Jesus’ Chooses his First Team Members audio (4MB)
Jesus begins his ministry with this clear announcement: “The time is fulfilled.” That is, it’s complete. Time’s up. We’re at the end of the line. Notice that John, the one who’s like Elijah, has finished his ministry. Mark wants to make it clear that the time of the Old Testament prophet is over. Now a new era, a new message has arrived.
I wonder, if you were here last week, did you notice that it was after John was arrested that Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God. Was that bit of information put in just so we’d understand when this happened or is there more to it than that? One of the things you discover reading Mark is that he’s very good at giving us pointers to things in Jesus’ life that are significant, We saw that two weeks ago with the word associations that Heather pointed out at the start of Ch1. And I think the same applies here.
You see, John is the last of the Old Testament style prophets. He represents the old covenant that’s now passing away - being replaced by a new covenant. Jesus represents a new order in God’s Kingdom. When he says “the time is fulfilled” the word he uses has the idea of completed, come to it’s conclusion.
So he comes proclaiming the good news of God, the news that announces a new deal for God’s people. We’re not told the contents of the good news yet, but that’ll become clear as we read through the gospel.
And it’s as though Mark’s saying that even as Jesus begins his ministry the work’s already as good as finished. Jesus, the Messiah has come and God’s plan hurries to its intended conclusion. It’s as though Jesus’ coming is part of a single event: his incarnation, his death and his resurrection all flow together into the one moment in history when everything comes together.
But if that’s the case then Jesus’ coming means that this moment, right now, is the appointed time, the time of decision. And so Jesus begins preaching to the crowds just as John had, “repent, and believe in the good news”.
Then one day as he’s walking along beside the Sea of Galilee he sees two brothers, Simon and Andrew, who are casting a net into the sea and he focuses his call on just them. He says “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Suddenly his message has become very personal, very costly in fact. He calls them not just to repent but to put that repentance into action. They’re to turn away from their current way of life and become Jesus’ followers in the most literal sense. In fact isn’t this how it mostly happens in Jesus ministry? He tells people to give up everything so they can follow him. He warns those who are getting enthusiastic that to follow him means giving up the comforts of home, giving up family and friends, giving up the excuses that we’re so quick at coming up with in order to avoid the cost of discipleship.
Jesus is doing more than just calling these people to follow him though. He’s calling them to become his apostles. He’s building a team to continue the work when his part is finished.
You see, Jesus could have gone on preaching the gospel on his own for the rest of his life but that wouldn’t have been enough would it? He’d still have died and risen again. He would have paid the price for all our sins. But that would have been it. The message would have ended there. No, Jesus was setting out to rebuild the people of God. He was planning to build a new Israel, a people who’d fulfill God’s plans for the world. He was calling men and women who’d form the nucleus of that people and who’d pass the message on, pass on the call to become his disciples.
So he calls Peter and Andrew, then James and John. He calls them to a new vocation: no longer to be fishermen catching fish for the markets but to be those who bring people into God’s kingdom.
And what’s their response? Immediately they left their nets and followed him. James and John, just down the lake a little, immediately left their father in the boat with the hired men and followed him. You see when God calls he generally means right now. Yes there’s a future aspect to it: “I will make you...” But the call is to act now. Now is the moment when we’re expected to respond to Jesus’ call.
And by the way, can you see what it is that makes them into disciples? Is it their innate character, their personal spirituality, their great potential, their leadership qualities, perhaps? Well, no. In fact the account we’re given is so lacking in references to their personal attributes that we’re left wondering whether their choice is just random. Whether Jesus just happened to see them working at the edge of the sea and decided to call them to follow him. Well, we can’t make that assumption either. But what we can say is that the important element in both accounts is not their personal attributes but the call of Jesus. Jesus’ words to them immediately result in them dropping everything and following him.
What is it that makes disciples today? Do we need to be looking out for those who have the necessary characteristics to be good followers of Jesus? Should we be looking for people who are already attuned to spiritual things, open to the supernatural? Should we be looking for people who are naturally kind and warm hearted, whose lives will reflect God’s love for others? No, none of those are what matters. You see, the same thing makes disciples today as made them in this instance. The word of Jesus, the word of the gospel is what makes disciples. It’s when people hear the call to follow Jesus that the Holy Spirit begins his work. This is what Paul reminds the Thessalonians of in 1 Th 1:5-6: “our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction ... 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
In Jesus’ day, students would come to a Rabbi asking to study with them and the Rabbi would say “Follow me” which meant come and live with me, join my school. Being a student was always a residential arrangement, living in the Rabbi’s home. The big difference in this account is that it isn’t the student asking to follow the Rabbi, it’s the other way around. Jesus is calling these men to follow him, to give up the rest of their lives to be his disciples. Jesus comes as Lord and King. So the initiative lies with him. We mustn’t ever think that we became Christians because we decided it was a good thing to do. It’s always God who first calls us out of the world to follow Jesus, whether we realise it or not. This is what Jesus reminded his disciples in his final discourse in the upper room, John 15:16: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
So can you see that Jesus isn’t just calling them to be saved. It’s true that John called people to repent for the forgiveness of their sins but Jesus doesn’t say that to these men. Nor is he offering them an end to all their troubles. He isn’t offering them joy beyond all telling as some evangelists do. No, when Jesus calls Peter and Andrew and James and John he simply calls them to follow him, to learn from him. He promises to teach them a new trade. And can you see the trade that he's going to teach them? He’s going to teach them how to fish for people. He takes language they understand and transforms it into a whole new way of thinking.
I imagine if they’d been builders he might have said something like “I’ll teach you how to build my kingdom”. If they’d been farmers he’d have said “I’ll teach you how to sow the seed of the gospel.” The point was that he was calling them to a new work that would give them a reason for living, that would bring a new purpose to their life. He was going to give them a life that was catching. He was offering them the opportunity of being part of a new movement; a movement of God’s Spirit that will in the end take over the world.
But this isn't just a movement based on a great cause. No, it’s a movement that begins with the personal call to follow Jesus. It’s a call that involves not just a single act of agreement. No. He calls them to follow, to walk with him. Later he’ll talk about taking up their cross to walk with him. And he calls them to a life that has its purpose focussed on reaching those outside.
In our world today this is absolutely counter-cultural isn’t it? In a world where personal, individual significance is prime, Jesus points us away from ourselves. He calls us to follow him so we can bring others into his kingdom.
Do you remember the comment I made earlier about the personal nature of this call. This call to discipleship, this call to be part of the Jesus movement, to bring more and more people into God’s kingdom, is still being made today. Jesus calls you and you and you and you to be his disciples. This is no general call to arms addressed to the whole flock. This is an individually tailored call to serve God with all you have and all you are.
And it may not be an easy calling. James and John are called to leave their father and the boat and the hired staff and go with Jesus. They’re leaving behind their loved ones and their livelihood in order to follow Jesus. Not that everyone is called to do that in a literal sense, as I just said, but there is a sense in which we’re all called to put those things in second place in order to be Jesus’ disciples.
But notice that as soon as they decide to follow him things begin to happen. Jesus enters the synagogue and begins to teach with such authority that people are amazed. He casts out an evil spirit and again people want to know who is this man?
Then they go home to Simon’s house for an enjoyable Sabbath lunch and find Simon’s mother-in-law sick in bed with a fever; and what does he do? He takes her by the hand and heals her. Then in the evening he continues to heal people and cast out demons.
It’s as though they experience in the first 24 hours with him everything that sets him apart. As though God is giving them a special degree of reassurance that their decision is right. Now he doesn’t necessarily do that for all of us, though I think he does for some, but he has given us this record to assure us that the Jesus we’re called to follow has the power we need to do the things we’re called to do.
Can you see that while this call of the disciples was for them especially we follow in their footsteps. We too are called to follow Jesus, to serve him with all our lives.
The call of Jesus to these four men was a call to full-time ministry, but that isn’t the only sort of ministry he calls people to. For you it may not be the call to be an apostle, a missionary. It may be a call to be a witness to Christ in your workplace, through your Christian attitude and character, through your honesty and integrity, your hard work and uncomplaining commitment to your company.
The important question for each of us is whether we’re willing to make his service the priority in our life. Is following Jesus more important to you than building your career, than raising your family, than finding the perfect house, or the perfect partner, or the perfect car? That’s the question that this passage leaves us with. Are you willing to be part of Jesus’ mission team sent out to bring others into God’s kingdom?
If you are, then let me suggest that if you want to be someone who can catch people then you need to think about the sort of bait you’re using. That is, are they attracted to Jesus because of what they see in your life, in the workplace, in your family, in your church. Are we giving the world clear evidence that God is at work in our midst today. Are we presenting such a compelling case by the way we live and speak that they long to know this God that we worship? This is what the call to discipleship is all about. It’s a call to proclaim the gospel and it’s a call to follow now.
And finally, are we proclaiming the gospel in the confidence that comes from knowing this Jesus, who taught with authority, who cast out demons and healed people of incurable diseases, who people looked at and asked “What is this? Who is this man?”