A Study of the Book of Mark

Last week, we discussed the teachings of Jesus on the Kingdom of God as written in Mark. This week we’ll continue with that train of thought and talk about the cost of discipleship and the high calling of devotion to Jesus Christ. 

The Call of the First Disciples

And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him. Mark 1:16-20

 In these verses, the public ministry of Jesus has begun. He quickly calls future leaders to follow Him—and it’s personal. He sees two brothers near the sea of Galilee, Simon (renamed Peter by Jesus) and Andrew, fishing—they are commercial fishermen. 

Peter, James, and John become the most intimate and trusted of all the disciples. They were with him day and night for three years. They made mistakes as they followed Jesus, but the force of that initial call endured and matured in their lives. In fact, Peter on the day of Pentecost illustrates the depth of this call by preaching the gospel in power that day with 3,000 coming to Christ!

Jesus invites them with authority to follow Him. There is no hesitation by Jesus to ask them to accept a complete and permanent change of lifestyle for the gospel of the Kingdom, and for a new destiny. The same is true for you and me.

Jesus Makes the Call

The custom of the day was for disciples to gather around a learned rabbi to spend a period of time studying the law with Him. But Jesus takes the initiative, not the disciples.

A literal translation of “Come follow Me” is “Here, behind Me,” directly in line with Me. Jesus is the deciding factor, not just His persuasive words. They were not to be passive followers, but “fishers of men.”

They immediately (euthys) left their nets and followed Him.” Mark 1:18

Now that the “time of fulfillment” has come (Mk 1:15) there is no time to waste. Abraham went when called—with no hesitation or questions (Gen. 12:1-4). Unlike Elisha who first wanted to bid his family farewell, the disciples drop everything to follow Jesus, “we have left all and followed You” they remark (Mk 10:28).

Zebedee’s sons, James and John, are mending nets—perhaps for fishing the next night. However, in response to the call of Jesus, there is a complete abandonment of both occupation and father. In first century society, a disciple answered to his teacher, not to the patriarchal authority. Jesus was establishing a new community, even a new family.

In the social context of that day, this sudden departure from their father would have raised “eyebrows.” To add to the potential social stress, they were walking away from a lucrative family business, possibly in the family for generations. Yet, the call of Jesus “constrains” them to leave all and follow Him.

Keep in mind, scripture tells us to “honor our father and mother,” Paul made sure early believers understood this commandment (Eph. 6:1-4).

However, the invitation of Jesus to the disciples to follow Him unreservedly illustrates the depth of His call that takes precedence over our closest relationships. 

So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30

The High Cost of Discipleship

Mark repeatedly emphasizes the high cost of discipleship.

Peter and Andrew, according to tradition, were martyred by crucifixion. James, also known as James the Greater, was executed by Herod (Acts 12:2). John is regarded as the longest-lived disciple and author of the Fourth Gospel.

Basil, a 4th-century doctor of the Church, wrote this about becoming a Christian:

“A disciple is, as the Lord Himself taught us, whoever draws near to the Lord to follow Him—to hear His words, to believe and obey Him as Lord and King and doctor and teacher of truth…So, whoever believes in the Lord presents himself ready for discipleship must first learn to set aside every sin and everything that distracts from obedience owed to the Lord.”

Like these early disciples, Mark’s gospel invites readers of all ages to likewise abandon all and follow Jesus without reservation.

Do you want to follow Jesus as a true disciple? You must count the cost to follow Him and be able to let go of anything that hinders full obedience to Jesus. Complete obedience distinguishes between “would-be disciples” and true disciples. Jesus taught that unless we pick up His cross and follow Him, we couldn’t be His disciples.

There is a cost to discipleship that is greater than what most have understood or pursued. If we are really disciples of Christ, we are all dead men and women walking to this world. We have to understand – we are in the world, not of the world. It is a tough balance, learning how to be in the world with all the blessings and prosperity God provides, yet to still follow Jesus completely without reservation.

Spirit-empowered ministry, ministry that impacts people and society, is tied closely to one’s ability to be a true disciple of Jesus. There is a high cost to squandered grace!

Full-Hearted Devotion from a Place of Grace

Dallas Willard, an American Christian philosopher, wrote a book called The Great Omission, where he explained that today’s view of discipleship is much too passive. He felt most of us have an understanding that the path of discipleship is first as a convert, then as a disciple, then as a worker for Christ or a leader in the church.

While there are elements of truth to this, He felt the was a distorted understanding of discipleship. When we say, “yes” to Christ, we are a full-on worker for Christ, right then and there.

He was famous for saying, “Grace is not opposed to effort (action), but is opposed to earning (attitude).” We are so indoctrinated to the message of grace that we don’t realize, grace empowers us to have the effort to impact our world!

This is not a legalistic or pharisaical approach to salvation and living from grace, where you earn the right to gifts from God or even a movement (revival) of God. Grace is something we receive freely but the effort comes when our heart truly says yes to grace! Hold it in balance and avoid a performance-based mentality. Don’t yield to Christian passivity that distorts grace, instead serve with humility and pray your heart out, but do it from a place of grace!

Jesus knew that the satanic forces against them were organized and merciless. Jesus knew that half-hearted devotion to Him and the gospel of the Kingdom would render them ineffective to overcome in this life and to win and free others for Christ. Absolute obedience is required to be an effective disciple.

Through disobedience, Adam and Eve forfeited their right and authority over spiritual forces. Jesus has defeated these powers, through Him, we regain the authority to rule over satanic forces. We surrender our authority through disobedience, we hinder God’s grace and power.

In Conclusion

Prior to Jesus’s call, the four fishermen were what some might call “nobodies.” Normal men, not exceptionally educated or gifted. Yet, Jesus chose them to help lead and build His church. He qualifies the unqualified!

But, to become a true follower of Jesus, absolute surrender is required. It may impact your closest relationships—even family.

Jesus inaugurated a new era of salvation—repent and believe the gospel. But belief in the gospel for early Christians also involved following Jesus through radical obedience that led to action by the Spirit. True faith looks like something!

In essence, obedience is the fruit of complete surrender to the Master. Stay tuned for next week’s discussion of the Book of Mark! [1]

Bob Sawvelle



[1] References used: Mary Healy, The Gospel of Mark; David Smith, Mark: A Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition; Basil, On Baptism, 1.2; Thomas Nelson, New Spirit Filled Life Bible

For a more in-depth look at this topic, watch my recent Passion Church sermon, A Study on the Book of Mark, Part 2:

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Bob Sawvelle

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