The Calling – January 24, 2021
Psalm 147:1-11, Mark 1:12-28
January 24, 2021
This morning we’re thinking about the story where Jesus calls his first disciples. And I’ve talked in the past about how unusual this scene would have been to those reading this story, and how awkward it might have been for those who were witnessing it.
I heard a great lecture, years ago, about rabbis and how they would choose their disciples. All rabbis had disciples. That was part of the teaching process of Israel. And my understanding is that a rabbi would choose disciples from among the best of his students – the boys he was teaching in school. All the boys went to school, but only the best of them were chosen by the rabbi to be his disciples.
So, when this new rabbi Jesus came on the scene, and he chose these fishermen to be his disciples, that would have been seen as being “out of the ordinary,” to say the least! I’ve often talked about how Jesus was looked down on by the Pharisees when it came to these “disciples” that he chose. But I suspect they weren’t the only scoffers. I think all of the people would have seen this as unusual, maybe even somewhat bizarre.
So, I think that makes this an amazing story. Jesus calls these fishermen, saying “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men!” Maybe there was even the little “word play” that we have here in English. “Fishermen” – “Fishers of men.” But what’s really important about this story is that it carries with it the all-important message that Jesus would continue to preach throughout his ministry, that in his kingdom, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last, and whoever would be great, must be servant of all.” He taught that, and he demonstrated it, right off the bat. And the message to us is that we are called too, no matter who we are. And as I said several weeks ago, God rarely chooses great people to do great things in his kingdom. His way is to choose common people to do great things in his kingdom!
So that’s the first important message in this story. And as I said, that would continue throughout Jesus’ ministry. The second thing I’d like you to think about has to do with the way Mark presents this story. This calling of the disciples in his Gospel is framed in a very interesting way!
Think about this. After Jesus’ baptism, which we looked at last week, his ministry officially begins. And the very first story we’re told – here and in Matthew’s Gospel – is that Jesus was “driven into the wilderness by the spirit to be tempted by Satan.” Matthew says, “led into the wilderness.” Mark says “driven,” which I think is very interesting. Matthew also fills in that temptation story much more! That’s certainly worth a sermon all by itself! But today I wanted you to see how it frames this first story of the disciples.
So, that’s the first part. But then, after our story for today, Jesus goes into the synagogue in Capernaum, and while he’s teaching there, look what happens. He encounters this man with an “unclean spirit.” That is, he encounters a demonic being. Please understand, this is no healing of a man with epilepsy. Jesus actually performed that kind of healing a number of times. But no, this is a demonic being. And the demon speaks. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God!”
This’s the other part of the “unusual framing” of this story. It’s framed first by Jesus being tempted by Satan, and if you read the Matthew account, you’ll see how Jesus showed that he had the power, he had the authority, over him. And now, in the other part of the “framing” is this second encounter with a being from the spiritual realm, a demon, a servant of Satan, we might say. And here too, Jesus shows his power and authority over that spiritual realm!
I think that’s an amazing way of framing the story we have of this new, humble, perhaps “less than qualified” rabbi, choosing these simple fishermen to be his disciples. I think that would have been seen as a great contrast to the readers of this story. And I hope we see that contrast, too! Because it tells us so much about who Jesus was and is!
With Jesus, there is always this lowliness, this humility, and at the same time, this great underlying power! When I think of him standing, beaten and in chains, before Pilate, who represented all the power of Rome, I always think, who really had the power in that scene? When he calmed the sea, his own disciples said about him, “Who is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” And in this story, the people asked, “Who is this, that even demons obey him?”
When I think about the Pharisees, I think that Jesus had to have been a huge enigma, a huge puzzle, for them. They would ridicule Jesus for being a “nobody,” with his rag-tag band of fishermen “disciples.” They would scoff at his lack of qualifications in the earthly, religious realm, where they had power. But, they would also be astounded by the authority and power he commanded in the spiritual realm!
There’s no doubt that that was an important part of the people’s impression of this new rabbi. Though his appearance was “rustic,” and his training was questionable, the people that day in Capernaum “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” (verse 22) And he showed them that he had great power in the spiritual realm!
Over the years, I’ve heard this question of whether or not there is an actual being called Satan, and if so, how do we fight him. Let me start by saying I believe – I know – there is a spiritual realm. There is much more than just this physical world we see. There’s no doubt about that! And besides being physical beings, we are also spiritual beings. We are part of that spiritual realm. And we only have a glimpse of it in this life.
Having said that, I also believe that there is a negative side of that spiritual realm. And whether or not you believe that there is an actual Satan, I don’t think there’s any doubt that there is a spiritual evil in the world. People have downplayed that idea over the years. But I’m with Paul on this. He told the Ephesians, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
So, what do we do about that? How do we fight against that? This is where some people think we need learn all we can about that, in order to fight it. We need to learn all we can about Satan, in order to keep ourselves safe from him. Well, I’ve always believed that the best way to contend against that “spiritual host of wickedness” is to stay close to the Lord! Because, while I do believe there is a negative part of the spiritual realm, I also believe in the one who has defeated it! As the psalmist said, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” (Psalm 18:2)
That’s huge! I don’t agree with those who say we have to study and learn all we can about Satan and his ways. I believe that when we draw close to the Lord, he protects us. As David said in II Samuel,
“The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold and my refuge, my savior.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.” (II Samuel 22:2-4)
When I was young, when I was in Jr. High, I was small, and I was skinny. That’s not a good thing to be when you’re in Jr. High! As I used to say, the bullies could see me coming “like a wounded gazelle on the plains of the Serengeti!” But it wasn’t long before my best friend growing up turned out to be the tough guy in the class. The bullies tried it with him, but they quickly learned that nobody messed with him! And after a while, nobody messed with me either! I was also not one of the “cool kids.” But when I got into the 8th Grade band, and I really started to play, I became friends with one of the “cool guys.” And before long, I was cool, too! (He’s still a great friend!)
I’ve always thought of my relationship with Jesus in the same way. Jesus calls us, like he called these humble fishermen. He calls us in humility, and he calls us to humility. He calls us as the rustic rabbi, who called common men, but he called them to do uncommon things. And when we answer the call, we have his power, and his status. When we answer his call, he becomes our rock and our fortress, our God in whom we trust. We don’t have to figure out all the wiles of the evil one. Because Jesus has already defeated him!
I like the image of Jesus I see in this story and the way Mark frames it. I love the image of this humble man with great underlying power. I love that he seemed, maybe “not so great” in the physical realm, but had the greatest authority in the spiritual realm.
In thinking of that, I’d like to close with these words from Paul to the Corinthians, which speak of our call, and of God’s power.
“For consider your call, brethren.” he wrote. “Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are!” (I Cor. 1:26-28)
Eternal God, help us to consider our call every day to be part of your kingdom here on earth, and in the heavenly realm. Help us to draw closer to you, and to have peace, that you are our rock and our fortress, our God in whom we trust. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.