The voice of the LORD
is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
As many of you know, I’m privileged to serve on the examining committee for our presbytery. We are charged with the vital task of investigating candidates to serve as teaching elders in our churches; it’s our business to make sure these men align properly with the Westminster Confession of Faith.
There is one area in which candidate after candidate differs from the Confession, although they usually don’t know it until we tell them. The Confession states that the visible church (all professing believers on earth and their children) is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, but many men who come before our committee don’t actually hold to that definition of the kingdom. They expand “the kingdom” to include the cosmos, and while it is true that Jesus is the King of glory, the definition of the kingdom in our Confession is precise. We almost always get them on that one!
Too bad we Presbyterians rarely understand the preaching and the power of the King Himself in our ministries.
This morning in our study of St. Mark’s fast-paced Gospel, we come to the evangelist’s account of Jesus’ initial public preaching and of his call of the first disciples. Although not all of us are called to preach from the sacred desk, and although none of us is called as an apostle, you and I as churchmen have much to learn in terms of the proclamation of our King (repent and believe the Good News) and in the power of our King, who alone is able to subdue sinners to himself.
We in Churchianity have trusted in giving out free “Xboxes,” in self-help messages and even (gasp!) in our extensive Reformed educations as we “evangelize” those around us. Consequently, we have not proclaimed the unique power of Jesus to save sinners, nor have we trusted in his power to accomplish the growth of his church.
Today, let us learn to preach what the King would have us preach as we trust in him to accomplish his perfect purposes through us. Then we will be about his business in his way.
First observe King Jesus’ proclamation: he calls sinners to repent and to believe the Good News from God, which centers on him.
St. Mark, as is his mode, does not offer many details at this point about John the Baptist’s imprisonment or about a concurrent ministry of the Baptizer and Jesus (as does St. John, for instance). We later learn that Herod had John imprisoned for reproving him for marrying Herodias unlawfully. (Here, as ever, you and I are confronted with the constant opposition of Satan against the Lord.) Mark’s focus instead falls on Jesus’ preaching of the Gospel in Galilee. And as you and I consider Christ’s preaching, note that Jesus called his hearers to realize their opportune moment in salvation history – and, therefore, to repent and believe on him.
Christ exhorted his hearers to realize the blessed time in which they lived, because the time of preparation for his coming had been fulfilled and the Kingdom had come near (and was at hand). They were to understand that all of human history had been pointing to this very moment in history, for the true King had come to defeat the enemies of his people and to rule over them. In recording Jesus’ words, Mark makes use of the perfect tense in Greek, indicating a past event – the first advent of our Lord – that had present-day implications for the audience. Jesus has come: what will you do with him?
St. Paul, in writing to the Galatians, says that in order to redeem us God sent forth his Son, made under the law, “in the fullness of time.” Clearly Jesus, with Mark and Paul and the other biblical authors, understood that God is sovereign over history, and that the coming of the Christ to redeem his people from their sins would mark the crucial moment in history. Christ’s coming had been anticipated by the first mentioning of the Gospel in Genesis 3:15, and by the skins God cut to cover fallen Adam and Eve, and by the sacrifices under the Mosaic law, and by the covenant promise to David of an eternal King. Indeed all of history had been building for this grand moment – the arrival of the true Lamb of God, the everlasting King.
Jesus’ hearers, as well as Mark’s original readers, would have understood what Jesus intended when he proclaimed the Kingdom of God was at hand. The Jews knew that the Lord was King over all creation; they knew He was their King and had given them an earthly king when they clamored for one. Yet they also knew defeat. They were familiar with foreign rule and with the division of the kingdom of Israel. They had witnessed the pagans triumphing over them; they had read the accounts of evil king after evil king failing to lead Israel in the ways of God. They longed for the true Anointed of God to come and to redeem them from their enemies. And those who were spiritually wise knew that the Messiah would come and vanquish sin and death, which were – and are – the true enemies of God’s people.
Great David’s greater Son came and proclaimed the coming of the kingdom in a new and full-orbed sense, as only he had the right to do. He preached the Good News: that he had come to shed his light on a darkened people, to free them from the source of all fears, sin. And he proclaimed this message with urgency, because his hearers needed to grasp – and to capitalize on – their moment in history.
I’m reminded of a Jew named Mordecai who helped arrange for his cousin, Esther, to be in a position to save the Jews from extinction thousands of years ago. Without going into the account of Esther, suffice it to say the hand of God operated throughout this narrative. At a critical moment early in the course of events, Mordecai asked Esther, “Don’t you think God put you here for such a time as this?”
That was the question to Jesus’ hearers, most of whom had heard of a coming King and some of whom even longed for that King. It is the question he poses to you, as you have the privilege right now of having the complete Word of God spread before you and can see clearly the finished work of the King. The King is in Heaven presently, but he still reigns over his church. His Word is before you. This is the crucial moment in your history as you look back on the central point of human history.
What will you do with him?
Jesus also called his hearers to repent and to believe the Good News. Repentance, in this instance, involves the Hebrew idea of a total, 180-degree turning from false gods to the living and true God. Jesus’ call demanded a decisive break with the past in terms of belief and practice. His call still demands that you not place him alongside other “gods” – family, selfishness, success at work, postmodern “everything-goes” religiosity – but that you renounce every other religion and worldview and embrace him as your Savior and Lord.
He called, and calls, his hearers to believe the Good News. Believing the Good News is impossible, however, unless you first have come to terms with the Bad News: you have been worshipping idols, and your idolatry deserves eternal punishment from the one true God, who is jealous for his worship. Faith and repentance go hand-in-hand, for you cannot believe the Gospel unless you have turned completely from every non-biblical system of belief.
Don’t miss your opportunity, your moment in history. Repent of idolatry and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave his life a ransom for many. This was Jesus’ clear proclamation to a world full of idolaters. Will you proclaim this same message, and demand that it proclaimed from this pulpit, with urgency? You and I must, because this is the essence of Jesus’ preaching.
As you and I proclaim the King’s message, secondly we must trust in his power to accomplish his perfect will with that proclamation.
Mark says Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee (Lake Genneseret) and came upon Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew as they were fishing. Remember, though, that Jesus is the King of Kings, and the King rules over his people with sovereign sway and purpose. Jesus didn’t simply amble along the waterfront; he walked along this lake, Matthew tells us, in fulfillment of the Isaianic prophecy of the light shining in darkened Galilee. And he walked upon Simon Peter and Andrew for the express purpose of calling these to himself whom his Father had given him from all eternity. This was a planned, personal, purposeful encounter – which is how Christ sovereignly comes to save you as well. As the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Protestant Episcopal Church say, the doctrine of predestination is of “unspeakable comfort” to those of us who believe in Christ as our Savior. The King loves and has chosen you personally!
Mark is typically succinct when speaking of the King’s powerful call. Luke informs us that Jesus commanded Peter to cast his net into the sea after a fruitless night of fishing, and when the net came back full, Peter immediately decried himself as a sinner in the holy presence of Jesus. True enough, Luke equally depicts the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in the calling of Peter and Andrew. But Mark makes it evident that these men followed Jesus for no other reason than the power of his internal call on them. The same is true for James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were mending their nets in preparation for yet another night in the regular beat of their lives when Jesus changed their destiny with one word.
“Come here! Follow me!” How little our Lord utters! No lengthy, catchy introductions. No sales pitches. Simply, “Follow after me!” And they immediately followed him because of his power.
There is nothing wrong with eloquent sermons. Indeed our preaching must be thoughtful, true, and balanced – all of which combine for a beautiful homily. But the stark simplicity of Jesus’ call to these fishermen remind you and me that the power is in God’s internal call to sinners and not in the magnificence of our presentation of the “outward call” – the Gospel proclamation of verses 14-15.
Jesus called fishermen, proof that the power of their preaching and ministry would rest in him and not in them. Certainly they grew in understanding over time, but the apostles didn’t receive automatic PhDs when Jesus summoned them. Even as they grew in the Lord, they still stumbled badly – see Peter – and some lacked a “presence in the pulpit” (so confessed St. Paul). Jesus didn’t call the religious academes of his day to be his first followers. He called normal men such as you and I, so that you and I, regardless of our learning, might remember that any success in Leakesville Presbyterian Church comes from the power of the King to subdue sinners.
He called these fishermen to be fishers of men. In the Old Testament, “fishing for men” wasn’t a positive occurrence; it referred to the Lord gathering sinners for judgment. But here we see Jesus calling feeble and frail men to go and preach the Word about him – to “cast a net” – so he might draw in his elect and save them from the Hell they deserve for their sins against God. So too Jesus calls you and me to cast a Gospel net by our words and actions, and God will draw internally His elect to Christ. As Professor Henry Krabbendam says, you and I as Jesus’ witnesses are to go around “screwing in Gospel light bulbs.” The Lord has determined from all eternity which ones light up and turn on; our duty simply is to witness.
If it were not for King Jesus’ power to slay your hard heart and to bring you from death to life, giving you a new heart to follow him, then you wouldn’t be here today naming him confidently and sincerely as your Savior. Those four fishermen wouldn’t have left their livelihood and their families (notice that Zebedee’s name is mentioned twice) to follow Jesus of their own will. Not one of you, of us, would have repented of idolatry and of self-made, self-serving religion and humbled himself before the cross of Christ had not Jesus drawn you and me inwardly. It takes King Jesus to shatter hard hearts – and he does!
But is your reliance on him, or on everything and everyone else, as you witness for Christ?
If it ever got truly cold here in Leakesville, all of you could come to my house and stay warm through the winter with an enduring fire. That’s because our church mailbox receives massive amounts of flyers – fodder for the fire – about program after program designed to “enhance your church.”
You and I don’t need a program. We need to receive St. Mark’s direct, succinct instruction about the proclamation King Jesus made and about the power behind Jesus’ evidently “successful” proclamation. We need to set the risen and ascended Lord Jesus before sinners, calling on them to seize their moment in history as they appropriate to themselves the moment in history. We need to trust not in our eloquence or in our programs or in Xbox giveaways but in the power of King Jesus to ravage hard hearts and to bring sinners to life.
Only King Jesus can accomplish this. Yet he has chosen to use feeble, “everyday” people such as you and me to accomplish the spread of his Kingdom.
As you look to Leakesville, to Lucedale and beyond, realize that now is your moment as well.