February 9, 2003 © 2003, J.W. Carter
When each of us were small children, we had very few responsibilities or commitments. As we grew, we were prepared through training and education to become "productive" members of society. We found that, as we accept responsibility upon responsibility, we are spread thin between numerous, and sometimes conflicting, commitments. What are some of the commitments to which we have dedicated our time, resources, and energy? (job, marriage, family, church, debts, friends, exercise, hobbies.) Each generation has seemed to identify itself by the circumstances of the day, and that generation following the second world war is referred to as the "committed generation." Since their time, the baby boomers, the war in Vietnam, civil rights, and other events have "raised the level of consciousness" of personal freedoms, chipping away at authority and replacing it with personal preference. As a result, todays young people see most of these commitments as shallow. We are raising a generation that for the most part does not either desire, or feel the need for, deep commitment. Pregnancies are terminated by killing unborn children, families are regularly destroyed by infidelity, people change jobs like they change their clothes.
This lack of commitment in secular areas certainly spills over into the sacred. People demonstrate a similar lack of commitment to Christ. Typically 20% of the church membership provides 80% of the ministry. Where is the other 80% of the church? Most churches today suffer additionally from a shortage of numbers in the age bracket of the uncommitted. They still contain the older members of the church that were part of that original committed generation, but there is an age gap below them. Those in the ages of 18 through 55, who are in the most financially productive period of their lives are largely absent from the pews. Where are they? Their commitments are to their careers. This leaves churches in a coming leadership crisis. This lesson will challenge us to take a look at the level of our commitment that we give to our profession of Jesus as our Lord. When Jesus called us to faith, what level of commitment did He demand? What level of commitment are we willing to give?
We are studying in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 1. Verses 1-13 are the introduction to this book that has been called a "passion narrative with an extended introduction." Fully one third of the text covers the last eight days of Jesus earthly ministry and literally ends with the announcement of His resurrection. Marks gospel concentrates on the authority of Jesus as the Son of God to call people to follow Him, and by doing so realize the only path to true and permanent peace with God. Following his baptism by John the Baptist and his fast in the wilderness, Jesus starts his ministry near Capernaum, the village that would be the center of most of his work.
Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
Jesus ministry started when Johns ended. When Jesus started his ministry, Johns work was done. Jesus started his ministry by preaching the good news of the Gospel to the people around Galilee. What was the message the Jesus preached? (The Kingdom of God was near and it was time that people repent from their sins and turn to God.) Jesus knew that He would not be able, as one person, to spread the news throughout the whole world. It was always Gods plan that through Jesus the world would find the Kingdom, and through the Church, that good news would spread to the corners of the earth. Consequently, in the short time that Jesus was here, it was necessary that the church be formed. To do this he formed a faithful following that seems to number about 120, and of these Jesus called twelve as apostles to be the evangelistic leaders of this church.
Now, if you were on the search committee to form this group of evangelists who will have the responsibility of launching this effort, what kind of qualifications would you be looking for? (People who are trained in ministry.) Imagine if you were a committed Jew during at the time of Jesus initial ministry. To whom would you look for religious leaders? (Those who know the law and the prophets: the scribes and Pharisees.) Lets take a look at the group that Jesus called to follow Him, and lets also look at the nature of the call.
Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 17And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. 18And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.
What manner of response did Jesus expect when he called Simon, Andrew, James and John? Words here are "at once" and "without delay." He sought prompt and complete obedience. This was not Jesus first meeting with Simon and Andrew:
John 1:35-42. Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; 36And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! 37And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? 39He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. 40One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peters brother. 41He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. 42And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
Simon, Andrew, James and John were all from Bethsaida and were followers of John the Baptist, so their response to Jesus on the shore was not one that was flippantly made. It was a decision that had tremendous consequences. Jesus call to Simon and Andrew contained both a command and a promise. What was that promise? (Fishers of Men) The promise that they would become fishers of men pictured them as gathering people in view of Gods coming judgement
Jeremiah 16:16. Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.
One might wonder if Simon and Andrew were hearing Jeremiahs prophesy in Jesus call. As fishermen, they were probably familiar with this prophesy, and if so, they fully understood what Jesus was calling them for. They were willing to leave "at once" without consideration of the consequences such an act would have on their own safety or security.
Mark 10:21-22. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. 22And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
Why could this individual not follow Jesus? (He was unwilling to surrender the security he held in his possessions.)
Matthew 8:19-20. And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. 20And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
Why could this individual not follow Jesus? (He was unwilling to surrender his physical security.)
Matthew 8:21-22. And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. 22But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
Though Jesus' response sounds cruel, it is not. Why could this individual not follow Jesus? (He was unwilling to surrender the security he held in his inheritance; his father was not necessarily dead yet.) Simon, Andrew, James and John demonstrated a true disciples commitment. It was both immediate and intelligent. It was a decision made based upon an educated choice. They recognized that spiritual security was better than physical security. Their desire for obedience to the Master was greater than their dependence upon their jobs or possessions.
And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. 20And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.
The call of James and John was a little different, and the consequences of their decision was evident in their lives. What did James and John leave behind? Their fishing business had two components that Simon and Andrew lacked: a father and hired hands. Their fishing business was successful enough that they could afford hired workers. This sets them at a cut above, as professionals, compared with the two amateurs we just met. They would leave the life they knew, and probably assumed would be theirs to pass to their children as their father was doing. Instead, the cost was great to the brothers and to the family. James was martyred early in Christian history (unfortunately, before the age that the apostles started writing)
Acts 12:1-3. Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. 2And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
John became a prisoner for the faith. He was exiled to the island of Patmos from where he wrote the Revelation. Jesus wants instant obedience, but He also wants us to consider the cost of discipleship.
Luke 9:23-26. And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. 24For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. 25For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? 26For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Fathers, and of the holy angels.
We must not let the affairs of our daily lives overpower Christs call in our lives.
2 Tim 2:4-6. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. 5And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. 6The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits. 7Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.
It is the priority that we give to daily affairs that most often stands between having a mediocre, fence sitting faith and having a faith that is full of the blessings that come from realizing the fruits of obedience. If anyone had reason for his daily life to overpower a call to faith it would be Matthew, or Levi, the tax collector:
And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them. 14And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.
What made the call of Levi so different? Levi was a minor tax collector. We know that he was hated by the Jews. Why? Levi worked for King Herod Antipas, a puppet king who was only in his position at the appointment of Caesar in Rome. Taxes were to be raised from within the province and sent to Caesar. The method was simple: Caesar required a certain amount from the region and did not care from where or how the collectors got it. Consequently, the job of tax collector was quite lucrative. Any excess tax they collected they could keep. This created a pyramid of hierarchy where the chief tax collectors hired subordinates to collect the taxes. Everybody gets rich at the expense of the Jewish people. Again, if you were on the search committee, would you pick someone who was hated by the church? Unlike the fishermen, who could (and did) return to their trade if life with this new teacher did not work out, Levi would be left jobless, landless, and friendless. Furthermore, the abandonment of his post would place him in direct conflict with the King. The level of commitment needed for his call was greater than that of any of the other apostles. Furthermore, the accounts of the call in both Matthew and Mark indicate that Jesus made no promise. His call was a simple, "Follow me," or at most, "Come, be my follower, be my disciple." Matthews commitment to Jesus was total and complete. Such commitment is seen as strange to people in our time. How do we refer to people who give their lives totally to such a commitment? We might say they, "went off the deep end," or that they are a "Jesus freak." It is a tragedy that the greatest critics of those who desire to give all to Christ come from within the body. That just illustrates how far away we are from the level of commitment that Jesus truly desires.
And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. 14And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, 15And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: 16And Simon he surnamed Peter; 17And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: 18And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite, 19And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house.
Jesus called a diverse set of followers. Without Jesus to be their purpose, they would never have gotten along with each other, and on occasion they didnt. Jesus mixed lower class with upper class. He mixed Jews from the local region with those from without. He mixed in a tax collector who would be hated by the Jews with a Zealot who hated anything that came out of Rome. Yet, other than Judas who never fully gave himself over to Jesus authority, each of the disciples were taught by him, received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and went on to build the foundation for the church that would spread to every part of the earth.
It is inspiring to see what Jesus did with this band of unlikely heroes. We see Jesus using a diverse mix of personalities and backgrounds. Likewise, in order for us to reach the world for Christ, it is necessary that our church be as diverse as the people we are called to reach. Rather than seeking people who are identical to ourselves, we can find help and encouragement from working with others who differ from us. Jesus wants His followers to obey Him instantly and totally. He wants us to come after Him with a desire to walk in harmony with other believers as we join to do His work. Instant obedience to Jesus demands that we give a prompt response to His call to discipleship. We must not let our natural interests, hobbies, vocations, love for pleasure, or desire for ease act as chains to hold us back. Total commitment to Jesus demands that we make Him the chief priority in our lives. Jesus may not demand that we leave everything, but He does demand our willingness to do so. He will demand that obeying Him become our first priority. Serving Jesus will bring us together with people of different social backgrounds, varied training and education, and varied economic statuses. As we commit ourselves to serve Jesus, we will find excitement in learning from these Christian friends and in Joining them to serve Jesus as a top priority.