Following Jesus

Reading: Mark 1.16-22
I suppose all of us at some time have longed just to be ourselves, to do the things we really want to do, to be approved for who we are.

That was how it was for the young man in Jesus' story. We mentioned him last week. That was his repentance, his turning back from the foolish and evil things he had done, his return home. But why did he ever leave home?

Home was Dad's place. He had to fit in with Dad's plans and do a lot of work on Dad's farm, a farm that his brother would inherit - and he was a bit upset about that too!

There was only one thing for it. Clear off. That's it! Get right away from Dad and big brother and make his own life. And while big brother would get the big slice of the inheritance, why not ask Dad for his part now? He could do something with that money. He could go out and do the things he would like to do, without consulting Dad and without big brother looking over his shoulder.

So that's how it happened. Dad gave him his part of the inheritance and off he went - putting as much distance as he could between himself and his family. With a bit of money to spend he soon gathered a collection of friends. Now he was free to do all those things that he wanted to do! Or was he? They had an absolutely fantastic time - until his money ran out! I suspect that, as he thought back over it, he realised that he wasn't really as free in the far-away country as he thought be was - before and after his money ran out! He knew now that he was caught in what we call "the poverty trap". His freedom was gone now with little prospect for improvement. But how free was he then, with all his new friends about him? Perhaps his money went so quickly because he was following their whims till all was gone! He had ended up, not doing his owns thing after all, but doing their thing!

We spend a lot of our lives following others. Not many people are successful in making all their own decisions without reference to the guidance and opinion of someone else. Even our "independence" slavishly follows someone else!

Most people are looking for leaders to follow. What are the fashionable colours and styles? What are the "in" ideas, the buzz-words that we need to drop in from time to time to show we are "with it"? What is that book or TV programme that all our friends are "into" just now? Who is that singer or pop group whose songs fill every waking hour? Who determines what we accept as right and wrong?

I am not suggesting that following leaders is wrong. But - be very careful who you follow! When we play "Simon says…", we know it's just a game, we know that it is only Simon we are meant to listen to.

Leaders will be held accountable for the way they lead people, but people will also be responsible for following! Often we may have to swim against the stream of the prevailing opinions of our group in order to follow the right leader.

Jesus Calls Four Fishermen

Picture the scene by Lake Galilee. John the Baptist has been thrown into prison, and Jesus has taken up the central theme of his preaching, "The right time has come, and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!" (v.15)

Walking along the shore of the Lake, he sees two fishermen, Peter and Andrew. They have been out for a night's fishing and have been successful. As the boat comes up to the shore, Jesus calls them, "Come with me, and I will teach you to catch men" (v.17). We need to understand what Jesus had in mind here. When we catch fish, they are destined for the frying pan. Of his own mission, Jesus said, "I have come in order that you might have life - life in all its fulness" (Jn. 10.10b). Catching men actually means rescuing them - not the opposite - calling them to repent and believe so that they can be part of the Kingdom!

What did Peter and Andrew do? Mark doesn't tell us everything. They would have tied up the boat. But I wonder who dealt with all the fish? "At once they left their nets and went with him" (v.18).

Now we see Jesus, Peter and Andrew walking a little further on to where Zebedee's boat is already tied up. They seem to have come in a little earlier - their father is there and some other employees too. Perhaps their fish are already on the way to the fish market. James and John and their father and the hired men are carefully going over their nets - untangling them, getting rid of any rubbish caught in them, mending the tears, folding them up ready for casting...

Jesus calls out to James and John, "Come with me, and I will teach you to catch men". Their response was the same as Peter and Andrew's - "they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and went with Jesus" (v.20b).

What those four fishermen did may seem a bit strange to us, when we think about it. At this stage, Jesus would have been virtually unknown in Capernaum. We would say that Nazareth was "only" thirty to forty kilometres away. In those days that was a long way, and nobody took any great notice of Jesus before he went out preaching. Their reaction was immediate. The implications were going to be lifelong. Something about the personality and authority of Jesus had gripped them.

And as they went into the synagogue at Capernaum and heard Jesus teach, they were, along with all the others, amazed at his teaching. It was so different from the way the Rabbis taught. Their method was to quote all the others - "Rabbi Eliezer says this. Rabbi Aqiba says that. I am suggesting something..." But the teaching of Jesus was immediate and authoritative.

Following Jesus

We call them "disciples" and that suggests that they were "learners" with Jesus as their teacher. That's true enough. It certainly means that, yet the word has other important meanings. It was in fact the usual word for "apprentice". The disciple was not just mastering facts, but learning how to do whatever.

For those first disciples, following Jesus meant coming with him, living in his presence, going wherever he went, allowing him to be the leader… It involved a commitment to him as a Person, not just as a Teacher. I suppose all of the adults here can recall teachers whom we remember with thankfulness. We value what they taught us and are delighted to meet them again at a class reunion. But for the disciples of Jesus the relationship was far more than that. They were not just learning what he had to teach them, but committed to him as a Person.

Following Jesus meant hearing and seeing him, observing his character, modelling their lives on him… Perhaps there was something scary about that. Never had anyone spoken as he spoke, nor had any lived as he lived. This became their conviction long before Peter's declaration, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Later on (in Acts) we read that two of them were taken before the Jewish Council to answer questions about the healing of the lame man. "The members of the Council were amazed to see how bold Peter and John were and to learn that they were ordinary men of no education. They realised that they had been companions of Jesus" (Acts 4.13). By the power of the Holy Spirit, the stamp of Jesus' character would be upon them.

Following Jesus meant learning how to live for him and how to bring others to live for him. Not only was Jesus the focus of their life and commitment, but they were to go out and bring others to him. The Christian life can never be separated from Jesus. They were to learn "to catch men" - rescuing them, - calling them to repent and believe so that they can be part of the Kingdom too!

For three and a half years they would be "disciples" - learners - before they could become "apostles" - ones who were sent out to make other disciples. It would take them all over Palestine by foot, before they set out to take the message to the rest of the world!

And for us…

One of the earliest names for Christians was "the followers of the Way" - it was Saul's description of the people he wanted to arrest in Damascus (Acts 9.2).

Some people today say, "I follow Jesus." What do they mean? Some people follow the cricket - or the Winter Olympics! Some people admire Jesus for his teaching, his generous and unselfish care for others and his sacrificial heroism - they are attracted to the person who lived like that.

Jesus was calling the people to repent - to turn away from their sins - and to believe the good news. And some of his last words to his disciples was that "in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations…" (Lk.24.47).

If we really want to follow Jesus, we will repent of sin and believe in him. And we will be open to be and to do all he wants us to be and to do. And that, by the way, is why he promised us the Holy Spirit!

If we really want to follow Jesus, we will not only receive blessing ourselves. We will be caught up in "catching men" - sharing the same Good News and helping to gather men and women and boys and girls into his Kingdom!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 20 February 1994
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.

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