This summary of the ministry of Jesus and of the calling of the first group of disciples, introduces the early Galilean ministry, 1:14-3:6. The next section begins with a similar summary and the calling of more disciples, 3:7-19.
v14-15. Mark separates the ministry of Jesus from that of John the Baptist, so only after the arrest of John does Jesus begin his ministry in earnest. John's function, therefore, is to prepare the way for Jesus' coming, 1:2. Mark also differentiates Jesus' message from John's, although Matthew implies that they are the same, cf. Matt.3:2. John calls for repentance in the face of the coming-one who brings with him the cleansing Spirit. This call finds fulfillment in Jesus who communicates the "gospel", or "good news." The word actually means "important message" and it is either good news, or bad news, depending on how we respond to it. There are three parts to the message and Mark gives us a summary:
i] "The time has come / is fulfilled / completed". All that the prophets foretold concerning the coming of the messiah, the anointed Davidic leader, is coming to fruition in and through the person of Jesus.
ii] "The kingdom of God is near / at hand / bursting in upon us." The glorious day when God will fulfill his promises to Abraham, gather a people to himself to eternally live secure under his rule of peace, is bursting into this world. Again, this is actualized in the person of Jesus who both inaugurates the kingdom in the present moment and will realize it at his second coming.
iii] "Repent and believe". The message demands a response. The call for repentance is similar to John's call. Membership in the coming kingdom demands a turning toward the living God. It is a turning back to God, a conversion. The response also involves belief: faith, dependence on, firm reliance on, a reliance on the gospel for salvation. Both John and Jesus link "repent and believe" with "forgiveness". Our response to the gospel involves both a turning to God and a reliance on God for mercy, for God's free grace of forgiveness in Christ.
v16-18. The two fishermen, Simon and Andrew, are called first. John tells us that they were disciples of John the Baptist and were therefore well prepared for the call, Jn.1:35-42. They are called to be "fishers of men." The term has Old Testament significance. In the day of judgement God will cast his net over the sea of humanity and gather some for life and others for damnation. The disciples are called to gather in the lost before the dawning of that terrible day. As already noted, the gospel of the coming kingdom is both good and bad news.
v19-20. James and John are called next. The context implies that they too will serve as messengers of coming judgement, gathering and separating. They, like Simon and Andrew, immediately accept the sovereign call of God in Jesus. Given the one who calls, they have no other choice. Their return to Galilee, at the end of Mark's gospel, serves to reaffirm and refocus this call to mission, 16:7, cf. John chapter 21.
One of the subjects of constant debate in a theological college is the function of the gospel in salvation. All agree it is "the power of God unto salvation", but how does this power work? Students tend to break up into two groups. Some feel that it is a power available for the seeker, that is, for the person who is seeking God the gospel serves as the key to unlock the grace of salvation. Such a view emphasizes the notion of human freewill in the process of salvation. Others feel that the gospel is a preemptive power which acts on a person who has already experienced the sovereign inworking of the Spirit. Such a view emphasizes the notion of God's sovereign will in the process of salvation.
Biblical truth is truth in tension. So, in our passage for study, the Bible seems to affirm both God's sovereignty and human freedom. The call of the disciples illustrates both sides of the divide; the theological truth known as the "effectual call" and on the other side of the divide, human freewill. On the one hand, we could argue that the disciples had no choice in the matter. The call of Jesus left them with no option other than to leave all and follow him. Their service to Jesus would involve communicating that same call to others. They too would become "fishers of men." Yet, their call was not out of the blue. They were already followers of John the Baptist and were looking for the coming messiah. They had thought through the issues and were ready and waiting when the net was cast.
Today, we possess a gospel with the same power, and have the same authority to cast its net far and wide. The gospel actually makes our job simple. We must widely and clearly communicate its message. Its effective power is the responsibility of God, while its personal touch is the responsibility of the seeker. What mustn't be lost on us is the urgency of its communication, for the day of judgement is at hand. Thus, we point to the hope of eternal life in Christ and call on everyone everywhere to turn and put their trust in Jesus.
1. Why is the gospel also bad news?
2. What words would you use in telling someone that "the kingdom of God is near"?
3. Ditto: "repent and believe"?
4. Discuss the "effectual call."