Sermon, August 14, 2005
College Baptist Church
Rev. Don Westblade

Follow Jesus
Mark 1:1-20

During this transition period of our church, while we have been deliberating and undergoing change in our denominational affiliation and change in our pastoral leadership, I have been aiming in my preaching to keep us anchored in and certain about those things in the church that don’t change.

God does not change.

The Word of God does not change.

The Word of God, the promises of God, the decrees of God, the Law of God, the truths about God, do not change. And so we spent the months of this past winter and spring focusing on and anchoring ourselves in basic, foundational doctrine from the Word of God.

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, does not change.

And the Kingdom of God, whose rule is given to the King, God’s anointed, God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, does not change.

Jesus Christ and the Kingdom, the reign, he came to incarnate, does not change. And so we stay focused in our praise on Christ and his Kingdom:  “... and your kingdom shall not pass away, O Ancient of Days!”

This promise of Jesus to reign in our lives, this Kingdom he came to say is at hand in his appearing, Jesus calls an announcement of his Gospel. And the Gospel, the Good News that salvation is ours when God in Christ rules in our hearts, never changes. Not in all eternity.

And so I want to keep us focused on the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Good News that Christ is King and that Jesus is bringing the reign of God to your heart and to mine.

That is the Great Faithfulness of God, of which the last 150 years of College Baptist Church that we celebrate this fall is just a small part but for us personally a vivid demonstration.

God is great in faithfulness (as our bulletin cover declares each week in the anniversary celebration that we launch tonight with our neighborhood ice cream fellowship) -- God is great in faithfulness because he is eternally dedicated to Himself, and to His Son, and to the Gospel of his Kingdom, the Good News of His reign.

And so I propose to give the Sundays of this fall celebration to a study of the Gospel of Jesus Messiah. I’d like us to look for about the next 16 to 18 weeks, until we begin our Fire & Reign emphasis in January, at the Gospel of Mark which calls itself in the very first verse: “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

There will be some review here for the women who studied this Gospel in their Bible study not too long ago. But I hope the review will just succeed in reinforcing this unchanging foundation on which we stand during these many, many months of transition. Jesus and His Gospel “are the same yesterday, today, and forever, no matter how many changes in denomination or pastor or church membership or board leadership the church might undergo.

The Gospel is all about the Reign for which the Fire of the Holy Spirit comes to prepare us. So if we are to be prepared to welcome the sometimes painful, purifying, refining, rekindling Fire of the Holy Spirit in our weeks of study of Acts 1-7 in January, we need to understand the Reign and why it is Good News so that we have that hope of the Gospel of the Kingdom before us when the Holy Spirit begins to do His work.

Turn again with me, then, to the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark and let’s begin to hear this Good News and the call it places on our lives to Follow Jesus.

We meet Jesus immediately in this Gospel. In fact the word “immediately” is one of Mark’s favorite words, as we’ll see over and over again, studying this book.

Without any genealogies, like those we get in Matthew and Luke, Jesus appears immediately in Mark, announced by his forerunner, John the Baptizer. (v.10) Immediately he comes up out of the water of John’s baptism to be proclaimed the Son of God. (v.12) Immediately the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.

Without any further narrative, John the Baptist is arrested and Jesus appears preaching the Good News (v.14) that the Reign of God is at hand. So that, when he passes by some fishermen named Peter and Andrew and then James and John and says to them “follow me,” immediately they leave their nets and their boats, and they follow him.

That call to follow Jesus is where I’d like to keep our focus this morning. Over the next several weeks we’ll learn more and more about what our obedience to this call of Jesus should look like. Today those three “immediately”s will remind us that our own following of Jesus ought to be immediate.

They also raise a question that many people ask when they read these verses: Why in the world would these fishermen just immediately drop their nets to follow him. All he did was call! Why does it make sense that they -- why does it make sense that we -- should just drop everything, right now, and follow Jesus?

Some answer that question by saying that our obedience should be unquestioning in the sense that we should just follow Jesus without asking any questions or expecting any answers. We could call that the Niké interpretation: “Just do it!” Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do or die.

I believe our obedience ought to be immediate and unquestioning too, but not for the Niké reason. I think the Niké reason just makes heroes out of us, not grateful followers, not followers of faith. Faith and gratitude in our obedience imply not that there aren’t any answers so we shouldn’t ask but that we’ve seen so many good answers already and we are so sure on the strength of them that the next step takes us in a good direction, too, that we don’t need to wonder any further whether there are good answers. Even when we haven’t heard them yet, we are confident that those good answers are there. That’s faith.

Faith is not blindness to everything. Faith is stepping out into the unknown that we don’t see because of the reassuring certainty of everything that we have seen!

We move confidently into the future of College Baptist’s Church’s relationship with the BGC, and we move confidently into the future of College Baptist’s calling of a new pastor, because we recognize how great God’s faithfulness to College Baptist Church has been for the past 150 years.

We don’t see the future very clearly yet. We don’t know the name of our next pastor yet. But we conduct our search with confidence that God will take us in directions that are ultimately good and that will ultimately magnify the glory of God in our midst. Those are questions we scarcely need to ask because we know their answers will in the end be good ones.

That’s the sense in which our obedience is unquestioning and immediate. We do walk by faith and not by sight, but our blindness isn’t irrational. Neither is the faith of Peter and Andrew and James and John in Mark ch. 1. They have good reasons here in this chapter to follow Jesus into an as-yet-unseen future with him. And those three “immediately”s point us to three of the best reasons we have to Follow Jesus.

The first “immediately” is in v.10 and tells us that when Jesus was baptized, God the Holy Spirit descended on him and the voice of God the Father declared Jesus his beloved Son. We can follow Jesus because there is visible, audible, historical certainty that he is our trustworthy God.

The second “immediately” is in v.12 and tells us that  no sooner was Jesus baptized than the Holy Spirit appeared again, driving him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. In the words of Heb. 4:15 -- “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” We can follow Jesus because there is visible, audible, historical certainty that Jesus fully shares and understands our humanity.

The third “immediately” is actually a pair of them that occur in vv.18 and 20. When Jesus calls his disciples, he doesn’t call them to heroism with a Niké challenge: Just follow me! He calls them with a promise: Follow me and I will do something great for you! I will make you fishers not just of fish, who haul them up to their death; I will make you fishers of lost people, who rescue them back into life! Follow me because down the path I’m leading the Kingdom of God is at hand. Follow me because I will take you to good news. Follow me because in me there is Gospel!

Let me just unpack those three reasons in these first 20 verses very briefly so that we, too, in College Baptist Church this morning, can see there are these very same compelling reasons to Follow Jesus, ourselves.

Mark is extremely clear, for every reader who has ears to hear, that we can follow Jesus with confidence because it is so certain that he is our trustworthy God.

Verse 1 begins with his declaration that this book is the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Those are Mark’s first words of identification of Jesus. And they are his last ones, too. At the end of ch.15, v.39, we hear the conclusion of a Roman soldier who watched Jesus endure his ordeal on the cross: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Those are the bookends of Mark’s account of Jesus.

But that is actually not Mark’s most forceful claim about Jesus’ divinity. That comes in the next two verses. Here are those verses we met from Isaiah and from Ezekiel last week that promised that all of the pictures and reminders we have in the world of the Kingdom of God (memorials like the Lord’s Supper) are only going to last for a temporary time... “Until he comes to whom judgment belongs.”

God himself is coming to be King, said Isaiah. The time is coming when mountains will be made low and valleys will be lifted up; rough places will be made smooth, and all flesh will see the salvation of God. These references in the Old Testament don’t refer to any mere earthly king. They refer, and the Jews had always interpreted them to apply, to Yahweh himself. To God Almighty, the one the Jews called Adonai, the Lord, who would come at the end of the age to fulfill all his divine promises to his people. Mark and the other early Christians like him who knew Jesus, did an extraordinary thing. They claimed, and Mark is claiming here, that Jesus in the flesh is none other than Yahweh, God of the Old Testament, creator of the Universe.

Jesus is the Son of God. But not the way Adam was a Son of God. Not the way the JW who called at my door yesterday believes that Jesus is just ‘a’ Son of God. Jesus is the Son of God in the sense that he was begotten of God before all worlds, God of God, light of lights, true God of true God, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made. He and the Father are One God.

And, Mark goes on, the Holy Spirit identifies with him at his baptism. When Jesus baptizes, Mark says, he baptizes not with water like John did, but with the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are, with the Father, One God.

Henry Blackaby, who spoke at the BGC national meetings Joni and I attended six weeks ago, pointed out the importance in this context of understanding that baptism means a total immersion, a plunging altogether into the water. When John says that Jesus will baptize you with the Spirit, he doesn’t just mean that Jesus is going to sprinkle a little Spirit on you. It means our whole being is going to be plunged into the Holy Spirit. That’s one of the promises our baptism symbolizes.

My main point is that this first-century Christian, Mark, who authors what is most likely the first of all the Gospels, is already articulating a doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus, who called these early disciples and who calls us to follow him comes as the incarnation of the God of the Universe.

The reason it makes all the sense in the world to follow Jesus, the reason why it is the farthest thing imaginable from a blind leap to follow Jesus, is that this Jesus who calls is our trustworthy, faithful God who has been our help for ages past. Surely we can trust him to be our hope for years to come.

But there’s a second important reason why we can trust his call to follow and don’t have to simply follow him because he pulls rank on us as God and leaves us no choice but to submit heroically to his authority.

V.12: “immediately” the Spirit “drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.” Mark wants us to know immediately after declaring that Jesus is fully God that Jesus experienced temptation like the worst that any human ever experienced. He identifies not only with God but fully with our humanity, too.

For forty days he faced wild animals and lack of food while Satan enticed him with worldly pleasures. Any one of those trials alone would have been a torment, but Jesus underwent them all at once, for a month and a half. A twenty-four hour fast and an occasional scare from an animal in the woods is about the worst God has called most of us to endure of those two trials. And this is only a prelude to his death by crucifixion.

Jesus has been down the road of suffering farther than just about any human who has ever lived. If he calls us to follow him and we anticipate some sacrifice and pain down that road if we obey the call, we can be confident that he isn’t calling us to something he doesn’t realize will be humanly intolerable.

We can follow him confidently and unquestioningly because we know he fully shares and understands our humanity.

So we have good reason to follow Jesus because he is fully God, and good reason to follow Jesus because he is fully human. But unless those two reasons also imply the third reason that Mark refers to in this passage, we might not have reason to follow Jesus joyfully. And if we don’t follow Jesus joyfully, we will fail to honor him with all the glory he deserves. If the only reason we follow him is that it is our duty and a chore we’re required to perform, we’ll honor his right and authority as a slave honors his master but we’ll miss honoring him with our love as a child honors his father.

God desires our willing hearts. And he threatens Israel with destruction when they only honor him with their actions and don’t honor him (Dt 28:47) “with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things.”

And so the reason that Jesus gives for following him in vv.14-15 is utterly crucial to our unquestioning obedience in following him. “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

We can and we ought to follow Jesus unhesitatingly and joyfully -- we ought to follow him even eagerly --because his call is the Gospel: it’s good news. He calls us with promises to do us good: Follow me and I will do something good for you! I will make you fishers of men. I will lead you in paths of righteousness toward the Kingdom of God is at hand. Follow me because I will take you to good news. Follow me because in me there is Gospel!

In the middle of everything else in life that is changing and uncertain and unreliable, there are some things to hold tight to that do not change. God never changes. He is always faithful. The Word of God is a rock where we can anchor our soul and its desires. Jesus Christ is the church’s sure foundation, the same yesterday, today, and forever. And the call of the Gospel to follow Jesus, which we’ll be unfolding through the coming weeks of studying Mark, is a steady and trustworthy call to good, to God, to God in  his incarnate humanity. Let’s stand here together and confidently as a church, no matter what changes and challenges may be swirling around us.