You have probably heard of the Penguin Classics series. Dr. E.V. Rieu, a renowned scholar in the classics created the series. After a successful translation of Homer into modern English, he was asked to do the same with the 4 gospels.
Rieu was a lifelong agnostic.
When his son heard about the project he said: “It will be interesting to see what Father will make of the four gospels. It will be even more interesting to see what the four Gospels make of Father.”
Within a year E.V. Rieu had become a committed Christian.
He was not the first, and certainly not the last person to pick up the New Testament and set it down a changed man.
What does it mean to be a Christian?
Is a Christian a person who is raised in a Christian home? Someone who is born in a Western nation? Or is a Christian someone who attends a certain church, votes a certain political party line?
This morning we are going to see 3 marks of a Christian in the gospel of Mark.
Let’s read Mark 1:16-20.
You’ll notice the heading of our passage: Jesus calls his first disciples. What does that word mean?
Webster’s dictionary defines disciple as one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another.
The word in the Greek is mathetes, which means learner.
The word is first used in Mark 2
“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”
In the early days of the church, disciple was the primary word used to describe members of the community.
“in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
The basic definition of a Christian is a disciple of Jesus. Mark 1 shows us that becoming a disciple of Jesus means gaining a new identity, a new center and a new direction.
1. A new identity: chosen.
In this passage, Jesus is drafting his team. He has begun the work of the Messiah, he is building the kingdom of God. In Mark 1:16 we find him choosing his cabinet, so to speak.
There was no precedent for what Jesus was doing.
Rabbis did not choose disciples. They received applications. They were men of power and influence and people came to them.
The Rabbis Israel knew sat in their synagogues and the world came to them.
Here we find Jesus walking along the sea of Galilee.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you”
On what basis did God choose these men?
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
“In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—”
At this moment in Mark, these men did not have any of these verses. They didn’t know the theology, but I think they knew something better. I think they understood it tangibly. They could see it in his eyes, they could hear it in his voice. They felt it in his embrace.
If you are in Christ, you are chosen.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
2. A new center: Christ
Notice how these four men responded to Jesus.
They dropped everything and followed him.
Andrew and Peter left their nets – they left the tools of their trade.
James and John left their father, the boats and the hired servants. They left the business plan.
They found a new center.
We are born into this world full of desire, looking for a center to attach our desires to.
It might be our life plan: take over the family business, grow the fleet to 5 boats, hire a staff team, retire at 50.
It might be a relationship: fall in love, get married, share a happy life together.
It might be entertainment and recreation.
For the athletes competing in the Winter Olympics, it is their sport. The decisions of our athletes revolve around their athletic career. They choose their city, relationships, diet, budget – everything around the sport.
Sinclair Ferguson described Jesus as the great disrupter. He gets into your wallet, your contacts, your journal.
He desires to be the center.
That’s what he was getting at in that challenging verse in Luke 14.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
Does he really mean that? We have to hate our family? Do we need to drop everything, sell our homes, give up our jobs to follow Jesus?
You know the movie Remember the Titans? Coach Boone greets the players on their way to preseason camp. “once you step on that bus you ain’t got your mama anymore. You got your brothers on the team and you got your daddy. Who’s your daddy Gerry?”
We understand that don’t we? When those players get on that bus they reorient their lives around a new center.
Why would they do that? For the love of the game.
Why did the disciples drop everything? For the love of Jesus.
Remember the context. This was an electric moment in the history of Israel. They hadn’t heard from God for 400 years. Then John the Baptist appears out of nowhere and a great revival sweeps Israel. Hundreds of thousands of people are coming out to the wilderness to be baptized, confessing their sins. It was the talk of the nation.
In his gospel, John fills in the gaps a bit. John 1 tells us that Andrew was with John the Baptist. He was there when John pointed out Jesus and said, “behold, the lamb of God!” Andrew and another man followed Jesus and spoke with him.
After that Andrew went and found Peter and told him, “we have found the Messiah!” Andrew then dragged Peter with him to meet Jesus who greets Peter and gives him his new name.
These brothers had an idea that this Jesus was somebody special. They sensed that God was doing something new in the world and Jesus was at the center of it. I imagine they were thrilled to be chosen. They were ready to reorient their lives around him.
But what does that mean for us? Are we supposed to leave everything too?
Some of us may. Most will not. Here’s what Paul, the great missionary and disciple maker taught new converts:
“Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.”
1 Corinthians 7:20
“and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you,”
1 Thessalonians 4:11
It’s not a question of leaving everything, it’s a question of reorienting everything.
So the application is not to drop everything, but to ask this question: What’s your center?
“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.” – David Foster Wallace
3. A new direction: people
Come follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.
What does a fisherman concern himself with? Fish? He studies fish. He knows where they are, he knows where and when they travel, he knows their tastes and preferences.
What does a disciple of Jesus concern himself with? People.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. -1 Corinthians 9:19-22
To follow Jesus is to become a people person.
We are not all natural extroverts. Not all of us love to be around people.
But to follow Jesus is to gain a love and concern for the souls of the people around us.
When Jesus saw a crowd of people, he was filled with compassion as he saw the needs of the individuals in that crowd.
How do you see the people around you at work? In your neighborhood? Do you see their souls?
Are your praying for their souls?
To follow Jesus is to point our hearts in the direction of people.
We’re not all skilled evangelists. We feel inadequate and often make mistakes.
That’s okay. What is the most important quality for a fisherman?
Notice that Jesus did not say I will make you fishers of men. He said I will make you become fishers of men. Why is that?
He wants us to see that there is a process involved. Becoming a disciple is a lifelong journey.
Along that journey, Andrew, Peter, James and John found a new identity, a new center and a new direction.
We often say that they left everything to follow Jesus.
It may be more accurate to say they followed Jesus to gain everything.
Just look at Peter.
Where was he when Jesus called him? He was a regular guy in the crowd. An overlooked and often despised laborer who smelled like fish and spoke with a drawl.
And after Jesus? At the end of his life Peter had traveled all over the Roman empire. He ended his days in Rome, the greatest city in the world. He founded a church and left a name which has endured as central to the history of all humanity.
I’d say there was a net gain, wouldn’t you?
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown