16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
(Mark 1:16-20 NIV)
Do you still have your hiking boots or walking shoes on? Yesterday, Mark launched us on Jesus’ journey, where we saw Jesus identify with us in baptism, be tempted by Satan, and begin His public ministry. Mark can hardly contain himself as he tells us the next major event – Jesus’ selection of His first four disciples.
When Jesus finished His forty days of temptation in the desert, He went to the region of Galilee, near the sea of Galilee (near the top of the map below):
While it is called a “sea”, technically it is a freshwater lake. It is also known as Lake Genessaret, Lake or Sea of Kinneret, and Sea of Tiberias or Lake Tiberias. This body of water has the distinction of being the lowest freshwater lake on earth, as it is around 700 feet (212 meters) below sea level. The Sea of Galilee is about 8 miles (13 km) wide and 13 (21 km) miles long and has a maximum depth of 141 feet (43 meters). While small enough to see across at any point, the Sea of Galilee was large enough to experience storms and present danger to boats and people (see Matthew 8:23-25, when Jesus calmed the storm).
Living in an arid land such as Israel, access to fresh water and fishing brings people. The towns around the Sea of Galilee were densely populated, and a strategic place for Jesus to begin His ministry.
Mark tells us that Jesus first contacted Andrew and Simon (Peter). This was not the first contact between Jesus and these two men. The Gospel of John records that Andrew was a disciple (follower) of John the Baptizer, and started following Jesus when their paths crossed. Andrew then found his brother Simon and introduced him to Jesus, where Jesus gave Simon the name Peter (John 1:35-42).
Next, Jesus contacted brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Scripture does not say if Jesus knew James and John before He called them, or not. Like Andrew and Peter, James and John were commercial fishermen, running a successful family business with boats, nets, and employees. Fishermen in that day were hard-working business people, a part of the community. These men were not the university elite, religious officials, political leaders, or government officials – they were quite the opposite. These men were regular people that Jesus called (Acts 4:13).
In verses 18 and 20, Mark records the response from the two sets of brothers: “at once” (v. 18) and “without delay” (v. 20). The NASB translation uses the word “immediately” in both verses. Mark used this word “immediately” to describe the Father’s response to Jesus’ baptism and to the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness (vv. 9 and 12).
Jesus’ call to His disciples (“Come, follow me”) was not an invite, but rather a command, to be obeyed or disobeyed. Likewise, the rest of Jesus’ statement (“and I will send you out to fish for people”) was a statement, not a suggestion, joined together with the word “and”. To be a follower of Jesus meant to live for Him and tell others about Him.
Author Michael Card applies this passage to us so clearly and simply:
“Jesus has come and issued His call, His command. If you and I are engaged to listening to the Gospel of Mark, we will take our places beside Peter, Andrew, James, and John and decide, in the framework of this supreme moment, how we will respond.”
(from Michael Card, “Mark: The Gospel of Passion”, InterVarsity Press, 2012, p. 35)