SELFISH INTERESTS

Mark 8:31-9:1

BRIEF INTRO: Throughout this chapter, we have witnessed a build-up of tension regarding who Jesus is. Actually, that tension began with the disciple’s lack of understanding regarding how the kingdom is built (Mark 4:13) and escalated into what we saw in our last study in chapter 8 -“who do you say that I am” (v. 29)?

With such a bold, honest confession by Peter, we would be led to think that the disciples finally understand fully who Jesus truly is and what He came to do. Their role to play in the immediate future after His ascension.

But, in this study, we will observe that this is not the case. So boldly, Peter’s confession quickly betrays his still-lagging understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise from the dead32 And He was stating the matter plainly.

FOCUS ONE: The self-denial of Jesus

After that fantastic confession from Peter (v. 29), Jesus begins to explain what that means. The main avenue of thinking in Christ’s day regarding the messiah was that He would come and overthrow Rome and establish an earthly messianic kingdom. What Jesus teaches these men is contrary to that vain of thought! Instead of a mighty, warrior-like earthly king conquering armies in battle, He declared that the Son of man must suffer many things, be killed, and rise again in victory (Isaiah 52:13). This was a different perspective of Christ’s mission then they were used to, and most likely not prepared for. 

“Though Peter identified Him as “the Christ” (8:29), Jesus did not discuss the title or the issue of His identity.Rather, He focused on His mission, and used the designation ‘the Son of Man’.” Mark uses this title to show the importance of an event for his Christian readers (Mark 2:10, 28).

How significant an event is this? Extremely significant! Only through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus can anyone be declared forgiven, justified, cleansed, and redeemed (Romans 5:8-10)! The resurrection is our assurance that God the Father was pleased with and accepted the sacrifice of His Son in place of sinners. 

Our text reveals that Jesus was not speaking in parables or using some form of illustration. Instead, He “stated the matter plainly” (v. 32). This statement marks (no pun intended) out for us a new shift in Christ’s focus from this point forward. Jesus wants these men who will continue the mission of “proclaiming” such good news, to understand His purpose for coming and what that means for all who believe in Him. He wants them to be encouraged by the fact that His coming death will not be the last word; rather, they will see Him again in Galilee!

And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 

FOCUS TWO: The self-centeredness of Peter

Contrary to Christ’s self-lessness, we find Peter again focusing on the physical aspect of things rather than the spiritual. Peter did not fully comprehend who Jesus was; I would imagine he would not have felt bold enough to rebuke Him!

Peter does exhibit some sense of décor in that he takes Jesus aside for a more private chat, away from the others. “Peter clearly understood Jesus’s words but could not reconcile his view of the ‘Messiah’ with the suffering and death Jesus predicted. So, Peter began to rebuke Him for His defeatist approach.”

We will observe something rather uncomfortable in our next focus point. We will witness Peter becoming an unwitting spokesman for Satan.

3 But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and *said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on [a] God’s purposes, but on man’s.”

FOCUS THREE: The self-denial of true disciples

That first sentence powerfully affects me. In my mind, I envision our Lord, standing beside Peter, who had just pulled Him aside in rebuke, turning His head for a moment and seeing the rest of the twelve close by, confused and wondering what Peter was saying to Him. 

Jesus, seeing His disciples, returns the favor and rebukes Peter in their hearing! Why wouldn’t he try to be more discreet about it like Peter was? Because Peter, along with the others, needed to understand that these things must come to pass. They needed to understand what He was telling them because what He was saying was a big part of their preparation for ministry after He ascended to be with the Father. This is the Father’s will for the Son to complete, resulting in salvation for those who are lost.

34 And He summoned the crowd together with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever wants to save his [a]life will lose it, but whoever loses his [b]life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it benefit a person to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?37 For what could a person give in exchange for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

FOCUS FOUR: The willing submission of Christ’s followers

Jesus’s previous teaching regarding His death and resurrection in fulfillment of God’s divine plan ought to lead those who benefit from it into a life of self-less-ness or self-denial. The cross and empty tomb should be a GREAT encouragement to those who have been forgiven much. No sacrifice is too great because we know we can NEVER out-sacrifice Jesus!

Faithful followers of Jesus will count the cost of following Him and deem it worth whatever it costs. They will be willing to obey His commands and receive His counsel. They must not be living for this life and its temporary pleasures BUT for the kingdom of their Lord who reigns forever and ever!

Faithful followers of Jesus Christ understand that death is not the end, only the beginning! They need not fear it because “to be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:3).

Such a life is possible but plausible when a follower of Jesus picks up their cross (the burdens, afflictions, and persecutions that come from following) and follows Him.

These words “relate to a situation in which Christians faced the alternatives of confessing Christ or denying Him. Jesus warns that by denying Him, one’s physical life may be saved; but one’s eschatological life- i.e., his eternal life, will be lost. Conversely, to lose one’s physical life by remaining true to Christ-i.e., by confessing Him under duress-is to be assured of eternal life and salvation.” 

Some thoughts to consider:

  1. 1. Is your understanding of the gospel accurate? Why would God the Father give His ONLY Son as a substitute for sinners?
  2. 2. How important is the resurrection in God’s salvation plan?
  3. 3. Is your life one of self-interest or self-denial?
  4. 4. What picture of Jesus do we get in this text?

The Bible Knowledge Commentary

The Expositors Bible Commentary

The true source of religious authority

Mark 7:1-13

BRIEF RECAP: Jesus, along with the twelve, had just left the region of Gennesaret, where they were met by a multitude of people that had heard about Him and the miraculous things He was doing (6:53). It appears some people may not have been healed that day because “as many as touched it (the fringe of His cloak) were being cured” (6:56). It wasn’t the “fringe” that had healing power; that’s what animism teaches. Animism is the belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence and have healing power. Jesus is not an animist!

Instead, their healings took place when faith was exercised in Jesus (5:34 as an example). I venture to guess that some did not have faith in Him to heal or anything else.

7 The Pharisees and some of the scribes *gathered to Him after they came from Jerusalem, 2 and saw that some of His disciples were eating their bread with [a]unholy hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the other Jews do not eat unless they [b]carefully wash their hands, thereby holding firmly to the tradition of the elders; 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they [a]completely cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received as traditions to firmly hold, such as the [b]washing of cups, pitchers, and copper pots.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes *asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk in accordance with the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with [c]unholy hands?

FOCUS ONE: Pharisees and their traditions

As this chapter opens, we immediately notice the initial audience that gathers around Jesus. It seems that this is taking place in Capernaum where His home base was (7:17; Matthew 4:13). The Pharisees and some scribes had made the trip from Jerusalem to watch and confront Him (v.1).

This section begins with them “seeing” some of Christ’s disciples eating bread with unclean hands (That is, ceremonially unwashed hands according to the “traditions of the elders). This upset them because they would not eat unless they observed the washing first (v.4)!

We have not heard from these people in a while. As I look back in the gospel, it appears the last time we heard anything from them was way back in chapter three (3:22), when they rejected Him and accused Him of doing works by the power of Satan!

Now, here they are again, unchanged in their thinking, and they are offended when they see some of the disciples eating with “impure hands” that are unwashed.

“1The scribes were learned men who’s business it was to study the Law, transcribe it, and write commentaries on it. Ezra from the Old Testament was a scribe (Ezra 7:6). The scribes took their job of preserving scripture very seriously. The Pharisees were an influential religious sect within Judaism in the time of Jesus and the early church. They were known for their emphasis on personal piety, their acceptance of oral tradition in addition to the Law, and their teaching that ALL Jews should observe all 600 plus laws in the Torah, including the rituals concerning ceremonial purification.”

“The traditions that they held in such esteem were written down centuries before and were still oral in Jesus’ day.” These traditions were “traditions of men,” NOT laws from God! This means that over the years, they had elevated them to the status of scripture, and so by not observing them, a person could be found guilty of violating them. So, in their view, a person was obliged to follow them. But, as we will see shortly, that was not the view that Jesus held!

  1. What is the washing of the hands?

The Law of Moses required external cleanliness as a part of their religion. Moses prescribed them in moderation as was suitable for various occasions (Leviticus 5:2-4; 11:29-45; 12). The Pharisees added many ordinances on top of what Moses gave, and ultimately they began to be viewed as Law.

“For the Pharisees, the ‘impure hands’ refers to a state of ritual impurity. So they are accusing His disciples and ultimately Him as well, of behaving in a way that makes them unclean in respect to their traditions. Mark, understanding that non-Jewish readers may not understand about these ceremonial washings explains briefly what ‘washings’ means” (7:3).

And there are other things mentioned that they do according to the tradition of the elders. Washing cups and pitchers and copper pots!

So, they approach Jesus and ask Him about the disciples not following the tradition of the elders.

6 But He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
7 And in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”

9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God to keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘The one who speaks evil of father or mother, is [a]certainly to be put to death’; 11 but you say, ‘If a person says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is, [b]given to God),’ 12 you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thereby invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that

FOCUS TWO: The hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees

After reading those verses, some issues come to light:

  1. They neglect the commandment of God to observe the traditions of men (v.8)
  2. They “nicely set it aside” to keep their tradition (v.9)
  3. Example given in verses 10-12 (What Moses commanded vs. their rule)
  4. The results: Not allowing people to obey the commands; Invalidating the word of God, and that’s just for starters (v. 13)!

The whole context is about the “traditions of the elders” and the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees proclaiming to follow God while setting aside His word for their traditions (v. 9,13).

What was Jesus’ response?

  1. He uses OT scripture from Isaiah 29:13 to reveal their hypocrisy and call out their neglect of the commandments God has given them to observe.
  2. He exposes how “nicely” they set His word aside to do this (v. 9). “The tone of sarcasm in Jesus’ use of the word (kalos) emphasizes the charge of hypocrisy, because it commends them for the cleverness with which they disobey God and yet still portray themselves as righteous.”
  3. He Uses another OT scripture to prove the point (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16).

I can’t help but notice the arrogance in their thinking: Moses said, but you say. What better example than this to show how they invalidate the word of God by those traditions!

A good reminder for us in these passages is to learn that the religious things we do and the various holy days we observe can never make us clean before God. External things, even traditions, are all in vain when the heart is not right with God.

8 “See to it that there is no one who takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception in accordance with human tradition, in accordance with the elementary principles of the world, [a]rather than in accordance with Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

16 “Therefore, no one is to [a]act as your judge in regard to food and drink, or in respect to a festival or a new moon, or a Sabbath [b]day— 17 things which are only a shadow of what is to come; but the [c]substance [d]belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

Later we will see that things that defile us are not from the outside but come from within our hearts.

1 got questions.org
2 Exegetical guide to the Greek NT

Half way obedience is not obedience

Extended reading: 1 Samuel 15:1-23

Devotional reading: vv. 10-15

Samuel told Saul the instructions that the Lord gave him to. He was very clear in his communication of the the message. BUT Saul did not obey the commands given him. God was grieved because Saul had followed his own inclinations rather than God’s clear instructions.

If we’re honest we can relate to this. We know what the Lord requires of us, we do our best to obey, and sometimes we even adjust things a bit because we somehow believe that it will be ok, even better than we were instructed (vv. 13-15)!

“But God’s principles for holy living call us to obey His instructions, to make a clean break with the past, and to refuse to compromise. Saul exhibited none of these qualities. He chose to spare king Agag and the finest animals instead of destroying everything as God had commanded (15:8-9). He even built a monument to himself rather than pay tribute to God for the miraculous victory (vv. 1-2). When confronted by Samuel, Saul tried to justify his actions (v.15), but making excuses has never paved the way to a new life.”

We must accept responsibility for our actions if we desire to grow. If we obey God’s principles for our lives we won’t be placed in the position of trying to justify ourselves for our disobedience.

Adapted from the Every Mans Bible

THE BATTLE FOR THE MIND

Extended reading: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Devotional reading: verse 16

“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; . .”

When I was a teenager, I wanted to play the guitar so badly. I remember the fun times at my cousin’s house acting like we were rock stars as we listened to songs on the “8 Track.” My younger readers are probably confused right now! LOL. We had old, abused, and semi-stringless guitars that we used to play our parts.

As I got older, this desire was still present in me. Oh, not to be a rock star anymore, but to be able to play just one instrument, any instrument, so that I could praise the Lord with it. Over the years, I had tried the guitar on several occasions but couldn’t play it. I tried the harmonica, but my lips and my lungs revolted!

Then, one day, my wife asked me about purchasing a cheap ukulele for my nephew, who had expressed some interest in learning how to play it. 

So, we purchased one. As he fumbled around with it trying to hold it in place (they are small) and struggled with forming chords, I took it from him (nicely) and proceeded to give him a few pointers on how to finger the chords.

As I held the ukulele, thoughts flooded my mind of how much I desired to play an instrument to praise my Lord. In my attempt to help him learn some basics, I was astonished to find that I could play it! I could hold it in place, finger some chords, and even strum all at the same time!

I love this instrument. Every time I pick it up and play it, I find much joy and happiness. So, what is the point, Larry? What does all this have to do with our devotion? EVERYTHING!

Every day as Christian’s we face a horrendous spiritual battle in our minds. Thoughts enter our minds that we are appalled at. Our train of thoughts are often vile, perverse, and outright wicked. Somehow, and in some way, we need to gain control over those thoughts and “take them captive to the obedience of Christ.”

This is where the ukulele comes into play, at least for me in my attempt to honor God with my thoughts.

As I got better with the ukulele, I learned how to put chords to the poems that I was writing. These poems then became songs that I was able to memorize quickly. The enemy was now on the run! 

The Lord has not only answered my prayers, enabling me to play an instrument; He also gave me a tool with which I could “transform” my mind to think on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise. Rather than those horrendous thoughts plaguing my mind, I now have heavenly, godly thoughts in there. The enemy lost the ground he was holding!

That’s what this bible verse teaches us, at least in part. His word is profitable! These songs that I now write and sing, remove any space in my mind for the enemies thoughts. My mind now obsesses over biblical thoughts that are pure and worthy of His praise. They “train me” over and over again in righteousness, enabling me to overcome the enemy and the battle in my mind so that I can be more fruitful in my walk of faith!

Maybe playing the ukulele is not in your future (perhaps it is), but what can you utilize that will help you get the word of God more ingrained in your mind? 

MOVED WITH COMPASSION

A LEPER HEALED

Mark 1:40-45 

BRIEF INTRO: 

As Jesus embarked on His “Galilean tour,” which possibly lasted for several weeks, His main focus was on preaching the gospel of the Kingdom (1:14-15). He did heal those who came to Him, as we read in these following verses, but that was not His primary goal. Those healings and the casting out of demons were miracles designed for a particular purpose. Sure, Jesus had compassion on the suffering and in mercy delivered many from that, but ultimately these miracles were to “dramatically confirm His message.” They were to confirm that He is deity; He is the long-awaited prophesied Messiah! 

There are two main perspectives that I will focus on: The man with leprosy and that of Jesus at his approach. AND, there are two amazing facts regarding this incident that I want to expose: First, that the man would approach Jesus against custom and law, and that Jesus would touch the unclean man!

Ready? I am, so let’s dive in!

40 And a man with [a]leprosy *came to [b]Jesus, imploring Him and kneeling down, and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” 41 Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out with His hand and touched him, and *said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. 43 And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, 44 and He *said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it [c]freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that [d]Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but [e]stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.”

FOCUS ONE: A man with leprosy comes to Jesus 

As you can imagine, this man was an outcast. Leprosy was a physically, mentally, and socially destructive disease. * “The word leprosy was used in biblical times to designate a wide variety of serious skin diseases. It was not limited to what we know as leprosy, or, to use the preferable medical term, Hansen’s disease. Whatever variety of skin disorder the man has, it caused him much suffering. The suffering was social as well as physical. The law required that the person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face, and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone, he must live outside the camp (Leviticus 13:45-46).”

How can we genuinely fathom this man’s sense of despair and hopelessness? Separated from his family, synagogue, and community, how could we possibly be able to comprehend the sense of community disgust and disdain that this man would have to bear while he is unclean? 

BUT, despite the disease and its apparent hopelessness, this man, unclean and ostracized, exercises one of the most incredible displays of humility and faith that we witness in our New Testament! Whether or not this took place inside the synagogue or outside of it, this man displayed great courage in walking into the crowds that would be around Jesus. “He came to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him” (v. 40).

In his words to Christ, we hear no sense of doubt or feel an utter weight of hopelessness. Instead, we hear in his words faith, hope, and confidence in this man they call Jesus! 

How fantastic are the first words out of his mouth: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” This man most likely is referring to his physical deliverance from the disease. He has heard, possibly witnessed (from a distance) the miracles Christ performed on others. Based on the testimonies he heard and the things he witnessed for himself, he approaches Christ with great faith that He can do the same for him. Leviticus 13 deals with the various laws of leprosy and its cleansing.

With humility and reverence (falling on his knees), he approaches Jesus. Fear of man laid aside, presumption absent, doubts dismantled. And what does he hear in reply: “I am willing!”

Only twice does the OT record that God cleansed a leper (Miriam in Numbers 12:10-15; and Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1-4)! But Jesus, a man (the God-man), heals him! The Rabbis regarded leprosy as “humanly incurable.”

This brings me to what I believe is our first amazing fact to consider: That this man, in the position he is in, would approach Jesus against their customs and the commands outlined in the Mosaic law. With everything against him, when everyone else would tell him that he has no hope, he forsakes all and “looks unto Jesus,” and lives!

 Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out with His hand and touched him, and *said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. 43 And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, 44 and He *said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

FOCUS TWO: Jesus is moved with compassion

I love reading those words: “moved with compassion.” Our Lord is not a benign being, far removed from us, uncaring, unloving, or unwilling to heal. He is Emmanuel, God in the flesh, and as such, He is not only our shepherd; He is our God who sees us (El Roi). He is our provider, our healer, and as such, He is all-sufficient (EL Shaddai)! So be encouraged, dear Christian, that our God is compassionate, “and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness” (Psalm 103:8).

Here we have a picture of how loving and caring He is. Jesus, moved by compassion because of the pain and anguish socially, physically, and mentally that this man has been going through for some time, stretches out His hand and touches the leprous man.

This is so counter-cultural to His day that it makes it our amazing fact #2: That He would touch the man against the custom and law of the day. His touch revealed that Rabbinic regulations regarding ritual defilement did not bind him. He, according to the law (He instituted), would be unclean!

“I am willing; be cleansed.” This statement and His touch brought healing to this diseased man: perfect, instantaneous, and highly observable cleansing!

So now this man is healed, and Jesus gives Him a stern warning and a command. 

  1. Jesus warns Him to say nothing about it to anyone (how could he do this, everyone would know)?
  2. He was told to go to the priest (Leviticus 13), offer the required sacrifice, and be declared clean by the priest. He used very forceful words that emphasized the man’s need for prompt obedience to His instructions.

I can sympathize with this man regarding proclaiming the amazing healing he just received to anyone who would listen. How couldn’t he? How couldn’t you and I? His body is now clean from this disease. After being declared clean by the priest, he can go back to his family, enter the synagogue and worship, and be a part of community life again. Besides that elation within his soul, all the people in that community knew he had leprosy; many probably ostracized him for it! But now, he stands before them differently, totally clean, absolutely changed!

In Chapter 11 (11:27-28), we read that the Sanhedrin asked Christ two questions: 1) What was the nature of His authority, His credentials, and 2) Who authorized Him to do these things? These questions indicate that Jesus had not yet openly stated that He is the Messiah. This appears to be a BIG part of Mark’s writing (secrecy motif)! The closest that Mark comes to this “unveiling” before chapter 11 is found in 9:27-30. But here it is Peter who states He is the Christ, and Jesus tells him to “tell no one.”

Nonetheless, He was commanded by Jesus to say nothing to anyone. He disobeyed Him, and we read about the repercussions of that disobedience. 

45 But he went out and began to proclaim it [c]freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that [d]Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but [e]stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.”

I am not positive of this, but the command could have been temporary until the priest declared clean. But still, the man doesn’t seem to go to the priest, and I am not sure he ever did! So, why the “secrecy?” I think Jesus wanted to avoid misunderstandings that precipitate a premature and erroneous response to Him. There would be a time and place for that disclosure by HIM, and that time was not yet at hand.

The man’s disobedience hinders Christ to the extent that He could no longer publicly enter a city. He had to stay out in unpopulated areas. But even though He had to withdraw to such places, the people came to Him from everywhere. He may now be limited geographically, but not concerning preaching, teaching, and healing those who came to Him!

What an incredible thought to end this study with! Jesus has been glorified; His atoning work completed! Christ is not limited in His ability or willingness to reach us where we are. He is omnipresent (everywhere present), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipotent (all-powerful)! Oh, and don’t forget compassionate!

*The Expositors Bible Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, pg. 630

FOLLOW ME

MARK 1:16-20

BRIEF INTRO: It’s funny how I can, at times, look at a portion of scripture and, at least in my thinking, not see too much. What I am reading appears to be pretty straightforward, no doctrine to unfold, no theology to research and unpack, and the application is clear enough. But, I have learned over the years to “think again,” that is, I had to discipline myself to prayerfully look at the verses and meditate on what truth’s I could grasp from some seemingly “unimportant” text.

Such is the situation before me. These verses in Mark 1:16-20 appear, on the surface, to be all those things I just stated above. But thankfully, the more I reflect on these verses, or I should say, the main point of these verses, I have been blessed by the Holy Spirit as He has opened my mind and heart to some truths I needed to be reminded of. I think we all can benefit from such reminders. So, let’s get to it!

16 As He was going along the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “(Follow Me,) and I will have you become fishers of people.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 And going on a little farther, He saw [a]James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John, [b]who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and went away [c] (to follow Him).

FOCUS ONE:  THE OBVIOUS

At our first reading of these scriptures, we come across some simple facts:

  1. 1. Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee
  2. 2. He saw and later called two men to “follow” Him
  3. 3. These men were brothers (Simon and Andrew)
  4. 4. They were fishermen
  5. 5. Jesus calls them to follow Him and “be made,” or “have you” become something other than what they were currently: fishers of men!
  6. 6. Immediately they leave all and follow Him
  7. 7. Going a bit farther, Jesus sees James and John (brothers)
  8. 8. They were in a boat mending nets (fishermen)
  9. 9. He calls them to follow Him
  10. 10. They leave everything ( including the hired servants and follow Him)

Those facts assimilated reveal Jesus was seeking, Jesus calling, and Jesus being obeyed!

FOCUS TWO: THE NOT SO OBVIOUS

Is it mere coincidence that Jesus comes upon these men that day along the Sea of Galilee? What would compel these men to follow Him? Why would they forsake all to follow Christ? “Then Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed you; what then will there be for us?'”

Jesus speaks of “those He has chosen” in reference to His disciples in John 13:18. In chapter 17 of the same writing, He references the disciples as “men whom thou gavest me out of the world” (v. 6). 

It is evident from these scriptures that God had, by His foreknowledge and for “the praise of His glory,” chosen or by way of “election,” decided that these men would be disciples of His Son and ultimately fearless martyrs; for the glorious gospel of God! These men were not extraordinary by any means as you and I would think. Like you and I, they were working men, family men, husbands, fathers, etc. They were not wealthy men or intellectual types; they were not mighty men. But such are those God chooses to serve Him!

26 For [a]consider your calling, brothers and sisters, that there were not many wise according to [b]the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the [c]insignificant things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no [d]human may boast before God. 30 But it is [e]due to Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, [f]and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:26-30).

Did He need them? No, but He was pleased to use them in His glorious work among men!

Another not-so-obvious observation is drawn out in this question: What was His purpose in having disciples?

This purpose is primarily expressed in Christ’s prayer in John 17:5:19. Jesus called these men unto Himself and invested approximately 3 ½ years into them so that they would, as they followed Him, experience Him in every manner of His life. By walking and talking with Him, listening to Him teach, watching Him perform many miracles, and by being with Him ALL THE TIME, they would get to know Him as thoroughly as any human being can know another! They would “come to understand that all things (the message and the mission of Christ) which Christ had were ultimately from the father.”

The ultimate purpose in calling these men unto Himself was so that they would be a witness and testimony to the gospel of Christ. So that these men, after Christ’s ascension, would continue the work that he began, the proclamation of the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 28:18-20)!

FOCUS THREE: OBSERVATIONS THAT DIRECT APPLICATION

In this section, I aim to point out several things that I hope will be “food for thought” as you close your iPad, exit your phone, or do whatever you will do when you finish reading this post.

The first item to point out is that nets are associated with fishing, NOT rods within this context and any I know of throughout scripture! This fact has important implications for us as we faithfully seek to fulfill the great commission. 

Unlike a fishing rod that is cast into the water and then yanked back hard to hook a fish, nets are CAST out and open wide (depending on size) with the sole purpose of catching as many fish as possible. Any fish in the area can swim into this net, which can mean a large number will be caught within it. The imagery we often see of using a lure and a line and then waiting for a fish to strike is foreign to the Bible.

Some fish will get away when the nets are closed and pulled back into the boat, but the net will catch many. This has its parallel in our fishing for men!

  1. We are to cast our nets (the gospel) wide to draw in as many people as possible.
  2. Evangelism can be tedious and tiring at times, seemingly lacking results. We can feel we cast our net in vain, once again. But, as we learn in Luke 5:4, we are to rest in Christ, faithfully continuing to share the gospel, trusting Christ for the results!
  3. Only when we are with Jesus may we fully know just how many men were caught in our gospel nets!!
  4. Some people will reject the gospel (fish falling out of the net), we cannot keep them in, but we can pray for their souls!

A second item that stands out to me in this text that we are looking at is that Serving Christ requires our willingness to forsake all else.

In the Gospel of Luke, we find a situation in which some men stated they wanted to follow Christ, and others had several excuses not to follow Him (Luke 9:57-62). Contrast those people to these men in our text: what a stark contrast! Christ’s answer to them seems plain enough, even for our ears today: “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62).

I noticed one or two other applications, but I will leave it up to you to search them out in your study. Have fun.

WALK BY THE SPIRIT

Extended reading: Galatians 5:16-25

Devotional: Verse 16

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”

In life, whenever we want to accomplish something, we have to first attempt whatever it is, and second, be diligent in our effort at it. Think of when you were a child, and you wanted to learn how to ride a bicycle. It didn’t just happen, did it? No, you had to get on it and learn how to balance yourself. Your mother and father helped you by holding onto the bicycle until you yelled, “ok, let me go.” 

By not giving up and persevering through the many falls and the bruises that came with them, you eventually learned how to ride that bike! All analogies break down at some point, and this one is no exception.

In our text, Paul explains how our flesh (old man), and its desires, are set against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. There is a war going on within us, and we often lose many of the battles because we do not grasp and exercise this great truth. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Walk by the Spirit, and the flesh loses! We’re all in, right? 

The problem is, though, just like learning to ride a bicycle, we need help. We can’t do it alone. Paul tells us to “walk by the Spirit,” or keep in step with, live by, or be occupied with the Spirit. In other words, the ONLY way to defeat the flesh and its wicked desires are by being so preoccupied with the Holy Spirit that there is no time for us to give sway to those temptations that want only to destroy us.

For us to “walk in the Spirit,” we have to first be “led” by the Spirit (Romans 8:13-14). This means that we are sensitive to His will for us and are actively cooperating with Him to fulfill it in our lives. It means that we are “putting to death,” or adamantly fighting against anything in our hearts that is at odds with the Spirit’s will for us.

The difference between the two, walking in the flesh, or walking in the Spirit, is as different as night and day. If we walk in the Spirit, we are led by Him, walking in obedience to Him, encouraged and strengthened by Him, and will enjoy unimaginable blessings. And, WE WILL NOT carry out those things that bring us guilt and shame before Him. Suppose we walk in the flesh, satisfying its evil desires. In that case, we grieve the Holy Spirit within us, are working against His good and perfect will for us, and have to face the guilt and consequences of yet another unnecessary defeat by our arch enemy.

Here is where my analogy breaks down. Once you learn how to ride your bicycle, you no longer need your mother and father to help you. You will go through life riding your bike without their help. It is quite the opposite, however, in the Christian walk of faith. WE ALWAYS need the help of the Holy Spirit. He is divine, and we are not. He sanctifies, empowers, and indwells each person He graciously saves! So, let us walk by the Spirit. It’s the only way to defeat our old nature.