Sermon Ideas For Mark 1:14-20 Part 1
Two separate pericopes can be found in this passage. Mark 1:14-15 describe the beginning of Jesus' preaching ministry and summarize the content of his message. Mark 1:16-20 tell the story of the call of the first four disciples. Both pericopes are quite significant in their different ways.
Mark's Gospel is known for its abrupt and breathless style. This is apparent in his curt comment noting the arrest of John the Baptist (1:14). It is after this dramatic event that Jesus returns to Galilee to begin his preaching ministry. Jesus' preaching is summarized in two indicative statements and two imperatives. The indicative statements describe new divinely ordered realities; the imperatives demand a response to these realities.
"The time is fulfilled," and "the Kingdom of God has come near" (1:15 NRSV) are the two indicative statements. The significance of time and its movement is often overlooked in contemporary interpretation of the Scriptures. But it is impossible to understand the Old or especially the New Testament without comprehending their approach to time.
This text, like many others in the New Testament, depicts Jesus as one who understands that a decisive rupture or tear in the flow of human history has begun and that he himself stands at the center of that rupture. This is no ordinary moment in time, but the moment toward which divinely ordered human history has been rushing for centuries upon centuries. This is the time that the visionaries and prophets as well as the whole people Israel, even the entire cosmos, have so long awaited. The distinction in our calendars between B.C. and A.D. only begins to get at the rupture in history which begins in Jesus Christ.
Of course, in his own preaching, especially as presented in the synoptic gospels, Jesus did not so much emphasize his own person but instead the Kingdom of God as lying at the center of this rupture in time. Many observers have noted the centrality of the Kingdom of God in Mark and in the preaching of Jesus. Yet there is no unanimity concerning how exactly to understand the Kingdom; or, for that matter, how to understand the way in which the Kingdom of God relates to the rupture in history initiated in Jesus and ultimately to be fulfilled in the future.
Our own view is that the Kingdom of God fundamentally consists in the extension of obedience to God the King into every corner of the created order, including every human life. The Kingdom is inaugurated in Jesus and advanced by his Spirit-empowered church but will not be fully consummated until his return. In speaking of the Kingdom Jesus is claiming that the world is God's created domain and a place within which God's sovereign will should be joyfully and fully obeyed. The spread of the Kingdom of God is the defeat of both the human and the cosmic rebellion against the sovereign Lord of the universe, and the end of the terrible consequences of that rebellion. The Kingdom will be characterized by the vertical (God-humanity), horizontal (humanity-humanity), and even ecological peace and harmony that God originally intended for the world. The announcement of the Kingdom, then, is very good news indeed.
Jesus calls his hearers to respond in repentance and belief. The call to repentance requires renunciation of any dimension of behavior which is in opposition to God's will. This is necessary in order to participate in the spread of the Kingdom rather than to be a part of frustrating its advance. The call to belief here has to do with belief that God has acted decisively to reclaim this world from its rebellion. The focus is not on belief in Jesus himself, at least not at this point in the Gospel, yet Jesus even now is seen as the decisive figure in the inauguration of the Kingdom.
The call of Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John appears next (Mk 1:16-20). The story as presented is quite simple. Two sets of brother-fishermen are invited to leave their work and follow Jesus, and they do so without a word. Yet there are indeed significant theological implications embedded in this text.
It is important to notice that Christ is the one who initiates the call to these men. Throughout the Scriptures God initiates relationships with human beings, whether it be in the call of individuals or of a people (cf. Gen 12:1-3; Ex 3:10; Dt 7:6; Is 6:8-9; Jer 1:4-10;). The Christian faith is not about humanity reaching up for God but about God graciously deigning to reach down to us.
The fishermen are given opportunity to respond. Christ does not coerce but instead invites response. He speaks strongly and forcefully, and there is no record of debate or discussion among the brothers about what to do. Yet here and in every case God gives human beings the freedom to say Yes or say No. These four men decide to follow Christ, leaving everything behind, apparently on the spot. Discipleship has its cost—though that is not emphasized here—and the Gospels depict some as unwilling to pay it (Mk 10:17-23).
The two pericopes considered here are connected by Christ's statement concerning the task these brother-fishermen will soon take up: "Follow me and I will make you fish for people" (Mk. 1:16 NRSV). Christ will teach his itinerant band of disciples how to advance the Kingdom of God by drawing people toward it and its initiator, Jesus the Christ. Here we learn that the central task of those who claim to follow Jesus is to "fish for people"—that is, to draw people to Jesus Christ and to the joyous existence of life within the sovereign will of God the King. We learn as well that they must follow him to be a part of that wonderful task. To follow Jesus is not merely to believe some doctrine about him but instead to place one's entire life into his hands in order to be free to participate in his Kingdom work.
David P. Gushee and Tim McKnight