A note about one of my illustrations: I was heavily influenced by Rob Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis and drew heavily upon his chapter on the dust of the Rabbi as one of my illustrations. I will italicize that section.
Many of you now that I recently returned from a two-week vacation and I want to tell you this morning that I went away feeling a little tired and burnt out. I went away telling God that I really needed to hear from him and that I needed guidance and direction for our church. So a week goes by and I hear nothing… and in fact I was getting a little discouraged… maybe even a little agitated with God for not speaking to me. But then, two days into the second week, while I was sleeping, God woke me up in the early morning with a whisper. It was poignantly audible; something that does not happen to me everyday, but I definitely recognized that it was from God. And he said one word: Discipleship. Needless to say, I woke up and went into the other room so I wouldn’t wake up Harry and I began to pray and reflect about this one word. And in that moment, our last year together as a church seeking to become more Jesus filled, the many conversations I have been having with you about education, programming, sermon series, all the amazing kids we have here, and all the amazing youth we have here came into focus. And I realized that God was calling us to not only become better disciples, but to also zealously make disciples right here in our church and in our community.
It’s a long story to say that I tossed out the window all of my plans of preaching this Lent and went with what God was putting on my heart: discipleship. So for the rest of the Lenten and Easter Season, we will be focusing on the Gospel of Mark with the goal of unpacking this word and call to discipleship… and what better way to do that than begin this morning with the calling of the disciples.
Turn with me in your Bibles to Mark 1 14. After Jesus was baptized and filled with the spirit earlier in the chapter, and after he had fasted and prayed 40 days in the wilderness and faced temptation, he goes into Galilee and begins preaching this important message: “The time has come,” he said, “the kingdom is near. Repent and believe the good news!” What does it mean that the kingdom is near? What does it mean to repent? And what is the good news? Well, Mark seems to be answering this with the story of the calling of the first disciples.
Now to give us a framework to understand this I’d like to talk a little about the context of this call and how these fishermen… you know the everyday average kind of guys would have heard and understood their call.
Rob Bell does a great job of describing this in his book, Velvet Elvis. He reminds us that we generally forget that this is the story of a Jewish man, living in a Jewish region among Jewish people. Every boy grew from the age of 6 to about 10 years old would go to school to learn about the first 5 books of the Bible called Torah. The school was called Bet Sefer – the house of the book.
By age 10 they would generally have the whole book of Torah memorized by heart! Now you might be thinking this is crazy, right? But it was necessary for them to do this because this is how they preserved the Bible… we call it oral tradition. They didn’t have the printing press back then! Have you ever noticed why people during Jesus’ time seemed to know the bible when he quoted it? This is why!
By age 10, it generally became obvious who the gifted students were and who needed to return back home and pick up a family trade such as sandal making or… fishing. Not everyone could become a Rabbi… only the brightest and best students of Torah would one day become Rabbis. They continued this process through another school called Bet Talmud, the house of learning. Finally around the age of 14, only the best of the best remained. That was the year that they entered into Bet Midrash, the house of study. At this point the students would present themselves to the Rabbi and say, “Rabbi, I want to be your disciple.”
The Rabbi would then test their aptitude by asking questions, grilling them about their knowledge and understanding of the Torah. He wanted to know if this student had what it takes to be a Rabbi. Can he do what I do? Can he be like me? Can After asking many questions to determine the answers to his questions, he would either say, go return to your family and village and learn another trade… kind of like flunking out of school… or, he would say, “Come and follow me.” Sound familiar?
So the student would leave his mother and father, his village and synagogue and literally follow around this rabbi.
At any given time, you could see a Rabbi walking the dusty roads of the village with the students following behind him everywhere he went. That was discipleship. They gave up their whole lives so that they could be just like the rabbi. One of the earliest sages in the Mishnah once wrote about these students saying, “be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” That is because at the end of the day having walked in the footsteps of their teacher along the dusty roads, they would be literally covered in the dust from the feet of the rabbi that was being kicked up as they walked from village to village, house to house.
So just imagine with me now, Jesus, the rabbi of rabbi’s, the son of God, the teacher, the prophet, the anointed one, calling out to these fishermen… yes… the ones who flunked out of Torah school… the ones who were not fit for ministry, the uneducated and least respected ones in the community… the fishermen… and says come and follow me… he was saying to them… you can do this… you can be like me… you can be my disciples and one day you can make disciples. You are good enough. Wow! That’s powerful!
That’s the good news! That is the kingdom of God coming near!
Their reaction? They drop their nets and leave everything behind to follow him. Jesus’s radical love, acceptance and belief in them, set them free and empowered them to become disciples.
Now there is a distinct order of things that we see playing out in their response to Jesus:
- Repent: the Greek word here meaning they change the way they see themselves, their old way of thinking and live into a new reality. Following Jesus means that we reorient our lives from sin and shame and embrace a new reality of good news and the kingdom of God.
- Believe: Repent and believe that you have what it takes… that with Jesus, the Son of God walking with you, you can do this! You have what it takes! You are good enough! Believe that you are a child of God and that God takes delight in you.
- Follow – just like in the story of the rabbi we talked about earlier… we fall in line behind Jesus… we try to walk in his footsteps… and hopefully we will get covered in his dust as we try to walk the talk.
So many churches today miss what this passage is all about! They emphasize so much the moment of salvation… the initial call to become children of God… that they miss the long-term commitment of what it means to be a disciple!
Our commitment to Jesus is always both for now and for the long haul; for both the moment and for a lifetime.
It is a decision to be lived out in fidelity, service and sometimes sacrifice.
It is a decision that should leave us dusty. And we will see exactly how this plays out as we continue to study the gospel of Mark.
- Fish! Jesus said come and follow me and I will make you fishers of people. In other words, come and follow me as your rabbi and as you learn from me, you will become a Rabbi too, calling others just as I have called you!
Isn’t that encouraging? Jesus believes in us! And God loves us so much and believes in us so much… that we can do this and rise to the occasion of being disciples… that he was willing to send his son Jesus to live with us, to walk with us, to teach us, model for us and even die for us.
You see, God has amazing things planned for us. Will you repent, believe, follow and fish? It’s a whole new way of being.