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Epiphany, “Follow the Leader”

Pastor Gary Wong, January 24, 2021

Mark 1:14-20

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. 15 “The time is fulfilled,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe in the gospel.” 16 As Jesus was going along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. 17 Jesus said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 Going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately Jesus called them. They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Do you like to play games? As children, many of us probably played “Follow the Leader.” Kids like to play this game because it’s easy and fun. The only things you need are one person to be the leader and at least a couple of others to be followers. This game has one simple rule. The leader goes wherever he wants, and everyone else follows where he leads. In today’s lesson, we hear Jesus calling his first disciples, saying, “Come, follow me.” As we meditate on this portion of Scripture, let’s take a closer look at what it really means to follow Jesus. Our Savior’s command is a call to action. Jesus calls us to repent; he calls us to serve.

At the beginning of his gospel, St. Mark describes a charismatic leader by the name of John the Baptist. John—a larger than life figure who wore a camel’s hair coat and ate locusts and wild honey—had been drawing all kinds of people to the banks of the Jordan River. Huge crowds came to the Judean wilderness to hear this powerful prophet preach. What was John’s message? “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” When word about John reached the ears of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, they sent out a delegation of Levites and priests to find out just who this character was. When asked, John freely confessed, “I am not the Christ.” Not satisfied with that answer, they pressed further. John responded by quoting from Isaiah: I am “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” Basically, John the Baptist was saying, “Who I am isn’t really important. I’m just one of God’s messengers, a servant of the Lord doing the work the Lord has given me. The time is coming, though, when I will gladly step aside for the One who will come after me—“one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” (Mark 1:7).

Who is that leader? You know. It’s Jesus. John the Baptist’s entire ministry was to prepare the world for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. When Jesus appeared at the banks of the Jordan where John had been baptizing, John immediately pointed to Jesus and said to his followers, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Among John’s disciples were Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, and the Apostle John. These followers of John the Baptist had just heard their leader say that Jesus was the promised Savior. So what did these two disciples do the next day when Jesus passed by and John once again said, “Look the Lamb of God!”? They immediately followed Jesus. They didn’t look to John for more words of wisdom or ask him what they should do. They knew what to do. By identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God, John was telling his disciples, “Look—there’s the man whom you need to follow. He’s the long-awaited Savior. So, why are hanging around with me? Go to him—now!”

And go they did. But just as they started to follow Jesus, Jesus turned around and asked them, “What do you want?” Before we discuss their answer, let me ask you a question. If you had been one of those disciples, how would you have answered Jesus? What do you want from Jesus? What do you expect from him? Do you want him to help you deal with a particular problem? Do want Jesus to give you an “Easy” button that you can push at any time—a button that will instantly take away all of your worries and problems? Do you want to know how to live a better life? Or do you want relief from the guilt of your sins and be assured that you have eternal life through faith in Christ? Depending on your pre-suppositions about who Jesus is and what he offers, you will either joyfully follow him, or you will go away from him sadly disappointed.

So, how did these disciples answer Jesus? Their response is an example that all of us can follow. They said, “Rabbi—where are you staying?” Rather than focusing on what they wanted, those disciples focused on Jesus and what he had to offer them. These disciples wanted nothing more than to be with Jesus. They wanted to learn from him and be blessed by him. They wanted to stay with Jesus and get to know him better. What more could any of us want? Jesus’ response was a simple invitation: “Come.” John tells us that these two disciples stayed with Jesus the whole day. After hearing what Jesus had to say, coupled with John the Baptist’s testimony, Andrew was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was indeed the promised Savior. The first thing that he did after leaving Jesus was to find his brother, Peter, and tell him the good news: “We have found the Messiah!” Andrew then brought his brother to Jesus. Even though it isn’t stated in Scripture, it’s a good guess that John also told his brother, James, the good news and brought James to Jesus as well.

From this point forward, Andrew and John, who had been disciples of John the Baptist, became followers of Jesus. When King Herod threw John the Baptist in prison because John had spoken against Herod, John’s prophetic words then came true: “He who comes after me has surpassed me.” Jesus picked up the gospel ministry exactly where John the Baptist had left off. Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom. Jesus proclaimed the same message that John the Baptist had proclaimed. More than that, Jesus was the message. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Meanwhile, what were Andrew, Peter, James and John doing after they had met Jesus and believed that he was the Christ, the One whom God had promised to send to save the world from the deadly consequences of sin? They were busy fishing! St. Mark tells us that is what Jesus found these men doing as he was walking beside the Sea of Galilee. When he saw Andrew and Peter casting a net into the lake, he said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” In the same way, when Jesus saw James and John in their boat, Jesus called these two sons of Zebedee to follow him.

How did these four fishermen from Capernaum respond to their Savior’s call? They happily obeyed. They didn’t hesitate. They didn’t stop to confer with one another, or in the case of James and John, speak with their dad. They didn’t doubt for a moment what they were going to do. Rather, they acted right away. Peter and Andrew left their nets and followed Jesus. James and John immediately left their father in the boat with the hired men and they, too, followed Jesus. What tremendous examples of putting one’s faith into action!

Friends, there is so much that we can learn from this lesson. We, like Andrew and John, have also been called by the Lord. By God’s grace, you and I were called out of the darkness of sin into the marvelous light of his love. Our first call was a call to faith—to recognize that we are sinful by nature and that we commit countless sins each and every day. By our sinful thoughts, words, and actions, we had earned a place in hell where we would have been forever separated from God’s love. But it is precisely because of his love that God sent Jesus to save us. Jesus lived a perfect life in our place; he then willingly sacrificed his life for us on the cross. Truly, Jesus’ suffering and death has taken away the sin of the world! Because of Jesus and our faith in him, we are assured that our sins are forgiven and that we will one day live in heaven with our Savior forever.

Our gracious God gave us the gift of faith at our baptisms. Our souls have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and we are now children of the light. Yet, though we are God’s dearly loved children, we still have a sinful nature that, if it had its way, would choose to follow the devil. Therefore, our second call is a call to live a life of repentance. Since we constantly sin, we need to confess those sins, trusting that God has forgiven us because of what Jesus has done. Then, with the Lord’s help, we strive to produce fruits of repentance. In other words, we will flee from the temptations of this sinful world and instead follow the narrow path that leads to eternal life. How can we do that? Jesus tells us: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31, 32). To be a follower of Jesus means that we will want to keep the Commandments—not because we have to, but because we want to and are blessed as we follow them. Holding to and applying Jesus’ teaching to our lives is living a life of repentance.

The third call that each of us has received is the call to serve him. In our lesson, Andrew, Peter, James and John were called to be “fishers of men.” In other words, Jesus called those disciples into the public ministry. God still calls his disciples to share the gospel. For instance, the Holy Spirit, through our Synod, calls men and women who have been trained at MLC and the Seminary to serve him as pastors, teachers, and staff ministers. Yet, serving the Lord includes more than the public ministry of the gospel. Every Christian serves the Lord as we faithfully use our gifts to his glory whatever our vocations or station in life may be— as a parent or child, employer or employee, teacher or student, farmer or physician, as someone serving on the Altar Guild, church council, or cleaning the church. Finally, an important part of serving the Lord includes sharing the gospel with those who do not know Jesus as their Savior. Jesus has called all of us to proclaim the good news to all creation.

Dear friends—by God’s grace, we have been called to follow our Savior. As his disciples, we follow his Word and strive to live a life of repentance and service to him. Even though our journey on earth is sometimes difficult and we may get discouraged at times, we joyfully follow Jesus, knowing that he is the way that leads to eternal life in heaven. Let’s all follow The Leader. Amen.

“Come. Follow Me, the Savior Spoke” (CW 453)

Text: Johann Schaeffler, 1624-77, abr., st.1-3,5; Geistliche Lieder und Lobgesange, 1695, st. 4; tr. Charles W. Schaeffler, 1833-96, alt.

“Come, follow me,” the Savior spoke,

“All in my way abiding.

Deny yourselves; the world forsake;

Obey my call and guiding.

Oh, bear the cross, whate’er betide;

Take my example for your guide.

“I am the light; I light the way,

A godly life displaying.

I bid you walk as in the day;

I keep your feet from straying.

I am the way, and well I show

How you should journey here below.

“I teach you how to shun and flee

What harms your souls’ salvation,

Your hearts from ev’ry guile to free,

From sin and its temptation.

I am the refuge of the soul,

And lead you to your heav’nly goal.”

Then let us follow Christ our Lord

And take the cross appointed

And, firmly clinging to his Word

In suff’ring be undaunted.

For those who bear the battle’s strain

The crown of heav’nly life obtain.

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