The Essential Jesus: His Life & Teaching

Jesus Calls Disciples

Photo of Gary DeLashmutt
Gary DeLashmutt

Mark 1:16-20; John 1:35-42


Jesus calls four men to follow him and be his disciples. Four principles of discipleship are discussed: 1) discipleship begins by making an informed decision to receive Jesus as Messiah; 2) discipleship involves living in community with other disciples; 3) discipleship involves embracing Jesus' call to influence others for him; and 4) discipleship means allowing Jesus to continually change our lives. It is important for disciples of Jesus to be continual learners. He can use anyone to impact the world as long as they are willing. Living this way brings much joy and satisfaction.


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One of the key themes of Jesus’ early public ministry is the calling of his disciples. On one level, of course, Jesus’ calling of these men was unique because they went on to become the apostles--his official and inspired spokesmen. But on another level, his calling of these men is typical because he calls all people (including you and me!) to be his disciples. And the principles that guided Jesus’ calling of the twelve also apply to his calling of us. I want to look at four such principles this morning, using Mk. 1 as our base text, where Jesus calls four men.

Discipleship begins by making an informed decision to receive Jesus as your Messiah.

Read Mk. 1:16-20. At first glance, this sounds very disturbing--like Jesus walked up to total strangers and mesmerized them and/or they were gullible cult candidates. But this is an inaccurate understanding of this event. For one thing, it was common and honorable in this culture for young men to become disciples of a rabbi. Furthermore, this was not their initial encounter with Jesus, but rather an important juncture in their relationships with him that had been developing for some time.

Read Mk. 1:14. By telling us this was after John the Baptist had been taken into custody, Mark is notifying us that he is skipping over about one year. The material in John 1:35-4:45 (at least) transpired during this time. Jn 1:35-42 records their initial encounter. Notice how different this encounter is from the one in Mk. 1.

Two of them were already disciples of John the Baptist, and that John told them that Jesus was the Messiah. In other words, someone they trusted testified to Jesus’ uniqueness and recommended that they follow him.

When they tried to strike up a conversation with Jesus, he did not insist that they just believe in him. Instead, he invited them to spend the evening with him, during which he presumably answered many of their questions.

When he met Peter, he did not call on him to leave his job. Instead, he demonstrated insight into Peter’s weakness and a positive vision for his life.

For the next year, they developed a relationship with Jesus while still working at their jobs. (NOTE: Many young Jewish men did this with rabbis of that time.) They watched him turn water into wine, clear the Temple, converse with Nicodemus, reach out to the Samaritan woman, etc. Sometime during this period, they each entrusted themselves to him as the Messiah.

So he did not mesmerize them, nor were they gullible. They made an informed decision to respond to his invitation to get to know him as Messiah. This is the first principle: Discipleship begins by making an informed decision to receive Jesus as Messiah.

Many of you are in the investigative stage leading up to this decision. Others have testified how Jesus has changed their lives for good. You are attending Bible studies like this one and getting some of your questions answered. You have experienced God’s penetrating analysis of your sinfulness--but you have also heard about offer of total forgiveness and power to transform your life. If this is where you are, let me stress two things:

On the one hand, take the time to understand Jesus’ offer, ask your questions, and consider weigh the evidence that Jesus is real. He is not afraid of your questions, and he is no used-car salesman trying to give you a rush job.

On the other hand, he will ask you to make this decision without having complete knowledge, all of your questions answered, full certainty, etc. At a certain point, you will need to be willing to take a step of faith and entrust yourself to him (ask him to come into your heart)--before you’ll get more evidence, assurance, etc. Are you at this point now?

Discipleship involves living in vital community with other disciples of Jesus.

Read Mk. 1:16-20. Jesus didn’t call just one disciple--he called a group of disciples. He called Andrew and Peter together; he called James and John together. He developed a personal relationship with each one of them, but he also worked with them as a group. This wasn’t incidental, or merely for efficiency’s sake--it was intrinsic to his discipleship plan. He discipled them in the context of community. He taught them together, he prayed with them together, he sent them out two by two, he created group learning opportunities. Like a master coach, he developed them as individuals by forming them into a team.

Nothing really has changed on this point. Although Jesus is not physically present today, he is vitally present through his Spirit who indwells us when we receive Christ. As the Good Shepherd, he knows each of us by name and he calls and guides each one of us individually. But he also calls us to follow him by living in vital community with other disciples.

There are a host of metaphors in the New Testament to emphasize this feature of discipleship. We are the family of God, brothers and sisters who have the same Father and Teacher. We are the Temple of God--each of us living stones indwelt by God’s Spirit, but being built together by him into a living building that manifests his presence. We are the Body of Christ--each of us like different members of our physical bodies, but interdependent upon one another as dependent on Jesus as the Head. We are the army of God--each of us soldiers with individual roles in the battle, but effective only as we fight in formation with other fellow-soldiers.

The bottom line is this. When you respond to Jesus’ call to be his disciple, he calls you into real community with other Christians. There are no exceptions to this rule. It is not possible for you to develop as a healthy and productive disciple of Jesus with only minimal and/or large meeting interaction with other disciples. To say “I want to follow Jesus, but I can do this alone/with my spouse” is simply wrong-headed. A huge amount of Jesus’ personal guidance, correction, encouragement, and character development is designed to come to you through the network of close Christian friendships he calls you to form.

Discipleship involves embracing Jesus’ to influence others for his kingdom.

But Jesus’ wanted his community of disciples to become ever-expanding. Jesus called his disciples into community with one another, but he also called them to influence others for him (re-read Mk. 1:17). The phrase “fish for people” does not mean that he would teach them how to manipulate people, or to treat them as sub-human objects, etc. It means that he would teach them how to what he was doing--reaching out beyond himself to gather more people into God’s kingdom, to build them up in God’s kingdom.

Jesus called them to himself to be with him together--but he also sent them out to tell others (Mk. 3:14). He called them into community to be him and with one another. But always his eye was on those outside their band; always his heart of love went out beyond the reached to the unreached. He was clear on this from the start, and there was no give on this. What if Peter tried to get Jesus to become his full-time fish-finder so they could build a world-wide fishery empire? Jesus wasn’t there to fit into Peter’s plans to catch more fish--he was there to call Peter to fit into his plans to catch more people!

This is the way it is with us. If you chose to follow Jesus as his disciple, he will call you to embrace his call to influence others for him.

Read Matthew 28:19,20. This is the commission he has given his disciples--to go and make more disciples of Jesus by bringing them to faith in Christ and then by teaching them how to live for him. Read 1 Peter 2:9. God has formed us into his chosen people, his holy nation--not just to enjoy for ourselves, but so we can show others the goodness of God.

How will you respond to Jesus call? Will you try to get Jesus to facilitate your purpose for your life, or will you abandon yourself to his purpose to influence others for him? “You have a choice to make. You will either be a world-class Christian or a worldly Christian. Worldly Christians look to God primarily for personal fulfillment. They are saved, but self-centered . . . Their prayers focus on their own needs, blessings, and happiness. It’s a me-first faith: How can God make my life more comfortable? They want to use God for their purposes instead of being used for his purposes. In contrast, world-class Christians know they are saved to serve and made for a mission. They are eager to receive a personal assignment and excited about the privilege of being used by God. World-class Christians are the only fully alive people on the planet. Their joy, confidence, and enthusiasm are contagious because they know they are making a difference. They wake up each morning expecting God to work through them in fresh ways. Which type of Christian do you want to be?”1

Discipleship involves allowing Jesus to continually change your life.

Re-read Mk. 1:16-20. Responding to Jesus’ call had immediate practical implications for these four men. In their case, it meant walking away from their vocations so Jesus could train them full-time. It also meant a change in family relationships. And this was only the first of many times that Jesus “rocked their worlds.” For the next three years, he introduced all kinds of changes into their lives--geographical mobility, multi-ethnic exposure, conflict with the religious authorities, ministry situations way beyond their human abilities, etc.--in order to train them for their future roles as apostles of his church. Discipleship was always strictly voluntary, but Jesus never apologized for the challenges and changes. At various points, people decided that following him was too scary and dropped out (cf. Jn. 6:60-68). But those who stayed experienced the joy of deepening intimacy with Jesus, and became powerful leaders in the early Christian movement.

It will be the same for you and me. Discipleship involves allowing Jesus to continually change your life. Being Jesus’ disciple is following a living Person who personally initiates change in our lives in the areas and ways and timing that he knows is best both for us and for his purpose in our lives. Because of this, there will always be an element of unpredictability. Because Jesus is committed to developing our full potential as his servant, there are always new challenges. Because he wants voluntary disciples, he will never force you to follow him or impose his will on you. So each new challenge requires a new decision to keep trusting and following him as his disciple. Consider Christopher Adsit’s comment on this:

“A disciple is a person in process. The process begins when a person receives Christ and becomes a learner, and will continue as long as the person keeps learning . . . A (disciple, therefore) will  . . . never ‘arrive,’ because the Lord will continue to expose areas where he wants to bring about deeper commitments and more profound changes . . . From time to time in this process, Jesus will up the ante for his learners . . . To the growing disciple today he’ll say, ‘You’ve been doing well; you have been demonstrating that you are a learner. But now it’s time to graduate to the next class. More will be expected now. Are you willing to accept this new challenge? If the disciple says yes, he continues to learn, he continues to grow, he continues to be used in the work of the kingdom--he continues to be a disciple. But if he is not willing to go on, Jesus says, ‘Then you cannot be my disciple. Your eternal destiny is by no means in jeopardy, and you can repent at any time and we’ll resume class. But as long as you maintain that stance, you are not my learner.’  That being the case, you will find that most brand-new Christians are disciples, because they have such an intense drive to learn more about their relationship with God and they haven’t had much opportunity to bail out yet. On the other hand, you may find a fellow who has been pasturing a large church for 25 years, has a seminary doctorate, has memorized half the Bible, has led hundreds to the Lord, and yet is not a disciple, because there came a time when he said, ‘No. I am not willing to go any further. I will not make that sacrifice. I am not interested in any more learning.’ To him, Jesus has said, ‘You cannot be my disciple.’”2


1 Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), pp. 297,298.

2 Christopher Adsit, Personal Disciplemaking (San Bernardino: Here’s Life Publishers, 1988), pp. 34,35.

Copyright 2005 Gary DeLashmutt