THE EARLY PREACHING AND THE FIRST DISCIPLES

Mark 1:14-20

(Slightly Rephrased)


"Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.' And 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. Then Jesus said to them, 'Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.' They immediately left their nets and followed Him. When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boast mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him." (Mark 1:14-20)

St. Mark has shown us the Baptist proclaiming Christ. He now tells us that when John was imprisoned, Jesus, turning from that Judean ministry which stirred the jealousy of John's disciples (John 3:26), "came into Galilee, preaching." One looks twice before observing that His teaching is a distinct advance upon the herald's. Men are still to repent; for however slightly modern preachers may heal the hurt of souls, real contrition is here taken over into the gospel scheme. But the time which was hitherto said to be at hand is now fulfilled. They are not only to believe the gospel, but to "believe in it." It is highly important to observe that faith is thus made prominent so early in our Lord's teaching. The vitalizing power of faith was no discovery of St. Paul; it was not evolved by devout meditation after Jesus had passed from view, nor was it introduced into His system when opposition forced Him to bind men to Him in a stronger allegiance. The power of faith is implied in His earliest preaching, and it is connected with His earliest miracles. But no such phrase as the power of faith is ever used. Faith is precious only as it leans on what is trustworthy. It is produced, not by thinking of faith itself, but of its proper object. Therefore Christ did not come preaching faith, but preaching the gospel of God and bidding men believe in that.

Shall we not follow His example? It is morally certain that Abraham never heard of salvation by faith, yet he was justified by faith when he believed in Him Who justifies the ungodly. To preach Him and His gospel is the way to lead men to be saved by faith.

Few things are more instructive to consider than the slow, deliberate, yet firm steps by which Christ advanced to the revelation of God in flesh--thirty years of silence, forty days of seclusion after heaven had proclaimed Him, leisurely intercourse with Andrew and John, Peter and Nathanael, and then a brief ministry in a subject nation and chiefly in a despised province. It is not the action of a fanatic. It exactly fulfills His own description of the kingdom which He proclaimed, which was to exhibit first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear. It is a lesson to all time that the boldest expectations possible to faith do not justify feverish haste and excited longings for immediate prominence or immediate success. The husbandman who has long patience with the seed is not therefore hopeless of the harvest.

Passing by the sea of Galilee, Jesus finds two fishermen at their toil and bids them follow Him. Both are men of decided and earnest character. One is to become the spokesman and leader of the Apostolic band, and the little which is recorded of the other indicates the same temperament, somewhat less developed. Our Lord now calls upon them to take a decided step. But here again we find traces of the same deliberate progression, the same absence of haste as in His early preaching. He does not, as unthinking readers fancy, come upon two utter strangers and fascinate and arrest them in a moment, sweeping their lives into the vortex of His own. Andrew had already heard the Baptist proclaim the Lamb of God. He had followed Jesus home and introduced his brother, to whom Jesus then gave the new name Cephas. Their faith had since been confirmed by miracles. The demands of our Lord may be trying, but they are never unreasonable, and the faith He claims is not a blind credulity.

Not does He, even now, finally and entirely call them away from their occupation. Some time is still to elapse. A sign, the miraculous catch of fish (especially impressive to fishermen), is to burn a profound sense of their own unworthiness into their minds before the vocation now promised shall arrive. Then He will say, "From henceforth ye shall catch men." Now He says, "I will prepare you for that future, I will make you to become fishers of men."

A little further on He finds the two sons of Zebedee and calls them also. John had almost certainly been the companion of Andrew when he followed Jesus home, and his brother had become the sharer of his hopes. If there were any hesitation, the example of their comrades helped them decide. So soon, so inevitably does each disciple begin to be a fisher of other men. Leaving their father, as we are gracefully told, not desolate but with servants, they also follow Jesus.

Thus He asks from each group the sacrifice involved in following Him at an inconvenient time. The first are casting their nets and eager in their quest. The others are mending their nets, perhaps after some large catch had broken them. So Levi was sitting at the receipt of toll. Not one of the Twelve is recorded to have been called when idle.

Very charming, very powerful still is the spell by which Christ drew His first apostles to His side. Not yet are they told anything of thrones on which they are to sit and judge the tribes of Israel, that their names shall be engraved on the foundations of the heavenly city, of being great on earth while the world stands. For them the capture of men was less lucrative than that of fish, and less honorable, for they suffered the loss of all things and were made as the filth of the earth. To learn Christ's art, to be made helpful in drawing souls to Him, following Jesus and catching men--this was enough to attract His first ministers. God grant that a time may never come when ministers for whom this is enough shall fail.

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