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Posts Tagged ‘following Jesus’

The literary structure of Mark 1:16-20

Alright, we’re back in Mark. John the Baptist has come and prepared the way. Jesus has been revealed to Israel in his baptism and has committed to his mission. And Jesus has successfully overcome the testing of Satan.

Mark tells us in 1:14-15 that “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” This tells us that Jesus is going around Galilee preaching this.

And now today we begin to see him in action in specific stories, here ministering to two sets of brothers – Peter and Andrew, and James and John. Let’s look at these two parallel calling stories of these four fishermen.

Mark 1:16-20

And we begin with some background

16Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee . . .”

The sea of Galilee is really an inland fresh lake. It’s 12.5 miles long and 7 miles wide at its widest point. Jesus is around or even on the Sea of Galilee for most of his ministry in Galilee. This is the central setting all the way through chapter 8 of Mark.

map of Galilee

Fish was the staple meat item in the ancient Greco-Roman world. And there was a booming fishing industry at this time in Galilee – with fish even being exported to Syria and Egypt. As we will see, James and John’s father Zebedee had a boat and hired hands to work. And Luke 5:10 tells us that Simon and Andrew and James and John were business partners. So, they were not dirt poor laborers, as they are sometimes portrayed – but more like middle class, business-people.

The calling of Simon and Andrew

16. . . Jesus saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Simon, or as he’s nicknamed by Jesus, Peter (3:16) and Andrew are originally from Bethsaida (John 1:44) but now live and work in Capernaum. (It’s not clear whether they were on the shore or in a boat).

Jesus calls them to “follow me.” Literally he says, “come after me.” He’s inviting them to become his disciples and full time apprentices (France). They are being called to join him in his mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God.

He specifically says, “I will make you become fishers of people.” The idea seems to be that just as they cast their nets and gather together fish, so they will come to gather together people for the kingdom of God. (Fishing references in the OT are all negative – Amos 4:2; Habakkuk 1:14-17; Jeremiah 16:16; Ezekiel 29:4-5). (See Jesus’ positive image of net fishing as gathering in people for the kingdom in Matthew 13:47-50) (The negative view of the Sea and the deep may be in the background here. It represents chaos, evil and death. The “fish” are delivered from this.)

And Jesus will train them to do this, “I will make you become” this. This is why they need to follow him and learn from him. And we see them doing just this, especially after Jesus’ death and resurrection in the book of Acts.

There’s no need to think that this is the first time they met Jesus. As Mark indicates, Jesus has been preaching the good news in Galilee (1:14-15). And the Gospel of John tells us that Andrew and Peter knew Jesus before this, with Andrew, at least, being a disciple of John the Baptist. (The way Luke tells the story in 5:1-11, Jesus is first in Simon’s house and there is also a miracle involved on the boat before they leave everything).

So their response, “immediately they left their nets and followed him” wasn’t done on a whim. They knew who Jesus was and had considered his message. (Most commentators go on about how Jesus’ authoritative presence and call is the explanation for them immediately leaving their nets to follow him. But, of course, many didn’t listen to Jesus, including the rich young ruler – Mark 10:17-22. His authority is rather displayed by his call to “follow me.” More below.)

The calling of James and John

19And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

There are several people named James connected to Jesus. This is not James the son of Alphaeus, one of the 12 (3:18). And it’s not James the brother of Jesus, who later led the Jerusalem church. James the son of Zebedee is the one who was killed by Herod Agrippa as described in Acts 12:1-2. So this was a fateful decision for him. He died for his choice here to follow Jesus.

As with Peter and Andrew, Jesus engages them in the midst of their work of fishing. Here, it says, “he called them.” If Peter and Andrew’s calling emphasized leaving career behind, here the emphasis includes not just the family business but also leaving family behind. It says, “they left their father Zebedee.”

These four disciples remained important for the Christian movement. They are the first four names on all the lists of the 12 apostles in the New Testament (See also Mark 13:3). And the three – Peter, James and John became the inner core of his disciples (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33), with Peter being the leader.

Now, let’s look at some –

Key themes and challenges

– from this passage.

First, there’s a real emphasis in this first part of Mark’s Gospel on Jesus’ authority or power. As we will see in the next few chapters – Jesus has authority over demons, to forgive sins, to heal, to perform miracles, to rule on proper Sabbath observance and so on.

This shows up in our story in that Jesus operates differently than Jewish rabbis did. They waited for students to seek them out. But here Jesus calls those he desires. And he does so in a distinctive way. He doesn’t say, ‘come follow God,’ or ‘follow the Law.’ He says “follow me.” He is the focus. (There are some similarities with Elijah’s prophetic call of Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21).

Well, Jesus is our authority. It’s not Moses, but Jesus. As he says in Matthew 23:10 – “You have one instructor, the anointed one” or “Christ.” And it’s Jesus who gives us the highest revelation of God’s will and purpose for our lives – not just as a fellow human being, but as God incarnate. Jesus is our authority and we are to follow him as well.

A second theme is just this, following Jesus. As I said, Jesus calls these four fisherman to be his full time apprentices. This meant that they had to leave their occupations behind and their family, so that they could travel with him. They literally followed Jesus around Galilee and beyond, learning from him.

As Peter later reflected in Mark 10:28, speaking to Jesus, he said “we have left everything and followed you.” Now this didn’t mean they sold everything they had, like Jesus asked the rich young ruler. Peter and Andrew still had their boat and fishing gear as we see in John 21:3. And likely the boat Jesus uses at various times during his ministry was theirs (or James and John’s). And they kept their house; it doubled as a house church. And they still saw their family. As we will see soon, Peter and Andrew’s house in Capernaum becomes their home base.

But it was a severe disruption and change in their lives. In that sense they are models for those called to lead and to proclaim the good news of Jesus today. These first leaders in Jesus’ newly forming community had a change of vocation and a change in their family life.

Now all Christians are called to follow Jesus in a more general way, as Jesus says in Mark 8:34 – “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Whether you are a leader or not, following Jesus will change everything about your life. Just think for a moment about what it means to deny yourself and to take up your cross. And in this sense these four followers of Jesus are models for all Christians.

A third theme is Jesus’ new community. The ‘authorities that be’ have already rejected John the Baptist, who was to turn their hearts to God. And soon they will reject Jesus as well.

And so right away Jesus begins to build an alternative people of God; a remnant. And this means selecting and training leaders. A few verses from ours today (1:29-34) he also plants his first house church. These are the ones who will support him and these leaders as they minister.

But what I want to highlight is the priority Jesus places on the church; his community. It’s right at the top. And so I ask you, ‘Do you prioritize the church, God’s new people, God’s new nation on this earth?’ It’s absolutely central to God’s plan for the kingdom. We are the people God has chosen to use to transform the world  and no other. Is it central to you?

And then one final theme, people fishing. These four fisherman were called to “become fishers of people” as leaders among his people. But all of us are to be involved in this in whatever way we can; it’s the call of the whole church, not just its leaders.

And so I ask, ‘How are you doing gathering people in for the kingdom?’ With the gifts that God has given you and with the circumstances of life that God has put you in, how’s it going?

This story shows us that Jesus didn’t come to do everything for us. He came to do what only he could do,  but what we can do he came to empower us to do. We are a part of God’s kingdom plan and we can’t be passive; we can’t sit on the sidelines. We must also, like these disciples join in and follow Jesus and take up the work.

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Series: Clothe yourselves with humility

Today we finish up our series on humility. Remember with me these basics:

The proud are those who raise themselves up:

  • to be honored because they think they are better than others
  • to be above others; to be separate and in charge
  • to be served by others
  • to have what they want, what’s best and easiest for them

Notice how all of this is self-centered.

The humble, however, are those who lower themselves:

  • to forsake seeking honor
  • to be with others on the same level
  • to serve the needs of others and to lower themselves to do this
  • to sacrifice,  as they serve, lowering themselves still further

Notice how this is completely other centered.

Well, we have talked about what it means for us as individuals to clothe ourselves with humility, but today we ask the question, “What does a humble congregation look like?”

And we are working with the same four components of humility that we have just reviewed.

1. A humble church remembers its own lowliness

As a group we know that we are not better than anyone else that might come to our door, or any group of people that we reach out to.

Luke 18:9-14 says, “Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”

It’s easy to forget that we are forgiven sinners ourselves. And that God loves those who have needs and problems just as much as he loves us. And that if we don’t have those same needs and problems, it’s because of the grace of God. And it is this same grace that we are to share with those who come to us.

Paul had to deal with a church that had some who were proud. This is what he says in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 – “For consider your calling, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

He calls them to remember their lowliness. And that God loves the lowly, and works his will through them – so why try to lift yourself up?

  • A proud church thinks it’s better than others.
  • A humble church knows that it is not better than anyone who comes to its doors or that it seeks to reach out to. It gives up lifting itself up, just as Jesus set aside his glory in heaven to come to us (Philippians 2:6-7).

2. A humble church is with the lowly

What I am trying to say here is that we don’t just relate to those who are like us, or those we are comfortable with, we also and especially relate to and are with the lowly.

Who are the lowly?

  • Those who are rejected. In Jesus’ day these were the sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and lepers.
  • Those who have low social status. in Jesus’ day this included women, children and slaves.
  • Those who are weak. In Jesus’ day this included the poor, the unlearned, the sick, the demonized, the mentally ill, older people and the disabled.

Who are the rejected today? Who are those with low social status? Who are those who are weak today? I would suggest that the list is much the same. And we are called to be with them in relationship, not to pull away as if we are better.

Think about the example of Jesus’ ministry. He said in Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed . . ..” He also said in Matthew 9:12-13 – “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

James talks about some who were proud in James 2:2-4. He rebukes those who favored the rich over the poor in their fellowship. He says, “if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

  • A proud church sees the lowly as beneath them. Sometimes it even pushes them away or treats them with contempt.
  • A humble church follows Jesus’ example and is also in relationship with the lowly.

3. A humble church serves the lowly

We serve by lowering ourselves to meet the needs of others and to lift them up. And what I’m saying is that we don’t just serve those who are like us, or those we are comfortable with, or just people who are already in our group We also and especially serve the lowly.

As he said in Matthew 9:12 he is the doctor who seeks to make the sick whole, not those who are healthy:

– Jesus’ preached to the lowly and invited them to receive God’s grace, forgiveness and acceptance. He preached “good news the poor” – Luke 4:18.

– He helped with their needs through healing and casting out demons. Through him the Spirit brought “recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” – Luke 4:18.

– He included the lowly in his congregation of disciples, for instance Matthew the tax collector – Matthew 9:9.

  • A proud church wants to serve certain people, those like us, who will benefit our congregation, our programs, who fit into our social events, who make us look good.  If the lowly are served it is at a distance and not with personal contact.
  • A humble church serves the lowly, following Jesus’ example who “came not to be served, but to serve” – Mark 10:45.

4. A humble church sacrifices for the lowly

As we lower ourselves to serve others, it will cost us and to sacrifice means we are willing to do this for the well-being of others. And what I’m saying is that we don’t just sacrifice for those who are like us, or those we are comfortable with, or just people who are already in our group. We also and especially sacrifice for the lowly.

Jesus tells a parable about the lowly in Luke 15:4-6 – “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” Hey, it’s way easier to hang out with the 99. It takes work to go a find those who are lost. It takes a sacrifice of time and effort.

But of course, the supreme example of his sacrifice for the lowly is when he laid down his life on the cross. And we are to lay down our lives and this includes sacrificially serving the lowly. Jesus gave up everything for the lowly. What have you given up?

  • A proud church wants what makes it comfortable and takes the easy road.
  • A humble church make sacrifices to serve those in need, following the example of Jesus who “came not to be serve but to serve and to give his life” on the cross – Mark 10:45

Now, congregation we have many opportunities to be a humble church. . .. May God help us to grow in our willingness to be with and to sacrificially serve the lowly.

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 I want to share some words today that I hope will help us to understand and remember how significant it is to receive the Lord’s supper. When we partake, we not only remember Jesus; we not only proclaim his death; we not only give thanks for the salvation he gives  – we are also called to do something. We are called to follow Jesus in his self-sacrifice. And we need to know and remember this as we partake. Our text is –

Luke 9:23-24

 23And Jesus said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’”

In this passage Jesus calls us to sacrifice; to give it all up for him. And he describes what this means with three phrases:

1) He said “deny yourself.” That is, say ‘no’ to your own desires, ambitions and plans. Say ‘no’ to what you want to do with your earthly life.

2) He said “take up your cross.” A cross, of course, was an instrument of death, a particularly cruel means to enact capital punishment. To take it up is to carry the cross beam to the execution site where you are to die. This means that you accept that your earthly life is over.

3) And in line with this last thought, he said, “lose your life.” Give up your earthly life.

Now let’s look at our Lord’s example for he lived this out.

Jesus gave it all up for us

1. He gave up his place with the Father. Philippians 2:6-7 says that Jesus, “ . . . though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself . . . being born in the likeness of men.”

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

The gospel of John tells us that Jesus left “the glory that (he) had with (the Father) before the world existed” in order to dwell among us. (John 17:5; 1:14).

He gave up all privilege, power and place. He gave up things beyond what we can even begin to understand, to come to earth.

2. He gave up a normal life. When he grew up he left his family. And he also incurred their disapproval. At one point Mark tells us that his family “went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” – Mark 3:21

He gave up the joy of having a wife and children. As he said in Matthew 19:12, he made himself a eunuch “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

He gave up having a normal home. Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” – Matthew 8:20.

He gave up a normal pattern of living – with a normal job, regular friends, and free time for himself. He gave up his earthly life.

3. He served others. He gave all of his time and energy to ministry. He gave his love and concern and compassion. As he said in Mark 10:45, “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.”

He made himself available to minister to people’s needs, traveling almost constantly, healing, casting out demons and teaching. And then there was the arguing with the religious leaders who always tried to find ways to discredit him.

And he did all this to the point of exhaustion. Mark 6:30-32 tells the story how Jesus sought to get away for a time of rest with his disciples, but the crowd learned of this and beat him to the place where he was going. But when he saw this, he still had compassion on them and fed the 5,000.

He bore with people’s weaknesses. For instance when the disciples didn’t get what he was teaching them. Mark 8:17-18 says, “And Jesus . . .  said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?’” These were the ones he had invested his time in to train to take over after his death.

He was also frustrated by people’s failures. When his disciples couldn’t cast out a demon, he said, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” – Mark 9:19. And Jesus had to do it. Again, these were the ones he was leaving in charge.

In love, Jesus served others with his life and bore with those he ministered to.

4. He suffered. He suffered rejection from the Pharisees and Sadducees, his opponents. John tells us that, “he came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:8). He endured the rejection of his own disciples who abandoned him in the end. Even Peter denied him with curses and oaths – Matthew 26:74.

He suffered the loss of honor as he was mercilessly mocked by the Jewish leaders and Romans. He was put to shame.

He suffered physically through extensive torture and crucifixion, being nailed to the cross, and eventually unable to breathe due to exhaustion. Jesus suffered.

5. He died. As Mark 15:37 says, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.”

This is a five-fold portrait of what it means to deny yourself, to take up your cross and to lose your life. This is what these things mean. Jesus shows us fully and truly.

And if you think that it was easy for Jesus to give it all up because he was the Son of God – you’re mistaken. Just look at him in Gethsemane. Scripture tells us that Jesus “began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said . . . ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’” – Mark 14:33-34. He struggled in prayer, “Is this the only way, God?”

His giving up everything is portrayed in the Lord’s supper. Here we see represented his broken body and his poured out blood. Here we see that he denied himself, he took up his cross and he lost life. He gave it all up for us.

Jesus call us to give it all up for him

 He is saying, I denied myself for you. I took up the cross for you. I lost everything for you. Now you deny yourself for me. Take up your cross for me. Lose everything for me.

1. We are to give up our privilege, power and place. This is the commitment. It has to all be on the altar. Even if Jesus says to me, like the rich young ruler,  “Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor . . . and come, follow me” – Luke 18:22, this is what I will do.

Now God doesn’t call everyone to do this. But whatever God specifically calls me to in my life circumstances, this is what I will do. And God calls us each of us to give up something, as we lower ourselves like Jesus and come to a place where we can be used by God.

2. We are to give up a normal life. He might call you to give it all up like he did with Paul. To leave family behind (Mark 10:28-30), to give up marriage and children (Matthew 19:11-12), a normal home (Matthew 8:19-22), a normal job, regular friends, and free time. Each of us commit to do this. It has to all be on the altar.

But even if we are not called to literally give all this up, we must accept the disruption of normal family ties due to our faith.

  • Even if it seems that we hate them in comparison to our love for Jesus, and they react to it (Luke 14:26).
  • Even if we are married, with children and normal jobs, as Paul says, because of the coming kingdom, “let those who have wives live as though they had none . . . For the present form of this world is passing away.” – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.
  • Even if we have free time, we regularly give it up for God and to do God’s work.
  • Even if we are blessed with resources we don’t hold on to them for ourselves, we use them to further the kingdom.

3. We are to serve others with our time and resources. In love we are to minister to their needs. This will depend on our gifts and callings, but each of us is to serve, whether in this congregation  or beyond it.

So find your place, plug in and get to work. And don’t be surprised if this is hard work bearing with people’s weaknesses and failures. But we continue to serve others in love, as Jesus did.

4. We are to suffer. We must be willing to suffer rejection, from family, friends and coworkers (Luke 14:26). We must be willing to suffer the loss of honor, even if it is only ridicule or slander for our connection to Jesus (Matthew 5:11). We must be willing to suffer physically as well.

5. We are to die. We take up our cross “daily” (Luke 9:23) in all these ways that we have looked at so far -#1-4. But here we are to literally die, if it comes to this; if this is what it means to be faithful to God.

Again we have a five-fold portrait of the cross. And each of us are to live this out in our own situations, according to God’s will and purpose for us. But our commitment is all the same – it has to all be on the altar. For anything that isn’t, family, job, home, will become an idol that will disrupt and destroy our Christian life.

So let’s remember

When we partake of the Lord’s supper – we don’t just see Jesus having given it all up for us in the bread and cup, we renew our commitment to give it all up for him and to live this out in whatever way God calls us to do this.

But let’s also remember the promise. When we do this, we will be blessed. It isn’t all just sacrifice. We give up this life in order to gain the next life – something both better and enduring.

As Jesus said in Luke 9:24, “whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” We will enter into the eternal kingdom. Just as Jesus was raised, honored and blessed, so we will be raised, honored and blessed.

William Higgins 

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