asked of his disciples, but asks of all of us.



[67] John 14:6

[68] Mark 1:20

[69] Exodus 4:2

[70] 2 Corinthians 6:2

[71] Romans 1:20

[72] Luke 14:28-33

[73] Matthew 8:18-22

[74] Matthew 8:19

Notes from Mike Bell:
1. What questions or thoughts come from your mind from what you have just read? What stood out to you?
2. Would you be interested in a paper or Kindle version of the book when it is available? Please email us at so that we can let you know when it is ready.
3. Find any grammar or spelling errors, phrases that are awkward or difficult to understand? Also send these type of comments to the email address above.

9 thoughts on “Reconsider Jesus – The Calling (Mark 1:16-20)

  1. Horses for courses.
    The parable of the wine skin, slightly amplified, seems apposite:
    You can’t put new, still fermenting wine into wineskins when the leather has become stiff with age, because the pressure of the gas from the still-fermenting wine will burst the skin. You have to put new wine into wineskins made of fresh leather which is still supple, so the leather stretches as the pressure of the gas builds up rather than bursting. However, as anyone knows anything about wine knows, new wine is horrible stuff and undrinkable – it’s only after it has aged that it is any good.
    There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the aunt’s faith, which was a fine, aged and excellent wine. It’s just that the nephew’s faith was barely-formed and bubbling new wine: the aunt was trying to put new wine into old wineskins, and the nephew wouldn’t fit. Try to force him in and there’s going to be spilt wine all over the place.


  2. A movie that I purchased recently was a bioflick of an intinerant Appalachian evangelist from the period just after the Second Great Awakening. The first part of the film dealt, as can be expected, with that evangelist’s conversion. It appeared to be fairly straightforward. A boorish young man joined with several other boorish young men to disturb a revival meeting, but his attention was captured by the preacher’s plain and unadorned message. He stayed behind after his boorish friends left to ‘give his life to the Lord’, and decided he wanted to be a preacher too.

    This caused no small disturbance to the young man’s aunt, who was a member of an Episcopal parish and didn’t like her nephew running off to become another ‘raggle-taggle gypsy preacher’. She gave her nephew a lecture about the ‘appropriateness of religion in its proper place’, but the nephew wasn’t having it. Nothing short of his aunt ‘giving her life to the Lord’ would suffice for him.

    Now, as an Orthodox believer, I was kind of intrigued by the film. The boorish young man didn’t stop being boorish. Indeed, he became something of a boorish and monomaniacal older man. However, he did have a heart for the poor and marginalized of the area in which he ministered and the film displayed him as having an active and fervent prayer life. He reminded me of nothing more than an Orthodox Fool-for-Christ in a backwoods setting. The aunt, though, reminded me of the many worthies in my parish who have never ‘given their lives to the Lord’ in any abrupt or decisive manner. Nevertheless, they are wonderful people and keenly aware of their duties to the church and their families.

    His aunt’s, and the Orthodox, approach likely wouldn’t have worked with the young man. He struck as someone who would likely have been a lout, a drunkard, and a layabout if he had never ‘given his life to the Lord’. As someone who is committed to the ‘one size fits all’ religious life of Orthodoxy, I am in something of a quandry.

    Was there anything deficient in the aunt’s religion? What benefits would have accrued to her if she had followed her nephew’s path. Nothing, and nothing, would be my answer. However, I’m not so certain about the nephew.


  3. Would you be interested in a posting of the occasional audio Bible Study? I think you will find them quite enlightening to compare with the final written versions.


  4. This was a hard post to compile. It was stitched together from a few different sources. There was not however the usual audio bible study to draw illustrations from. I do think the contrast of Michael’s experience with Jesus call is a stark one that will warrant some further discussion.


  5. Thanks to all who responded with offers of interest last posting. I was greatly encouraged to receive seven expressions of interest in the book by email. Thank you, thank you, thank you!


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