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.
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. (Mark 3:4)
The gospel of Mark opens with a volley of testimonials about Jesus: His importance (John the Baptist), his lineage (God Himself), and his authority (attested by his ability to heal as well as by statements of synagogue members and even the demons).
How should a man of such stature behave?
Certainly not the way he did – at least in the eyes of his critics.
From the beginning, Jesus is “filled with compassion” (1:41) toward the needy. He ministers to those sick in body and soul and fellowships the outcast with a view toward their redemption. This earns him condemnation from his critics who believe he is sacrificing obedience to the Law in favor of ministry to others (because he forgives sins, doesn’t fast, and heals on the Sabbath).
In point of fact, Jesus doesn’t break the law but as chapter two comes to a close he makes this singular point: the purpose of the Law was always for the good of mankind – not to excuse evil.
I do not always know why God commands what He does, but whatever His reason, it has to do with our welfare (specifically stated ten times in Deuteronomy). Don’t mistake this principle for license (“I must do what’s best for me”) or an excuse for poor behavior. Jesus doesn’t break the law. He sticks with it and obeys it which leads him to minister to those sick in body or soul and redeem those who find the way of the Lord difficult.
In short, he knows not only the Law of God, but also the will of God and that leads him to act as the Son of God. So should we all.
No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins (Mark 2:22).
The “Ten Commandments” are followed in Deuteronomy by this call: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
That “the Lord is one” may certainly mean there is only one God. But it may also mean this God is consistent, unchangeable, unique. He is the complete package, the “real deal.” No one else compares. He’s not a mashup of the gods of all cultures, an alloy who takes the shape of human imaginings. He has but one nature and one character and one history.
No wonder this unalloyed God expects unalloyed love: “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
The heart is the seat of our intellect, how we think. The soul comprises all else that we are, emotions, character, desire, nature, habits etc. And then, there’s “strength,” (sometimes translated “possessions”).
Love for God should pour from ALL we think, ALL we are, and ALL we have. Total. Uncompromised. Read that with Mark 2. We compromise the call and life of Christ with an old life. Successful discipleship means everything must be changed. The old must, in totality, be exchanged for new. Anything less ruins God’s purpose for each of us – and for us all.
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?
If you’ve been a member here long you’ve heard me speak of one of my favorite professors, Jack P. Lewis. Dr. Lewis received a PhD from Harvard in New Testament, and another from Hebrew Union in Old Testament. I last saw him at Harding University in 2014 where he was a guest lecturer on the subject of “fasting.” In his 90’s, he was a bit frail, but spoke with a strong voice. Since his eyesight was really bad, he read his lecture from a large computer screen with especially large fonts.
Within the last two years, he’s published at least two new books: one on archeology (volume 2 – 574 pages), and the other a history of the Bishops Bible – the fore-runner of the King James Bible.
I’m back at Harding this week, speaking three times at their Bible lectures series and, meeting another dear professor, Phillip Slate, I asked about Dr. Jack. He related this story. “Dr. Lewis’ eyesight is now gone. He can no longer hear. He is moved about in a wheel chair. Each Sunday he is brought to church and placed at the entrance to the auditorium where he greets people, welcoming them as they enter for worship. Someone asked him: “Why do you come? You cannot see. You cannot hear. What are you getting out of it?”
Dr. Lewis replied: “I want everyone to know whose side I’m on.”
Do people know whose side you are on by the life you live and the worship you give?
In his introduction to The Triumph of Christianity, sociologist and historian Rodney Stark wrote this of Jesus:
He was a teacher and miracle worker who spent nearly all of his brief ministry in the tiny and obscure province of Galilee, often preaching to outdoor gatherings. A few listeners took up his invitation to follow him, and a dozen or so became his devoted disciples, but when he was executed by the Romans, his followers probably numbered no more than several hundred. How was it possible for this obscure Jewish sect to become the largest religion in the world?
A few Sunday evenings ago I talked about the monumental influence of Jesus and his teachings on history and society, and one of those influences was care for the needy. Our world takes for granted that the sick should be nursed, the poor supplied with at least basic necessities, and the young protected, nurtured and mentored. But until Christianity came on the scene, this behavior was not characteristic of the world.
This is, Stark suggests, one of the reasons Christianity thrived. The world, lacking a caring ethic, became smaller. The Christian Church however, because it cared for one another (and even for those who were not Christians), became larger until Christianity became the majority.
How did the Christian Church take over the world? T.R. Glover, in his book The Jesus of History summarized it like this: “The Christian ‘out-lived’ the pagan, ‘out died’ him, and ‘out thought’ him.” If it is our goal to change our world, success can only be found in first living ourselves the change we would achieve.