(Matthew 4:19, Mark 2:14) Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them…And as Jesus passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, ‘Follow me’. And he arose and followed Him.”
Have you ever heard this said: “Look at that! These men dropped everything and followed the Lord For some, however, the cost of following the Lord is simply too much…” The suggestion here is that following Jesus means walking off the job and leaving behind responsibilities. In the case of Jesus calling these first disciples, there is without question the call that is demanding a radical response of obedience. However, think back to the time when you first came to understood the truth and message of the gospel. Was there anything in that experience that even remotely suggested that you walk away from your job, and leave your family, and your responsibilities? A few might, particularly if their profession is work that is clearly of the sort of employers employed in the activity of rebellion against God.
There is a call…then there is the call! I think there is a difference.
“Follow Me…”- A Call to Repentance: According to Jesus, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (Matthew 6:44). I was 16 years old when God opened my eyes to see that sin had me headed in the wrong direction and that I needed to repent. Contrary to the thinking of many ultra “saved-by-faith-alone” proponents, repent meant there was something that I had to do once God, in His sovereignty, chose to open my eyes: I had to REPENT! Contemporary Bible teachers, I’m afraid, have over-simplified “repent” and what it really means to change one’s mind. To some, repent is something God, in His sovereignty, does in the mind of a man, and God, acting in accordance with His sovereignty, turns the man from his sin. I liken the call to repentance as God, acting in accordance with His sovereignty, chooses whose blind eyes He will open. Then those whose eyes have been opened to the cliff (aka Hell) they are about to drive over, must themselves act to turn away from the cliff. But others argue that, acting in complete trust in God, one lets go of the wheel. Since God has already determined by virtue of predestination that God is in control car, and that it is not the man who turns away from going over the cliff.
What is repentance? It is a question that is answered perhaps every time the word is heard. Here is how Noah Webster defines the word “repent”:
- to feel pain, sorrow or regret for something done or spoken;
- to express sorrow for something past;
- to change the mind in consequence of the inconvenience or injury done by past conduct;
- to sorrow or be pained for sin, as a violation of God’s law, a dishonor to his character and government, and the foulest ingratitude to a Being of infinite benevolence;
- to remember with sorrow; as, to repent rash words;
- to repent an injury done to a neighbor;
- to repent follies and vices.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary goes on to refine the definition of evangelical repentance:
- pain or grief which a person experiences in consequence of the injury or inconvenience produced by his own conduct
- pain, regret or affliction which a person feels on account of his past conduct, because it exposes him to punishment.
- “Legal” Repentance: This sorrow proceeding merely from the fear of punishment, is called legal repentance, as being excited by the terrors of legal penalties, and it may exist without an amendment of life.
- Evangelical Repentance: Real penitence; sorrow or deep contrition for sin, as an offense and dishonor to God, a violation of his holy law, and the basest ingratitude towards a Being of infinite benevolence. This is called evangelical repentance, and is accompanied and followed by amendment of life. Repentance is a change of mind, or a conversion from sin to God.
- Repentance is the relinquishment of any practice, from conviction that it has offended God. “Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation.” (2 Cor 7; Matt 3)
John, it is written, preached the call to repentance in Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan, and baptized those who responded to the call and confessed their sins (Matt. 3:5-7). Also present were the religious leaders. The Pharisees were a sect of moral, zealous, and self-denying- but self-righteous- men completely destitute of the sense of their sin; and the Sadducees were a sect of religious rationalists that denied the existence of angels, spirits, the supernatural- especially the resurrection of the body. John, calling these religious leaders a “brood of vipers” asks them: “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” In other words, while these religious hypocrites were present, they were not there in response to God’s drawing them. Why not? Because within them were spirits dead to their blindness and deafness, unable to be awakened by the Holy Spirit of God to their sin. Oh, there was no lack of fear of punishment. They’d washed away that fear with legal repentance. Their obedience to the Law was nothing more than a “fire insurance” policy which they’d come to believe God was required to honor by virtue of being related to Abraham.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Jesus here is referring to evangelical repentance, the attitude of repentance expressed by the one spoken of as the man after God’s own heart, King David who wrote: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart- these, O God, You will not despise.” Those who mourn their brokenness and remain contrite of heart- these are those comforted and for whom is the kingdom of God. These are who are called by Jesus to “Follow Me…”.
“Follow Me…” A call to Christ-likeness: If you call yourself a Christian, then you have a calling that began with a call to repentance. God’s response to man’s repentance is grace: the expression of God’s grace is redemption and reconciliation. Man’s appropriate response to God’s grace is to become. To become what? To become Christ-like. Luke calls this response by redeemed men as “fruits worthy of repentance”: “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance… So the people asked him, saying, ‘What shall we do then?’ He answered and said to them, ‘He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.’” (Luke 3:8-11) Thus, recipients of the grace of God are called to…
- Be different! (1 Peter 1:14-16)
- Witness! (Matthew 28:19-20)
- Judge! (John 7:24, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
- Serve! (Hebrews 9:14, 12:28)
- Be holy! (1 Peter 1:15)
- Love! (1 Corinthians 13)
- Be salt & light! (Matthew 5:13-16)
- Do! (Matthew 5:14-16, Ephesians 2:10)
In addition, each having believed the gospel, every believer is endowed with at least one or more spiritual gifts. Thus, each believer has a calling to do the works for which his / her spiritual gift(s) have been given. (1 Corinthians 12:1-11, 28-30).
Thus, “Follow Me…” is the first call and is a call to repentance. Repentance leads to grace, i.e. redemption and reconciliation. Then there’s the call to produce. The produce of redemption and reconciliation is fruit. Fruit is the product of doing the works of serving Jesus Christ.
“Follow Me…” The Call to Service: Then…there is THE call! It is this call- the call- that demands a radical response of obedience. Noah received the call to build an ark. Abraham received the call to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Moses was called to be a Deliverer. John, whose call was to call men to repentance, until he was beheaded marking beginning of Jesus’ ministry which began with His words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17).
Radical Obedience- A Story of a Couple of Rich Young Rulers:
The first man’s main objective was to get something. He possessed position, power, and wealth. He had all of the outward showings of a man of good repute. To these things, the rich young ruler sought to add the assurance of getting eternal life.
The second man’s objective is a demonstration of a man whose objective is to be something. This man seeks to become everything that God had created him to be for eternity.
The Rich Young Ruler of Matthew: Scripture tells the example of one wealthy man, a young ruler who’d asked Jesus what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:16-22). Jesus replied, “…follow Me…”. But the motivation beneath the rich young ruler’s question, judging from his self-righteous response to Jesus’ about adherence to the commandments, was self-seeking. The man was proud of his accomplishment of lawful obedience. But, lawful obedience isn’t enough. Essentially, the rich young ruler, like his religious leaders, understood obedience to the letter of the Law. Perfection, however, demanded much, much more. Perfection requires a heart that has been transformed by the spirit of the law. A heart that has been transformed by the spirit of the Law is a heart into which perfection- i.e. righteousness- is imputed. In contrast to Abraham who was willing to give up his most treasured possession- his son Isaac- to follow God, this young man was unwilling to give up his treasured possessions. It is written that faith worked together with Abraham’s works- in this case the giving of his son-, and by his works his faith was made perfect. (James 2:22) Not so for this rich young ruler. Unwilling to give up his possessions was, at the heart of this young man, the antithesis of the teaching of James 2:22. Lacking the willingness to do the works of Abraham, the faith of the rich young ruler is found imperfect. And so, he departed from Jesus and did not follow Him.
The Rich Young Ruler of Lenox: I don’t know the age of the man, but his name is Rich, and he’s spoken of his great wealth, and his position in corporate America is analogous to that of a ruler. Richard Stearns was the CEO of Lenox Corporation, a market leader in luxury tabletop, giftware and collectibles. Now President of World Vision and author of The Hole in Our Gospel, Stearns speaks of his own experience of receiving the call…
“…the World Vision board of directors had selected me and offered me the opportunity to become World Vision’s U.S.-based president…I had not sought the position…in fact I had prayed that God would send someone else to do it…I wish I could tell you that I accepted the call with a sense of spiritual excitement and passion…but that would be a lie…” 
Stearns shares his own story of the radical response in which he became compelled to leave behind his position as Jaguar-driving, first class-flying CEO of Lenox after finding himself in what is thought to be “ground-zero” for the Ugandan AIDS pandemic, in a thatch hut hearing the heart-wrenching testimony of “Richard”, a 13-year old head-of-the-household trying to care for and raise himself and his two brothers in wretched poverty since the death of both parents to AIDS. Stearns received the call…“Follow Me…” and, unlike the rich young ruler of Matthew, responded with radical obedience by leaving behind his nets to follow Jesus.
The 17th-century Bible commentator Matthew Poole makes these observations concerning the call that compels radical obedience. Poole writes:
- “Follow Me,” was the call of Jesus upon these fishermen to the office of apostles.
- It is observable that God’s calls of men to places of dignity and honor, and His appearances of favor to them, have ordinarily been when they have been busy in the honest employments of their callings.
- Saul was seeking his father’s donkeys,
- David keeping his father’s sheep, when the Lord called them to the kingdom.
- The shepherds were feeding their flocks when they had the revelation of Christ.
- He called four apostles from their fishery;
- Amos from amongst the herdsmen of Tekoa;
- Matthew from the collection of taxes;
- Moses when keeping Jethro’s flock;
- Gideon from the threshing floor.
- God does not pass any with cold neglect because they are poor and powerless to turn His attention to the great and mighty.
- “Follow me,” that is, to return no more to your employment.
- I will make you fishers of men: here is the work of ministers set out,
- to gain souls to God; they are not to fish merely for a livelihood, much less for honor and applause to themselves, but to win souls to God,
- to bait their hooks and order their nets to this end, which they will never serve,
- if either by general discourses they make the meshes so wide that all will dart through them, or
- if by their wit and learning they make their discourses so fine and curious that few or none of their hearers can understand them.
- Nor will all our art make us fishers of men: I will make you, saith Christ.
- Paul may plant, and
- Apollos may water, God must give the increase. But yet
- we must order our nets rationally and probably in order to our end, and without that cannot expect God’s blessings.
- Nor were the apostles presently to enter upon the work of the ministry, but first to follow Jesus. And indeed such should all gospel ministers be.
- In the choice of Matthias, Peter limited the people in their election to those that had accompanied with them all the time the Lord Jesus went in and out amongst them, Ac 1:21.
- Other ministers commonly prove fishers for something else, not for the souls of men. (End of Matthew Poole’s observations)
A few will be called to radical obedience, the call that will compel the walking away from and leaving behind the job and work they have known. The rest of us are no less called. The rest of us are called to a radical change in our thinking and motivation as to God’s purpose for our having the jobs that we hold. We are to view our jobs as God’s having us exactly where He wants us to be- be it in the home or in the marketplace or in the field or on the sea- in order to gain souls to God; not to fish merely for a livelihood, much less for honor and applause to ourselves, but to win souls to God, to bait our hooks and order our nets to this end. This requires a radical change in thinking, a radical change in motivation.
In summary, responding to Jesus’ call to “Follow Me” begins with the drawing of God: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (Matthew 6:44) soon followed by a call to repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17). To those having received the gifts of redemption and reconciliation is given to follow Christ by bearing “fruits worthy of repentance…” (Luke 3:8-11) and the call to Christ-likeness: “deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23). Then, from the redeemed and reconciled, Jesus hand-picks by virtue of His call to “Follow Me!” individuals as He chooses, the call that demands of some a radical response of obedience, and of all a radical change in motivation. Just as God called from among humanity one man to build the ark, one man to deliver Israel from enslavement in Egypt, one man to father a nation, one man to build the temple, one man to prepare the way for Jesus, 12 men to become apostles, God by His Holy Spirit calls from among the ordinary those to do the extraordinary saying, “FOLLOW ME!”
 The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns, Chapter 2 “A Coward For God”, page 25