By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
January 24, 2021
Mark 1:14–20 (ESV)
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” 16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
Again, we meet Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. The beginning of his revelation to us. He is just beginning to reveal the mystery of who he is and why he is here. Can you imagine what that might have been like? The people all around you eager for something to happen. There are some that are waiting for the warrior king who will come to push back the forces of Rome so that Israel will emerge once again as an independent nation. Then there are the people that are not necessarily opposed to Roman rule but are eagerly waiting for the Priest that will guide the people of God back to the spiritual fold of God. And some just want to hear the voice of God through a Prophet like the days of old. Prophet, priest, or king. Israel is eagerly waiting for something to happen, yet they are unsure of what it might be.
Some of the people remember stories that their parents had talked about the strange things that happened when they were younger. They remember the stories of that priest that had been visited by an angel when he was serving in the temple and was unable to speak until his formally barren wife gave birth and the name of John was given. They remember hearing about the magi from Persia coming into their little province, speaking about a star that they had seen in the sky and how they were there to find the King of the Jews. They know people who had experienced the sociopathic fit of Herod when he sent the troops out to Bethlehem and slaughtered the innocents. They remember how their relatives mourned when they looked back at that day. They remember the stories, but those stories happened a lifetime ago. Their parents were excited for the Messiah, but thirty years have gone by. Nothing has changed, they traded the cruel rule of Herod for governors sent from Rome. The tension is pulling tighter, and the people seem to be dividing even more.
Then something changes. There is a man preaching on the banks of the Jordan. He is wearing the garments of a prophet and he is crying out to everyone to repent. Crowds are gathering and this lunatic of a preacher is making the religious leaders nervous. And he is making the political authorities nervous as well. The excitement that your parents once had is beginning to build again. Could it be the one? Could this be the messiah? Could this really be happening?
The excitement is again building around the nation. This preacher cries out in the wilderness, and some ask are you the one we have been waiting for? He stops what he is saying as the question is asked and he stares out at the crowd. There is a hush, there is a holy anxiety that is building among all present and they listen even closer. And they hear the preacher laugh. Everyone looks at him in confusion, he had just called the religious leaders a brood of vipers, he had told the roman soldiers and the tax collectors to stop exploiting the people, he had basically told everyone listening that they were not worthy of the name Israel. And when people ask if he is the messiah he laughs, and he says “No, there is one coming. One who even I am unworthy to touch his shoes. I baptize with water; he will baptize with the spirit and fire.”
Everyone again begins to experience this righteous anticipation and anxiety. If they believe John, and believe him to be a prophet, and even he is unworthy of the one to come where do they stand? This goes on for days, maybe even months. Scripture does not give us a clear picture of how long John was out preaching in the wilderness, but we know that he was there long enough to attract the attention of all the wrong people if he was hoping to live a long and healthy life. But at some point, John began to direct his attention to something. A man would walk by and John would stop talking for a moment and just gaze at this man in wonder. Those that had become disciples of John, followed their teacher’s eyes and they saw the man. They recognized him as one of the laborers that had come into the area to do some work. Maybe he had been called to this area to work on the synagogue in Capernaum that a God-fearing soldier had donated renovation funds to. Some of them had conversations with this man. Some had even followed him to see where he lived. Because every time this man walked by John’s posture changed, and some of the disciples that had been closest to John had heard John mutter behold the lamb of God.
I want us to just imagine what that scene might have been like. Imagine the tension that might have been felt in and around Jerusalem. Imagine the years of anticipation, the heart ache, the arguing among the various factions within the religious community. And imagine the oddity of a carpenter or stone mason, causing a hush to come over a fire and brimstone preacher in the wilderness.
The mystery of Christ is layered. He was not someone that would attract attention, yet he attracted attention. He was common, and yet those that spoke to him were drawn deeper. The people of Israel had a righteous anxiety building. They were listening to John, and then all at once it was over, he was arrested. He was taken into a cell where his voice could be silenced and the threat, he posed to the ruling class could be minimized. You had put your faith in a man and it did not pan out. What do you do?
For thirty years the people of Israel had experienced a revival of sorts. And every time they began to get their hopes up life crashed down around them again. What will they do? They go back to what they know.
We all do this for various reasons. For some the stress of life has been weighing them down so they stop what they are doing, they step down from positions and they seek out a simpler lifestyle. I have done this a few times. I have moved up in the hierarchy of businesses and have realized that I had moved too fast and I was not ready for the struggles I was facing, so I step out. It is not always a bad thing. But then there are times we turn our backs on life. We get into a mindset that the world is stacked against you and instead of facing the challenges, we walk away. We walk away because of ignorance or maybe defeat. We step back not to examine a path forward, but we step out to avoid the unpleasantness of life.
Last week in John’s gospel account we saw Peter and Andrew, as well as Philip and Nathanial interacting with Jesus prior to him starting his ministry. Andrew follows Jesus to where he was staying, and Philip walked with Jesus on his way to another town. Jesus met them where they were, and he encouraged them in that place. Today we do not see these people in the same place they once were. John the Baptist had been arrested and with that arrest the excitement began to wane. The fishermen go back to their boats.
But something strange happened. This man that caused the Baptist to pause began to pick up at the place John left off. He picked up the message but there was a twist. John said that the time was near, but this man says, the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.
The first words of Jesus’s ministry excite me. “The time is fulfilled…” What comes to mind when you hear those words? For me I get a sense of anticipation. The time is fulfilled… something is about to happen, everything is in place, and whatever we were waiting for is about to start.
Then the second phrase, “and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Time is fulfilled, and the kingdom is right within our grasp. Jesus is not saying that there is something coming, he is saying, the thing you have been waiting for is right here and right now. I think we often miss this as we read through scripture. We as followers of Christ, often regard the kingdom as something off in the future, but Jesus is saying the exact opposite. What we desire the most is right here, we simply must reach out and it is not off in the future, but it is right now.
He goes on to say something like John, he calls for those that are listening, to repent, or to turn around. To repent is to stop what you are currently doing. Stop moving along the path you are currently on, turn, and take a different route. Repent and believe.
Believe. We miss the depth of this word. Often when we think of the word believe we assume that it means knowledge, but it is more than knowledge. It is trust. Jesus is calling us to turn, to stop looking off in a future realm because time is fulfilled and the kingdom is all around us, and to trust. We struggle with this form of belief. We are perfectly fine with the concept of knowledge, but to trust is much deeper than many of us are comfortable with.
Trust the gospel. John the Baptist has just been arrested, and Jesus steps up and says these words. John focused on the one to come, and Jesus is telling those that will listen to stop and look around us. What is going on around us?
There are plenty of things going on. Disease and riots. Divisions that threaten to rip our communities apart. We cry out to God to come and take us out of this deepening world of sin and vice, but do we trust? When we look at what is all around us are, we seeing what God sees?
Jesus speaks these words, and he walks away. His first sermon is one run on sentence, that directs our attention to the present work to be done. Why those words at that time?
Jesus leaves those words of trust hanging on the edge of the cliff. We do not know who was listening to this first sermon, but it challenges them. In what or in whom are we putting our trust in? Are we putting all our trust in the works and the minds of mankind, or are we trusting that God will lead us to where we should be? This is a difficult thing to consider. Because there are many factors involved. Should we fully disregard the things that mankind has developed? Or should we use the knowledge that we have to move forward in the future?
Jesus just leaves us to wrestle with this. He walks away. And we find him not on the banks of the Jordan, instead he is walking along the shore of the sea. And as he walks, he sees some of those people who were once devoted to the message of John. These men had gone back to what they had known before, they are out on the boat casting a net.
Once they are finished with what they were doing, and come into shore, Jesus speaks to them. He speaks in the vernacular of the fisherman. He says, “follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” I want us each to rest on this statement.
The kingdom of God is at hand, time is fulfilled, and fishers of men. Why is Jesus using such cryptic language? The concept of hooks and nets in the old testament is negative. It speaks of trapping and ensnaring people, and those that are caught are destroyed. But there are other types of nets, like a safety net for the performers at a circus. These nets are not there to destroy but to save.
The time is here, the kingdom is around us, and God is urging us to turn and trust. And he is telling us who and what we should be looking at. John cried out in the wilderness proclaiming that Israel was not worthy because of their sin, and Jesus is urging us to engage the world, engage the world so that we can lead people away from destruction and toward a relationship with God with us. Jesus is telling those first disciples, if you follow me you will see a shift of focus and that shift will change the way we see and act.
As we approach this week, I encourage us to pray that we will see the world through new eyes. That we will see with the potential of God, instead of the weakness of our bodies. Let us trust that God will do work in our communities through us if we are willing to turn.