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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:Our Chief Prophet and Teacher Takes Up His Office
Text:Mark 1:14-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 95:1-3
Hymn 47:6-8
Psalm 40:1-3
Hymn 64
Psalm 24

Reading: Isaiah 43:14-44:5
Text: Mark 1:14-20
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,

Short messages are often popular. Unless the speaker is someone who can mesmerize his audience, we usually prefer that the words be few. Of all the messages or sermons recorded in Scripture, one of the shortest is that of the prophet Jonah. He went reluctantly to Nineveh and preached. We’re told that all he said was “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” Now perhaps he said more, it’s even likely that he said more, but this is all that’s recorded. At first glance, it sounds like a message of judgment. It sounds like a short message of bad news.

In our text, we also find a prophet giving a short message. However, this prophet is different. He brings unambiguous good news from God. The Lord Jesus is portrayed in our text as a prophet from God. In fact, we see him here as the ultimate fulfillment of all the prophets in Scripture, including Jonah. We see him here as our chief prophet and teacher taking up his official duties. That’s the theme for the sermon and under that theme we’ll consider Christ’s preaching (verses 14 and 15) and then Christ’s calling of the first disciples (verses 16 to 20).

Verse 14 introduces our passage by mentioning what happened to John. John was introduced by Mark earlier in the chapter as the one who was prophesied to prepare the way for the Messiah. He has done that and now he is put in prison. Now we know from the other gospels that Herod was behind this. But Mark is our text and we want to hear what God is saying here in this particular place. Our translation (NIV) says that John was put in prison. Literally, the Greek text says that John was handed over. There are two things to note with these words.

First of all, the way Mark wrote his gospel, it’s clear that he meant it to be read in one sitting. And if you were to read it in Greek in one sitting, there would be certain words that stand out. One of those words would be the word that is used here to describe what happened to John. This word stands out because it’s the same word used to describe what happens to Jesus later on. Just to give two examples, in Mark 3:19, Judas is said to be the one who would hand over Jesus. The same word is used. And in Mark 15:1, the Jews are handing over Jesus to Pilate. So, why is this important? Well, Mark is preparing us for the story of Jesus’ ministry. It’s not about glory as the world understands it, but about suffering and a cross.

The second thing we can note here is that Mark says that John was put in prison. Who put him there? Well, we know from elsewhere that Herod was involved. But Mark doesn’t say that. The ambiguity drives you to ask: who is really behind this? Was it really Herod or is there some bigger plan at work? From what follows, we quickly realize that this was all part of God’s scheme to start the career of Jesus as a prophet and teacher in Israel.

When John was put in prison, the Lord Jesus realized it was time for him to begin his official preaching and teaching ministry. He does this by initially going into Galilee. We so easily read over these words and fail to ask the question: why Galilee? We need to ask that question. If Jesus was concerned about becoming a person of influence in his world, it wouldn’t make any sense to go to a place like Galilee. He needed to be in a place like Jerusalem, or better yet, Corinth or Athens or maybe Alexandria or Antioch. Those were the centers of influence in Jesus’ world. But Galilee? That was major league hick country. Why there? There are at least two answers to that question.

The first answer has to do with what we just noted about the character of his ministry. It wasn’t about the prestige and influence. It wasn’t about wooing Herod or the Jewish leaders. Sure, he would eventually make his way to Jerusalem at different times. But he chose to begin his ministry in a country backwater. This fit with the character of what he was about. This was part of his humiliation and because he so clearly identifies himself with this region, the Jews in Judea and Jerusalem later ridicule him by referring to him as “the Galilean” or “the Nazarene.” These were not compliments.

The second answer has to do with his upbringing. Galilee was where Jesus grew up. His family and friends were there. And if we keep in mind that he was coming to preach good news, it makes sense that he would want to tell those closest to him first. When we have good news, we normally don’t first share it with strangers. Instead, we call up our spouse or our kids and let them know. It’s the same here with Jesus.

We’re told that he went into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God. Literally the text tells us that he was heralding the gospel. He was a messenger sent from God, acting like the prophets of old.

Verse 15 goes on to tell us exactly what this gospel, this good news, sounded like. Mark relates that he said, “The time has come.” By that he meant that the decisive time has arrived, it has been fulfilled. This is a special way of speaking about all the promises of God from Genesis to that moment. This is it! Finally, after all those centuries, the golden moment has come and the Messiah is taking his place on the pulpit.

He begins his sermon by telling the people of Galilee that the kingdom of God is near. The kingdom of God is simply the rule or reign of God. If we want to be more particular about the definition we can say that it involves God saving a people for himself, it involves God gathering those people into the church, and it involves a redeemed universe. The kingdom of God is a many-faceted thing and we could spend the rest of the sermon just considering it. But for our purposes today, we just need to see it as the reign of God about to break into the world through the work of Jesus Christ.

This is what he preached as good news to his fellow Galileans. It’s good for us to think for a moment about why this is good news. What was so good about it? Well, if God is good and God is on the throne, isn’t that a blessing? If God is saving a people for himself, isn’t it encouraging to know that he is a God of salvation, a God of grace and mercy? If God is bringing those people into his church, isn’t it wonderful to know a God who protects his people and showers blessing upon blessing on them through the means of grace? All this is near! How can that not be good news?

That was the essence of the preaching of the prophet Jesus in Galilee when he began his ministry. We can be sure that he said more, but this is what it all came down to. And this message demanded some kind of response. We find that at the end of verse 15: “Repent and believe the good news!”

Notice that the Lord Jesus gives two commands here. In his preaching, he did not invite a response. He commanded a response. He did not say, “Won’t you please consider what I have to say?” Or: “I invite you today to consider the good news about the kingdom of God. It would make me very happy if you would think about it.” Instead, he says it very boldly and directly, “Repent and believe the good news!”

Let’s consider the first part of that command: repent! We heard this word before in the preaching of John. John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The Greek word used there is metanoeo [pronounced metah-no-eh-o], which literally means to have a change of mind. Why did Jesus preach this at this moment? Where did the people of Israel need to change their mind in relation to the kingdom of God? Well, we know from various sources that their social and political agendas had lost sight of God’s kingdom. Their vision of God on the throne involved Caesar off the throne. They had a vision of renewed earthly grandeur for Israel. Apart from a small remnant, much of Israel had drifted away from loyalty to Yahweh. In all these ways, they had to be called back to a way of thinking that fit with God’s Word.

They were not only called to repent, but also to believe the good news that the kingdom of God was near. They were called to believe what this prophet was preaching. Accept his word in faith, trusting that this was good news for them.

Christ continues to bring that message to us today through various means. For instance, he is doing it through the preached Word at this very moment. And so what do we do with Christ’s message today? We could begin by thinking about the ways in which we have misunderstood the kingdom of God. What do we understand by that expression and does it fit with what God’s Word says about it? Perhaps for us, our biggest failure is in not thinking or speaking about the kingdom of God at all. Along with others, we can get taken in by the latest Christian fads, but when it comes to what Christ preached as most important, we’re way off the radar. There could be different reasons for that, but we don’t need to go into them. The point is: do we need to repent in our day as the people of Israel did in theirs before the preaching of Christ? Where are we in need of a change of mind about the kingdom of God? As then, the kingdom of God is near today – do we really believe that this is good news, not only for us, but also for others?

And when we share that good news with others, do we communicate it as Christ did? It seems that often we are reluctant to express the gospel call as the command that it is. Under different influences, we see the gospel call as the invitation of a meek and mild Jesus, rather than the command of the prophet Messiah. The call to believe the good news is a command, brothers and sisters. We can communicate it in a way that fits with our own personality, but we should never leave the impression with anyone, inside or outside the church, that obedience to this call is optional. People can choose to disobey the gospel call, but they are not allowed to. When people ignore or disobey Christ’s command, there will be eternal consequences. As believers who are in Christ, as those who share his anointing, we cannot but share the loving boldness of our chief prophet when we pass on the gospel call.

When Christ our prophet preached, God the Holy Spirit was at work to make that preaching have a good result. We see that result in the next part of the text when we consider the calling of the first disciples. This part of the passage presents us with a shift from the call to the response, from the general call of the gospel, to the particular response of individual people.

Now we don’t know exactly how much time passed between verses 15 and 16. From the other gospels, it appears that it could have been up to a year. That being what it may, the important thing is to realize that Mark does not use his characteristic word “immediately” in verse 16. That word in Greek is often translated as “at once,” or “without delay” in the NIV. But we don’t find that expression in verse 16 and this leads us to conclude that there was some length of time between verses 15 and 16.

Mark puts before us the picture of the Lord Jesus walking along the Sea of Galilee. As he walks along the lakeshore, most likely on the northwestern side, he sees Simon and Andrew. Of course, Simon will later be known as Peter. These two brothers are in their boat, not too far from shore and casting their nets into the water. That involved a net with weights around the edges. When the net was thrown onto the water, the weight would carry it to the bottom, trapping the fish along the way. Simon and Andrew were simply carrying out their daily work – probably doing the same job that their father had done, and his father before him, and so on.

Then Jesus speaks to them and his words are rather arresting. He says, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Perhaps we read these words with a bit too much familiarity. Take a step back. Keep in mind verses 14 and 15. Jesus the Prophet had been preaching throughout Galilee. He did this for some time. He developed a reputation. Unless Simon and Andrew had been in their boat the entire time, they would have heard about him. In fact, we know from John’s gospel that they’d had a previous encounter with Jesus. They knew who he was. And that explains something of the brisk character of what Christ is saying here.

He’d been preaching as a prophet and now he was calling people to follow him. He was taking on the role of a rabbi or teacher. Now the unique thing about what Christ was doing was that he was calling men to follow him. Prophets didn’t do that. Rabbis didn’t do that. Prophets called people to follow God. Rabbis called people to learn Torah from them. The Lord Jesus was doing something entirely unique when he called these men to follow him. He implied that he was God in the way he called them. And this is also seen in the fact that he didn’t give them a choice. He didn’t ask them to follow him, no, he commanded them.

He was going to make them “fishers of men.” By the appointment of Jesus Christ himself, they will become those who cast out their nets for the kingdom of God and catch men in them. When Christ says this, he is anticipating or looking forward to the job he’ll give these men after his resurrection. These words imply the Great Commission where Christ sends out the disciples to make more disciples.

And then with verse 18, right at the beginning we find that characteristic word I just mentioned a moment ago: “At once” or “immediately.” Mark tells us that they right away left their nets and followed him. They became his disciples. He became their Rabbi, their teacher. There’s a dramatic call and the response is equally dramatic. Like God at creation, Jesus speaks and it happens. We’re left in amazement at this prophet and teacher. Who is he that he can speak and create this dramatic obedience? You see these words are not here to teach us the radical character of discipleship – we learn about that elsewhere in Scripture. These words are here to leave us in awe of the Son of God, our great Prophet and Teacher. This is not about Simon and Andrew or us – this is about Christ and directing our hearts and minds to him.

Christ then moves on a bit further down the lake and he sees James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in their boat getting their nets ready for some more fishing. Right away (that word again!) he calls them and they too respond dramatically. In fact, their response is a bit more dramatic because they have their father with them. Their father would have expected them to carry on with the family business. But now this Rabbi comes and calls them to be his disciples. And they leave. Of course, there are the hired men left behind – this implies that the family was a bit on the wealthier end of the Galilean fishing industry. But nevertheless, to leave it all behind was very dramatic. They simply say farewell and become Jesus’ disciples.

One of the unusual things about this calling is the fact that Jesus chooses these particular men. These are common folk, they’re unschooled fishermen. They would have had some basic education, but nothing fancy. Again, this fits with the character of his earthly ministry. It reminds us of what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:26-27, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential, not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” You could paraphrase that by saying that Christianity is for losers. This is the way God works, this is what Christ’s ministry on earth was like and that’s why he chose these men to be his disciples. God still works this way today – a way that’s totally upside down and foreign to human ways of thinking.

Another thing we need to note is the fact that Christ takes the initiative in calling. John and other prophets had their followers. Rabbis in Jesus’ day had their disciples. But in those cases, it was usually the disciples who would take the initiative. James, John, Peter and Andrew woke up that morning and believed that they were going fishing like they’d always done. They envisioned that they would be fishing the next day and their sons and grandsons would be fishing too. But along comes Christ and he throws everything upside down by taking the initiative and calling them. That illustrates the character of all his work. He is the sovereign God. As one commentator puts it, “Becoming a disciple of Jesus is more of a gift than an achievement.” In fact, we could and should say that it is entirely a gift!

When the Lord Jesus effectively calls someone to be his disciple, his follower, when they hear his voice, they will respond in faith. And again, notice how his voice is heard in the form of a command. He doesn’t beg and plead with these men. He calls them and they come. We are Christ’s mouth today. He wants the call to discipleship to be heard from us. And if we water down his call into some kind of invitation or plea, that is not faithful to him. He is sovereign and he uses his sovereign command to draw in those whom he has chosen.

Today, our prophetic responsibility is to call people to follow him. Some will respond as dramatically as the fishermen did in our text. God has been at work with them for some time before we came along and it was just a matter of one last definitive push. Others will hear the call for the first time and it may take ten times more before the Spirit leads them to follow. Still others will hear the call merely with their ears and reject it with their hearts their whole life long. Though we long for others to become Christ’s disciples with us, the results are not our responsibility. That belongs to him. He will create obedience whereever and whenever he wills. Our responsibility is simply to be his mouth. As those who share in Christ’s anointing as a prophet, we are the means by which his voice will be heard today.

Christ preached the good news in Galilee and men believed what he preached. And so when the call to discipleship came, they responded in faith. Christ was working through his Word and Spirit to gather them to himself so that he would continue along his trajectory to the cross and our redemption. It was all part of the plan. Today, let’s thank God that he sent Christ to be our prophet and teacher. Let’s praise God that Jesus faithfully taught the good news of the kingdom. Let’s rejoice that our chief prophet and teacher continues to carry out his office today, both through us and others! AMEN.

For Further Reflection and Discussion

[this can be inserted in your liturgy sheet or church bulletin]

  1. In verse 14, Mark does not tell us any details about John’s arrest. He simply says, “After John was put in prison….” Is this brevity significant? Why or why not?
  2. Why did Christ begin his preaching ministry in Galilee?
  3. How was Christ different from the prophets and rabbis who had come before him?
  4. How does Christ's approach to Simon, Andrew, James, and John impact how we view the call to discipleship today?
  5. In his commentary on Mark, David Garland notes a number of obstacles that the call to repentance in preaching meets today. One of these is that our culture today has a shallow view of repentance. He writes about how we so easily become cynical about repentance. We see people challenged about sin, they express a commitment to amend their ways, and then nothing seems to change. He gives the example of Huckleberry Finn's alcoholic father:
"The old drunk cried and cried when Judge Thatcher talked to him about temperance and such things. Said he'd been a fool and was a-going to turn over a new leaf. And everyone hugged and cried and said it was the holiest time on record. And that night he got drunker than he had ever been before."

Reflect on our contemporary cynicism about repentance and how you may be affected by it. How does our text and the Biblical meaning of repentance and faith challenge this cynicism?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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