Monday Reverb – 22January2024








Welcome to this week’s episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.  


Jonah—Prophet or Cautionary Tale
Greg Williams

If you ask anyone about Jonah, what will they say the story is about?

The whale.  Every kids’ book and cartoon adaptation of Jonah features some hybrid of Moby Dick and Jaws creeping up out of the seaweed to swallow the hapless prophet.

But the real story is much bigger.  Jonah is asked by God to avert the destruction of Israel’s sworn enemy, Nineveh.  Jonah, out of an ethnic hatred of these people and anger about God showing them mercy, ran in the other direction as fast and far as he could.

At one point, he even chose to kill himself by jumping into angry seas rather than obeying God’s call.  In his own rage and bitterness, he would rather die than soften his will to God’s.

God turns the tables on him by sending, as we all know, a giant fish.
God turns the tables again by hearing the Ninevites repenting and holding back his judgment.

But Jonah remains unmoved.  He ends the whole book arguing with God over whether God is allowed to show mercy to these people.

In a sense, Jonah gets his theology right, but he misses who God is.  Sure the Israelites are the people of God, sure the Assyrians were bloodthirsty and godless, but in the book of Jonah we read, God is:

“… a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”  Jonah 4:2 (ESV)

Isn’t that who we want God to be?  Sure!  But Jonah was blinded by his own self-preservation and his own thoughts on how God should be acting.  Instead of a prophet, his story became a cautionary tale.

Has that ever happened to us?  Have we ever so figured out how God should be acting that we miss what he’s doing?  Does an obsession with theological details sometimes cause us to lose the big picture — that God loves the world and wants to draw everyone to himself?

Let’s not forget that God’s main business is love — and that love is messy, fuzzy, spontaneous,  and generous.  He’s not going to follow whatever expectations we have for him, and he’s not consulting us on how far to extend his grace.  Halleljujah! 

Let’s be grateful!  Embrace his lavish love for you and for your perceived enemies. That’s how GOOD God is.

I am Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.


A PRELUDE to the Sermon — An Introductory Video … % The Bible Project



A Proclamation and A Calling

Mark 1:14-20 (ESV)


It doesn’t take Mark long to tell a story.  Our text today begins only fourteen verses into chapter one and Mark is already introducing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Mark begins his Gospel account with a short section on John the Baptist, which leads to an even shorter section on Jesus’ baptism, which is then followed by only two verses to tell of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness.  In quick order Mark accounts for the work of preparation that paves the way for Jesus’ ministry.  In our passage today we are given a quick look into what Jesus’ ministry entails.  Namely, a ministry of preaching and calling.

As we look at these two aspects of Jesus’ ministry, we are also given an epiphany of who God is and what he has done and is doing in Jesus Christ.  Although Mark is short in the telling of his narratives of Jesus’ life and ministry, his briefness does allow us a laser focus on what is essential to the gospel message.  Since Mark does not provide many details in his stories, we look at the details he does provide as loaded with weighty meaning.  We will try to take note of those details as we go. But first, let’s see how Mark chooses to introduce the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

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.” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV)

Notice that Mark lets us know that John’s ministry of preparation is over.  Using John’s arrest, Mark removes John the Baptist from the scene and transitions from preparation to arrival.  Jesus has arrived and there is no turning back.  The focus going forward is fully on Jesus.  However, Jesus’ arrival is in Galilee and not Jerusalem or Rome.  The Lord’s ministry does not need to make a huge splash or begin in the spotlight of the grand and majesticJesus is content to start in the small, isolated corners that we find ourselves in, and not in the perceived center of the stage so often marked out by power, prestige, and popularity.  When Jesus comes to us, we can trust that we are, in that movement, at the very center of the universe.  There is nothing more majestic or grand than what Jesus is doing in our midst.  This is the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ.  Our heavenly Father does not move on to bigger and better things to make a name for himself.  He comes to us in our “Galilees” to glorify his name among us.

Using John the Baptist’s arrest, Mark is also able to make hint of the conflict that will come later for Jesus as he carries out his ministry.  Just as John was arrested, so Jesus will be.  But even with this foreshadowing of conflict, we are to anticipate that Jesus will not be deterred from his mission of proclaiming the good news and calling us into itFor Jesus, there is nothing more important than his mission to save us.  He will not be distracted or hindered, no matter the amount of conflict he must endure.  This ominous “arrest” can also serve to prepare us for the conflict that awaits those who will become his followers.  Following Jesus will not be easy, but it will be incomparably so worth it!  Because of who Jesus is and what he has done for us, we too can face all conflict as we turn to him in faith.  No matter what we face, we can always turn to the one who is forever, and immovably, turned toward us.

With John the Baptist off the scene, Mark presents Jesus’ ministry first and foremost as a “proclaiming” of the gospel which has everything to do with the “kingdom of God.”  The kingdom of God is a politically loaded statement.  We often want to avoid making “political” statements as they seem so divisive, and certainly often are.  However, “kingdom” language is clearly political in content and is not to be dismissed as philosophical talk, moral advice, or therapeutic spirituality.  The message Jesus proclaims is to the whole world and it has implications to all issues within it.  The gospel is not held at bay by the political polarization presented to us.  Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, and he brings with him God’s kingdom.  It doesn’t get any more political than that.

The difference we see in this “political” message is that it is “the gospel of God” meaning it is the good news that God declares to us in his Son Jesus.  It’s the “bad news” politics of our day that must take a back seat to Jesus’ proclamation, not the other way round.  No doubt, such a proclamation will indeed bring Jesus and us into conflict with the powers that be who oppose and resist the proclamation that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.”  Notice how that proclamation is a stated reality, not a potential or comforting thoughtIt is a declaration of something that has already taken place with a forward motion towards completion.  Like the first sight of the rising sun that breaks the darkness of night, you know there is no stopping it.  It’s just a matter of time till the darkness becomes full day.  You can resist it, but only by closing your eyes and pretending it’s not there.

But this proclamation does not stand aloneIt demands a response.  And that response is to “repent and believe in the gospel.”   This may be why this story finds itself on the calendar for the Season of Epiphany.  Epiphanies are those moments when we see something that was once hiddenWhen this happens, we will want to make some changes to fit the reality that we now see.  Have you ever bumped your shin walking through a dark room?  If the lights get turned on you can clearly see the coffee table that you were bumping into.  Now that you see the coffee table, it would be foolish to take the same path.  That’s why the response to the proclamation of the gospel is to “repent,” which essentially means to change your mind and act accordingly.  But, along with that response of repentance is the response of “believe in the gospel.”  This means that not only do we see the “coffee table” but we trust that a new path is good for us.

We must come to trust that the news of God’s kingdom and his reign is in fact “good.”  And to do that we must come to know that the King is indeed a good king who has our best interest in mind.  In this way, repentance is a joyful turning to the Lord and a deliberate turning away from all that prevents us from knowing him more.

  • So, we do not repent out of some self-willed determination to be our best selves. 
  • Rather, we come to rely and trust on the Lord’s word to us, turning to him and leaving behind all that is not fitting to the relationship with him that he calls us into. 
  • In this way we repent, even when we don’t feel it or understand it.   
  • We do it out of trust in the one who has proven to be trustworthy.

That’s all Mark gives us for now regarding Jesus’ ministry of preaching.  He swiftly moves into Jesus’ ministry of calling.  And as he does, we are able to see a little more of the heart and character of this one who proclaims the good news to us and calls us to himself.  Along with the story of Jesus calling his first disciples, we gain some epiphanies of who God is as revealed in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  As we look at these few verses recounting Jesus calling his disciples, we will keep an eye out to know the one who is calling us today.  We will find that he is good, trustworthy, and worth following.  Let’s revisit how Mark tells it:

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.  And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. (Mark 1:16-20 ESV)

First, we see that Jesus is on a journey.  He seems to have a destination in mind as he ispassing alongside the Sea of Galilee.”  He is not setting up camp or looking for a place to settle down.  He is on the move.  But this does not mean he is passing by those he calls.  We come to know later that his calling is a special one, reserved for those who will be entrusted with the keys of the kingdom and the charge to pass on the message of the gospel to future generations.  Part of that message we have before us in this story.  Thanks to Mark’s faithfulness to his calling, we can hear Jesus’ calling to us today in this passage.

Before we get to their response to Jesus’ calling, we should take note that this is a personal calling.  Jesus is not blasting his call over a megaphone with some generic message to random fishermen to come follow him.  Notice how Mark describes the calling.  Jesus first “saw Simon and Andrew.”  What a comfort that Jesus’ calling to us is not divorced from his seeing and knowing us by name.

  • He is first and foremost calling us into a relationship with him.
  • And Jesus doesn’t just see us as isolated individuals.
  • He sees and knows us, along with the relationships we are connected to.
      • Simon and Andrew are brothers, and that detail does not escape Jesus’ seeing eyes.
      • He knows who is important to us and the implications his calling will have on our relationships.
  • Jesus also sees our status in life.
      • There is no mention of a boat for Simon and Andrew, so we might surmise they were fishing from shore, indicating they weren’t well off in life.

Now that Jesus has seen them for who they are and where they stand, he calls them.  Notice that his call is not without promise and hope.  His calling is not just from  something, but into  something far greater than what must be left behind.  They are called to “become fishers of men.”  The contrast here from literal fishing to “fishers of men” indicates a radical new trajectory of their life.  And our calling is the same.

  • Jesus is not calling us to put our life on hold to do something we’d rather not do.
  • He is calling us into the true life we are created for.

The comparison of our former life is a radical improvement that we can’t possibly quantify from our own perspective.  But Jesus is telling us in his calling that what he intends to do with us will amount to an astounding transformation which we can liken to the difference of smelly fish and living people.  And even that analogy falls woefully short.

Now we see how these two poor fishermen responded.  They did not hesitate, ask questions, or seek further explanation.  They didn’t sit there and say, “Well Jesus, that’s an interesting notion. Maybe we should make a pros and cons list.”  No, their response was immediate.  They followed Jesus.  And that immediate response involved leaving “their nets” which is equivalent to leaving all that they knew, for we are told that theywere fishermen.”  Now some of us may be thinking, “Well, being a fisherman with little money in that day was some serious hard work with no guarantee of good returns.  No wonder they didn’t think twice about following Jesus.  Surely, they would just as soon follow any Rabbi promising something better.”

Not so fast.  Let’s look at the details in Jesus calling James and his brother John.  Here we have two more fishermen and brothers, but they have a boat along with hired servants.  They are doing pretty well in the fishing business.  We also see that they are “mending the nets.”  Are we to conclude that they are wrapping up their fishing journey compared to the first set of brothers, Simon and Andrew, who were in the middle of fishing?  Jesus’ calling may come while we are busy at our task or when we are closing shop.  Either way, Jesus calls us according to his timing, not ours.  Either way, we see that these brothers also responded by leaving all to follow Jesus’ immediate call.

We have two sets of brothers representing two different stations in life.  Jesus is no more deterred in calling the well-off fishermen as he was in calling the poor onesWhat a breath of fresh air to know that our Lord does not size us up according to our success or lack of success in life!  He is not looking for the privileged or the underprivileged.  He is looking for followers.  In the end, our stations in life are nothing in comparison to where he is taking us and what he is doing with us.  If you have ever looked down from a skyscraper and seen people walking below, you understand how it is pretty much impossible to tell who is taller or shorter.  They all look like ants.  From the perspective of Jesus’ high calling, we will never look back on our status as something contributing to where Jesus takes us.

Regardless of who we are, where we come from, what station in life we find ourselves in, or who we are related to, Jesus’ call demands the same immediate response – to followWe are all called to leave everything behind to follow him into his good kingdom in which he reigns.

That’s all we get from Mark on Jesus calling his first disciples.  Perhaps we wish he provided more details, more backstory.  We may become uneasy with the immediacy of Jesus’ call and the disciples’ immediate response to it.  What does Mark mean for us to do with his short and curt telling of Jesus’ ministry of preaching and calling?  Perhaps it will be helpful to note that Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’ ministry is the message that the kingdom of God is at hand.  The emphasis is on the reality that has been established by the coming of Jesus Christ.  Everything has changed.  As soon as we see it, as soon as we are called into it, there is absolutely no reason for delay.

What about you and me today?  Do we hear the Lord calling us? Are there things we need to immediately leave behind in order to follow him?  Do we need to take another look at who Jesus is and hear once again the good news of his kingdom in order to turn once again to follow him?  Do we need to embrace once again or for the first time the promise that Jesus calls us into a life that will far outpace anything we can attain for ourselves?

Let’s rephrase this: are you hearing the Lord call you today?  He sees you, he knows you, and there is nothing to keep you from following himWhether you are hearing him call you for the first time or for the 101st time, the response is the sameRepent and believe in the gospel and follow the Lord who is calling you.



Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Mark moves so fast in his Gospel account?  (It can be shared that when Mark gets to the crucifixion he slows down and spends a lot of time on details.)
  • Why is the message that God’s kingdom is “at hand” a political statement?
    • What is politics?
  • What implications does it have in a politically polarized world?
  • How would you explain what it means to “repent” and to “believe?”
    • Do a search on “unbelief”
    • Romans 4:20  He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God,
      Romans 11:20   Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear.
      Romans 11:23   And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
      1 Timothy 1:13   although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
      Hebrews 3:12   Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;
      Hebrews 3:19   So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
    • To believe is, in one sense, to repent of unbelief.
    • According to the sermon, however … to repent is to change … and to believe is to trust.
  • Did your understanding of these responses grow or change any from the sermon?
  • How does knowing (that) Jesus sees us and calls us personally shape our response to him?
  • How did the differences between the two sets of brothers Jesus called speak to who Jesus is?
    • Our calling — not about our status or ability
    • Barclay:
      • It was as if Jesus said, “Give me twelve ordinary men and with them, if they will give themselves to me, I will change the world.”
      • A man should never think so much of what he is as of what Jesus Christ can make him.
      • The call of God can come to a man, not only in the house of God, not only in the secret place, but in the middle of the day’s work.
      • In by far the greatest number of cases a man follows Jesus Christ, not because of anything that Jesus said but because of everything that Jesus is.
    • What does this say about Jesus’ heart and character?
  • Are there things about us we may think would keep Jesus from calling us?  What are they?
  • What other details in the passage stood out to you?





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