by Will Washington
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
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.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 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. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
When I was a freshman in high school, I joined the football team. I remember at my first practice as a wide receiver, a coach called a pass play in the huddle, and I had no idea what the play-call meant. I ran out onto the field and just helplessly ran straight ahead when the play started, looking ridiculous because I had not yet learned what the language meant. This is how it can feel to be in a church sometimes. We use church words like “salvation,” “faith,” “grace,” and even buzzwords like “community,” but we can actually have a hard time explaining what they mean. We can also take for granted that people even know what we’re talking about or that we’re even talking about the same thing to begin with. Another one of these words is “disciple,” which is a key word in the New Testament. What does it even mean to be a disciple?
A disciple is simply a learner, so everyone is a disciple of something. The question is not “am I a disciple?” but “who or what is discipling me?” In his book The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard says that being a disciple of Jesus is learning how Jesus would live your life if He were you. I love the simplicity and practicality of that statement. On Sunday, we were reminded that in Mark 1:14-20, Mark gives us a story that also illustrates what being a disciple of Jesus is all about.
In this passage, Jesus first proclaims His usual message of the good news of the Kingdom of God that is available to any type of person, no matter what they have done. He did not come to give a new list of rules to obey, but to announce that He came to win a battle that we could never win on our own. He then proceeds to invite a few ordinary fishermen to come follow Him in order to be with Him to learn to be like Him and to live on His mission. Here are three brief observations about the call to discipleship:
(1) The qualifications for being a disciple of Jesus: Jesus did not ask to see their resumes, and He did not ask them to reach a certain level of holiness and competency before they were invited to follow him. In fact, as the story progresses, we see that these men made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of misunderstandings! This should greatly comfort us today. Jesus does not value what our world values. He gladly selects people who might be looked over and who might not be the most talented or resourced by the world’s standards, but who are faithful, humble, available, and teachable.
(2) The priority of being a disciple of Jesus: Commentators throughout the years have taken the content of this call to apply to present day disciples as well. As such, note both the urgency and the primacy of the fishermen’s response to Jesus. They do not delay, and they let Jesus’ invitation to follow Him take importance over everything else. This is a natural response when we understand the treasure and riches of the Kingdom and being in a relationship with Jesus (see Matthew 13:44-46).
(3) The reason for being a disciple of Jesus: I have never read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I once learned of this poetic line from Tolkien: “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.” In his gospel, Mark’s main argument is that Jesus is the King who came to take up His cross. Unlike so many earthly leaders, Jesus used His power in to heal us by dying on the cross. He is the rightful King who has healing and gracious hands. Because this is true, being His disciple is not about joyless rule-following in order to earn God’s acceptance, but an invitation to flourishing as a human being as a response to already having God’s unconditional acceptance. This changes everything!
This is where being and making disciples begins each day. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis memorably states, “The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.” Because Jesus is the King who lovingly took up a cross for sinners like us, the flourishing life is one of being His disciple and inviting others into the same.