“After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news! ” As He was passing along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. “Follow Me,” Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for, people! ” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in their boat mending their nets. Immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him.” (Mark 1:14-20 HCSB)
Well, today is the day of the BIG game. To be honest, I’ll have to go look at who’s actually playing this evening in the Super Bowl. Two reasons, I don’t watch much professional football (I prefer college football) and neither of the two teams playing in this game are of importance to me. After a quick Google search, I was reminded that it is Super Bowl LVI and will be played between the LA Rams and Cincinnati Bengals this evening. Each year I marvel at those who spend tons of money on tickets to attend the event or on new, bigger TVs and enough food/snacks to feed a small army. My email account was inundated last week by advertisements from various companies about their deals/sales on the newest and biggest TVs just in time for the big game. If I watch, it will only be for the commercials.
One of the frustrations that most pastors face is that we want our folks to be as excited about Jesus as they are about a sporting event. It isn’t just the Super Bowl that elicits these feelings, but it is certainly representative of them. In fact, there are a few memes making the rounds on social media about members getting excited enough about Jesus that they douse the pastor in Gatorade at the end of his sermon. Hey, if it would get folks motivated for Jesus, bring it on. If you’ll sprint to the altar, spike your bible and do a victory dance then I’ll take a water cooler full of Gatorade on my head. Deal?
In all seriousness, I want us to think about today’s passage in light of these ideas and to consider Jesus’ response to John’s arrest and His call upon Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow Him.
In the opening phrase, Mark tells us that “after John was arrested” Jesus proceeded into Galilee preaching the good news of God. We aren’t given any details related to John’s arrest, so Mark must assume we know the complete backstory and the reaction Herod Antipas (also known as Herod the Tetrarch, the son of Herod the Great – see Matt 2), the ruler over Galilee and Perea, had towards John’s preaching. John had called not only the common people to repentance, but all of Israel’s political and religious leadership, as well, and he specifically targeted Herod and his marriage to Herodias. She had been originally married to Herod II, Herod Antipas’ half brother, and divorced him in spite of Jewish laws that forbade it and married Herod Antipas. That was a rather bold condemnation on John’s part and a move that resulted in Herod’s displeasure and John’s incarceration.
While Mark assumes we know this backstory (either from personal knowledge or historical record), he really wants us to focus on how Jesus responded to John’s preparations: Jesus began to preach the good news of God. John was calling people to be baptized and to confess their sins in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, the promised Son of God. As soon as John is arrested, Jesus the Messiah bursts onto the scene preaching the good news of God: “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!” It is important to note how Mark ties John’s preparation with God’s response, as seen last week, and how Jesus picks right up and continues preaching the Good News of God. John had prepared the way and God responded, exploding onto the scene in Jesus, His Son.
The message Jesus is preaching (and calls us to preach) is critically important because it points directly at the fulfillment of God’s promises: the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe! John’s message was preparatory but Jesus’ message is fulfillment. John’s message was that God was about to do something big and Jesus’ message is that God IS doing something big, right now! Keeping with my introductory theme, John’s message was the lead up hype and pre-game show and Jesus’ message is the play by play.
So, what is God doing and what does this mean for you and me? Jesus says that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. Why near? Simply put, because not everyone is submissive to God’s reign over their lives. While God is sovereign and quite capable of enforcing His absolute reign over us, He has made us with the capacity to love and to truly love we must have the capacity to choose who to love and whether or not to love them. Hence, He also gave us free will and the ability to choose right or wrong, good or evil, love or hatred. So, the kingdom of God has come near but has not been embraced by all mankind, those whom God loves.
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 HCSB)
So you see, while God loves everyone not everyone loves Him in return and God has given us the ability to reject His love, His presence and His peace in our lives. Ultimately, scripture tells us that God will give us the desires of our heart (Ps. 37:4). If our desire is for Him (Mk 12:30) then that will be our eternal reward and if our desire is anything less that will be our eternal regret (Matt. 25:30). This idea is a bit hard to grasp for those who have never “tasted” the goodness of God but He has given us glimpses of His goodness, tiny examples of His boundless love all around us, though we often overlook them: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge. (Psalms 19:1-2 HCSB)
The Psalmist said that we can glimpse His power, majesty and glory as we look into the heavens and marvel at its beauty, its glory and its sheer vastness. We glimpse the depth and breadth of His unfathomable love in the eyes of a mother as she holds her newborn infant tenderly against her breast. We glimpse God’s sacrificial love as a father gives his all to protect his family from harm and provide for their care each day. We even glimpse God’s steadfast love as an aging wife feeds and cares for her husband because he can no longer do these things for himself. The evidence is all around us, if we would just see it.
“…and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19 HCSB)
Jesus has brought the kingdom of God near us, close enough to catch a clear glimpse of its unbelievable power, its eternal glory, its unfathomable grace and its boundless love. When that happens, He calls us to repentance and faith as we grow in lifelong obedience to Him and absolute trust in Him and that’s the next part I want you to see…
As Jesus was passing along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew fishing and He called them to “follow” Him and He would make them fish for people. The same thing happened a little farther down the shoreline when He came upon James and John, Zebedee’s sons. I want you to realize something, these men followed Jesus, in that moment, because they had already caught a glimpse of who He was, the Son of God. Mark has just told us that Jesus went about Galilee preaching the good news of God’s kingdom and when He passes by these two sets of fishermen brothers, He challenges them to leave their nets and join Him. No doubt, they had already been confronted by the truths He spoke, the authority by which He spoke and the evidence of God’s Spirit in His life and actions. They were confronted by a choice that involved an incredible amount of trust and they chose… to trust Him and follow by faith.
For most of us, the outcome of tonight’s BIG game will have no real consequences. We may watch the game, enjoy the competition and even rejoice with the winner or moan for the loser but the outcome won’t impact our life in any tangible way. However, the same can’t be said of Jesus’ disciples in their decision to trust and follow Jesus. For them, this truly becomes a matter of life and death. These men and women saw enough evidence to convince them of Jesus’ identity that they willingly walked away from their livelihoods with incredible trust and followed Him. Consider these responses from others:
“As they were traveling on the road someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go! ” Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” “Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.” But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62 HCSB)
Here’s my question for you: Whose team are you aligning yourself with for eternity? You too are confronted by overwhelming evidence and a choice, whether you realize it or not. In a court of law, reliable and consistent eyewitness testimony is considered to be one of the best and most trusted forms of evidence. As we study the Gospel of Mark, you are going to be continually confronted by eyewitness testimony regarding Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. But it’s not enough to know the facts or even acknowledge the truth, it’s a matter of love, loyalty and trust. Who do you love most, yourself or God? Much like tonight’s game, your loyalty to the one you love is clearly evident in your fashion, actions and reactions. What loyalty do yours reflect? Trust is evident in your commitment to obedience regardless of where it leads, what it asks or how much it costs.
“I assure you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel, who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and eternal life in the age to come.” (Mark 10:29-30 HCSB)
If you were arrested for being a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Let me ask that question in a different manner… If Jesus were to walk into your life, your home, your office, or onto your job site and say: “Leave it all behind and come follow Me,” would you? To be blunt, that’s precisely what a call to faith in Jesus is. It’s a call to leave your loves, loyalties and life goals behind and to follow Him. You may balk at those demands but Jesus said: “No man can serve two masters, since he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money.” (Matt. 6:24)
Forgive me for asking once more, which team are you on?