On the 8 May 1945, Victory in Europe Day, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill broadcast to the nation that Germany had surrendered and that a final cease fire on all war fronts in Europe would come into effect at one minute past midnight that night. The Act of Military Surrender was signed on May 7 in France, and May 8 in Germany. In England the headline in the Daily Mail newspaper declared: "VE-Day—It's All Over." In London more than a million people celebrated in the streets. Winston Churchill appeared with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the balcony of Buckingham Palace before the cheering crowds.
I understand that in Australia we saved the biggest celebrations until 15 August 1945 when Prime Minister Ben Chifley announced the end of hostilities with Japan with the words: "Fellow citizens, the war is over." I know that there are people in this congregation who can remember VE- and VJ-Day. Some of you may even remember hearing those words. What it was like to finally hear those words, "Fellow citizens, the war is over"?
All of us have to imagine what it was like to have been there on that even more extraordinary day when "Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news'(Mark 1:14-15)."
1. "PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD"
What did people think Jesus meant when he said, "the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news"? What did Simon and Andrew and James and John expect when they followed him? The answer is almost certainly to be found in the words of the prophet Isaiah. In verse 7 of Isaiah chapter 52 we can find the first use of the word we translate as "good news" or in Old English "gospel." And what do you know? In the same sentence we find out that in Isaiah the good news is the coming of the kingdom of God:
"How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns'."
In this chapter of Isaiah God has just been speaking about how the people of Israel had been oppressed by the Egyptians and then by the Assyrians. Now God announces through Isaiah the good news that God is coming to save them:
"Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the LORD to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God." (vv. 8-10)
And what happened? God did come to take them home to the land he had promised them! The situation was not so different in Jesus' day. For most of the last 500 years the people of Israel had been under the domination of foreign kings: first the Persians, then the Greeks, and now the Romans. There had been a long, long time of waiting and anticipation. Now Jesus says that God's kingdom is just around the corner. And he begins telling the people to get ready: "repent, and believe in the good news.
2. "THE HOLY ONE OF GOD"
Jesus' message is followed by the call of the first disciples. This is not an accident. I think that is intended to show that to "repent and believe the good news" you have to follow Jesus. You can't accept the good news except by making a personal commitment to Jesus: "And Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, 'Follow me and I will make you fish for people.' And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him" (vv. 17-20). The point that chapter 1 of Mark's Gospel is making is not just that "the kingdom of God has come near", but that it has come near because Jesus the king has come near. What does the rest of the chapter tell us about? Does it tell us about the defeat of the Romans? No! It tells us about Jesus and what he did. And in the process it teaches that the coming of the kingdom of God will involve a different kind of victory.
In the two episodes that follow the calling of the first disciples we do see the victory of God over evil. Do we see the victory of God when the Romans are put to the sword? No! But we see the victory of God over spiritual evil in the healing of the man with an unclean spirit (vv. 21-28) and the victory of God over physical evil in the healing of Peter's mother-in-law (vv. 29-34). And each time we see that God's victory comes about through Jesus. In verse 24 we read that "The unclean spirit cried out, 'What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God'." And in verse 34 the Gospel writer Mark tells us: "And Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him."And the people who witness these things soon begin ask themselves about Jesus. Mark says that "They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, 'What is this? A new teaching--with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him' (v. 27)." Or, as another translation puts it: "What's going on here? A new teaching that does what it says? (MSG)." In other words, Jesus is not just saying "the kingdom of God has come near", he is doing it!
3. "FISH FOR PEOPLE"
I want to conclude this morning by drawing our attention to the call of the disciples. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me as if we often talk as if Jesus had his ministry and then the disciples began their ministry. But in fact the very first thing Jesus did after announcing the coming of the kingdom was to begin involve others in his work. I imagine I have probably quoted Dallas Willard's words on discipleship here before, but I don't think it will hurt to repeat them. Willard said:
"God's intent was to have a kingdom in which we are significantly involved. ... Every human being, wherever they may be, is given the opportunity to enter into a companionship, a working relationship with God. The kingdom of God is what God is doing. And his plan was that he would be doing many things with us."
This is what I think is important about Jesus calling the fishermen Simon and Andrew and James and John and telling them "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." Jesus calls ordinary people in the middle of their daily work. Isn't Jesus saying to them, whoever you are, whatever you do, I can take you and make you part of what God is doing?! Jesus' call to "fish for people" was a call to share in Jesus' own task – the task of bringing in the kingdom.Someone has suggested that later in his ministry Jesus took this saying about fishing for people made a parable out of it. In Matthew's Gospel chapter 13 Jesus says: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad" (vv. 47-48). That might well be true. But I think when Jesus called the four fishermen he used the picture of fishing to describe the kingdom of God because they were fishermen. Now isn't that just stating the obvious? Yes, except that I think that if Simon and Andrew and James and John had some other occupation Jesus might have used a different picture of the kingdom. For example, if Jesus came across a bunch of teachers in the staff room, he might have said: "Follow me I will show you how to give people a divine education." Sorry, I'm sure Jesus would have put it better than that but hopefully you get the idea. Or if they were doctors Jesus might have said: "Follow me and I'll show you how to bring healing to the soul as well as the body." Jesus is saying that there's a place for you fishermen in what God is doing. And there's that there's a place for you teachers in what God is doing and a place for you builders and for you who are raising kids and for you accountants and for you volunteers and so on. I hope you can see how this might be applied to the things that you do. (This is not to say that God isn't calling some of use to leave what we are doing now and serve him doing something else, but that's another story.)
It might seem to you like I've been standing up here this morning stating the obvious. Well I don't about you but I know I often need to be reminded of two things. First, that even though I don't always see it in the world around me, the good news is that Jesus is the evidence that the kingdom of God has come near. And tone day all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. Second, I often need to be reminded that however, small and unimportant what I'm doing seems to me – and it often seems very small and very unimportant – it is actually part of what God is doing. Mark's Gospel says: "Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. ... And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people'."