Epiphany 3, January 24, 2021
Jesus Is Calling
Text: Mark 1:14–20
There are certain things in life that put us in one of two groups, not this, but that; either/or; one not the other; this one bad, that one good. Republican or Democrat. Ford or Chevy. Tastes great or less filling. Bacon chewy or crispy. Bathroom tissue unspooling above or below the roll.
Maybe you remember science class back in the day and being handed a magnet. On one end of the magnet is a plus sign, and on the other end is a minus sign. Not only are these signs different from each other, but they react to metals in opposite ways. One end of the magnet will draw the metal toward it, while the other will repel the same metal from it.
Here in the Lutheran church, we like to frame our use of the Bible into two things: Law and Gospel. There are folks who look at the way we do this and think that God’s Law and Gospel are polarizing actions of God (like magnets), that they are opposites. Nothing could be further from the truth. Applying Law and Gospel certainly feels different to us: the Law convicts us of our sins, and the Gospel frees us of our sins through the death and rising of Jesus. I have to tell you though, that they are not like two sides of a coin that never meet. The more accurate understanding is that the Law is fulfilled by the Gospel (Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection)—one preparing, the other fulfilling; not one bad, the other good.
In a parallel way, the ministry of John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus are sometimes seen as polar opposites—John fiery, scary, “mean!” Jesus kind, loving, “nice!” In fact, our text today shows that John and Jesus aren’t polar opposites, but rather preparation and fulfillment, with a fairly smooth transition of one to the other.
As the Gospel Fulfills What the Law Prepared, Jesus’ Fulfills What John Began.
Leading up to this Sunday, we’ve had a few Sundays with scripture readings featuring John the Baptist and his preaching out in the wilderness. Remember hearing from John on the Second and Third Sundays in Advent? John also featured in the Baptism of Jesus a couple of weeks ago. John is famous for his proclamation of the Law. His preaching of the Law was intended to bring self-satisfied sinners to repentance. John was preaching to a lot of people who thought they were not sinners. We know we are sinners, at least I hope so, and in the repentance of our sins, our hearts and minds are prepared for the Gospel.
Our Old Testament Reading this morning tells us about Jonah calling the wicked city of Nineveh to repentance in a way that is similar to John’s. After Jonah’s famous reluctance to do what God told him to do, punctuated by three days in the belly of that great fish (dag gadol)—he did follow God’s call to preach His devastating Law to the city: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). Fiery? Scary? Definitely! But “mean”? Nope, not at all.
It is true with both Jonah and John the Baptist that what they preached about God’s wrath is real. We should not believe that we can live our lives thinking sin is no big deal and God has let us “get away with our sins.” No, we haven’t “gotten away” with anything! We just may think that way if we misunderstand Law and Gospel as bad and good. “Law = Bad = Getting caught red-handed.” “Gospel = Good = Not getting caught.” This is wrong! The fact is, whether we realize it or not, we are always caught red-handed by God. God through His spokesmen proclaim the Law so that we’ll see and know our sins. The Gospel, however, is that God’s hammer, which we expected to be coming down on us, isn’t coming down on us but came down on Jesus on the cross, instead. The full weight of the sins of everybody was put on Jesus Christ’s shoulders when He died. When He rose again, that brings us forgiveness. The preparation Jonah and John laid down paved the way for Jesus to be the Gospel as He walked to the cross. The words of these prophets were God showing His deep concern for His people, for you, over their/your sins.
When Jesus comes onto the scene in our Gospel text, we recall the journey we’ve been through to get here today. The angel announced to the shepherds the good tidings of great joy. Jesus had become one of us, being born of a virgin. Two weeks ago, we saw Jesus get baptized. Now, today in the text, He calls His first apostles. What we see here is not God distancing Himself from what Jonah and John the Baptist said and did, but a continuation and a completion, a fulfillment, of them. There is an “and” that connects repentance to faith in Jesus’ work. Our text reads, “Now after John was arrested, 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’ ” (Mk 1:14–15).
Like Jonah, like John, here we find another call for repentance, yet there are two notable differences.
1. It is the Son of God Himself doing the calling.
2. What follows Jesus Christ’s call to repentance is His telling us to believe: “believe in the Gospel.” Here in Mark, we find the first mention of faith from Jesus. This is no small thing, and it is an invitation we want to get!
But I do want to make it very clear to you that when Jesus calls people to Him, when Jesus calls YOU to Him, He does so with Law and Gospel, “Repent” and “Believe.”
Our text concludes with another calling from Jesus: not to repentance and faith but the calling of Simon, Andrew, James, and John to be apostles, four of the first twelve men to occupy the Office of the Holy Ministry (Apostles versus disciples). Jesus calls them into the office in which the very task is to continue Jesus’ ministry—for they are to go out and preach to sinners, a call to repentance and a call to faith.
And it is precisely where the ministry of John the Baptist was always pointing:
“God, Himself from the creation of the world, has done everything necessary to save you. All sin, every sin that you have committed, has been your own personal attempt to dethrone God and take from Him what is rightfully His. You want his power, authority, and might. You want Him off His throne. And that is just what happened, but not as you would have wanted it, but as you needed. (St.) John (the Baptist) has proclaimed to you that the one who would (save you) is the only one who has come down from His throne. And when the Son of Man comes from His heavenly throne, He comes for you. He comes to be the victor over sin, death, and the devil!” (Gaven M. Mize, Awake, You Who Sleep: The Advent of the Christ [Hickory, NC: Confessio Augustana Press, 2018])
Now it is the ministry of the Church and her pastors. What John prepared and Jesus fulfilled is now ours. The same voice that cried from the manger in the recent Sundays of Christmas also called His apostles to proclaim the Law and Gospel to sinners. What Jesus was able to accomplish in these men He is able to accomplish through the pastors of His Church today. He uses us to work with His Word and Sacraments, and He forgives your sins and gives you everlasting life.
Jonah and John called their hearers to repentance, and they (the hearers) wanted the forgiveness of God. Jesus calls us to repent and believe, and He forgives us of our sins. Jesus also calls His pastors to proclaim the Law that breaks us and to speak the Gospel words of Absolution, to tell you that you are forgiven.
What we are talking about today is not “Law Or Gospel” but “Law AND Gospel.” Not opposites. Not one or the other. And that reminds me that there is one other category that is split into two distinct groups: “unsaved” or “saved.” Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to you to call you to repentance and faith. And you can be sure today in hearing the words your pastor speaks to you that you are forgiven, and you are saved, because Jesus died for you, He rose again for you, and He is with you always. Why are we sure of this? Because Jesus said so.
In the Name of Jesus.