Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men. (Mark 1:17)
I’ve been reading Jane Pauley’s book Your Life Calling. It’s about people re-imagining (and re-imaging) their lives after retirement (Tom Brokow recommended it in his book A Lucky Life Interupted). It’s amazing the transformations people make after most of us think it’s impossible to change!
My youngest sister loves to fish. I find that incredible since she never fished growing up and didn’t know anyone who fished until she was fifty. In the past year she has learned to bait her own hook and take the fish off. She called me last week, the day before her birthday, to share her excitement about that day’s catch.
Lives can change . . . if you are willing.
Jesus’ call to his disciples in our text is often overlooked as just a figure of speech. The disciples were fishermen, Jesus just called them to catch something different.
But perhaps there’s something else. Fishing is great for the fisherman. Not so much for the fish. For the fish, it is a life altering event: a change of environment, death, and a change of state. It’s what would happen to the disciples. It’s what the preaching of the disciples would effect in others. As followers of Jesus we must first be the change we seek in others. But our job is not just to be changed, but to become involved in effecting the same change in the lives of our friends and relatives as we bring them to Jesus. That’s really what being a fisher of men is all about. For all of us who have accepted Jesus’ call, it’s what we are called to do and be.
When we walk with the Lord in the light of His word,
What a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will He abides with us still,
And with all
Who will trust and obey.
I think of this hymn whenever I read Mark’s “healing of the leper” story (Mark 1:40ff).
For thirty-nine verses Mark proclaims the authority and divinity of Jesus. Even the demons understand who he is and are respectful of his directions.
And then there’s the leper.
He comes to Jesus with great faith. “If you are willing you can make me clean” he says. He isn’t sure Jesus will, but he knows Jesus can. And so in faith he yields himself to Christ’s decision and of course, Jesus heals him.
Then, Jesus tells him to keep the story to himself. Amazingly, he doesn’t, and he becomes (in Mark) the first in a line of people who profess faith in the Christ, but cannot bring themselves to the greatest expression of faith – obedience.
The abiding blessing of Jesus belongs to those who meld faith and obedience, and only they become true disciples.
Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
As Mark opens his book, the gospel (good news) begins with an announcement that the kingdom of God is “near.” Some would hear that as God establishing a new order, rival to worldly governments and rulers. And they ‘d be right – to a point. But there was a twist. God’s kingdom did not come to compete with political realms. It would subsume them.
But not by force.
The kingdom of God would be a special realm where citizens of all nationalities could enter willingly, swear allegiance to God alone, and become partakers of a better life, one guided, protected and provisioned by God.
The allegiance was signaled not by some one time formal ceremony, but by a changed life – a life no longer guided by the values of any nation, society or ethnicity, but by values determined by God alone. That step was called “repentance.”
Why was this “good news?” Because it meant God had begun to work in a way He had not done before, blessing His people and giving them a present and a future available to no one else at no other time.
To folks tired of the world’s empty promises, this was indeed good news, and they flocked to Jesus to become a part of it. Those however who found their world good enough, a comfortable and pleasing home . . . didn’t. It’s still true. The “good news” isn’t “good news” for everybody.
How is it for you?
The book of Mark opens with these words: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ the Son of God.” Why does he call it “the beginning?” Surely it means more than “this is the start of my book.” And what precisely is this “good news” (which is what ‘gospel’ means) that concerns Jesus Christ?
The next time we meet the word “gospel,” Mark says it is this: “The Kingdom of God is near.”
The good news then is that the rule of God has come into our world in a new way: through the person of Jesus. For the next eight chapters, Mark demonstrates his thesis: Nothing can stand in the way of the rule of God in Christ: Not illness, disease, misfortune, want – not even the powers of the spirit world. If you want to be a part of this kingdom of God, Mark says, you must turn from your past life, and live a life entrusted to the rule and power of God.
But why is Mark’s presentation the “beginning”of the good news?
Because the Kingdom of God is not just a “here and now” Kingdom. It is a waiting kingdom; one that looks forward to the return of Jesus in his Father’s glory (8:38), to his gathering the elect from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens (13:27), and to joining Jesus himself in a banquet of celebration (14:25). It is a kingdom whose fulfillment is as sure as its beginning for all those who repent and believe.
In the second century AD, Mark was remembered as a helper and close companion of Peter. He was a relative of Barnabas and a travel companion of both Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). Early second century writers, believing Mark not to be an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry, believed Peter told Mark stories and Mark wrote them down, and that became the Gospel of Mark. Some second century Christians believed Mark wrote after Matthew, copying much of his work.
All of this presumed, of course, that the gospel writers wrote simply to recount the life of Christ without any other motives. The evidence, however, is that all the gospel writers wrote what they did to make specific points to their intended readers. Thus, while they often include the same material, it is presented differently in order to make their God inspired point. Additionally, there is ample evidence that Mark, young as he was, did in fact witness at least some of the ministry of Jesus. His gospel account is full of the kind of details that would be common only to an eyewitness. One Bible scholar has listed 200 details, mentioned only by Mark, in his first 6 chapters that would be the sort of thing only an eyewitness would know. I divide Mark as follows:
1) Introduction – Mark 1:1-15
2) Ministry Outside Jerusalem – Mark 1:16 – 10:31
3) Ministry and Death in Jerusalem – Mark 10:32 – 16:20
Much of what you will find in the Gospel of Mark you will also find in one or more of the other gospels, but occasionally, there will be those nuggets about Jesus’ life that only Mark tells you about. The closing verses of Mark chapter two is an example of that: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Luke takes great pains to note that Jesus was a scrupulous observer of the law of Moses, but if we are not careful, Mark will lead us to the opposite conclusion – if we are not careful. Note that when Jesus healed the leper in chapter one, the healed man was required to observe the ritual of one who is healed. What we find, however, is that Jesus has an understanding of the law his contemporaries do not. They understand the law as the rule of God in their lives – but it’s only a rule. Faithfulness requires slavish obedience to the rules. You can be a horrid person (precisely the way Mark portrays the Pharisees), but if you keep the rules, you are good in God’s sight.
Jesus, however, has no such understanding. The law is not so much about rule keeping as about being like God. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep the law, only that the law is made for your benefit, to mold your life and change your character. Jesus keeps the law from the inside out. His opponents keep it only on the outside.
This should become an interpretive rule for us. It was exactly that for Jesus. The rules of God are meant to affect our behavior by informing our hearts. We don’t case them off when they don’t suit us, but we are obligated to discover how God intended them to suit us.