To the unbeliever, the skeptic, or even the thinking Christian, Mark’s first words of this text make the rest of what he goes on to say seem rather foolish. If God could not keep John the Baptist out of prison, why would anyone want to follow the one whom John proclaimed as the Messiah? The contrast is all the more striking, when we remember that the disciples whom Jesus calls in this reading had been the disciples of John first. You would think, then, that they might make the connection that this Jesus might share in John’s fate, and even worse, that they might share in it with him! And so, it does seem rather foolish, if not at least strange, that someone would ever want to follow Jesus of Nazareth.
It also seems strange, (does it not?) that Jesus chooses these men to be his disciples. If Jesus really is the Son of God as John had claimed, you would think that, humanly speaking, he could have made better choices in his disciples than these. For that matter, you would think that he could have made a better choice in his disciples than you and me, or so many of men and women that claim to follow Jesus today.
Ah, but this is the upside-down nature of the Bible. So much of what God says in his word seems to be upside-down to our way of thinking. And because of that, so much of what you and I experience in as followers of Jesus likewise seems to be upside-down. Why follow a man who claims to be the Son of God? Why follow a man who couldn’t even save himself? Why follow a man when following him means that you might be just as much derided by your peers as he was? Why follow him when following him means carrying a painful cross?
And yet, the amazing thing, and dare I say the supernatural thing, is that you do follow him. Isn’t that amazing? Why do you follow him?
Because his divine power that is present within his call changes a believer. It changes them inside-out so that when push comes to shove, they are willing to leave everything (everything!) to follow this Jewish preacher who invites them with the ever-so-simple words: “Follow me!”
Now before we get too deep into today’s message, we need to state the simple truth that following someone necessarily means leaving someone or something else behind. Mark writes that as, “Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.”
So too with James and John. “When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”
So, what should you leave behind? Anything that keeps you from following Christ.
Now, you see, this is hard stuff, for what am I saying? I’m saying that the call to discipleship envelopes the whole life, not just the Sunday morning part. It is a call to full-time and total commitment. It is a call to follow him with a willingness to abandon everything should faithfulness require it. And that’s the key: should faithfulness require it. I don’t know your individual situation, but are their areas in your life that pull you away from Christ? Then you need to leave them. Are there people in your life, even loved ones, who rather than stimulate your relationship with Christ hinder your relationship and make it extremely difficult to follow him. You see, it’s then that we need to ask ourselves, “Who is my all in all? Who, or what, do I really fear, love and trust above all things? What do I value most in life?”
That’s the key. And that is the great challenge. A challenge that requires a complete change of heart to overcome—from me being the center of the universe to God being the center of my universe, and everything else orbiting around him. And so, the question: Has Christ’s call changed you?
Well, you may say, “I don’t know. Nothing dramatic has ever happened in my life.” Fair enough. But I don’t think it was so dramatic for most people in the Bible either. You know, for many of us we’ve been a follower of Jesus since our baptism. Have you ever thought of what your life would be like had you never been baptized? Have you ever thought of what your life would be like had you never grown up in a believing household?
You see, we say things like, “Well whom am I? I’m just so-and-so.” And yet, I think therein lies the miracle. Who are you? Actually, that’s not the important question. The question that matters in life isn’t “who are you?”, the question that matters in life is “whose are you?” And once it is established that you belong to Jesus, the next question that matters is, “who is Jesus?”, and, of course, you know who he is. You know what millions of people in the unbelieving world don’t: that life is not really about you; it’s about Jesus and what he’s doing with you and through you as he guides you on your journey to heaven.
You think of the prophet Jonah. Here again we see that God makes a habit of calling the unfit and the unworthy. The first time God called Jonah to follow him to the city of Nineveh, Jonah said “no” and ran away from him! So, he calls him a second time, and this time Jonah does follow. Why does God do it this way? He does it to highlight the power of his gospel call, and to show that salvation can only be a gift of God, never a work of man or even a cooperative venture between God and man. Think of it. No more unfit workman could there have been than Jonah. No city deserved destruction more than Nineveh. But God called both to repentance and showed his greatest glory giving grace and forgiveness to the underserving.
I want you to think of how Christ’s call to discipleship has changed you, because if you are a believer, the fact of the matter is that his call has changed you inside-out. You repent of your sins. That’s a miracle in and of itself. You believe that Jesus’ body and blood paid for your sins. There’s another miracle. You believe that in Holy Communion when Jesus says, “This is my body and this is my blood,” that you truly do receive his body and blood and with them the forgiveness of every sin. Ask yourself, how many people believe that? And why do you believe that?
Because Christ’s call has changed you. And the good news, loved ones, is that until the day you die it never stops changing you. His mercies are new every morning! Every day that you live, the call of Christ invites you, “Follow me.” And then it gives you the motivation and ability to actually follow him. Slowly but surely, he changes your own will so that it conforms to his perfect and superior will, until that day when you arrive into heaven and he finally gets you to where he has always wanted you to be—with him! And Christ calls you from the gate: “Come forth! Follow me!” And you say to yourself: There is no one I would rather follow.” Amen.