Sermon 3: Preaching and Calling
Text: Mark 1:12-20 – Immediately the Spirit drives Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him. Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: you all repent, and believe the gospel.” Now walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “You come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” And immediately they forsook their nets and followed Him. And when He had gone a little further from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And immediately He called them: and they left their father, Zebedee, in the ship with the hired servants, and went after Him.
Mark introduces most of the major characters and themes in the Bible in the first twenty verses of his account of the gospel. Look at it for yourself. There’s Jesus Christ, baptism, remission of sins, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, the kingdom, Satan, angels, preaching, repentance, the apostles, Old Testament prophecy, and temptation. Mark didn’t waste any time, he just dives right into the important things of the Bible.
But as you read today’s text, you’ll notice that Mark doesn’t do much explaining—and that there are very familiar aspects to some of these events that he simply leaves out. Remember who he is writing to: the Romans. They were people who liked continuous action, so Mark doesn’t slow down much in giving extra details. What he does give, though, is enough to get the point across.
The Text, part 1 – The Temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:12-13)
Matthew and Luke describe the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, as well as the response that Jesus gives in order to rebuke Satan. Mark, on the other hand, does not give us much information at all. Some people have said that this proves Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke simply “embellished” the account—which isn’t true at all. All it proves is that Mark knew his audience. They were interested in action, not in the use of 1,500-year-old Jewish writings (which they didn’t believe in at this point) to overcome temptation.
(12) Immediately the Spirit drives Him into the wilderness.
Note the action here. Immediately the Spirit drives Him into the wilderness. The word “drives” is ekballo in Greek, which literally means “cast out” or “drive out.” It’s translated “expelled” (Acts 13:50), “thrust out” (Luke 4:29), and is used to describe the “casting out” of demons. Thayer gives as one of the definitions, “to lead one forth or away somewhere with a force which he cannot resist.” Matthew and Luke (chapter 4 of each gospel) both say Jesus was “led” by the Spirit into the wilderness, but Mark’s account is much more forceful. The Holy Spirit was taking Jesus to the wilderness, whether He wanted to go there or not. I doubt very strongly that Jesus would have tried to resist, but at the same time, I can’t imagine that he’d be looking forward to having Satan pull out his entire bag of tricks on Him there in the wilderness. Remember that as a human, Jesus was subject to temptation just like we are (Hebrews 2:16-18).
Jesus had already come into the wilderness to be baptized by John (Mark 1:4-5, 9), but now He was being taken to another wilderness. The word “wilderness” simply means “uninhabited place.” With John preaching and multitudes come to him to be baptized, that area wasn’t as much of a wilderness—there were lots of people there. So Jesus is taken to another place where it is just Him and the wild animals…and Satan.
(13a) He was there in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.
The temptations of Jesus were far more involved and lengthy than we might generally think. Matthew and Luke give three specific temptations, but Mark states that Satan spent forty days tempting Jesus. Luke says the same thing (Luke 4:2). The three specific temptations given in Matthew and Luke took place at the end of that period, after Jesus was “a hungered” (Matthew 4:1-4). But Mark simply states that Jesus—after being taken there by the Holy Spirit—was “being tempted” by Satan for forty days.
This is what you might call a “testing ground” for Jesus as the Son of God—as the anointed King of prophecy. In some cultures, it is common for the son of the king (or the tribal chief) to be tested in order to prove his worthiness to inherit the throne. When the testing period was completed, and the heir successfully completed the task, his claim to the throne was solidified.
This testing, or tempting (the Greek word can mean either one), was done by Satan himself. There are those who argue that “Satan” should be translated as “adversary,” and that it isn’t really a proper name. Remember that Mark is writing to a Roman audience. If he had wanted to use the Greek word for “adversary” (antidikos), he could have; Matthew, Luke, and Peter all used it. He could have even chosen to use a Latin equivalent, but he didn’t. Instead, Mark used “Satanas”—the Greek spelling of the Hebrew word “Satan”—with no explanation of the meaning of the word (like he does in other places where Hebrew/Aramaic words are used). The only way this word choice makes sense is if Mark was using it as a proper name. Satan is a real being, and he is the one who tempted Jesus for forty days in the wilderness.
(13b) He…was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
Mark describes the wilderness as a place that was only inhabited by the wild beasts. There were no other people around to help Jesus with this task of being tested directly by Satan. He was by Himself against the greatest enemy in the history of mankind. Mark doesn’t come out and say what the outcome of this combat was, but it will become very clear in the next verse.
The angels, the heavenly messengers, were sent by God to serve the needs of His Son who had successfully completed this battle-testing. It would have been a grueling forty days, fasting, being attacked by Satan; so the Father sent ministers to His Son to help Him. Imagine a prince being sent on a quest to test him; and as he returns after a vicious fight—victorious, but exhausted—the king sends some of his servants to carry the weapons, to take him food and water, to assist him back from his victory proving his complete loyalty to his father. The angels of heaven ministered to Jesus in a similar way.
The Text, part 2 – The Preaching of the King and the Kingdom (Mark 1:14-15)
Mark showed that Jesus was taken by the Spirit and tempted by Satan, but unlike Matthew and Luke, he doesn’t show how Jesus overcame those temptations and won the battle. But make no mistake about it, Mark is very clear that Jesus won.
(14a) Now after that John was put in prison…
Mark throws this in almost as a side note, but the readers almost certainly would be asking, “Wait! What happened to John? Why was he put in prison?” He does answer that question, but not until chapter six. In the meantime, this helps to transition the narrative from “the King is coming!” to “the King is here!” Because look at what Jesus is doing in this verse.
(14b) Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.
Jesus has returned from His victory over Satan in the 40-day Battle of Temptation, and now He is going around Galilee (His home area) proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God. This would have been impossible if He had lost the battle with Satan. Thus, the fact that Jesus is going around preaching about the “kingdom of God” proves that He won the battle.
This is the same “gospel” or “good news” that Mark opened the book with—the “gospel” or “good news” of Jesus Christ, Son of the God. This is the same “gospel” that must be believed and obeyed in order to be saved. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of the Kingdom of God because Jesus is the King, the anointed one of God.
(15a) Saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.”
For Mark’s readers, this is a reference back to verses 2 and 3. There he gave ancient prophecies about the coming of a King preceded by the arrival of His messenger. For those who heard Jesus speak, however, this was a reference to several Old Testament prophecies, including Daniel 2:44 and 9:24-25.
And in the days of these kings [of the fourth kingdom, the Roman Empire] shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed.
Seventy weeks are determined upon your people [the Jews] and upon your holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to build Jerusalem until the Messiah the Prince shall be sixty-nine weeks…
The message of Jesus was that the kingdom of God was “at hand.” This phrase means something is very near; if something is within arm’s reach, it is literally “at hand.” If it is not within arm’s reach, then it isn’t “at hand.” It’s a very simple concept, but people have seriously twisted its meaning and tried to contort Jesus’ words to mean something completely different from what He was actually preaching. Jesus, the Anointed One, the King, was proclaiming to people that the kingdom of God was very near. In fact, later in this same book, Mark records Jesus saying, “Truly I say to you that there shall be some of them which are standing here which shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9:1). It was coming in the lifetime of those people who were alive when Jesus spoke!
(15b) “You all repent and believe the gospel.”
The message of Jesus was much like John’s. John preached “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). Jesus preached “repent” and “believe the gospel [of the kingdom of God].” John proclaimed that a great King was coming, now Jesus [the King] is proclaiming that His kingdom would soon be established.
The command to “repent” has a dual (yet still singular) meaning: it means to leave sin behind, and change your allegiance from the “prince of this world” (John 12:31, Ephesians 2:2) and his “kingdom of darkness” (Colossians 1:13) to the King of kings and His “marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). So, as Jesus is going about preaching, He is also—as a King—inviting people to prepare themselves to join His kingdom.
It’s like if a king went through enemy territory, telling all the inhabitants that he was about to overthrow their leader. He’d say to those who would listen, “His kingdom is going to fall, and you need to decide now which side you want to be on. If you join with me, you will live. Otherwise, you will certainly die.” This is basically what Jesus is doing, getting people to change their allegiance from the kingdom of Satan (serving sin) to the kingdom of God.
The Text, part 3 – Calling His Representatives (Mark 1:16-20)
This section could also be entitled “The First Converts” or “The First Citizens,” because Mark’s purpose is to show that the preaching that the “kingdom of God is at hand” was effective—the King was gaining subjects.
(16) 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 fishermen.
Except during what’s called the “Triumphal Entry,” (recorded in Mark 11), there is no record of Jesus traveling over land any other way but walking (and sometimes his sea travels were done by walking as well—as in Mark 6). This may seem unimportant, but remember that Mark is showing his readers that this King is different. Earthly kings would likely have ridden horses, or in chariots, but not this King.
Simon and Andrew lived together with their families in Capernaum (which is shown later in this chapter), and worked as fishermen. According to J.W. McGarvey, “Fishing was then a prosperous trade on the lake of Galilee.” The net that they were using was an amphiblestron, a circular bell-shaped net that was tossed in the water and sank, catching any fish that it fell upon (McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel). Fishing was not considered to be a high-class trade, but it was an honest one. The fact that they were fishermen is what brings about Jesus’ words in the next verse.
(17) Jesus said to them, “You come after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”
The word “come” is not a request, as it might seem as you read the text. The Greek word is a command, and the experts say it means “Come here!” or “Come! Come now!” Thayer and Strong both use exclamation points in the definition, showing just how strong of a command this is. This is Mark showing the authority of Jesus and that He expects His subjects to put Him above everything—including their own (profitable) occupation.
Instead of spending their time gathering fish, Jesus promises Simon and Andrew that they will be gathering men—that is, people. Jesus is building up His army, starting with these two brothers, and this army’s job includes recruiting—recruiting people to join the Empire of the new King, Jesus of Nazareth. These two men would later be called “apostles,” and would be responsible for bringing thousands of souls over to the side of Jesus.
(18) And immediately they forsook their nets and followed Him.
Mark doesn’t usually stop and tell the backstory behind the events he records. Here, he simply introduces Simon and Andrew to the narrative at the point in which they were called. He could have, like John (John 1:35-51), told about how Andrew was introduced to Jesus by John the Immerser, and how he in turn found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus some time before, and that this event at the Sea of Galilee was something that took place afterwards. But he didn’t, because those things weren’t necessary elements in his gospel account. Remember, he is writing about Jesus, the King, Son of the God, and he’s writing to people who wanted constant action—not backstories of the supporting characters.
Simon and Andrew, upon hearing the command of Jesus, immediately left their nets behind and obeyed the command from the King to join Him. They were the first of millions to answer the call to come to Jesus. Notice that they didn’t hesitate; they didn’t argue; they didn’t say, “Well, I need to discuss this with so and so.” They simply obeyed.
(19) When He had gone a little further from there, He saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.
James and John, according to Luke 5:10, were partners with Peter in the fishing business. These two brothers were together in their boat with their father, Zebedee, getting their nets ready. The word translated “mending” can also mean “adjusting” or “preparing.” Jesus could see that these men were workers—they weren’t lazy.
(20) Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after Him.
Zebedee is someone about which we know very little. His name appears 12 times in the Bible (all in the gospel accounts), but it is always with a reference to his sons. It is obvious that he was a Jew, for his sons observed the Passover meal with Jesus. It is likely that he was a faithful Jew, based on the fact that he had two sons who were prepared to follow Jesus at a moment’s notice, and on the fact that his wife (though misguided) was a firm believer in the kingdom of God (Matthew 20:20-21). Zebedee was also Jesus’ uncle, having married Mary’s sister (see John 19:25 and Matthew 27:56; also McGarvey’s Fourfold Gospel, pages 220-226). Some have made a big deal about Zebedee not leaving the ship with his sons, and have tried to imply that he wasn’t a believer in Jesus. The fact is, Jesus didn’t call Zebedee to leave his ship—he only called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to do so. He had selected them for a specific work that necessitated their leaving the fishing business. Jesus never made “quit your job” a requirement for being a disciple—but it seems He did make that part of being an apostle.
The two brothers left their father with the hired servants [employees] and followed Jesus. By making sure to point out that they left their father in the boat, Mark is pointing out that loyalty to King Jesus takes priority over family as well.
Repentance is a Change of Loyalty
Jesus, the King, was preaching the good news that God’s kingdom—God’s empire—was near. He wanted people to change their loyalties and join Him. That is, He was calling on them to repent, to change, and follow Him. When we call people to come to Jesus today, we need to help them understand that repentance is a change of loyalty—it is removing the crown off our own head and placing it before Jesus Christ. It’s saying “My life is no longer being lived in the service of me, but in the service of Jesus.” It’s leaving sin behind (for sin is serving self), and dedicating yourself completely to your new King. Repentance isn’t merely being sorry for your sins, it is a complete change in the object of your life.
Maybe you’ve already pledged allegiance to the King of kings, declaring your loyalties lie with Him through baptism. But then something else happens; someone starts courting you to come back to your old king. And maybe you’ve done things that show your loyalty to the King isn’t what it should be. Maybe you’ve done things that show you’re still loyal to your old masters, sin and Satan. This happened to a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom named Simon. Another man named Simon (also known as Peter), said it quite clearly: “Repent!” Be sorrowful about your sins, pray to God for forgiveness, and re-establish your loyalty to Jesus, the King of God’s kingdom.
As a point of comparison, the Christian who goes back into sin is like a citizen of the United States who is convinced to send money to terrorists. On one hand, he claims to be loyal to the United States, while on the other hand he shows that his loyalty is to the enemies of this nation. You can’t do both!
Loyalty to Jesus Trumps All Other Relationships
When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, He expected them to leave their fishing business behind in order to follow Him. When He called James and John, He expected them to leave their father behind in order to follow Him. The first two brothers could have said, “We get off in a couple hours; we’ll follow you then.” They could have said, “We’ve got a lot of work to do, can we reschedule?” But they didn’t. They followed Jesus. Following Jesus has to be the most important part of our lives if we expect to be counted among the faithful. That means we cannot let our jobs keep us from serving Him.
The second set of brothers could have said, “But Jesus, we’ve got to take care of our father.” They could have added, “This is a family business, and we can’t leave dad in a lurch like that!” They could have even said, “Jesus, hold on, we’ve got to talk this over with the family before we decide whether or not to follow you.” But they didn’t. They heard the invitation of Jesus and followed Him. Far too many people let family or friends influence their decision on whether or not to follow Jesus. Even after pledging their loyalty to Jesus, some Christians let their family keep them from being a productive citizen in God’s kingdom. Sometimes they even let family convince them to renounce their loyalty altogether. This is why Jesus said that we must “count the cost” of being His disciple—of becoming part of His Kingdom (Luke 14:26-33).
If there is no Kingdom, there is no Salvation.
The “gospel” must be believed and obeyed in baptism in order to save someone (Mark 16:15-16). However, the “gospel” that Jesus preached was “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14). The gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of the kingdom of God (one translation renders it as “God’s Empire”); they are one and the same. There are those who claim that Jesus came to earth to set up a kingdom, but was thwarted by the unbelieving Jews. If that is the case, then the gospel that Jesus preached was a gospel that failed. A gospel of failure isn’t “good news” at all! And a gospel of failure certainly has no power to save souls. Can you believe that there are those who teach such nonsense?
The truth is that the Kingdom exists; that Jesus is the King over His kingdom; and that it is the only place wherein you can have safety. It is the church—His church—over which He reigns in love. That, my friends, is truly good news!
The gospel is the good news that the King came from heaven, lived among His people, died for them, and then came back to life to reign from heaven—and that those who become citizens of that kingdom are adopted into the royal family and can “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6, John 14:1-3).
The offer to be a part of the Kingdom of God, to have all of your sins forever removed, and to live eternally with the victorious King is made to everyone. But sadly, not all believe. The question today is this: do you believe? Do you believe in Jesus, Son of the God of heaven? Do you know that through His death, burial, and resurrection, He established His Kingdom—a Kingdom that will never fall? If you believe, then won’t you pledge your loyalty to Him and become part of that eternal Kingdom? Decide now to change your life; stop serving yourself and start serving Jesus (in other words, repent). Make it known that you want to be on the Lord’s side, and then through your own death (to sin), burial (in water), and resurrection (to walk in newness of life), you can be part of His Kingdom.
The King awaits, and so do we. Please come…
-Bradley S. Cobb