The Big Boss From Galilee
About a year ago I was struggling with one of the boys in Sunday School. I looked him in the eye and asked a question I felt sure would bring him in line: “Brandon, who is in charge here?” That kid wasn’t gonna let me get away that easy, so he replied, “Jesus is.”
If ever a man spoke God’s truth with authority, it was Jesus. It has been said that the
scribes spoke from authority but that Jesus spoke with authority. The first words He speaks in verse 15 come as a news flash that “the time is fulfilled,” as if to say, “Time’s up! You’ve been waiting how many years for the Messiah to show up? Well, I’m here. And right on time.” God’s people can trust in the perfect timing of God. He may not always come when you want Him, but He is always right on time and when He shows up it’s with supreme authority.
We’ll be a lot happier if we remember that sometimes God answers our prayers by saying, “Not yet.” A man once asked God how long a million years was to Him. God replied, “It’s just like a single second of your time, my child.” So the man asked, “And what about a million dollars?” The Lord replied, “To me, it’s just like a single penny.” So the man gathered himself up and said, “Well, Lord, could I have one of your pennies?” And God said, “Certainly, my child, just a second.”
The timing of God is perfect. The Lord Jesus came right on time, and He will be right on time when He comes back to rule on this earth. We sometimes wonder how much worse things can get, that maybe Jesus has forgotten us, but no, He will not be late. Jesus then trumpets the news that “the kingdom of God is at hand.” “At hand” meaning, within reach, but not quite in the hand yet. The word translated “kingdom” here comes from the Greek word basileia, and it means first, the authority to rule as a king and, second, the realm where that king exercises his authority.
So when Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” He is announcing His authority. In those days when King So-and-so invaded a land, he dethroned and overthrew the reigning power and released any prisoners that the ex-king had captured. King Jesus walks into Galilee. His objective is to dethrone and overthrow Prince Satan, and to free His people from the power of evil and death. Satan would have shuddered, listening to this sermon about the kingdom of God, but to the captive’s ears it would mean freedom and allegiance to a Savior and King who loved them and would rule wisely and justly.
Unfortunately, the Jews didn’t read Jesus’ announcement correctly. When Jesus took His message into occupied Israel, where Roman soldiers could be found patrolling every street corner,most of the Jews read “political revolution” into the phrase “kingdom of God,” but that was not what Jesus had in mind at all. His kingdom has to do with His reign in the lives of His people. And He has not lost His desire to reign in our lives, to reign over us, and to use us to change our world for Him. Jesus wants us to follow Him. That much is clear from today’s story, where
Mark teaches us two important lessons about Jesus. The first is:
1. Jesus Has the Authority to Call Us After Him
Let’s try to imagine this Sea of Galilee. It’s a beautiful fresh-water lake. Fed by the upper
waters of the Jordan River, it is seven hundred feet below sea level, fourteen miles long, and six miles wide. Plenty of room for fish, so as we look out across the water we see as many 330 fishing boats sailing upon the lake. Among those who fished this lake for a living are Simon and his brother, Andrew. A little further down the water are James and John, sons of Zebedee who’s in the boat with his boys and his servants. Like most fishermen, these men have courage, an ability to work together, patience, energy, stamina, faith, and judging by the callouses on their hands these guys are tough.
But not so tough that Jesus is afraid of them. In fact, according to John’s gospel, Jesus
has met them all several months earlier, and His preaching grabbed them by the ears and virtually
demanded that they believe in Him as the Messiah. So on this particular day when Jesus comes walking along the Sea of Galilee, He is able to call these men from their regular occupations and make them His disciples. “Follow me!” He says. This is kind of a strange way to start a following. Usually when a rabbi or a teacher wanted to start a new class he’d wait around in his classroom until the students decided to show up. Not Jesus. Jesus goes right up to the water and calls the fishermen right out of their boats.
He tells them He’s gonna make them become fishers of men. There is a warning here. We sing the song, “I will make you fishers of men,” but when the King James and NAS Bibles correctly tell us that Jesus is going to make them become fishers of men we should see that this will be a slow and painful process. Later in His ministry Jesus would explain that “anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even
one’s own self—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple. Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? ...If you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it goodbye, you can’t be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-33).
With a recruiting program like that it’s really amazing that anybody followed Jesus at all.
But verse 18 tells us, “immediately Simon and Andrew left their nets and followed Him.” A few verses down we read that James and John jumped right out of dad’s boat and came straight away after Jesus. The Greek speaks of a once for all action. No questions asked, no answers offered. He called, they came.
William Lane points out that “the stress in Mark’s brief report falls upon the sovereign
authority in Jesus’ call, and the radical obedience of Simon, Peter, James, and John. So compelling is the claim of Jesus upon them that all prior claims lose their validity. Their father, the hired servants, [the family business with] the boat and the nets are left behind as they commit themselves in an exclusive sense to follow Jesus.”
Philip Yancey feels like he’s been lied to by Hollywood films about Jesus films where Jesus recites his lines evenly and without emotion. He strides through life as the one calm character among a cast of flustered extras. Nothing rattles him. He dispenses wisdom in flat measured tones. He is, in short, the Prozac Jesus.” Then Yancey gives us the real picture by reminding us that “the Gospels present a man who has such charisma that people will sit three days straight, without food, just to hear His riveting words.” Paul wrote, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). Jesus is just that compelling.
And yet the American Christian’s experience is that it takes every last ounce of our will-power to pull ourselves away from what we want to do and follow after Him. When we finally leave the nets behind we follow Him around the block and then we swim right back out to the boat. One of the reasons we fail again and again and again and again is because we have in our minds Philip Yancey’s concept of the Prozac Jesus—the mild-mannered Jesus who doesn’t really
care what I do and will forgive me anyway if He does.
American Christians have this way of thinking that we’re all registered voters in the democratic kingdom of God and if we don’t like where Jesus is leading us we can veto His plan. In His grace God sometimes lets us get away with that for the time being. But today we have seen the reality of the situation: that the same fiery and determined Jesus that beat the devil down with the cross and freed you from his dictatorship has every right to bring the kingdom of God into your life. He has the right to zap your brain and force you to serve as His own personal robot. This is the goal of the Dark Lord in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, even though he
has no right to do make slaves out of free men.
Our King has every right to put us in chains. But even with all those rights, rather than lording it over us, He calls out to us, “Follow me!” And then He waits for us to obey with all our heart, freely, gratefully, cheerfully, as though we had no further desire to live life for ourselves because we agree with Paul who says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Romans 12:1 calls us to “offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Him.” The infiniteness of God’s grace is so clear when we realize that God has made this an option to us. He gives us the freedom to show our love for Him. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to follow Him all the more. His grace to us is
even more apparent when we look at the next part of the story where He gives this demon absolutely no options whatsoever. It’s here that Mark gives us a second lesson about Jesus:
2. When Jesus Says Something You Can Count On It Happening
In this next part of the story we find Jesus teaching in the synagogue. His new disciples are listening to Him preach, and verse 22 tells us they were amazed by the authority with which He spoke. Mark put this part of the story here knowing that it’s dangerous to follow Jesus. But he wants us to see Jesus’ authority in action so we won’t be so scared. A demon possessed man is staying here, and we’re not sure just how long this he’d been attending services there without anyone knowing. But on this particular day, he blew his cover as soon as Jesus started teaching.
It must have been Jesus’ air of authority that set the demon off. We have no reason to think that the demon recognized Him by His physical appearance because the Bible tells us that Jesus was a regular looking guy. But as the demon speaks through the man you can tell he knows what he’s up against. Look at how he talks in verse 24: “What do we have to do with you, Jesus? Have you come to destroy us?” Not “I” and “me”, but “we” and “us.” This demon has woven
himself through this man so tightly that there’s no way in heaven or hell he’s gonna let the poor guy get away from him.
Then he hisses at Jesus, “I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” To which Jesus says, “Be quiet!” literally, “Be muzzled!” You see, Jesus didn’t need Satan’s help telling the world who He is. He didn’t want demonic testimony about Himself any more than these political candidates want the endorsement of Osama bin Laden. So He tells the demon to shut up and come out of the man, and with that the demon tried one last convulsive attack, but then he had to submit to Jesus’ authority and come out of the man.
Verse 27 tells us that everyone there was amazed, buzzing with curiosity. “What’s going on here? A new teaching that does what it says? He shuts up demonic spirits and sends them packing!” They were surprised because in those days guys who cast out demons needed some kind of a magical formula to make it come out. He’d do some kind of special dance and say, “A-la-peanut-butter and-jelly-sandwiches...in the name of my god with a little ‘g’, I command you to come out!” And even then results were hit and miss, almost as if the demons were playing with the exorcist and would sometimes humor him to give a false sense of power. Jesus needed no
magical words. He said, “Come out of him,” and the demon could do nothing else but. When Jesus says something you can count on it happening. That’s how it always is with Jesus. And it ought to challenge us to give His words all our attention.
As it is right now, you and I probably have more in common with the congregation who was socializing after the morning service, and conversation turned to the sermon. The pastor had
spoken about Jesus’ encounter with an unfruitful fig tree, where He had told the thing to never produce again and it quickly withered away. People made various comments before one woman piped up, “Well, this morning’s message has inspired me to take action.”
“What do you plan to do?” someone asked.
“I’m going straight to the store to buy cookies,” she replied. “I have a sudden craving for
a fig newton.”
Maybe the lady missed Jesus’ point because she didn’t take Him seriously. As we study the book of Mark together we’ll come across some remarkable statements. For example, Jesus will tell His disciples they can do things even more remarkable than this casting out of a demon, and that if we have a little faith we can tell the mountains to take a swim in the sea. Will I try to explain those statements away for you so you don’t have to believe them? No. Because the Word of God is dependable and when Jesus says something, you can count on it happening. So
as we read Jesus words together, think them over real good, and then do as He says. No questions asked, no answers expected. He calls, we come. Leaving the nets behind, let’s jump out of the boat, and follow Him into this great adventure saying, “Here am I, Lord! I am yours to command! Every part of me belongs to you. I’ll leave it all behind for you, my Master, my Savior, my Lord and my God.”
The story is told of the miliary legend Alexander the Great who had conquered almost all of the known world. One day on the warpath, Alexander and small company of soldiers approached a strongly fortified walled city and Alexander raised his voice and demanded to see the king. When the king arrived, Alexander ordered him to surrender the city and everyone inside to Alexander and his little band of fighting men.
The king laughed, “Why should I surrender to you? You can’t do us any harm!” But Alexander offered to give the king a demonstration. He ordered his men to line up single file and start marching. He marched them straight toward a sheer cliff.
The townspeople gathered on the wall and watched in shocked silence as, one by one,Alexander’s soldiers marched without hesitation right off the cliff to their deaths! After ten soldiers died, Alexander ordered the rest of the men to return to his side. The townspeople and the king immediately surrendered to Alexander the Great. They realized that if a few men were actually willing to commit suicide at the command of this dynamic leader, then nothing could stop his eventual victory.
Are you willing to be as obedient to the ruler of the universe, Jesus Christ, as those soldiers were to Alexander? Are you as dedicated and committed? Think how much power Christ could have in our area with just a portion of such commitment.
The beauty of our Lord Jesus is that unlike Alexander, Jesus loves His followers and wants what’s best for them. He proved this once for all at the cross, where He allowed Himself to be murdered, so that with His blood He could pay the price to free us from Satan himself, that the kingdom of God could come in and we could serve a new King who loves us and rules justly. We remember our Lord’s sacrifice today in the Lord’s Supper.