Things are moving quickly. Mark doesn’t take the time to tell us about John the Baptist’s imprisonment and death. John has been arrested and the scene shifts to the beautiful hillsides around the Sea of Galilee. Jesus proclaims the “gospel of God”. “Gospel” means “Good News” Therefore it is the good news of God, and the good news is that the kingdom of God is at hand.
The Jews already understood the term the “kingdom of God” from the Old Testament. The Kingdom of God was God’s reign over the whole world, but it was also a coming kingdom when peace and justice would be restored and God himself would be the King of Israel. To the ancient mind the kingdom was the king and the king was the kingdom. When Jesus says, “the time is fulfilled” everybody would have been excited. They were looking for the Messiah. The two main prophecies had been fulfilled already: the Jews had returned to their land from exile and the temple of Jerusalem had been rebuilt. When Jesus said “the kingdom of God is at hand” they were more than ready to welcome their king.
But where was the king and who was he? At this point they didn’t realize Jesus himself was both the king and the kingdom. He said, “Repent and believe the gospel” That was the message John the Baptist was preaching. Was Jesus just another prophet preparing the way for the coming King? Do you sometimes have the same uncertainty about Jesus? Is he just another prophet? Is he just another good teacher? Is he just another religious leader? Is he just another martyr for a cause? This is the mystery of the Kingdom–that each person must face this mysterious Christ and decide.
How do you have this encounter with Christ? How do you get to see him for who he really is? It’s right there in front of you!
“Repent and Believe the Gospel” I’m writing this on Ash Wednesday evening. I must have said that phrase 500 times today as I imposed ashes. When you repent you open your mind and your heart to a new way of seeing. You say, “I don’t have all the answers” then you can learn. You say, “I was wrong. I was blind” Then at once you can learn what is right and your eyes are opened.
Second thing is “Believe the Gospel”. Once your eyes are opened you begin to see Jesus for who he really is. He is not only the Kingdom incarnate. He is the gospel incarnate for he is the Word made flesh. “Believe the gospel” means identify with Christ. Take him into you and you into him. Make his heart your heart. Live in him and he in you. There must be the transaction of faith in which you begin to live in him. This is a reality. This is what it means to “believe the gospel”–not just signing up to a statement of faith. That would be far, far too easy.
OK. Next he calls the first disciples. Belief must follow repentance. Action must follow belief. Jesus is a man of action. That’s why Mark’s language is so brilliant in its economy and it’s strikingly active pace. Jesus cuts through Mark’s gospel like a hot knife through butter. He zooms through this world on a mission from God.
They were fishermen and he promised to make them fishers of men. Notice when Christ calls us he does not take us out of our usual gifts and vocations, but he transforms those gifts and vocations from the inside out. He takes a philosopher of psychology and the guy ends up writing books on how to memorize the Scriptures. He takes an actor and makes a preacher. He takes a mother and makes a nurse. Grace perfects nature. Jesus perfects who we already are and adds a new dimension to our reality.
Then he calls James and John. A bit later he gives them the nickname “Sons of Thunder.” I like that. He chooses ordinary unlettered, working class guys. God’s little stroke of genius. Because they were simple, honest working men they would be trusted in a way that a smart sophisticated, educated person like Paul would not. They were ordinary country folk. They were the most unlikely and unable to fabricate the stories they would eventually tell about Jesus and who he really was.
They didn’t have the tools in their toolbox to make it up, so it must be true. They might have exaggerated it a bit, but there were four of them. They would have corrected each other.
Two last details: This fishermen story with the concise details: “casting their net” and “mending their nets”. The mention of the father Zebedee by name and the hired men…all this points to Peter as the person behind the story. You can almost hear Mark recounting the story much as he heard it from Peter. Don’t let any wacky New Testament scholars tell you that these stories are all fairy tales cooked up to give meaning to the “fishers of men” idea. Nonsense. Here we have an immediate, vivid and personal account of the life changing encounter with Christ.
The last thing is this: Notice Jesus’ amazing authority right from the very beginning. He sees these men, knows them and calls them and they respond immediately. Some commentators believe they had already known Jesus and heard his preaching. This speculation is okay. Nevertheless, the four men heard the call, got up from their work and their ordinary world and followed Jesus.
This is the classic pattern of the hero’s quest. You are in your ordinary world when you hear the call to adventure. You have a moment of enlightenment, realize that it is now or never and you leave your comfort zone and set out you know not where except that there will a great risk for a great treasure and that it is your time.