Jesus’ Authority – part 1 (Mark 1:16-20)

Continuing in Mark’s Gospel (last week we studied the flow of the story from chapter 6 through 11), over the next three days we’ll be reading five stories about Jesus (and alluding to a sixth, in chapter 2). They’re not long, so have a read of all six now. (Mark 1:16-2:11.)

You probably noticed that all six tories have the same basic point. Mark has placed them in a cluster so that as readers we don’t miss the point. Although they start from different angles, each story ultimately shows how Jesus has authority.

Yet too often, when it comes to gospel stories, we miss the main point. We instantly cast ourselves in the stories. Either as Jesus, or one of the other characters. To discover some lesson about how we should live.

I came across a sermon on the net about the first story in this passage – the calling of James and John. The preacher made it all about Zebedee. Zebedee stayed in the boat, you may recall, while James and John followed Jesus. The subtitle of his sermon was this: ‘Zebedee, as many fathers today, missed out on the best things by being satisfied with what was good.’ Now admittedly it was Father’s day, but there’s still no excuse. It’s a story about Jesus – not a story about Zebedee, or James, or John.

Similarly, Jesus’ miracle stories aren’t primarily to teach us how to live. Scot McKnight says: ‘We are not taught by the healing of the paralytic any more to dig through a roof than we are by Jesus’ calming of the storm to take catnaps in a boat!’ Rather, the miracle stories teach us about Jesus’ authority over the world which he created.

So how should these stories impact us, then?

When we contemplate how these stories began their life, we get a glimpse of their significance. You can imagine them being told at the regular Sunday gatherings of the first Christians. For those new to the faith, they were a way of finding out about the one whom they had followed. For those who had been Christians for a longer time, reciting them was an act of praise and worship. Just as in the Psalms the Israelites recounted God’s great deeds, so the early Christians recited Jesus’ great deeds. And they did so as an act of worship!

For us, then, the primary application is: worship Jesus, for he has authority. Be amazed at his words and deeds. Be awestruck at his power. Be humbled by the fact that he walked this earth as one of us. And above all, be thankful that he did so.

Remember that these stories aren’t primarily about the example of James and John as willing disciples, or how we should teach with authority, or how we can cast out demons, or how we can heal someone, or how we can be healed. Let’s not place ourselves in these stories too quickly, and neglect the centrality of Jesus.

On the other hand, let’s not just read these as a passive act of worship that doesn’t impact our lives. As we look at these stories about Jesus and his authority, let’s keep an ear out for what we might do in response. How we can actively respond to Jesus’ authority in our lives.

Authority in calling disciples (v16-20)

Mk 1:16-20 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 send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. 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.

The point of this story is that Jesus had authority to call people, and they would follow. Immediately. No questions asked.

If it were me, I’d at least demand an explanation: fishers of what? At least tell me in plain Aramaic what you’re wanting me to do! To Simon & Andrew it would have sounded particularly ominous. All the Old Testament analogies combining fishing and people occurred in prophecies of judgement. People would be ‘caught’ by fishermen and led off by fish-hooks into exile. Yet here, of course, Jesus is talking about catching people in order to save them from judgement. But I don’t think Simon and Andrew would have grasped these subtleties. Yet they still followed him.

The Gk word euthus – immediately – is characteristic of Mark’s gospel. The NIV translates it in a variety of ways (at once, without delay, as soon as…) hiding its frequency. Throughout Mk’s gospel, everything seems to happen euthus, underlining the authority of Jesus. He speaks ‘be clean’, and euthus – the leper is healed. ‘Follow me’, and euthus – they follow.

It wasn’t through some magnetic personality by which he appealed to people – indeed, the vast majority of people rejected him. Rather, it was because he was, as Mark says in the opening verse of his gospel, the Son of God. He had the authority to call people, and they would respond. Immediately. Totally. Leaving behind everything.

To think about

So how do we respond to this story? To Jesus’ authority over people?

It’s important to note that the call here is not primarily to salvation, but a call to ministry – to be ‘fishers of men’. In his book The Irresistible Urge to Preach, William Myers studied the life stories of various preachers: the common element in these is that they felt “called” by God to do this. It wasn’t a matter of career planning – often it went against it. His follow-up book was called God’s Yes was louder than my No. When we are talking about ministry – preaching, leading, serving, whatever –  we have to remember that the initiative is with God and not us.

Jesus has authority today to call us as Xns into whichever ministry he chooses.  What is our response to his call? Are we giving Jesus the worship due to him by yielding to his authority? Have we left everything behind in response to his authority? Most of us haven’t physically done so – and most of us probably haven’t been called to do so. But have we mentally left everything behind – family, wealth, job, status, comfort – so that if Jesus calls us to give up something, we will do it. Euthus. Immediately.

Jesus has authority over people.

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