The Early Years in the Service of the Savior
AN EXPOSITION OF MARK 1:19, 20
“And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. 20 And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.” (Mark 1:19-20)
By the sea of Galilee Jesus continued to walk. He had found two of His twelve disciples in Simon and Andrew and was about to call two more: James the son of Zebedee and his brother John.
Specific truths can be noted beginning with the fact that Jesus saw James and John first. That is consistent with Divine sovereignty. God must see souls first, for the natural man is spiritually blind, to the extent that he cannot see the Lord.
The Bible teaches that the condition of the natural man is desperate. The natural man, the person who is not a Christian, is presented as being spiritually sightless, and deaf to spiritual truth, apart from the new birth. The mind of the unbeliever is darkened by sin, and the heart is corrupt and evil. This is not a very flattering picture of the natural man, but it is accurate.
The Bibles says that, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the Earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)
“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19) When Jesus saw James and John, He was under no illusion as to the true state of their souls spiritually. Jesus knew all about their volatile tempers, and their driving ambition.
One day Jesus would call them the Sons of Thunder. One day He would rebuke them for wanting to destroy others who did not agree with them. One day he would diminish their grab for political and personal power. Jesus saw them as they were, hard working men, but all too sinful. They needed a Savior. They needed to see themselves in a desperate, helpless, hopeless condition, without Christ. They needed to follow Him in order to be changed.
Jesus knew that James and John forsook all to follow Him, they would be fundamentally and forever changed. Jesus saw James and John as they were, and then He saw them as they could become. That is how Christ looks at you and me. Already the Lord knows everything about your life. He knows the inner longings of your soul, or the lack of spirituality. Jesus knows the good and the bad. He sees the past, the present, and the future. And still He calls you to Himself.
The call of Christ is without hesitation, for we read that when Jesus saw James and John He called them straightway. There was no indecision. There was no agony of mind. Straightway He called.
Now, there was power in the Divine summons. There was persuasiveness, and there was a purpose in the call. Such is the way that Christ brings all souls to Himself. I suspect that if we had the time we would hear a similar story of the moment each of us came to Christ. There was an hour when Jesus came walking by, spiritually. We did not see Jesus, but He saw us. It was a day of Divine visitation. We may have been in church. We may have been at youth camp.
I knew one man, former Baptist pastor Jon Andrews of Barefoot Bay Florida, who was in a bar. But straightway Jesus called, for the appointed time had arrived to be saved. Some of us were very young when Jesus came to us. He saw us as children in a Sunday School class and called us to faith. Or we were at home, and we went and asked our parents how to be saved. Some of us were teenagers when Jesus set His Divine eye in our direction. We were about to do a foolish thing, but we were stopped, so that we could serve the Savior without shame.
Still others of us were older. The years passed quickly. We went astray seeking the pleasures of the flesh. Demanding total independence we found ourselves in slavery to sin. We lived a life without God. But one day the scales fell from our eyes. The heavy burden of sin dropped off. We looked up and saw Someone looking at us. It was Jesus. He was calling us to Himself, and we followed Him, so that now we can sing a song of testimony.
“I heard the voice of Jesus say,
Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one,
Lay down Thy head upon my breast.
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad,
I found in Him a resting place,
And He has made me glad.”
The key thought, the essential element, is that Jesus makes the soul glad. Now the Bible says that James and John went after Jesus when He called (1:20). They could do nothing else, because the call of Christ to salvation and service is a compelling call. It is a Royal Summons that cannot be denied, nor should it be, for in the call of Christ there is the secret to happiness. People who follow Christ are happy people. Life is full of unspeakable joy. Therefore, let this epitaph be written on the tombstone of every believer: “They went after Jesus.”
To go after Christ, is to go after a person. It is easy to forget that vital spirituality is based upon a personal relationship with the living Lord. But a personal relationship has to be cultivated, and protected, in order to flourish. That is the great challenge. So how does a relationship with Christ grow?
A personal relationship with Jesus is cultivated by believing that He is alive. If Jesus is not alive, then all of Christianity is a lie, and there is no hope.
A personal relationship with Jesus is cultivated by communing with Christ daily through the written Word, through the spoken word of prayer, and through spiritual conversations.
A personal relationship with Jesus is cultivated by thinking of Him often.
A personal relationship with Jesus is cultivated by studying about Him.
A personal relationship with Jesus is cultivated by singing spiritual songs.
A personal relationship with Jesus is cultivated by seeking to please Him in gospel obedience.
Of course, when a personal relationship with Christ is not cultivated then like any other relationship, the heart will grow cold, the mind will forget, there will be no pleasure in gospel duties, and finally, there will be no vital godliness. When a personal relationship with Christ is actively sought, life will find meaning, purpose, and definition. Jesus said, “I came to give you life, and that more abundantly.”
Prior to meeting Christ, James and John were focused on making their fishing business even more successful than it already was. The prosperity of their trade is reflected in part in the hired servants (1:20). But after meeting Christ, they realized that there was more to life. There was a God to know, a gospel to learn, a good news to proclaim, and another goal to seek—even the salvation of the souls. There was also a sacrifice to be made. James would be the first disciple to die for the cause of Christ.
In the year AD 44, James was killed by the sword of Herod Agrippa, when he saw that it pleased the Jews. (Acts 12:2) John lived on to old age, but longevity of life is not always a blessing. Loss of friends, death of family, lack of financial resources, and failing health are just some of the burdens of old age.
So each man did sacrifice himself for the Savior, and it was worth it all. The leaving of one occupation freed them to be present at the raising of Jarius’ daughter (Mark 5:37), the transfiguration (Mark 9:2), the agony in Gethsemane (Mark 14:33), the resurrection, and much more.
Like James and John, every Christian will have a spiritual legacy to leave behind. Perhaps your own spiritual biography will be the record of a Divine call, and a personal surrender to Christ. You can tell others of a Savior’s loving look, and leaving the world to follow Jesus. Your story can tell others of great spiritual battles, mighty miracles you witnessed, moments of fear and faith, and then your victory of triumph over tragedy. Sometimes when the days are routine, and the hours are long, when dreams fade, and hope grows dim, when plans fail, and faith is challenged, the heart needs to remember the early years.
Solomon realized this, and wrote, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them” (Eccl. 12:1).
Perhaps James, when he faced death in AD 44, remembered the early years when he first met Jesus, who was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It would help to explain the great calmness of his heart in the hour of crisis. Eusebius, the fourth century church historian records what happened.
The one who led James to the judgment seat, the executioner, when he saw James bearing his testimony, was moved, and confessed that he also was a Christian. They were both, therefore, led away together, and so they were both beheaded at the same time.
And so it was that James and John moved from being fishermen, to faithful followers of Christ.
Like most of God’s people, the disciple of Christ did not come “from the ecclesiastics or the aristocracy; they were neither learned nor wealthy” (Dr. William Barclay). The disciples of Jesus were ordinary, and wanted by Jesus. No one ever believed in the ordinary man as Jesus did. Once, George Bernard Shaw said, “I have never had any feeling for the working class, except a desire to abolish them and replace them by sensible people.” Jesus did not feel that way. Abraham Lincoln said, “God must love the common people—He made so many of them.”
God will use them. He will use us in His service if we follow after His Son. It will not be easy, for the Lord has a work to accomplish, and that is to establish a kingdom that will change the world. Christ did not come to live a life of leisure, but to give Himself a ransom for the world.
Christ calls others to service.
It has been said, that what every person needs is “something in which He can invest His life.” It has also been observed that, “This one life will soon be passed, only what is done for Christ will last.”
Because this is true, let us take advantage of the early years, to do all that can be done for the cause of Christ. Two simple questions can be asked: “Lord, what will you have me to do?” (Acts 9:6) “Lord, how would you have me to proceed?” (James 1:5) On these two questions your future will proceed in the service of the Savior.