What is our call to? What does the call of some early disciples teach us about our call from God?
We will learn that our call is first and foremost to a change of heart, to believe.
We will look at Mark 1:14-20 and the call of Simon, Andrew, James and John.
The Gospel of Mark
Early writers, who were closest to the source, claim that Mark one of the seventy Apostles, wrote down this work. So wrote Papias, who spoke with many disciples of the Apostles, Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, the unknown author of the Muratorian Fragment, Tertullian, Jerome and Tatian. They record that Mark was written before Peter’s death. Some modern scholars are doubters and do not believe the witness of early church fathers. Internal evidence is consistent with and confirms the traditional view. Anciently, chronology was not as important as the lesson structure and so like much ancient literature, some parts of Mark may be out of time order. Mark is the shortest of the gospels. It moves at high speed with a sense of urgency. It is not an urgency of fear, but of the immanence of the reign of God.
Lutheran author Brian Stoffregen writes that the Gospel is: 1) Victory — anciently, victory in war. A messenger would shout, "We won!" The Gospel is the victory of Jesus Christ. Christians see the cross as victory not defeat. 2) Shouted — The Gospel is proclaimed (Mark 1:14; 13:10; 14:9; 16:15). It is more of a declaration, a shout than a doctrine or teaching. It is like fans shouting at a sports match. 3) Believed — The Gospel is to be believed (Mark 1:15). We declare that God forgives all our wrongs. 4) Life-changing — The Gospel motivates our lives (Mark 8:35; 10:29). It makes a difference in how we live. Our actions are evidence of our belief. Francis of Assisi said to preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words.
The Reign of God
In Mark 1:15 Jesus said that the kingdom of God has come near. The word reign is sometimes preferred to kingdom, not just to bow to gender sensitivities or other possibly suspect motives, but for good reasons. The word kingdom carries with it connotations of a small elite class that abuses and makes capital of the majority. Such “royalty” is totally foreign to the sovereignty of God. Words like reign or dominion help us understand that the kingdom of God is not necessarily understood by this world’s political terms. Others prefer to use the original Greek word basileia but using specialized jargon is useless for helping the average person understand God’s government. We enter that reign of God when we do God’s will (Matthew 7:21). It grows as more people submit to God’s dominion now and for eternity.
The Reign of God is Now
In Mark’s version of Jesus’ ministry, the first public words out of his mouth were, “The time has come!” (Mark 1:15) Some translations render that as the time is fulfilled or simply put, “Time’s up!” (the Message). This goes against the idea that the kingdom of heaven is entirely future, after this life is over. The fact is that the time for God’s rule is both now and in the future. Parables such as the mustard seed and leaven indicate a reign of God that grows. If it grows, it exists now as well as in the future. The words repent and believe are said in a sense that something is present with us now, not to come over 2,000 years later. In response to that kingdom call, the disciples immediately left their nets. The time has come!
Call to Radical Decision
In the New International Commentary on the New Testament, William Lane describes Jesus' message at the start of his ministry as a call "to radical decision." Mark 1:15 shows Jesus preaching in effect that the time is now, the sovereign authority of God is near, have a radical change of heart and mind and believe the good news. The description of the kingdom being near is not completely clear. We do learn later that Jesus is the door and the king of that wonderful kingdom. Throughout his ministry Jesus constantly confronted people with the nature of a kingdom decision. It was a life-altering vote between this world with its empty promises and vain pursuits and the next with its promise of an exciting eternal life. Let us too make a radical decision because the sovereign authority of God is near.
Like us, Jonah was called by God to do a job, but he ran away (Jonah 3:1-5, 10). He refused his divine calling. After being half-drowned and gulped down by a big fish, Jonah promised to fulfill his calling. Given a second chance to answer God’s call, Jonah to the message of repentance to the great city of Nineveh, modern day Mosul in Northern Iraq. Unlike many of our stubborn, modern nations, this ancient Assyrian city repented. They even fasted. God saw their repentance and changed his mind about punishing them. Jonah had issues over God forgiving enemies that may have committed atrocities such as Assyria was known for. God changes his mind about judgment and he has that right. Are we willing to forgive as God does? Are we willing to repent as Nineveh did (Mark 1:15)?
Repentance not Penance
Jesus preached repentance (Mark 1:15). Louw and Nida define it as the “result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness.” Friberg explains that it means to “change ones mind.” UBS calls it a “change of heart.” Repentance is not penance. Penance is restitution. A desire to set things right is good but no deeds can pay for our sins. The word penance and modern definitions of repentance which have been derived from it such as claiming that repentance is a “change of direction” do injustice to the concept of grace. Even John the baptizer recognized that any such change of life was not repentance itself but rather fruits of it (Matthew 3:8). We don’t perform to earn grace, but we do good deeds in gratitude for grace freely given by God. (Louw-Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. 1988. United Bible Societies. Friberg.; Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. 2005. Trafford Publishing. Newman, Barclay.; UBS Greek New Testament. 1966. United Bible Societies.; http://www.metanoiaministries.org/Historical.html)
A fad today claims that religion and Jesus’ teachings are two different things. It defines religion differently than the Bible does (James 1:26-27) where it is simply a translation of a word meaning worship or ceremony. It is a neutral word which needs more explanation in a sentence to separate good from bad religion. Defining all religion as against Jesus is ignorance of the word’s meaning. It is part of a modern fad of interpreting the Bible by human whim rather than serious study, blaming the Holy Spirit for fanciful modern inspiration and ignoring his inspiration throughout Christian history. When Jesus announced that the reign of God is at hand (Mark 1:15), he was not speaking of a kingdom of this world, but ‘the nature of true religion, here termed by our Lord, "the kingdom of God."’ (Wesley, John. ed. by Thomas Jackson. Sermons on Several Occasions, The Way to the Kingdom, Sermon 7. 1872. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library)
The Religion of Jesus Christ
Religion and Jesus’ teachings are not two different things as some falsely claim. The religion of Jesus Christ and that taught by human tradition may sometimes be two different things (Galatians 1:13-14). Jesus taught “true religion,” not “mere outside religion” but “religion of the heart.” His religion is a “participation of the divine nature.” That is where repentance finds its root, in a change of heart which results in outward good works. When hearts are void of repentance, then any ceremonies become empty religion. Ceremonies are not wrong. Jesus instituted the bread and wine, which are very important ceremonies of his religion. However, even that is empty religion if not accompanied by a change of heart. That is why the first words from Jesus in regard to the realm of God were for people to repent (Mark 1:15). (Wesley, John. ed. by Thomas Jackson. Sermons on Several Occasions, Preface, First Series, Consisting of Fifty-Three Discourses and Sermon 3, Awake, Thou That Sleepest. 1872. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library)
Repentance as Positive Change
Is repentance negative or positive? Jesus did not use it in the negative sense of turning away from sin or changing our ways, but positively in turning to the Gospel. Sinners repent but the negative phrase “repent of sins” is not to be found in the Gospels. Repentance comes from two Greek words, “meta” meaning after or beyond or even outside, and “nous” meaning thought or reason. So “metanoia” or repentance is a life-changing afterthought, rethinking after we have sinned. Thinking outside the box and thinking outside of one’s self are akin to repentance. What did Jesus ask us to think about? He did not say “repent of sins.” Rather, he asked us to “REPENT AND BELIEVE” the Gospel, to change our minds and think in a positive direction. That positive direction is belief in the Gospel (Mark 1:15).
Thoughtfully Believe the Gospel
Jesus encouraged people to believe (Mark 1:15). Some bigots think that is mindless belief. In the original language belief is not a mindless activity engaged in by intellectually inferior, uneducated people. It is an intellectual evaluation. It means to be persuaded of and have confidence in the Gospel. It is a religious faith. It is a saving faith. It is not divorced from intellect. Contrary to many prejudices against those who believe in Jesus, his Great Commandment includes loving God with our minds. Belief can be either unthinking or thoughtful. The kind of belief that Jesus encouraged was to be thought through deeply not just rushed into without using the mind. Because none of us has access to all knowledge, all human belief is faith based upon best available knowledge. Belief in the Gospel is a reasonable, intellectual conclusion. (Friberg. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. 2005. Trafford Publishing. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/belief/)
An Old Testament metaphor of God fishing for people pictured his call to divine judgment for society's evils. In Mark 1:17 Jesus called professional fishermen Simon and Andrew to become fishers of men, and later James and John. This must be seen in the context of the ancient metaphor and Jesus' own call to repentance. We have all done wrongs. The call to repentance is a call to a change of heart about how we treat each other and our relationship with God. Our decision is either for salvation or judgment. The exaggerated nature of the professional fishermen's response is indicative of their sense of urgency. Not all of us are called to missionary work. However, the lesson still applies. All other responsibilities pale into insignificance in comparison to the decision to allow God and his kingdom into our lives.
Are those fish bumper stickers, used by Christians, pagan? Let us not listen to fictitious urban legends which claim silly things. Let us learn to know what we are talking about. We have all believed false ideas masquerading as truth. It’s time we learn the truth about the fish. Christians call this the ichthys from the Greek word for fish. It simply means that we are one of the fish caught by the fishers of men as Jesus commanded Simon and Andrew in Mark 1:17. It also symbolizes the good fish who will be chosen for eternity with God from the parable in Matthew 13. Ichthus is also a string of Greek abbreviations: Ι (from the Greek word for Jesus) + Χ (Christ) + Θ (God) + Ϋ (Son) + Σ (Savior). The fish symbol is one of Christianity's oldest.
Like early disciples we are called to a change of attitude to belief in the kingdom of God which is already here reigning in the hearts of the people of God.