Mark 1:16-20 : Jesus the Fisherman

The Sea of Galilee is an oval–shaped body of fresh water about eight miles wide and thirteen miles long, and nearly 700 feet below sea level, surrounded on three sides by beautiful hills, at the meeting point today, of three countries, Jordan, Syria and Israel.  Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that in the first century some 240 boats regularly fished the waters from 30 different villages of which Capernaum was the largest.

Perhaps that is why Jesus made it His lakeside base. That is what Simon Peter and Andrew his brother were doing when they met Jesus, casting a nets into the sea.  That particular day however, they were going to learn about a whole new kind of fishing, and maybe, today, we will too.

‘Gone fishing’ means different things to different people. So lets spend a little while trying to figure out what Jesus is saying and to whom.
1. Fishermen with Amnesia

Ask them what a fisherman is and they’ll scratch their heads. Ask them why they go fishing and they’ll probably says its because their parents did it, or their grandparents. It runs in the blood. They feel they ought to go fishing but they don’t know why. The fishermen with amnesia. Very sad.

2. Agnostic Fishermen

You meet them on Sundays down in places like Portsmouth, Brighton or Hastings when the sun is shining. They dress like fisherman, with their rubber boots, waxed jacket and fancy fly hooks in their straw hats. In good weather you may even see them close to the water. They’ve got all the right gear and they feel better for wearing it and acting like fishermen. When pressed they would say with the greatest of respect that you don’t have to believe in fish to be a fisherman. That’s the agnostic fisherman.

3. Socialite Fishermen

To the socialite fishing is a hobby, its about being a member of a fishing club. Its all about getting up early, filling the flask, making the sandwiches, meeting up with friends and exploring a new stretch of river or another pond. At the end of the day they’ll be down the club telling tall stories about the one that got away. To the socialite fisherman fishing is a means to an end. Unlike the agnostic, socialite fishermen do believe in fish. Its just they wouldn’t know what to do if they ever caught one. Fishing to the socialite is all about believing in fishing, joining a club and having a good time.

4. Competitive Fisherman

The competitive fisherman must have all the latest gear and belonging to the right club. They love to tell you the latest book on fishing, the make of their rod, the breaking strain of their line and how far they can cast. To them fishing is all about competing, about comparing themselves with other fishermen. Its not really about catching fish. What matters is how big they are, how much they weigh and catching more than anyone else. All that matters is winning. Fishing is all about the photos and the trophies on the sideboard. Four kinds of fisherman.

The amnesia, the agnostic, the socialite and the competitive.

Recognise yourself in any of these portraits? There is a fifth kind, and I’d like to suggest its the kind Jesus was talking to that day by the lakeside of Galilee.

5. The Professional Fisherman

The professional fisherman does it because it is his living. He respects the weather and the elements but he knows if he doesn’t catch anything his family will not eat. He may enjoy fishing. He may enjoying fishing with his friends. But he is a fisherman first and foremost because its his trade, because he has learnt to be good at catching fish.  He has studied their habits. Their favourite food. Where they feed, where they hide. He knows where and when they will be found. He doesn’t sit and wait for the fish to come to him. He goes out in search for them, even at personal risk and hardship. To the professional, fishing is neither a club, a game or a sport. It is his life.

I would suggest to you that it was to professional fishermen, that Jesus spoke. It was professional fisherman Jesus called to be his disciples. And it was the trade of the professional fishermen that Jesus uses as an illustration for Christian ministry.  Jesus has called us to be fishermen, not name a club after him or sponsor a trophy in his name.

He has not allowed us the luxury of redefining what he meant. He calls men and women to follow him and serve him by fishing. The primary role of the church is to enlarge his church in the same way that professional fishermen catch fish. It is as simple and as profound and as final as that.  Take it or leave it.  If this is not what we are here for today then with respect I would suggest we are here for one of the four other phoney reasons people go fishing. 

It should come as no surprise that recently the BBC appointed a self confessed agnostic to be the new head of religious broadcasting.  The Church of England along with other main denominations have raised no objections for the simple reason that they have been doing the same for decades. Are you surprised that an agnostic fisherman never catches any fish? Then do not be surprised that an agnostic church or one with amnesia cannot feed itself financially or enlarge itself with new members. It has either forgotten how to fish or has redefined its role in social work or education. For too long it has lived off the proceeds of the fishing done in previous generations.

That is why we are committed to being self financing. Why we are planning for growth. Please read the three options for growth the PCC has presented, and prayerfully reflect on which option will enable us to continue to grow. To fish without letting the buildings restrict us or get in the way.  How do we learn how to fish? Let me tease out an answer by asking 3 simple questions of the passage. 

1. How does Jesus define the Christian in this passage?

2. How does Jesus deploy the Christian in this passage?

3. How does Jesus empower the Christian in this passage?

1. How does Jesus define a Christian? "Come, follow me..."
   When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John they were tough, crusty outdoor fishermen.  They had little education, even less spiritual perception, and probably no religious training at all. As their new Master began to teach them, even when He spoke in simple stories, they misunderstood him frequently. They were often insensitive and inhospitable. When the multitude who had walked a long way around the Sea of Galilee to be with Jesus became hungry, the disciples thought only of sending them away. When some little children were brought to Jesus for blessing, the disciples rebuked their parents (Matthew 19:13). Peter thought he would be extremely generous to forgive someone “up to seven times” (Matthew 18:21). The disciples showed little potential even for dependability, much less for leadership. Yet Jesus chose them.  They were willing to learn - that is all that mattered, and so must we. 

The command, “Follow me”  literally means “come here....your place is following after me!”  In this passage Jesus demonstrates his authority. He told them to fish in the day when most fish are caught at dawn or dusk. He told them to go out into the deep water when most fish are caught in the shallows. They knew better but they obeyed Jesus and witnessed his supernatural power. The disciples’ obedience was immediate: they left the nets, and followed Him.  "Followed" conveys the idea of following as a learner who is committed to imitating the one he follows.  Let me ask you, have you heard the call to follow Jesus?  Have you felt His touch on your shoulder, His knock at your door?  In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says....."Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with Him and He with me."  Remember that promise was spoken to a church.

Jesus has indeed called you just as He called those fishermen by the Sea of Galilee.  The question is not whether He has called you but whether you have heard and are following Him. Our primary sphere of ministry may be the home or workplace, it may be the Sunday School or Alcoholics Anonymous. What matters most of all is that He has called you to follow Him, learn from Him and serve Him as a fisherman. How does Jesus define a Christian? - Someone who is following Jesus. 

2. How does Jesus Deploy the Christian? "...fishers of men."
When Jesus called those first disciples, He gathered together the first fish–catching crew of His church. They were Jesus’ first partners.  From the beginning His plan was to use disciples to win disciples.  He would command His disciples to do other things, but His first call to them was, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Variations of the word evangelise are used over fifty times in the New Testament. Evangelisation is the primary thrust of the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). 

To make disciples is to bring people to the Saviour, to come under the lordship of Jesus Christ, and show them how to do the same,  to reproduce and multiply ourselves.  So when Jesus called His disciples to Himself, It was so that they would call others. 

My father was a fisherman.  He would often go out all night fishing off the beach at Lowestoft, in all weathers with his rods, his flask and tilley lamp. We didn't have a freezer in those days, so, if it was a good night we would eat fish for days, as would our neighbours.....  In the same way the good news of Jesus is for sharing. Evangelism, is the purest, truest, most essential role we have as a Church. Everything else is secondary, everything else is optional.  Christ mandates us be fishermen. How does Jesus define a Christian? A follower of Jesus Christ. How does Jesus deploy a Christian? A fisherman for Jesus Christ.

3. How Does Jesus Equip a Christian?  "I will make you..."

Jesus called these Disciples to the work alongside Himself. God always chooses His partners. He chose Noah and Abraham, Moses and David. He chose the prophets. He chose Israel herself to be a whole nation of partners, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). Jesus told His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16; cf. 6:70; 13:18).

When Jesus called the disciples, He also committed Himself to train them and empower them. "I will make you" Indeed only He could.  They could never be effective disciplers—or effective disciples in any way—without His power.  In another analogy he used the vine to explain their relationship. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  That is why He commanded them to wait until they had received the Holy Spirit that first Pentecost.  Why was the Holy Spirit given? “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8)   The disciples developed compassion, humility, understanding, patience, and love as they learned from and obeyed Jesus.  As they watched the Master at work.

Obedience is the spark that lights the fire of passion. The way to develop a love for people is to share the love of Jesus with them.  As we do that, God will kindle that spark of obedience into a great flame of passion. May the Lord bless your fishing for him this week.  Let us pray.