The Gospel Paradox
James C. Denison
There were many ways to call people in the biblical era. Kings could send messengers to summon you to their palace. Generals could dispatch sentries to enlist you in their wars. “Trumpets,” rams’-horns called the “shofar,” were a common way of warning people of impending attack, or calling soldiers to battle.
No call in all the Bible is less intrusive, more private and personal, than those we will witness today. But none changed the course and face of human history as did these quiet conversations.
In this post-Easter season of our church year, we will explore our vision, purpose, and direction as a congregation and as followers of the risen Lord. We will assess where we are and where God is calling us to go as his people. To do that, we need to revisit these fishermen laboring alongside the Sea of Galilee. We need to hear Jesus’ words to them, for they are his words to us.
Let me lead you into this remarkable story, then we’ll see why it is so crucial to our stories today.
Our text begins with the essence of Jesus’ proclamation: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (v. 19). “Good news” translates “gospel.” The “gospel” is the good news that God loves us and has sent his Son to save us. This good news calls us to “repent,” to turn from ourselves and our sins and selfish ambitions, and to “believe” and commit ourselves to living by the “good news.”
This was the message of Jesus’ life and work, throughout his life and work. The “gospel” that God loves us and calls us to follow him is still the essential message of the church today. We have no other.
Now Jesus begins to enlist men in the work of spreading this gospel across their culture and human history: “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen” (v. 16). Reading the text, we assume that this is their first meeting. But Mark’s original readers knew this was far from true.
In January of AD 26, Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptizer in the river Jordan. After his temptations in the wilderness, he returned to Bethany, the place of his baptism. There he first met these fishermen (John 1:28, 35-51) and called them, along with Philip and Nathaniel, to join his ministry.
They saw him turn the water into wine, and traveled with him to Jerusalem for their first Passover together on March 21, AD 27. They met Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.
And so Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John knew Jesus. They have believed in him and followed him for a year. But not full-time, not with their lives and their futures, their all. Not until today.
Many of us are like them. We know who Jesus is and what he can do. We have experienced his saving power in our lives personally. We have asked him to forgive our sins and make us the children of God. But we are not following him, at least not full-time, unconditionally, absolutely. We’re still fishing for fish.
We have our religion and our work, Sunday and Monday, Jesus and the rest of life. We have fish to catch, families to support, work to do. Our culture has taught us that religion is a private, personal thing, a hobby reserved for Sunday morning discretionary time during the week.
It isn’t that way for the Orthodox followers of Judaism in the Holy Land. We saw them by the hundreds, wearing their black clothes and long beards, praying fervently at the Wailing Wall, living every day by kosher dietary laws and strict legal regulations.
It isn’t that way for the Muslims we met in Israel, men and women and children who stop five times every day to pray facing Mecca. The maitre-d at one of our hotel restaurants had a permanent dark mark on his forehead from years spent praying fervently with his face to his prayer rug.
It isn’t like that for the Buddhist who live by the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Noble Path. It isn’t like that for the Hindus who live every day by their caste system and rituals. It wasn’t like that for the first Christians, more than a million of whom died rather than separate their faith from their lives.
But it’s like that for many of us. When was the last time you surrendered your time, money, life, plans, and ambitions completely and unconditionally to God? You know about him–how close are you to him? When last did you spend time listening to his voice, seeking his word, submitting to his trumpet-call to your soul?
His call was and is very simple: “‘Come, follow me,'” Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men'” (v. 17). “Come” is a command: “come here.” “Follow” means “be full-time followers, pupils, disciples.”
The construction is plural, showing that this is Jesus’ will for each and all of them.
“Me” shows that they will follow Jesus personally. Their loyalty will not be to a religion, an institution, a program, but a person. The Son of God himself.
Then, “when he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him” (vs. 19-20).
For what purpose? “And I will make you fishers of men.” “Make” means to equip for a job, to give you all you need. “I will make you” shows that only Jesus can do this. And that he will–this is his promise.
“Fishers”–people who will catch something. What? “Fishers of men”–all men. Not just Jews, but Gentiles. Not just men, but women. Everyone. The entire world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). He wants us to love the world, and win the world to Jesus.