You Can’t Pick Up the Cross When You’re Holding Your Nets

Disciples of Jesus are followers of Jesus.

They walk not only where He walks, but in the manner in which He walks. It means that we acknowledge the lordship of Jesus and seek to see that lordship actualized in every area of our lives. That’s what disciples do. Jesus’ first call to discipleship in Scripture gives us a good picture of how a disciple responds to Him:

As He was passing along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. “Follow me,” Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people!” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him (Mark 1:16–18).

The same call goes out today. It’s simple in its wording, but profound in its implications. To everyone of us, Jesus still says, “Follow me.”

But there is a little detail at the end of these verses that’s slyly descriptive of some of the implications of embracing that call of Christ. The detail in question is here:

They left their nets…

Why would Mark drip this little detail into the account? Perhaps he was just trying to be descriptive. They were holding something, and then they weren’t, and Mark wanted us to have a full picture of what happened. Except for the fact that Mark is known, as a writer, to use an economy of words. His gospel is the most streamlined and the most brief, and so he isn’t the writer who would want to paint a verbal picture.

No, there is something else here. And the something else involves not just the physical presence of those nets, but what they represented for these men.

These men were fishermen. And they were fishermen because their daddy was a fisherman. And his daddy was too. In a society in which there wasn’t the same upward mobility through education and opportunity as we have today, these nets were not only a tool of the trade. They were the source of family stability and security. Even more, they were emblematic of their identity in the community. When you take all that together, those “nets” aren’t so easy to drop.

But they did. They dropped their nets. They symbolically left their old way of life. They broke with the past—their past vocation, their sense of self, and their identity— and fully embraced the future with Jesus. That’s what a disciple does.

But according to Jesus, not only does a disciple drop the nets. The disciple takes up the cross. Taken from the same gospel of Mark:

“If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

Thing is, you can’t pick up the cross if you’re still holding onto the nets. You can’t follow Jesus is you’re still holding onto your old marks of self-identification and preservation. You can’t embrace the Savior if you’re holding onto yourself.

Disciples recognize the worth and value of the One who calls and see the “nets” in their hands in comparison to Him. They suddenly realize that they have a greater purpose than merely fishing; so they leave and follow Jesus instead. For disciples, following Jesus is both an exit and an entrance; an ending as well as a beginning. They lay down and they pick up.

So may it be with us.

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