Third Sunday of Epiphany: Mark 1:14-20

People of God, we come back to the gospel of Mark this morning. Mark is notorious for his rapid-paced descriptions. He summarizes large portions of the life of Jesus with a series of quick punches. He knocks out Jesus’ enemies with short phrases filled with action. In fact, Mark is the writer of action. Other gospel writers approach their message from different angles, but the Spirit guided Mark to write through the perspective of Jesus’ actions. Mark sees Jesus as a warrior; a new David. And this is why Mark places emphasis on discipleship as not so much listening to Jesus, but following Jesus’ footsteps.[1] To be a disciple demands doing what Jesus does.

One way Jesus calls us to follow after him is by doing away with ceremonial uncleanness. Uncleanness is a form of death, and this is why Jesus comes in Mark to clean the temple from the spiritual filth that has accumulated under the religious leaders of the day. Jesus is the cleanser of Israel. It took the entire history of the Old Testament for Jesus to come into the scene. There were prophets, priests, and kings, but none of them could permanently clean up the mess created by the sins of Israel, and the nations. 

Everyone offered different solutions, but Jesus is the final solution to the problem of uncleanness in Israel. Why is this case? Because Jesus goes to the heart of the religious idolatry. Jesus does not simply try to offer a temporary fix to the problem; rather He diagnoses the problem, and seeks to eradicate it.

Many of the powerful figures of the Old Covenant Scriptures dealt with the sin issues of the day, but they did not have the strength to go to the very source of this uncleanness. And this is what is so fascinating about Mark’s gospel: he presents Jesus dealing directly with the source of evil—the devil and his minions.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is in conflict with the Scribes and Pharisees, but notably, He is confronting Satan and his demons.[2] In fact, the first thing Jesus will do after he calls his disciples is to confront demons in the temple. Mark 1:21 says that
“immediately”—there is that word that Mark likes to use a lot—he confronts an unclean spirit. At the heart of the spiritual uncleanness in Israel is Israel’s marriage with evil.

One of the unique elements of the Epiphany Season is that it offers us a glimpse into the life and ministry of Jesus. What is note-worthy is that in Mark the first major confrontation Jesus has is with the devil, and after calling his disciples what does he do? He confronts the demons in the synagogue.

Illus. There is a very gripping section in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion ,the Witch and the Wardrobe, when Lucy and Susan follow Aslan into the dark night. They console and comfort Aslan, but they do not know where he is going. At one point in their journey, Aslan says that the children can no longer follow him in his journey. As the girls cry bitterly[3] Aslan marches on to his own death as he is about to give his life for the sake of his friend. But as he approaches the Stone Table where he was going to be sacrificed the little demons and monsters filled with red flames and black smoke surround him to defeat him. Why? Because when the Great Lion appears, the demons gather.

We know that the Old Testament was filled with idolatry and Satan had relative freedom in deceiving the nations, but when Jesus comes Satan’s power is threatened.[4] The demonic powers come out in force. This is why Mark’s gospel displays Jesus as the One who fights demonic powers. In John’s gospel, Jesus’ first miracle is to turn water into wine. In Mark, his first miracle is to rebuke an unclean spirit.[5] Peter Leithart says that Jesus is the one-man army fighting the whole regiment of demons.[6]

In our passage, our Lord Jesus has endured the Devil’s temptations, and now he is ready to begin his ministry.

Mark writes:

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The first sign that Jesus is ready to begin his ministry is the arrest of John the Baptist. The same John that introduced Jesus to the world is now arrested. There will be others who will soon join Jesus and his mission, but Jesus alone is the One who begins the work of undoing the darkness of sin and bringing in the light of the gospel. Why is Jesus the only One who can do this? Because He is the only One who can fight the devil in a one on one battle.[7] And what signals the beginning of Jesus’ work is the arrest of John the Baptist. John is un-righteously arrested, but his arrest is part of the overall plan of God. With John out of the picture, the greater prophet, Jesus, enters the scene.

But though Jesus is the captain of our salvation, the One who defeats evil, the coming Davidic Warrior, His earthly ministry is generally[8] not one of aloneness. Could the Father have arranged a plan whereby Jesus becomes the solo figure in the narrative? Of course. But the ways of God are always different than what we typically expect. Jesus’ first plan is to assemble a group of men. We know the message. The message is the gospel of God, which includes repentance and belief.

Have you ever stopped to consider this interesting phrase: “the gospel of God?” I was rather shocked when I first came across this text in college. I was used to hearing the “gospel of Jesus Christ,” or something like it, but the “gospel of God” seemed rather strange. What was Jesus proclaiming by the gospel of God? Jesus is saying that the gospel of God is the plan of God to send him—that is Jesus—at this particular time in history.[9] To proclaim the Gospel of God was a bold declaration to the world that Jesus is the One sent from the Father. Everything is being fulfilled by his coming. God is acting in a new and decisive way bringing his promises to fulfillment. This is a bold message to proclaim; but not only that, Jesus was also saying that you have to turn away from your sins and embrace him as the true and faithful servant; embrace him as the One spoken by all the prophecies of old.

John the Baptist pointed to Jesus, but Jesus pointed to Himself as the Savior. And this is what is at the heart of this phrase.

In verses 16-20, we find Jesus calling unto himself a new kind of people. These would be his ambassadors.

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother    of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.

Up to this point there has been a lot of movement: introduction, prophecy, John’s ministry, John’s prophecy, Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ testing, but now things begin to slow down slightly.[10] Jesus has an urgent call. He is going to give these men a new vocation. There is no time to waste. It is time to work. We can easily understand why fishermen would be near the water, but when Jesus calls Levi from his money table to follow him, the text says that this happened near the seashore. When Jesus selects then Twelve the text goes out of its way to say that Jesus took the twelve up from the sea to ordain them to their new office (3:7,13).[11] Coincidence? I think not. Mark is harking back to the creation account where the Spirit was hovering over the waters before He brought something new. What is happening here? Jesus is selecting these men symbolizing that there is new life going to come from this event. The sea and water inform us that life is coming to the world. Jesus is the Life-giving Spirit.

Then we come to this very common refrain: “And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” There is not a time to stop and reflect on whether following Jesus is the right thing to do. Following Jesus is not optional. How many Christians today are paralyzed? How many Christians today would rather exhaust every sinful option available to them than to abandon their sins and follow after Christ?

Jesus’ calling of these first disciples is a lesson for us in the immediacy of the divine call.

The narrative concludes by adding to the numbers:

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

Jesus is carefully selecting his royal messengers. These are the ones who will be their Master’s heirs and successors.[12] They will do greater things than any man. This was a call to discipleship. The disciple knows the difficulty in following their Master. Some of you may have lost relationships for the sake of the gospel. You have such a different understanding of child-rearing, education, church, and life that it has altered your relationship with family and friends. Our relationships are re-defined. We maintain those relationships, but now they are seen in a new light. Why is the price so high? Because Jesus says I am going to make you fishers of men. There is a gigantic amount of information wrapped in this one phrase. We can begin by saying that this does have evangelistic implications. To be fishers of men imply pursuing, persuading, proclaiming; it implies a new vision; a new vocation. But there is something more here. In the Old Testament prophetic writings it is God who is the fisher of men.[13] God is the One who gathers the nations unto Himself. God is now ordaining a people to spread this gospel and kingdom to all. It stresses God’s image bearers being active participants in this restoration work. It means that now the true fishermen are here. Jonah, Isaiah, Jeremiah were good prophets, but we are more powerful prophets, because we have been ordained by Jesus himself. And He will be the one who will cast the net by His loving grace. The Master casts His grace into the vast sea and brings the nations unto Himself. At the end of history the gathered ones from all the earth will surround the throne of God and declare his praises. This is a big image; big picture. These men are chosen in order to draw others into this fold.

To be called fishers of men implies a position bestowed, not a position earned. These men did not come to Jesus until Jesus called them. Our task to cast the net of the gospel is not that simple. Apart from the grace of God the rejection rate is 100%. On a more covenantal level, why is the gospel so despised and derided? Because the gospel comes with demands.  In fact, some follow Jesus, but when they realize that this discipleship endeavor is too demanding they return to what they know best. But to those who receive, embrace, and are drawn to God, He bestows/grants a special grace, so that we should walk in his steps.

Finally, it is important to note that Jesus says I will make you “become” fishers of men. This is an immediate turning away from sin, but this is not an immediate mastery of discipleship. Jesus says “I will make you become,” which implies the process of formation. You are being formed into a fisher of men. You are in different stages of that formation. Some of you have embraced your calling, but you are slowly being formed. Some of you are still learning the basics of discipleship. Some of you need to give up on sinful indulgences before becoming a faithful disciple.

So How Shall we Now Live?

We begin to live first and foremost by understanding that discipleship in our calling. Do not misunderstand the uniqueness of this calling in the gospel. The role these men had are not the same roles you have. They were foundational to the church.[14] They laid the groundwork, as Paul says. Our duty as heirs of that same message of repentance and trust in the gospel is to continue the work being done.

We are not called to abandon our professions and vocations to enter into some kind of Church work. No, the call into Church vocation is a specific call. For the majority of the church, the application is not to leave your jobs, but to embrace your jobs with a new vision. We need to realize that our calling to be fishers of men was a calling to discipleship; a calling to become sons of God. Being fishers of men means seeking men to embrace the godly vision of life; a vision of the kingdom Christ has brought into our midst. We need to re-orient our attention to thinking not as escapists, but as those who are placed here for a reason. We need to fulfill our callings as Christians. That means forsaking everything that is inconsistent with our Lord’s message.[15]

Children, as Christians this means you have to set an example before your class-mates, before your friends, before family members. You may be young, but God expects certain actions from you. You have a great responsibility to love and obey your father and mother; to do your duties when asked; to honor those in authority. You are a disciple of Christ.

Husbands and Wives, you are in the business of disciple-making. You are setting an example every single day. Do you manifest patience in front of others? Do you respect one another in the home? Sometimes we have certain expectations of our spouses. But in marriage, as Tim Keller writes, “We are in love not only with the person as they are, but also with the person you know God is making, that God is turning them into.”[16]

To the single ones in our Church, to be a disciple can be difficult at times. To be single and to wait patiently for the right opportunity to serve God and others is a difficult task in our culture. Our culture pulls single people in all sorts of directions. Parents at times tend to over-react and restrict the activity of their teenage children, but this needs to be bathed in wisdom. Restriction can be setting the stage for rebellion. To grow up as a disciple of Christ means growing up in more wisdom; more wisdom means liberty; and more liberty means you need a community and leadership that will guide you to walk faithfully. As single people, avoid solitary singleness. Discipleship means no one is alone.

In the end, Jesus calls these men in the middle of their work to re-consider their callings. This week consider your calling. Are you being faithful to what you have been called to do? Are you in any way bringing the aroma of the gospel to your labor? If we give deep consideration to these questions, we will quickly notice that there is much work to do. But we can also be sure that our God is not a slave master seeking to work us to death, but rather to die in our working as we humble ourselves and learn to forsake our sins, and follow after Jesus.

In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Peter Leithart makes this distinction in The Four.

[2] Ibid. 160

[3] Lewis, 150.

[4] Revelation 20; see also Hebrews 2:4

[5] 1:25.

[6] The Four, 161.

[7] A Fulfillment of Genesis 3:15.

[8] I use generally because at times he enters into periods of prayer that reflect his aloneness…though the Father only forsakes him once.

[9] Commentary on Mark, William Lane. 64

[10] Mark Horne, Commentary on Mark’s Gospel, 39

[11] Ibid.

[12] Horne, 40.

[13] Lane, 67.

[14] Ephesians 2.

[15] See Matthew Henry’s thoughts on this passage.


About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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