Scripture records of Jesus Christ that on one particular occasion he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, and he saw two Simon, who called Peter, and Andrew, his brother. And they were casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. They weren't on vacation. This was their career.
We need to understand this to understand the implications of the text. It was business as usual in their lives with probably what was the most predominant thing in their career. It was bottom line. It was social security for them. It was identity. It was everything that our careers are to us.
Jesus Christ, walking along the beach, saw them, and he interrupted their lives. Christ has a nagging way of walking on the sands of our lives and interrupting us.
He said to them, "Follow me, and I'll make you fishers of men."
That's not surprising that Christ would call us to follow him. Followership is the primal call of authentic Christianity.
What I am shocked about in this text is what happened next: immediately they dropped their nets, left their careers, and followed him.
The text says that going on from there he saw two other brothers, James and John, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nests. He called to them, and immediately they left their boats and their father and followed him.
This began the calling together of the disciples, twelve core individuals who, followers, were empowered to turn their world upside down for Christ. Because they were followers, you and I are redeemed in Jesus Christ. The text takes us to three marks of Followership. How would you know if you are a follower of Christ, involved in this primal call?
Followers are colleagues in Christ.
The first mark deals with the tremendous diversity in the disciples. Yet they traveled together for three years in an unusual sense of unity because they were followers of Christ.
How would you like to be involved in an intensely intimate group dynamic, 24 hours a day for three years, with Peter? He always has his mouth in gear. He was committed, and he was radical. In the Garden of Gethsemane Peter cut off the guard's ear. The Lord had to put the ear back on. This was a guy who wouldn't be a healthy influence in a group dynamic.
Then there was Andrew. You don't hear much about Andrew in the New Testament. He seemed to be such a quiet person. You know anybody who's quiet? You want to press a button. Zzzzt. "Are you alive? Talk."
Then it dawned on me. Do you remember who Andrew's brother was? Peter. You'd be quiet, too, if Peter was your brother. The kid never had to say a thing; Peter talked for him.
There was John, who was mellow, warm. The Gospel of John is one of love. At the Last Supper, he was the one reclined on the bosom of the Savior. Yes, his nickname is Son of Thunder. Volatile. At one point in the New Testament he said to the Lord, "Call down lightning and destroy your enemies." Have you been around unpredictable people? When you finally know how to react to them, they bolt to the other side of the schedule. You want to say, "Would you get your act together?"
Christ called several others to be core followers of him. Thomas, the skeptic, the negative guy. You want to have a great party some night? Invite every skeptic you know.
The most dramatic in this diversity is Matthew the tax collector. Tax collectors were the worst kind of Jews, because they worked for the occupying force of Rome, collecting the exorbitant tax of the Roman Empire. Rome allowed them to attach extra assessments and pocket them. And they did that. Tax collectors were sold out to Rome at the jeopardy of the fellow Jews. That was Matthew.
And there was Simon the Zealot, who was a member of the resistance force, the underground, plotting to overthrow the Roman occupation.
Now put Simon the Zealot, and Matthew in the same crowd. Intense.
But watch these 12 walk together, with their eyes fixed on one Christ. Jesus has a way of lifting us above our petty our politics, preferences, cultures, and temperaments.
The body of Christ has a lot of diversity. We have diversity of temperaments, class, race, and spiritual gifts. You go to the hospital. You're lying there, and in comes a sister. She sits down and grabs your hand and starts crying. She has the gift of mercy.
The next person walks into your room, walks by your bed, doesn't say a thing, and starts organizing the flowers and the cards. She has the gift of ruling, of administration, of organization.
The next person walks into the room and sits down and says, "What can I do to help? Can we pick your kids up from school? Can we bring dinner to your family?" He has the gift of serving.
The prophet walks in, sits down, opens his Bible, and says, "You may not know this, but much of sickness in Scripture is directly attributed to sin. And if we could deal with this, we could have you out of here quickly."
The next person walks in and grabs his checkbook, and says, "I bet you guys are in a financial ditch because of this. My spouse and I have been talking about it. What do you need? We'll write you a check." The gift of giving.
We'll all different. And every once in a while gifts get on other's gifts' nerves. If we're not careful, these differences can drive wedges between us.
It works like this. I'm walking down a road one day and I see somebody. "How are you doing? Where you going?"
"I'm a follower of Christ."
"No kidding? Me, too. We must be going to the same place!"
We go arm in arm. "So, you're a follower; I'm a follower. Terrific! Let's go."
We start walking, and I noticed he's carrying a Bible. I say, "[I use] the King James Version. What are you carrying?"
"New International Version." Hmm. It gets a little chilly.
"I notice you've got a marker in your Bible. What did you mark?"
He says, "Whosoever will may comeI notice you've got a marker in your Bible."
"Yes, I do. Predetermined in him before the foundations of the earth." Hmmm.
"Can I ask you a question? How come your choir sways when they sing?"
"Yeah? Well, let me ask you a question. How come your choir puts me to sleep when they sing?"
"I suppose you're a Democrat."
"I bet you're a Republican."
"I guess I'll see you later, man."
"Wait. Where did you say you were going?Me, too. We almost forgot that, didn't we?"
Though we have differences, they don't divide us because followers of Christ are colleagues in the cause of Christ. That's a mark of followership. Jesus prayed in John 17 that one of the marks of true believers would be that they would be one in him.
Followers are netless believers.
There is another mark in this text. It's noted in verses 20 and 22: "And immediately they left their nets and followed him." Some of you are probably thinking, Wait. To be a true follower, do I have to give up my career? Maybe yes and maybe no. For them, it meant giving up their careers.
If you have a career that forces you to compromise integrity, honesty, and the values of the King; forces you to walk the paths of this planet; forces you out of replication of the King, then probably.
I have a friend who is founder, chairman of the board, and CEO of one of the leading bond houses in Chicago. For years he has led a Friday morning Bible study in his office. Heaven is enriched with dozens of people who have come to know Christ through that Bible study. We were out to lunch a couple of years ago, and he's approaching 65. I said, "I bet you're ready to sell your business and retire." I thought he'd say, "Yeah, I can't wait." The day he sells his business, no dream will elude him. I figured he'd want out.
He said, "Actually, Joe, I don't have any plans to sell my business. Some day I'll have to, but I know that the day I sell my business is the day I lose my ministry for Jesus Christ."
He's someone who views his career in terms of followership.
So having understood that, the second mark is that followers are netless believers.
As long as Peter and Andrew hung on to their nets, they were going nowhere with Christ. What are the nets in your hands? Before they could follow Christ, for them, they had to drop their nets.
What is a net? A net is anything in my life that inhibits or prohibits my commitment to following him.
Maybe for some of us it's things. Having been absorbed into a culture that celebrates the worth and value of things, we tend to think that to accumulate things stacks up our own sense of significance. Some people think, If I become a follower of Christ I'll have to give up some things. I don't know if I want to yield things. It becomes a net, and you keep it in your grip. You can't follow.
Maybe it's people. Maybe your net is someone you like, and just hanging around that person brings you a significance and security. Yet, you know that if you become a true follower of Christ your values and principles will distance you from this person. You don't want to forsake them, and you don't want to kick them out of your life.
Maybe it's somebody you don't like. Maybe it's that person you like to feel bitter person who's used you, abused you, hurt, and offended you. You know that to be a follower of Christ you're going to have to drop that net of hatred and resentment and revenge and begin to process the path of forgiveness.
Maybe it's the net of your plans. When I grew up I thought I was going to be a doctor. In high school, I gave my life to Christ. I said, "Lord, you can have the whole of my life for whatever you want me to do." Of course, I knew he wanted me to be a doctor. So it was an easy thing to do.
But, obviously, he had different plans for my life; he had a better plan. Did you ever think he might have a better plan?
What are your nets? Why would any of them be of greater value than Christ? It is a matter of values.
And it's a matter of outcomes. What do you want your life to be like when it's over, when you step on the threshold and look in the rearview mirror? Imagine if Peter, Andrew, James, and John would have clung to their nets and stayed in their boats. They would have looked back over their lives, and would have seen piles of slippery, slimy, scaly, smelly fish. That would have been their lives. But they dropped their nets, and they left their boats. They followed Christ, and they looked in the rearview mirror: it's a world that's been impacted for eternity. They crossed the threshold and were welcomed home by people who have been they left their nets.
What do you want when it's over? Stacks of stuff? Or an eternity because you were a follower of Christ?
Followers are .
There is one last mark. Christ brings this element of followership later into the experience of the disciples. In Mark 8, beginning in verse 34, we read:
And he summoned the multitude with his disciples and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself""and take up his cross and follow me."
What is a cross? Let's take what the cross was to Christ, since he knew what was coming and since he uttered this statement. For Christ, the cross meant phenomenal discomfort and pain. It meant: giving up the glories of heaven; displacing himself and descending into this fallen world; taking the cloak of our beings to walk with us for 33 years all the way to an instrument of ancient, cruel torture; dying in , rejected by his best friends.
So what does this mean to be a ? It means that in my life I will have a willing predisposition to the inevitability to some discomfort as a result of being a follower of Christ. Maybe it's the discomfort of in the marketplace, geographically, in my social circles. Friends, please remember that Christ went through a phenomenal displacement for heaven, was homeless for 33 years.
When we follow him, there will be measures of discomfort. Maybe it's the discomfort of being perceived as radical. In a pluralistic, tolerant world, it's tough to say, "Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by him."
When the going gets tough, only the followers continue on the path. Our problem is not picking up the cross; a lot of us will pick up the cross. You say, "I will be a follower of Christ. I'll drop my nets. If it means some discomfort in my life for all of his discomfort, I'll do it." You'll pick up your cross, and start following him. Then, suddenly, your comfort will be challenged. Like Peter.
There he was: Cross bearer for Christ. He stood around that charcoal fire as Christ was being tried. Somebody came to him and said, "Hey, you are one of the disciples of this one." Social discomfort. Peter said, "No, who did you say?"
My wife, Marty, and I had the privilege of being in the former Soviet Union. I'll never forget being out in a tiny town, way in the back woods, sitting in this poor, simple house with the pastor of the church, an older man. He began to share with me: "Stalin's reign was the worst time for the church. When I was a young pastor, two KGB agents said to me, 'We'll take care of you. We'll set you up. You stay the pastor of that church, but once a week give us a report on every Christian who worships there. Work for us."
Pretty compelling for a poor pastor. Also compelling if you know what the alternative was. But he said, "I can't do that to God, and I can't do that to this flock." They said, "All right. You've got a free ticket to Siberia."
They put him on a boat with fifteen hundred other political and religious prisoners, and they began the trip in January. He said, "They marched us across that Siberian wilderness to our prison camp. By the time I got there, there was almost no shoe leather left on my shoes."
I said,"Wow. How long were you there?"
He said, "Ten years."
I said, "Were there other Christians who fellowshiped with you?"
He said, "Yes. That was the joy of it. We got together a lot. In fact, toward the end of our time there, they sent us sixty miles away from the prison camp. I was a carpenter. So we were building towns for Stalin. We'd go out in radiuses. When we'd get there, we'd fellowship together." He paused and got this satisfied sense about himself. He said, "Today there are hundreds of churches in Siberia as a result of these small prisoner fellowship groups."
It's like God said, "Whoa, Siberia. Siberia. How will we get missionaries to Siberia?" Then he realized that all he needed was a few followers who would drop their nets and pick up their crosses and follow him.
Isaac Watts wrote a great hymn in which he asks some pointed questions. The hymn goes, "Am I a soldier of the Cross, a follower of the Lamb? And shall I fear to own his cause or blush to speak his name?
"Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas? Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? In this vile world a friend of grace to help me onto God?
"Sure I must fight if I would reign. Increase my courage, Lord. I'll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy word."
Followers of Christ are colleagues with Christ, netless, believers. That the privilege of followership.
If tonight the Spirit has put you at a crossroads and you say, "I will not follow him," then who will you follow?
Joseph Stowell is president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. His latest book is Following Christ.