Pastor Kyle Bitter - The Third Sunday After Epiphany - Sunday, January 24, 2021

Text: Mark 1:14-20

Watch Service Video

How much change can a person expect in life when following God? I don’t know about you but that’s the kind of question that comes to my mind when I hear Scripture sections like we have before us today. How much change can a person expect in life when following God? Take Elisha, for example, in the first lesson. We find him plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, which probably means he had 11 hired workers helping him farm. Not too shabby for society at that time! But then one day a prophet named Elijah comes along and asks Elisha to put all that aside and become a traveling prophet, living off the generosity of others. A huge change when you think about it, but Elisha does it eagerly! You almost find yourself wondering if Elisha knew the whole story. Did he realize how this prophet thing had gone for Elijah? Did he not know that just a short time earlier Elijah had been on the run from the wicked queen, isolated in a cave on a mountainside, so depressed that he just prayed that God would take his life because his ministry had been such a failure? Why would Elisha put aside his life of wealth and comfort to follow someone in doing that?

You heard very nearly the same thing in today’s Gospel. Fisherman was not a glamorous lifestyle with a great promise of wealth, but it was a respectable career that usually provided a decent income. Not an easy life, but a good one for the times. But Jesus asks these fishermen to put that aside and follow. Maybe that seems like an exciting adventure, but they had to know too what they might be in for. In the first verse of today’s Gospel, we get a little hint about a guy named John being in prison. This was John the Baptist, the well-known prophet who had been out in the desert, who had been intentionally and specifically directing attention to Jesus. John had been thrown into prison by the wicked King Herod – wouldn’t logic seem to say that similar treatment would be in store for those who followed a teacher doing many of the same things? “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” (Mark 1:14 – NIV84). Doing the exact same thing John had been doing! Why would they put aside a stable and comfortable life to follow someone who was so clearly on the path to trouble?

What about today? How much change should one expect to come into life because of following Jesus? There are certainly times and places when it doesn’t seem like the smoothest path. There are places in our world, and not just a few, where just professing to be a Christian can get you thrown into jail, or worse. And even in our own country with all the freedoms we enjoy, there is no shortage of challenges – we all face them. Maybe you can see them in trying to be a Christian in regular daily life. You’re spending some time with friends, and the jokes told or activities pursued are sinful and you know you should say something…but there’s that little voice in the back of your head. I don’t know if I have the courage. I don’t know what I’d say. I’m worried about how other people would react…and it’s hard. Another example, perhaps more parallel to what we see in our sermon text. You know that the good news about Jesus is of eternal importance for other people…but when it comes to having a conversation where you might share your beliefs suddenly it’s not so easy. The questions come to mind again. I’m not sure what to say. I don’t know if I’d have the answers to questions they might have. I don’t know if I have the right personality or the right talents. And it goes from there.

Now, those kinds of concerns are normal. We all experience them, and people back in Bible times probably did too. But did you notice what they all have in common? A single word. In fact, a single letter. “I.” I don’t know if I have the courage…I don’t know what to say…I don’t know how to answer the questions…I don’t have the abilities. Do you see where the focus ends up being? On ourselves. And that’s always going to give cause for concern, because we are sinful people who have flaws and struggles, and there won’t always be reason to be confident. But today’s Gospel invites us to fix our attention on Jesus and what he’s doing, and when you do that you can see an entirely different perspective on what happens when Your Savior Calls.

Jesus Changes You

Today’s Gospel places just a few short verses before us. We see Jesus coming into the northern region known as Galilee. “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.”  (Mark 1:14 – NIV84). And then, just a few verses later, we see the disciples dropping everything and following him. It’s very abrupt, but to see the full picture you have to realize that Mark’s account is giving a quick summary of a much larger time period in of Jesus’ ministry. This was not the first day that Simon and Andrew and the others met Jesus. Likely they had been followers of John the Baptist before John was arrested, and likely they had heard Jesus teaching on a number of other occasions since then. Some scholars suggest that these men had known Jesus for more than a year already! That’s important because over that whole time, God had already been at work in their hearts and lives, allowing them to see for themselves that Jesus is the Messiah. Mark summarizes the message they had heard over that year in these words: “The time has come,” he [Jesus] said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15 – NIV84). These men believed, and their lives were changed once they knew their Savior.

In the same way, reading these verses today likely isn’t your first experience with Jesus either. He’s been at work in your life for quite a while already, showing you that same good news about Jesus your Savior. Maybe you heard it from parents and friends, maybe you heard it from pastors and teachers, maybe you read it for yourself on the pages of Scripture, probably for many a combination of all of those. Through it all, the Holy Spirit changed you too. Now you’re free from guilt over your own sins – Jesus forgave them. Now your relationship with God is good and strong. Now your perspective on life goes far beyond the few years you spend here and extends into the glorious eternity God has prepared for you! And it all happened through that simple message: Repent and believe the good news! Jesus Changes You, and now, he seeks to Change the World through You.

Jesus Changes the World through You

It’s a tall order! But the rest of today’s Gospel shows us how Jesus carries it out. “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. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. 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. (Mark 1:16-20 – NIV84). I will make you fishers of men. Instead of catching fish by casting out nets, these men would cast out the good news about Jesus in front of people, and God would work through that to catch more people from the clutches of sinfulness, to save people from the path leading to eternal destruction in hell pull them over to God’s side of things. “I will make you fishers of men.” 

It sounds so easy and simple, but you and I know there are going to be challenges. But those too take on a different perspective when we look at Jesus instead of ourselves. Take a closer look at his words, especially what he didn’t say. He didn’t tell his disciples: “Go and be fishers of men.” He didn’t say: “You know what? You guys have the personality and talent to be really good fishers of men.” He didn’t say: “You guys are really smart! Clearly you have all the answers and that will make you a good fisher of men.” None of that. He said, “I will make you fishers of men.” Even though they had been listening to Jesus for a while, these men weren’t perfect people. Peter was still brash and tended to put his foot in his mouth. James and John would still squabble with each other like many siblings. As Jesus’ ministry continues, none of the disciples seemed to have a full and complete understanding of what exactly Jesus was going to do as Messiah. But, despite their incomplete knowledge, despite their shortcomings, Jesus called them anyway. “I will make you fishers of men.” And history shows us that Jesus got it done – he did change the world through the words and testimony of these simple fishermen, flaws and all.

That’s the same way it works today when Your Savior Calls. Like with the disciples, Jesus doesn’t call you and me because we have just the right personality and talent to serve him. He doesn’t call us because he thinks we have all the answers, or because we have so much courage. Nothing like that at all! Jesus knows exactly what we are like, flaws and all, and he calls us anyway, promising that despite our shortcomings and despite our insecurities, and despite our flaws, he intends to change the world through us. And amazingly, that’s exactly what he does.

That’s what we are celebrating today on this Mission and Ministry Sunday. Through our work together in this congregation, God is working on changing the world. Not because of any specific objective we might have accomplished off of our strategic plan, not because of the talent of our members or leaders, not because of the size or scope of ministry that we have the privilege to be a part of, but because of the message we carry – the message that changed each one of us and made us children of God. The same message that had changed the hearts of the men who followed Jesus 2000 years ago. And the same message that will change the lives and eternal futures of so many more people!

So, as you and I head out into a world filled with people who desperately need to hear this good news, don’t get stuck looking at yourself. You and I might not always have the answers, we might not always have the perfect set of words, we might not always have the boldness and courage that we wish we had, but when it comes to following Jesus’ call, that’s OK because we do have what we need. We have the simple good news that God loves people so much that he sent Jesus to die so that we might live. It’s a message that changed each one of us, it’s a message that has changed do many in the past, and it’s a message that has the power to change others. So, let’s stop worrying about ourselves and look at what Jesus says. “I will make you fishers of men,” and that’s what he does. Every time. Whether in our personal lives or our work together as a group of Christians, Jesus Changes the World through Us, and he does so through that same simple message. That’s Your Savior’s Call. May he open our eyes to the opportunity we have to be a part of it. Amen.