Scriptures: Isaiah 43:1-7; Mark 1:14-20

Sometime I’d like to know just how it feels to be knowing exactly what’s going to come next week, and going through the Scriptures like this, how it is for you, how it helps you, how it may hinder you in any way. Please feel free to share that with me.

A lot of time is spent in recapping, because we want to try to create the whole picture as we go along. So a lot of this may make you think, “We just heard that last week, or a couple of weeks ago.” But I hope that it reinforces what it is that has been said.

Speaking of last week, we went through the temptation of Jesus, the trial of Jesus, and how it was part of his identification with us, as was his baptism, and how we then identify with Christ, not only in our baptism, but also, we can be aware that, like him, we will undergo trials, and like him, if we trust in the Holy Spirit, even when we feel driven to this spot, that we can overcome, and that God is preparing us for something – there’s a purpose to it.

We want to learn what that purpose is. For Jesus, it was the beginning of his public ministry. I want to make a note about John. The liturgist already mentioned the fact that John the Baptizer was arrested by this time. He was put into prison. He was put into prison primarily because he spoke out against the king, and the king’s marriage to his half-brother’s wife (who was also his niece). That was a terrible sin in the eyes of the Jews. So the king, fearing John’s ability to sway the crowds, had him arrested and threw him in jail.

As the liturgist also noted, at first glance Jesus’ mission does not appear that different from John’s, because he to emphasize the word “repent,” if you remember John’s message. Actually his message was “prepare the way of the Lord,” but then he had a baptism of repentance, and we went through what that baptism of repentance is, a couple of weeks back.

Jesus is following right along with that, as he says to repent. But Jesus gives a very different reason why we should repent. John said that we need to repent to prepare our hearts for the one who is coming. Jesus calls on people to repent because the time is here, and the Kingdom of God is at hand.

The waiting is over. God has begun a new call in the world. And in order for us to be made right with God, we need to repent of our sins and to believe the good news, as it says in your translation, the good news of course being the gospel that the Messiah had come.

Now Jesus, in the process of this passage, made three calls, not just one. First there was his public call. That was preached, rather than shared. John proclaims we are to repent as a way of preparing for the coming Messiah. Jesus calls on people to repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand and the waiting is over. He began a new call on the world, so we want and need to respond. This call was given to everyone, everyone who would hear: repent.

We all need to repent. Paul says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” in Romans 3. We all are in the same place before God. There’s a song, I believe, called “The Ground Is Level at the Foot of the Cross.” And it truly is. No one should feel better than another. Whether you were raised in the church, or whether you came to the church at thirty, forty, fifty, thirteen, whatever. It doesn’t matter. You came to Christ. We were all in the same place.

The reason that it’s important is because the kingdom of God is here. That happens even now. It’s one thing to say, “Jesus came, and he lived, he suffered, and he died, he was raised again.” But the kingdom of God is the rule of God in people’s lives. I emphasize that a lot when I’m preaching, but it’s important.

The kingdom of God is not a geopolitical structure. That is a mistake that not just the Jews made, but throughout the history of the Christian church, that Christians have made. We’ve tried to create something called Christendom, where the whole world is Christian and believes in Christ and everything’s done according to Biblical law. We believed that for America for a very long time, though it’s pretty obvious now that that particular belief is false or falling apart.

The kingdom of God is the rule of God in people’s lives. The church is a foothold, if you will, a beachhead, a foretaste of the kingdom of God, because it is full of people who let God’s love rule in their lives and shape their relationships with each other. It’s not just because we gather. It’s not just because we have a building. It’s because of what we do, in terms of letting God rule in our lives.

Then Jesus made a personal call. He shows it primarily with the disciples in this passage. And there are a couple of aspects to it. And they’re hard. The personal call is much harder. You might think that the public call, “Repent, repent,” that I have to not just say “I’m sorry for what I did” but I’ve got to turn myself around and change my mind – that’s that’s hard. My grandmother used to say, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” It’s a little hard to change your mind sometimes. But Jesus then does something even harder. He calls you to leave your old life.

Now it may not be as drastic as with the disciples, and we’re going to go through what they did in a moment. But it could mean leaving friends that you’ve had, that just simply keep you back in your faith. It could mean having a change in your relationships with family. Not that you leave family, but they might leave you, and you have to let it happen. Again, we’ll see that with a couple of the disciples in the call in this passage.

You have to leave your habits, and that’s probably the hardest of all. That’s a lifelong battle. But Jesus’ personal call is to leave those things. We are new creatures in Christ. We have a new spirit. We have a new way. And as I’ve been reminded recently, it’s very hard to move forward if you’re carrying two tons the luggage with you.

It’s very hard. You’re going to have to let go of that baggage, of those habits, of those things that keep you from God. And then it’s not just that you need to let go. It’s never enough just to stop doing something. Anybody who’s tried to stop smoking will tell you that. Anybody who’s tried to deal with an addiction will tell you that. You need to fill it with something else.

How many of you have ever tried to not think about something? In the very process of saying, “I’m not going to think about this,” what just happened? You thought about it. The only way to not think about something, the only way to not do something, is to do something else. So Jesus calls us to follow him.

Peter and Andrew, who were professional fisherman, he asked them to follow him and become fishers of men, and it says that at once they quit their jobs and began following Christ. By the way, they were in their boats at the time. They were actually fishing when he called out to them.

I don’t know that they jumped off the boat and swam to shore – they probably brought it in – but they quit what they were doing, their work. Their work was their livelihood. Their work fed their families. And yet Christ called them away, to follow him. Following Jesus, as we’ll talk about a little bit more later, takes sacrifice.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were requested to do the same. I feel sorry for Zebedee, because there’s an intimation, at least in this Gospel, that Peter and Andrew were working in the same company as James and John.

James and John, who are the sons of Zebedee, the ones who were supposed to inherit and run the family business, they’re mending nets on the shore, and when Jesus calls them, they just get up and leave, and it says they left their father. They didn’t even bother to say, “Bye, Dad, we’ll see you later.”

They got up and followed Jesus, and poor Zebedee lost four employees in one day, including two sons. That doesn’t mean they had no contact with him. I’m sure they did, because in those days family was very tight. But the cultural path of inheritance and work and the way you were supposed to live was completely and totally disrupted by Christ.

Everyone, even those that didn’t answer Christ’s personal call, suddenly had to learn to live in a different way than they had been accustomed to, whether it be due to absence or due to presence. And note, again, they did it without hesitation.

Now as the liturgist noted, there might have been a little bit of help with that, because some of them had been disciples of John previously. We know Andrew was. And you might have called them – I’m not meaning to cast aspersions on the name of the National Guard or anything – but we might call them “weekend warriors.” They did their regular job, but then they would go out and they’d listen to John, and they would come back and they would do their jobs, and then they go back out, and they come back in.

So they were disciples in that they were more than just sitting in a pew, as it were, but they also were not full-time disciples are followers of John. It was a part-time kind of thing that they did when they could manage. And they spent some time bringing people in to see John.

Once Jesus came however, there needed to be a change. If you read the Gospel of John, it tells you about how Andrew came and got his brother, and he said, “Hey, come on – I found the Messiah.” And every time you see Andrew in the Scriptures, he’s inviting somebody to come and hear Jesus. Every time.

Not all of us can be that evangelistic or comfortable inviting people to hear Jesus. But I will say that 85% of the people that are in church came because someone invited them and brought them. I’m talking about adults – about 85% of the adults in church. Obviously sometimes children are dragged along, and a lot of children will go away for a while. But then they come back.

Why do they come back? Some of them come back because they have kids and they want their kids baptized and things like that. But for a lot of people, they’re invited by someone else. And they think, “Yeah, I used to do that stuff. And maybe it’ll help me from where I am right now.”

Christ’s third call was to become something new and useful for Christ, like a fisher of men. And that is the word that is used there. It doesn’t mean that you’ll be fishing for men. It wasn’t a verb. It was a noun. “You are a fisher of men. That is your job” is what he told those disciples. When Jesus demanded radical action from them, they responded immediately, to spread the Good News of the gospel, to lead others to Christ that they might be saved as well.

This call has not changed, in the life of every Christian. We can look at the disciples and look at their characteristics, and we can see some of what it means, to be a disciple of Christ, to be a Christian. When Jesus called they: 1) acted immediately; 2) left both job and family; and 3) started following him.

Christ doesn’t come to us in person and make a call in our life. He calls through His Word. When we understand His message, His Messiahship, and His promise for our lives, then we too must obey immediately all that he says. [Sings] “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”

We must put him ahead of everything, including our job and our family. I know that that’s really hard to hear. But our priority should be God – our personal relationship with God, our family, and then church. It’s true that the church is our extended family, but I mean our immediate family, and then the church family. And then the greater world.

If you don’t have these things in order, particularly with God first, then one of two things is going to happen. You’re going to fall away, and walk off the path that God is calling you, because you’ll be distracted and pulled by too many things that are not of God. Or you’ll suffer burnout.

This happens frequently with pastors. They say 70% of pastors suffer burnout. A lot of times it’s because they neglect their relationship with God. Church becomes first – after all, they’re serving the church, and they’re serving God by serving the church. So becomes church, church, church, instead of God, family, church.

You can have that as a lay person too – very much so. But it happens to be particularly noticeable and endemic with those that are called into active ministry. Families that have difficulties, though they may hide it on the surface. And there is burnout that occurs. Seventy percent of pastors suffer through depression at least at some point in their career again. Real depression, not being down, but the kind that needs medication or a counselor – that kind of thing. And again, it’s because their priorities get out of whack, and it’s not for a bad reason. It’s for a good reason. They want to serve you – the people. They want to serve God by serving the church. But their priorities get out of whack.

So we need to understand that we put Him ahead of everything, including our job and our family. We follow Him, allowing His example to direct every step, as we undergo the process of becoming a disciple. And it is a process. It’s not a light switch. It’s something that we grow into, to be more like Christ, Paul says.

People who know that Jesus wants them to change, but put it off, are not like these four fisherman. And again, the change may not be quite as radical as these fishermen. But it will be radical in some way. I don’t know about you, but I am a professional procrastinator.

I like to tell people that once I got an invitation to join the Procrastinators of America. And I really like that idea, so I’ll get around to it someday. It’s going to be hard, so we put it off. It’s going to be inconvenient, so we put it off. It’s scary, because it’s new, so we put it off. And somehow we just never get there.

The only way to be a disciple, to be a true disciple of Christ, is when you know that Jesus wants you to change, you take this step, the first step to beginning that change. The first steps are always the hardest, as anybody who’s run knows. There’s a Chinese saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” You have to start somewhere. You have to start sometime.

But it also helps to have a goal, and that’s what Christ gives us. Another question. How many of you have tried to start something, to self-teach yourself something, and then just quit? Because you really didn’t have any purpose. You were just interested in it.

I’ve done that with guitar, Welsh, a number of other things like that. I have every intention. I get the tools. (My wife probably gets tired of me doing that.) And I start and I go gung-ho. A lot of people do that with working out. They don’t have any goal. They just know that they want to be better. So they start working out. They don’t have any set goal. That’s where a personal trainer comes in handy. That’s where having a teacher actually comes in handy, because they can hold you accountable for what’s being learned.

Some people have the self-discipline to do it on their own, and I admire those people greatly. But for a lot of us, if we don’t have a clear goal given to us by someone else, that we can be accountable for, our procrastination kicks in. Our efforts begin to flag, as our interest wanes. Or it gets harder, and we struggle more. Or distractions come in, and there’s always distractions in the world. That’s one of Satan’s best ways of working. If we feel like we’re oppressed, we’re going to fight. But if we get distracted, we don’t even notice that we’ve gone astray.

So we need to put Jesus ahead of everything, and like the disciples, we need to take that first step and begin to follow Jesus fully. Even in your vocation. Even in the public square. You must not be afraid to speak of Christ and Christ’s call in your life. Because you need to have that kind of commitment.

There’s a reason that the church is called the Bride of Christ, and Jesus is the bridegroom. There’s a reason that the church is sometimes called a body, and Christ is called the head. There is a connection there, a commitment, that is organic in nature. And we must take it seriously, if we’re going to follow Christ.

As we move forward, I want you to remember this calling of the disciples. I want you to remember what Jesus said about the need to repent, about the need to leave what you have, about the need to follow him and make him first.

Let the Word set goals for you. There are plenty of opportunities and places where Christ tells you how He wants you to live, tells you what kind of ministries are there. Then look around. Look around you, first in the church and then in the community, and say, “Where could God be calling me? What goal could God to give me here?” Look. So that you have something to move towards.

And then step out with joy and confidence, knowing that God will supply your needs. Even if it’s scary. Even if it’s new. He’ll be there, with you, through it all, as the passage from Isaiah said, because you are His chosen people and His adopted children. He cares and loves you, more than anything.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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