The Preaching of the Servant
Topic: Gospels Passage: Mark 1:14–1:20
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.
As we noted last week, the Gospel of Mark is the shortest and most concise of the four accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry that are recorded in the New Testament. Unlike the other Synoptic writers, Matthew and Luke, Mark’s record places more stress upon what Jesus did rather than on what He said. It isn’t that Jesus’ words are unimportant to Mark, but His emphasis on our Lord’s activity is intended to portray Jesus as the ideal Servant.
In Acts 10:38 is found a passage that could serve as a good summary of Mark’s Gospel. It tells us “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. (And then is added this phrase) He went about doing good and healing all who oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”
That is not only an interesting statement, but a challenging one for those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ. For you see, Jesus’ service on behalf of what Mark describes as “the kingdom of God” and “the gospel of God” serves as a model for our own.
Throughout the book we are struck by how many paragraphs begin with the words “And” or “Now,” suggesting how one event leads directly into the next. What’s more, the term “immediately” is used over forty times, creating the impression that Jesus barely took time to rest. This is a book that is literally packed with non-stop action. If it were a movie, you would not even think of moving from your seat until the last frame had faded from the screen.
Following Mark’s introduction to the book, which speaks briefly of Jesus’ baptism at the hands of John and His temptation by Satan in the wilderness, the writer at once jumps with both feet into the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Mark will at times omit details that are supplied by the other Gospel writers in order keep the flow of his narrative moving. And on occasion he will backtrack and subsequently supply what was initially omitted.
We see an example of this in...
The summary of Jesus message (verses 14-15)
...in verses 14 and 15.
Mark introduces this passage with the phrase, “Now after John was arrested.” In the language of one commentator, Mark is intentionally creating “an impression of successiveness” here. Actually when we read the Gospel of John, we are able to conclude that the arrest of John the Baptist had taken place some time earlier. Mark’s point is not to place a date on the timing of the event, but to demonstrate that the ministry of the forerunner had ended and that of the Messiah had begun.
Upon recognizing Jesus as the One who was to come in fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan, John the Baptist had declared that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Mark will wait until chapter 6(:14-29) to provide for us the details of John’s arrest and subsequent execution, and so shall we.
For now we are informed that with his forerunner having been taking off the scene, “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” “Fulfillment” speaks of God’s sovereign timing. The long-awaited ministry of the Messiah began when, according to providence, “God’s time was just right.”
We have already been introduced to “the gospel” in the very first verse of the book. There it was called “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Here it is referred to as “the gospel of God.” There is only one “gospel,” so these two refer to exactly the same message. Specifically, the message had to do with the “good news” that “the kingdom of God” had come because the King had arrived. In light of that, Jesus was calling people to “repent (or turn away from their sins) and believe... (the message of) the gospel.” But what is “the kingdom of God”?
Several explanations have been offered, some of which are more confusing than helpful. Simply put, “the kingdom of God” is God’s reign in the lives of His people. British pastor and theologian Vaughan Roberts describes God’s “kingdom” throughout history as being “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing.” Such a designation suggests that there is both a present reality and a future hope associated with it. Believers through every age have been a part of “the kingdom of God,” and yet there is coming a day when what is now an internal reality will be manifested visibly. In short, we will one day see our King whom we cannot not see, and we will live and reign with Him forever.
In calling upon His hearers that day—and, by extension, us in our day—to “repent and believe...(this) gospel” (of the kingdom), Jesus is demanding a radical decision. The act of “repentance” involves a change of mind that results in a renunciation and turning away from sin. It means a “clean break” with our old objects of trust and our old patterns of life, and embracing the new life that Christ offers.
But as we noted last week, “repentance” by itself only takes us half-way toward the goal of salvation. We must also “believe...the gospel.” Biblical “belief” means more than given intellectual credence or mental assent to something. It involves making a commitment to and a reliance upon what is believed. It is a belief that changes one’s life in a dramatic way.
That is why “repentance” and “faith” are not two separate acts. As we have said many times before, they are two sides of the same coin. If you say that you “believe...the gospel,” but there are no substantial changes in your life, then there is no evidence that you truly believe. You had better reconsider because if the seed of faith has been planted, there will be fruit being produced.
Jesus clearly preached the Gospel of salvation, and it goes without saying so must we. And particularly in a day when the faith of Christians is being challenged to new limits, we must do so without compromise. The failure to make the Gospel clear in both the pulpit and the pew results in false assurances of salvation and churches that have lost their way. The result is “professing Christians” who speak, act, and look more like their culture than like Christ. Sadly, such people are able at times to fool others and, sadder still, they are able to fool themselves. Let me cite just three examples:
- Christian vocabulary is very easy to pick up and mimic. Using such terms as “fellowship,” being “born again,” or calling one another “brother” and “sister” does not mark anyone as true follower of Jesus Christ.
- Sharing the same attitude toward social “taboos” such as alcohol, tobacco, cursing, and provocative dress can effortlessly allow us to pass ourselves off as Christians. In fact, culture’s loose “sliding scale” in terms of what is “right” and what is “wrong” has influenced many contemporary churches and has made this accommodation all the easier to fake.
- And perhaps the most subtle and deceptive example are those who were born and raised in Christian families and are attempting to live on what we might call “borrowed faith.” If that was true of you as a youngster—as it was with me—those who saw you each week probably assumed that you were a Christian when you really weren’t. And by regularly attending church services, giving to the offering, and maybe even serving the church in some capacity, you can continue to fool a lot of people well into your adult years.
To borrow from Kent Hughes, “Multitudes of unregenerate church members are comfortably ensconced in their churches and no one has the gracious temerity to question the authenticity of their faith.” That is why Jesus preached, “repent and believe...the gospel.” Gospel preaching involves “repentance.” Unless sin is acknowledged, confessed, and forsaken there is no visible sign of genuine conversion. No matter how well rehearsed the act, the actor is left without hope.
If you have not yet repented of your sin and turned to Christ for salvation, then I earnestly plead with you, my friend, do so today. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” The Scriptures elsewhere declare, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Therefore, “repent and believe... the gospel.”
We find first anecdote of Jesus’ ministry as given by Mark is found in verses 16 through 20. We have considered the summary of Jesus’ message, and now we will look at...
The summons of Jesus’ men (verses 16-20)
Mark lays out the scene for us in this way: “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. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’”
I am told that the “fishing” metaphor was one that was familiar is Jesus’ time. It was used by teachers in challenging their students to be diligent in their quest for knowledge in every field of philosophy, history, and the sciences. Jesus’ mission was quite different. Rather than a broad search, He was calling them to a particular task with a single focus. And what’s more, His call might better be described as a “summons,” or even a “command.” Unlike the rabbis whose disciples sought them out, Jesus here takes the initiative by seeking for and calling out those who will be His disciples.
But what’s even more significant and something that you and I may miss is that Jesus’ call hearkened back to an Old Testament prophecy in which, after decreeing His judgment, God promises to restore His people Israel. There in the 16th verse of Jeremiah 16, we read, “‘Behold, I am sending for many fishers,’ declares the LORD, and they shall catch them.” That imagery would have captured the attention of these Jewish fishermen. And though they would not have been able to grasp the full ramifications of Jesus’ call, it would be through these same men that the Son of God would begin fulfilling the promise made by His Father so many centuries before. They and others like them would be the “fishers” who would call the true Israel back to God. If we miss that connection we miss a significant aspect of Jesus’ message and ministry.
This does not appear to have been the first time that these two fishermen would have had an encounter with Jesus. Andrew and Peter had most recently been disciples of His forerunner, but when Jesus was pointed out to them they left John and began following Him. The Apostle John records the incident in this way in the 1st chapter of his Gospel:
“The next day again John (the Baptist) was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God! The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi” (which means Teacher) “where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the sixth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter)” (John 1:35-42).
Given this earlier meeting and their decision to “follow” Jesus, the scene being described here in Mark 1 is a call to deep and full commitment...a call to authentic discipleship, if you will. Keep in mind that, given Mark’s close relationship with Peter, this anecdote bears the marks of an eyewitness account. Andrew and Peter had already become “followers” of Jesus, but now they were being called to “follow” Him yet further. Jesus had come with a radical message and a radical call. But would these two fishermen respond with radical obedience?
We don’t have to wait long for an answer. Verse 18 says, “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” It is doubtful that they understood the ramifications of following Jesus. That would become much clearer later on. Truth is, they barely knew Jesus; but what they did know was worth leaving all that had defined them in order to now identify with Him.
But the story doesn’t end with Peter and Andrew. Mark continues in verse 19: “And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending their nets.” A second pair of brothers within a short distance of the first...what are the odds of that? Jesus had found the “fishing” around the Sea of Galilee to be very good that day!
As if to reprise His first summons, we are told in verse 20 that “immediately he called” James and John to follow Him as well. And their response? “They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.” As with Peter and Andrew, theirs was a definite break with the only life they had know up to that point. They were willing to give it all up in order to go after Jesus.
It has been pointed out by some that the mention of “hired servants” suggests that Zebedee’s fishing business was lucrative enough to have enabled him to hire others. If that was indeed the case, then this would have been just the beginning of the sacrifice involved in leaving everything behind in order to be a “follower” of Jesus. “Following” Jesus can be costly, and at times involves even the severing of family ties. A more complete understanding of what that meant would come later.
So compelling is the claim upon those whom Jesus calls that all prior claims lose their validity. He affirms His relationship to those whom He calls in terms of what He will make of them and do through them. They are told that He “will make (them) become fishers of men.” That mission would be accomplished as they “followed” Him.
Sadly, preaching has fallen on hard times in our day. In many churches the ministry of the spoken Word has been replaced by entertainment and other media forms designed to draw a crowd. That being said, God is still pleased to save people through what many consider to be “the foolishness of preaching” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:21, KJV). Jesus Christ established a precedent when He began His public ministry preaching “the gospel of God.” Christopher Ash, in his book The Priority of Preaching, argues that “public preaching deserves the highest priority among all the different expressions of word ministry in the church.” I believe that with all my heart, which is why we unashamedly proclaim the Scriptures from this pulpit each week. As Paul told Timothy, he must “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Within every message from God there must be content, but there must also be a call. Jesus’ content was both simple and clear: “repent and believe...the gospel.” And the content of that message continues to resound with equal clarity and urgency today. We must turn from our sins and entrust ourselves to Him and His work on our behalf. We must place ourselves under the authority of the ideal Servant in order to become servants ourselves. There is no other message of hope for mankind. Remember, “Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Just as Jesus’ content was simple and clear, so was His call. But at the same time, it was demanding. And to this day His call to discipleship remains the same: “Follow me.” Although the content of our Lord’s message is clearer today than when these early fishermen heard it, the call that message evokes is every bit as radical. If anything it is even more radical and even more urgent than ever before. Jesus is still calling those who will hear, respond, and become His disciples by forsaking all in order to “follow” Him.
If we were encountering the Gospel of Mark for the very first time and came to the end of this passage, I think we would find ourselves asking two basic questions. First, just who is this One who calls us to “repent and believe in the gospel,” and second, what does it mean to “follow” Him.
Mark has already introduced us to this Jesus in the opening verses of his Gospel. He is none other than “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” As we noted last week, the name “Jesus” speaks of His humanity, “Christ” to His mission as the Messiah, and “Son of God” to His Deity. He is the unique one-of-a-kind God-man. That’s who He is, and that is why He has the sovereign right to call men and women to Himself.
So, what does it then mean to “follow” Him? That is an important question because Jesus’ summons is repeated twenty times in the Gospels. “Following” Jesus, of course, involves obeying Him and serving Him as Savior and Lord, but what does that look like in everyday life? What are the implications of being a “follower” of Jesus Christ? Let me suggest three things.
“Following” Jesus means turning away from sin in order to pursue a committed relationship with Jesus Christ. As our Lord expressed it elsewhere, that involves “counting the cost” (cf. Luke 14:25-33) because “following” Jesus is not an inexpensive proposition in terms of what may be involved. But that is the price of “repentance.” It is “reversing course,” so to speak and living with new values and goals in view.
In addition, “following” Jesus means hearing His message and responding to it in faith. That is what our Savior refers to when He says “believe...the gospel.” Andrew, Peter, James, and John would have had little idea at this point that the footsteps of Jesus would lead not only Him to the cross, but themselves to their own deaths for the sake of the Gospel. What they did seem to know, however, was that the “Good News” Jesus had to offer was so far superior that they were willing to forsake the life they had known and fully entrust themselves to pursuing Him.
And then third, following Jesus means sharing this Good News with others so that they might hear it and respond to it as well. From then on they would be “fishers of men.” Their metaphorical nets would be filled with men, women, boys, and girls who would in turn devote their lives to serving the ideal Servant just as they did. And on and on it would go—for more than two thousand years now—all because of a promise made by One who had come to fulfill the plan of God in His generation and, through His “followers,” to every generation since.
Much to my Dad’s chagrin, I was never a good fisherman. He took me fishing several times as a young boy, but I never learned the art of catching a fish. He would sit with me on the river bank, bait my hook, and even cast it into the water for me. He would tell me to hold the rod still and be patient because a fish would soon come along. But I’m not by nature a very patient person, and I confess to you that I never had much desire to follow his instructions. My heart simply wasn’t in it. I couldn’t have cared less if I caught a fish or not.
Perhaps the same could be said with regard to some of us with regard to being “fishers of men.” Does it move us—if not physically, then with a modicum of compassion—when we hear statistics such as four out of every ten people on the planet are unaware that a Savior has died for their sins? If it doesn’t, then how can we legitimately say that we are “followers” of Jesus? The very purpose of His mission was to give His life to rescue those who were lost without Him. And His “followers” have been called to carry on His mission until He comes again.
As we prepare to close, let me ask you to consider this. If you are not demonstrating that you are a “follower” of Jesus by “fishing for men,” then where is the evidence that you have “repent(ed) and believe(d) the gospel”?
In John 13:16 and 17, shortly before He would be taken away from them in death, Jesus reminded His disciples, “Truly, truly I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”