What if Jesus was like that? He could be. And, if we didn’t know anything about Him other than He was God or the King, then we might say He should be that way. But He wasn’t. And He isn’t. And we will see that today as we look at the next few verses of Mark 1. This week’s focus in on two main ideas. Jesus came proclaiming (preaching) the gospel and He called His first disciples.
The Message: The gospel of God
Jesus began by preaching the good news. And Jesus is the good news. Again, looking back over 2000 years, we may realize this fact, but imagine being there in that day. Imagine someone standing before you each week and telling you that s/he is the fulfillment of God’s plan. The message shared by this person is “If you put your faith in me, then you will have eternal joy with God forever.” This was the message of Jesus. And this was the message about Jesus. John preached this message and verse 14 says that he was arrested. The word here (Greek – paradidomi) means to be “handed over” or “delivered.” It is the same word that is used of Jesus being betrayed by Judas. It is also the same word that Mark uses to convey that the apostles will be handed over and put on trial.
What scares me about this word is that “handed over” carries the connotation that it was done by someone familiar, someone known, and perhaps even trusted. That was true of Judas for Jesus. And it may be true for some reading this post. The days are coming quickly when the same message that got John and Jesus arrested and killed, the same message that got James and Peter and Paul and other disciples/apostles arrested and killed, will be the same message that gets me and you arrested and potentially killed.
I am not trying to be melodramatic. I am trying to be honest. This message is the good news of God, but much of mankind doesn’t like God’s news. Why? Well, not because of the first part of verse 15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Many people view this as simply a time of prosperity and joy. But the latter part of verse 15, gives us the reality of how the former part is realized: “Repent and believe in the gospel.”
As I mentioned last week, John preached repentance. Repentance is to turn from something. We talk about the need to turn from our sin, which is true. But repentance is actually more. It is to turn or change our mind about how we are living. The disciples Jesus called (below) repented and followed. We don’t know that they were sinning. We just know that they left the nets (repenting of their current way of life) to follow Jesus. But repentance is only the first step. Not only must we turn from the old, we must turn to the new. That is belief. Or trust. This is the part that mankind dislikes. “Don’t make me give up what I want to do, and I will be fine.” But Jesus says, we must give up ourselves for the sake of another. And that other is Him.
So Jesus has come to announce that the wait is over. The time is at hand. God has returned to visit His people. But where does He do it? In Jerusalem? No. In Galilee – the slums of Israel (as the those in Jerusalem thought. And the message is one that, if you believed it, you would be ready to take on the world. So what does Jesus do? He takes a stroll along the lake and talks to some fishermen. This makes me laugh. Now fishermen were very important in that day, but this goes back to my opening example. If you were going to change the world, who would you pick first – fishermen?
But that’s what Jesus does. He calls two sets of brothers. Mark doesn’t give us any indication that they knew who Jesus was, but other accounts do. In fact, combing through various verses in both Luke and John, I think it is a strong possibility, that Jesus was cousins with James and John and that is why they knew it was time to follow. And being business partners with Andrew and Simon, they would have expected this moment as well. One quick point about these men. Most people tend to think that the disciples were poor, but Zebedee owned a boat, and had hired servants, so James and John, at least, were from a somewhat wealthy family. Next month, I will show why that probably led to some conflict. But for now, let us turn to the words that Jesus used to call these men.
The Calling: The inclusion of man
In the introductory example, I used the idea of being picked for a team. But Jesus didn’t just pick up, He called us. So what is a calling? I will further define that below under the section entitled “I will make,” but for now I present a definition from Os Guinness.
“Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction live out as a response to his summons and service.”
– Os Guinness
So, what was Jesus call? I will break down the components from Mark 1.17 here.
We have accounts in the Old Testament of God calling people as well. For instance, in Genesis 12.1, God commanded Abram to go, from his land, from his father, and to a place that God would show Him. Essentially, the command is the same – Follow Me. And then God provides a new outlook. Abram will be blessed and those who bless Abram will be blessed. The same is true for the disciples of Jesus. They will experience untold blessing by following Jesus, but most, if not all, of those blessings will not happen in this lifetime. And truly we want it that way. Without a doubt we have wants and desires in this lifetime, but even when these wants are fulfilled, we are left for wanting more. Honestly, we should rather want any blessings later (as in the next life) so that we can enjoy them for eternity?
Just like God chose Abram, Jesus chose these men. This is a deviation from the pattern of the day because usually a young boy (age 12) would choose a rabbi to follow, not the other way around. If the boy did not choose to follow a rabbi, he would return home to learn a trade – usually that of his father. But Jesus chose these men, because He wasn’t just a rabbi. Jesus was also prophet and had a different level of authority (as we will see the next three weeks).
I Will Make
A call is to attach yourself to a person or cause and then imitate them or carry out the cause. But to heed the call of Jesus is not only about imitating, it is about letting Him do the making. And why not, according to this verse, He has promised to make us. And, of course, He is the Creator of all things as well (Colossians 1.16). The word Mark uses here for “make” is the Greek word poieo, which is a root for our English word poem or poetry. Have you ever considered your life a poem? You have likely heard someone way, perhaps about you, “Well they sure are a piece of work!” Well, you are. You are God’s handy-work! And the fact is that He is not done with you yet. He is still making and molding you. Sometimes it is painful, and sometimes it is bittersweet. But the finished product will be beautiful if we allow Him to finish because He is the master. He created the world. He is preparing a place for you, but most importantly He is making, and re-making, you into exactly what He needs you to be.
Frankly, most of us wouldn’t mind Jesus re-making us, but we want to give Him the instructions and the time-frame. Fortunately, that is not our place. And we would miss out on so much if we did. Consider these two sets of brothers. Would they have ever considered themselves to be a part of the greatest movement in history? Probably not. But Jesus saw potential in them that they didn’t see in themselves. And the same is true for us. Jesus sees what we are capable of accomplishing even when we don’t think we have anything to offer. But let me clarify one aspect of this calling and becoming. The “you” here is plural. Our faith is personal, and our call may be unique. But a part of the calling, the making, and the becoming is about being in community. The New Testament doesn’t teach that faith is a private matter. Again, to choose one’s set of beliefs is an individual decision, and may include times of solitude or even isolation. But such a faith should not leave us there. Consider the instances of isolation in Scripture. For Jesus it was in the wilderness being tested, in Gethsemane praying, etc. And even in all of these places, except the wilderness, others were nearby (and angels tended to Jesus in the wilderness.
So why was Jesus walking along the shoreline? He was starting a new community. Jesus started His ministry by forming a community of nobodies to follow the Somebody so that anybody and everybody might know Him.
Fishers of Men
Why fishermen? The easy answer, and it is truthful, is that God often uses our past for His purposes in the future. But, as usual, the Bible has more to say about this. And we are looking at this story from a Jewish perspective so let’s examine what a couple of Old Testament writings have to say.
First, the sea (and even water) can represent a mysterious and deadly place.
“You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.”
– Psalm 74.13
Secondly, to be rescued from the water is to be rescued from impending doom as in the first chapter of Jonah, and for Jonah himself in chapter 2. But a couple of other passages relate fishing to the pending doom.
“Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them.”
– Jeremiah 16.16
“The Lord has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks.”
– Amos 4.2
And doom is what fishing is to a fish. If a fish gets hooked, its doom is certain. Unless, the one who catches the fish has mercy upon it. For a true fish, that mercy would mean being thrown back. But for a person, that mercy means you have escaped the coming doom. This is what a fisher of men must do. Fish, so as to catch some, and then show God’s mercy so a man doesn’t want to jump back in.
Let me provide one further thought relating John the baptizer and Jesus to the idea of a fisherman. Where does a fisherman go to fish? To the water. John the baptizer was near the water, but the people were going to him. But Jesus went to the people. Because a fishermen doesn’t just go anywhere to fish, he goes to where the fish are. And that’s why Jesus said, “Follow Me.”
A Difference in Principles
Much more could be said about this small section of verses, and it likely will be as we have just begun our journey through Mark’s account of the gospel. But for now, we must understand is that Mark 1.17 is the entire basis of this series. It encompasses the entire cycle of discipleship. And when combined with Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11.1 to “Be imitators of me as I imitate Christ,” we see it is still applicable for people living after Jesus’ ascension to heaven.
While the call for follow is still applicable, each person’s calling is unique. Andrew and Simon left their nets. James and John left their father as well. Mary and Martha never left Bethany. But all had their own part in following Jesus. Today, we may be called to leave our homes, our families, our jobs, etc. In some ways, this isn’t as big a challenge in our day because we live in a society that is so individualistic and one that is particularly connected. Telephones, cars, and other technological advances make it much easier to remain in contact with people than it has been in the past – especially the ancient past.
But regardless of however our calling may be unique, the command is to make disciples (Matthew 28.18-20). We are called to fish for men and women and then help them to then fish for others. Again, this is not an option. Jesus makes this perfectly clear, but many people live by a different principle. One principle that is fairly well-known is the Pareto Principle. The principle suggests that 80% of the output comes from 20% of the input source. This principle is well established in many ways, and is evident in many churches (as well as other organizations). The form it takes is that 80% of the work is accomplished by 20% of the people. But, imagine for just a minute, a church in which 100% of the people were following Jesus and making disciples. What kind of church would that be? I assure you it is a church that I would want to be a part of, and many others would too. And whichever side of the 20% you believe yourself to be currently, remember you didn’t choose God, God chose you because of some untapped potential He saw. And thus, the question is, how do you respond?
And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is: O – Observe.
When Jesus calls, we must be ready. Because it is only when we choose to follow Jesus that we can truly know who He truly is and thus find out who we are truly meant to be.
Opportunity: Hear His call and respond. It is time to follow Jesus and learn to fish – for men!
So, what about our next steps?
Learn – “Follow Me.” – Jesus words to follow are not an invitation. They are a command. Learn to follow Jesus in all His ways by studying His Word.
Live – “I will make” – Remember, Jesus is the do-er here. We must remain open and willing, but He is the potter and we are the clay. Are you willingly let Him mold you? If not, your resistance is probably causing you more pain than is required.
Love – “You become” – This is the painful process as we are truly remolded. But as we are, we find ourselves more capable of what Jesus want from us – including be able to love others. Who do you need to better love today?
Lead – “Fishers of men” – If Jesus has made you, this is the output. His promise is to make you into a fisher of men, so when we aren’t doing this, it is either because we don’t know Jesus, or we are suppressing His work in our lives. Choose someone to lead you as you also lead others.
(Leave) In our passage today, Jesus was just beginning His public ministry. But He knew the time was short and He had to prepare others to continue before it was time for Him to leave. Who are you preparing to fill your shoes when your time to depart is at hand?