Monday, January 22, 2018

How Jesus Disciples Live

[This was shared during worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church yesterday morning.]

Mark 1:14-20
In today’s short gospel lesson, Mark 1:14-20, Jesus shows us something of what it is to be His disciple. It boils down to four words:
  • Repent 
  • Believe 
  • Follow 
  • Fish.
Our lesson, written in Mark’s rapid-fire style, falls after his narration of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and Jesus’ time in the wilderness, immediately after John the Baptist's arrest by Herod.

Take a look at verse 14, please: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” (Mark 1:14) John’s ministry had been preparation for this moment when Jesus began His ministry. John had worked to get people ready for the coming of Jesus, the King. “After me,” John had said, “comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” (Mark 1:7)

Verse 15: “‘The time has come,’ [Jesus] said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”

The word translated as “time has come” is, in the Greek in which Mark wrote his gospel, Πεπλήρωται, from the verb πληρόω. It means full up, fully complete. The time was full up, Jesus was saying. Full up for the kingdom of God to be ushered into our world by the King of kings, Jesus!

There may be no more overlooked Biblical concept than the kingdom of God. Yet Jesus talks about it all the time.

When we think of that phrase “kingdom of God,” we might think of something that will happen in the future, beyond our own deaths, after our resurrections.

This view of God’s kingdom turns this life into nothing but heaven’s waiting room.

Not only is that incredibly boring, it’s built on a false understanding of the kingdom that Jesus came to bring to us.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to petition God, “Thy kingdom come.” When we say that, we’re not asking God to make us part of His reign after we die. We're asking God to reign over our lives right now.

In explaining this petition of the prayer, Martin Luther writes in The Small Catechism: “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit [now], so that by His grace we believe His holy Word [now] and live a godly life now and in eternity.”

Jesus says in John 5:25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”

He says to those who come in contact with Him, “...the kingdom of God is in your midst." (Luke 17:21)

And 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “... if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

So, Jesus comes to bring us into direct relationship with God our King in these days, as we walk on this earth! We become citizens of His kingdom now. We don’t have to wait till we die!

Jesus explains exactly how the kingdom of God comes to us in verse 15 of our gospel lesson too. When Jesus brings God’s kingdom to us--in His Word, in the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, in the fellowship of other believers, we enter the kingdom of God and we enter it at deeper and deeper levels of connection and joy when we “repent and believe in the good news.”

Those are the first two aspects of being disciples in the kingdom of God: repenting and believing in the good news.

Let's unpack those two things for a moment.

As you know, a lot of people have the wrong idea about repentance. Repentance does begin with sorrow for sin, with regret over hurting the God Who made us and sent Jesus to die and rise for us. But after sin has been confessed honestly to God, repentance ends with the joy of reconciliation with God. It ends with God telling us we are forgiven. Repentance clears the clutter of sin that otherwise obstructs our relationship with God. His life flows to us again.

To believe in the good news is to believe in Jesus, to trust that when He died on the cross, He died for my sins, to trust that when He rose from the dead, He did so to give me life. That’s good news! “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

Discipleship begins with repentance and belief. These two things alone are enough to save us. They are gifts God gives to those who are open to Jesus. Repentance and belief in Jesus, both of which only God the Holy Spirit can create within us, are the conduits by which we are saved by grace through faith in Christ.

But we live in a world darkened by sin. And until our own physical deaths, you and I will be dogged by our sin and the temptation to sin. Unless we remain resolutely connected to Christ, we can fall away from God. We can lose our ways.

This is why Jesus told the disciples who wanted to sleep at Gethsemane, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

So, on top of repenting and believing, the disciple of Jesus will diligently seek to follow Him.

They follow Jesus so that they can be filled with God’s strength and not have to face life or temptations to sin on their own.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus finds Simon and Andrew, two brothers who are fishermen, and tells them, “Come, follow me…” (Mark 1:17). Later, Jesus calls another set of brothers, John and James, to follow and they do (v.20).

But what does it mean for you and me to follow Jesus?

Imagine for a second a couple who get married, then decide, even though they live under the same roof and have jobs in the same city, that they’ll just see each other for one hour every week...unless they have something more interesting or fun to do.

How deep do you think their relationship would be?

How prepared do you think they’d be when adversities hit?

You couldn’t really describe what they had as a marriage, could you?

As ridiculous as that illustration sounds, it precisely describes the manner in which most people who call themselves Christians approach the most important relationship in their lives, their relationship with Jesus.

They set up a time to meet Jesus every week (unless something more interesting or fun comes along) and then forget Him the rest of the week. Weekly worship with fellow believers is essential to the Christian life; I'm not knocking it. But if that’s the only connection you have with Christ over the course of your weeks, how deep can your relationship with Christ really be? How prepared will you be for life’s adversities when Jesus is nothing more than a distant acquaintance?

We need to spend some focused time each day in prayer, in reading God’s Word, in asking Jesus, “What do you have in mind for me to think or do in this passage of Scripture today, Lord?”

I also find myself as I grow older more closely adhering to Paul's admonition to pray without ceasing. Many times over the course of my days, I'll find myself talking with God about one thing or another. I'll be driving along in my car, praying. And I know people who pass by think I'm talking to myself. I don't care what they think! I want to keep praying that God's kingdom will come to people.

But even if you're not that crazy, having a daily focused time with God is important. If it seems too hard to do for say five days a week, try at first to do it one day a week, then two, and so on. And, if you need help in even getting started on following Jesus in this way, contact one of the members of our Life and Learning Team to ask them for tips.

So, disciples of Jesus repent, believe in the good news, and follow Jesus. And then, they fish. Jesus told Simon and Andrew to follow Him “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Matthew 1:17)

This metaphorical description of every disciple's mission would have resonated with Simon and Andrew. And not just because they were fishermen.

You see, God’s people, the Jews, viewed the sea as a daunting, evil thing. It was a place of death and ferocious sea monsters. They remembered Genesis 1, in which God’s Holy Spirit moved over dark chaos to impose order, bring good from evil, and to create life.

To fish for people is to draw them out of chaos, sin, evil, and darkness.

To fish for people is to bring them to life with God, to the light of God’s goodness.

To fish for people is to make disciples.

I try to go fishing all the time, even though it doesn’t come naturally to me, even though I would rather keep to myself. (Believe it or not...and Ann will vouch for this, I am an introvert. God has had to kick me out of my shell and still has to remind me to move beyond myself all the time!)

So, at Jesus’ behest, I go fishing for people.

Last night, I made a run to a Kroger deli.

Not my usual one.

I was trolling different waters last night.

I happened to be in uniform, my clerical collar. That can be more of a disadvantage than an advantage.

Whatever, I followed my usual pattern of interaction: I struck up a conversation with the clerk who waited on me. “Have you been busy today?” “No need to put paper between every slice of cheese.”

This is the way you start when you go fishing for Jesus:
  • You strike up conversations. 
  • You ask questions. 
  • You show genuine concern. 
  • As time goes on and people get to know you, as appropriate, you mention your faith in Jesus. 
  • As they share things about themselves, you ask if you can pray for them. 
  • You plant the seeds of the good news of the God Who sent His Son Jesus so that all who believe in Him will never die, but have everlasting life with God. You go fishing.
Before you say, “I could never do that,” let me remind you of something. However you came to faith in Jesus--through your parents, through a friend, whatever, it ultimately can be traced back to moments when some Christian disciple went fishing. They cared enough about people swamped by the darkness, chaos, and sin of this world to share Christ with them.

Fishing for people is the greatest expression of love in the world.

Repent. Believe. Follow. Fish.

This is how disciples live.

This is how Christ uses us to make more disciples.

May we always be faithful disciples of Jesus. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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