It is an unavoidable precept of Holy Scripture that the Lord uses men to accomplish His work. That God is the ineffable Sovereign of the universe who appoints and disposes all things for His glory should not be taken to mean He is above the use of means. Indeed, the accomplishing of the divine purposes will not happen apart from significant and decisive engagement of things other than God. Of course, perhaps chief among these is the human race. Because God’s plan is now and always has been to have an earthly kingdom over which He is sovereign, filled with human image-bearers who rule for and rightly love Him, it is not surprising that real human responsibility and influence is of the utmost importance for the completion of His program.
When our Lord was in the days of His humiliation, preparing Himself to be a Substitute for sinners and thereby win citizens of God’s eternal kingdom, He understood the proclamation of that kingdom and all involved with it would extend far beyond His earthly life. Very soon His mission would be completed, He would rise from the dead in a glorified physical body as the firstfruits of all who will be raised immortal, and would return back to heaven to rule as a glorified man in preparation for His bodily return to earth to set up His kingdom. What was to be done on earth once He returned to heaven? Certainly, yes, He would rule men and circumstances and pour out the Spirit and answer prayer and limit the Enemy and bear all things forward to the day when they are summed up in Himself. But what was to be done physically on earth? He would no longer be there. The answer was He would rule in part through the men He left behind and all those who would believe in Him through their word.
Looking inexorably to the future—not just the several thousand years between His first and second advents, but to the thousand-year reign beyond His return and the endless days and years of eternity after—our Lord chose to train fallen human men to be the building blocks of His kingdom. The one kingdom promised in the OT would come, and it would come through the means of men our Lord Himself discipled.
Every Christian is called to serve the Lord. Indeed, every Christian ideally ought to have had a moment of surrender where they consciously gave the Lord everything and yielded themselves to Him in consecration, having a distinct sense that their life is to be used for His purposes and glory. We will examine that today as we look at the Lord’s call to the first disciples.
A. The Lord Calls Ordinary, Everyday People (vv. 16, 19)
Recall that as this scene opens, our Lord has already been ministering in Judea for about a year, and that all of the men He will call in this passage have already been called to saving faith in that time. Now, He is about to make known His desire for them to serve Him in a special and unique way.
It is noteworthy who He picked: Common men. Did you realize that very few well-educated men write your New Testament? This is not to disparage formal education—the cultural, linguistic, and temporal barriers alone between us and the world of the Bible make rigorous education virtually a necessity for vocational ministry—but simply to say that one does not need a seminary degree, or even a high school diploma, to effectively serve the Lord. He was not interested so much in their abilities as their availability.
It is also of note that He looked for character rather than experience. These men had been saved about a year. They lived in a small town surrounded by people with similar perspectives and attitudes. They had families and worked at a simple, though necessary, business they had doubtless inherited from their parents. It is not likely they had any conscious aspirations of changing the world or being known over two thousand years later. Yet these were precisely the men the Lord chose to serve Him. Why? Because God is looking for people who have a right spirit and heart before Him, who can be taught by Him, who evidence the seeds of dedication, discipline, devotion, affection, consecration, passion, and purity. These seeds can be nurtured and grown into mighty oaks in the garden of God. The Lord calls people actively engaged in what His providence has given them to do, for fidelity in little leads to fidelity in much.
You do not have to be known by others to be used by the Lord. Perhaps being used by Him will lead to being known; perhaps not. But anyone and everyone can be used by Him. The call is for everyone who hears it. Ordinary people have just as much potential when yielded to a sovereign God as the most visible, educated, prominent person. Parise God!
B. The Lord Initiates the Call to Ministry (v. 17)
One does not dare take it upon himself to minister for God. This holds true whether we speak of vocational or “lay” ministry. Just as the call to salvation, whereby God effectually and alone raises the sinner from spiritual death, is not initiated by the individual, so also the call to ministry is not something that is decisively the person’s. This is not to say God cannot take an earnest heart and desire to serve Him, or even personal; ideas and dreams about the life that can be lived for His glory and use them. It is simply to say that these things are themselves a result of the work of God, and any call that comes from them is His work as well.
These men were not seeking to be called by Jesus. Doubtless they wished to serve Him, and had trusted in Him for salvation, but they were not throwing themselves at Him without His initiation saying, “Pick me!” Rather, the Lord had observed them, knew their strengths and weaknesses, and knew His eternal plans for them. So He goes to where they are and says, “Follow Me.”
That phrase is used about 13 times in the NT and is always a divine summons from the sovereign king. It is not an option. To put the call to them is to immediately make them choose between obedience and disobedience. He is calling them to learn from Him in a new and deeper way, to train for a unique sphere of influence and service, to devote their lives to the work of the kingdom and to a lifelong call to rescue and disciple souls for that kingdom.
It should be noted our Lord is not drawing some distinction between salvation and discipleship. All the saved are learners of Jesus and all of them follow Him in that sense, however imperfectly. Yet, our Lord calls each saved person to follow Him in a deeper and more intimate way, one application of which is openness to, and eventual releasing into, more specific and greater spheres of service and influence. For some this entails full-time Christian work, while for others it means a new sense of consecration and calling to service alongside their job and family. For all of us, this call means a dedicated, persistent, and warmhearted pursuit of Him in the Word and prayer. The call to follow Him is unconditional and lifelong, and means we are done calling the shots and must settle who is in charge.
To be a “fisher of men” is to be trained to preach and teach so as to win people to the rule of God in the kingdom Jesus proclaimed. This is gospel, Great Commission ministry, to which all believers of every age are called. To follow Him is to be taught by Him for effective and fruitful kingdom work. And the secret to that effectiveness is to always hold before us what we are—but also what we can be by His grace as we surrender to Him in faith. God can do great things through a soul that is persistently and warmly yielded to Him!
C. The Lord’s Call Has Transformational Impact (vv. 18, 20)
Note the language: Immediately Peter and Andrew left everything and followed the Lord (v. 18). Immediately Jesus called James and John, who left the nets and their beloved father, and followed Him (v. 20). They don’t even give two weeks’ notice. They do not talk to their wives, pray about it, or seek counsel. None of those things are bad and in most cases are quite necessary, but the point is the call of God had an immediate, unavoidable, and inevitable effect on them. One cannot be called by God without a decisive change in priority, affection, and all the rest. This is instructive for us. First, you should assume that if you are saved, God has some kind of service for you. Make it a priority to seek Him for clarity and illumination as to what this is, and to have the faith to surrender to that call when you have understood it. Second, to have been called and dither in obeying it is disobedience. There is no Plan B. There is either surrender instantly or fighting the Lord in rebellion until you yield. Third, once God calls you, give yourself wholeheartedly to it. Unconditionally, purposefully, boldly, passionately, and unwaveringly pursue the call of God. God sovereignly calls the dead to spiritual life, and then He sovereignly calls the saved to serve Him in unique and personal ways. That call transforms them—and it transforms His kingdom. Yes, the present-future kingdom of Christ will be personally affected by you, by your fruitfulness (or lack thereof) in serving Christ. Make is so that the kingdom is more populated, more fruitful, more lovely, more enriched, more glorifying to God, because He called you.
Dear saint, have you heard the call of God in your soul? There will be no heaven without following Christ. We must follow Him to go to heaven, and part of that following is surrendering to His call to serve Him. All you must do is give Him all your heart afresh in consecration, as you did at the beginning of your confidence in Him. Hold nothing back from Him, consciously give Him all of you and tell Him you are willing to be and do whatever He asks for His glory. Are you willing to submit to His rule and be transformed for effective service to Him? The sovereign God who calls us to full salvation deserves nothing less. He has created and equipped you for unique service to Him as you walk the road to heaven. In obedience to Him, answer His call.