The 4 Gospels part 1 – Why go through the gospels?

Why go through the Gospels? There’s a simple answer to that: Because we are disciples of Jesus too, and he can now teach us through the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John what we are disciples for.

The four gospels were written for disciples, so that disciples of Jesus in any age can follow Jesus and learn from him. We can’t literally follow Jesus on the dusty roads of 1st century Judea, of course, nor can we hear Jesus speaking to us directly – and nor are we Jews living in Galilee in the first century either – but we’ve got the story of how and why Jesus chose disciples in the first place, written down by those who were with him at the time. All disciples in any century, therefore, have a ‘textbook’ to work from to help us clue in to what we are disciples for.

But why did Jesus have disciples in the first place? Well, imagine being Peter and his brother Andrew out in their boat as usual to catch fish one day, and along comes Jesus in Mark 1:17 and from the shore he yells out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Or as The Message phrases it, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.”

And not far down the same beach James and his brother John are out in their fishing boat too, mending their nets, and “Right off, Jesus made the same offer (to them as well),” verse 20, and “Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat and the hired hands, and followed.”

Now imagine if Mark had never written this down. We wouldn’t have this picture of Jesus deliberately aiming for this beach, knowing these four men would be there, and calling out to them to come with him because he was going to make something of them they had never envisioned. They thought their lives would be lived out as catchers of fish, going through the same old motions every day of paddling out in their boats, chucking out their nets, hauling in their catch, and selling it at market. But Jesus turns up, and everything changes, because he wants them fishing for people, not fish.

And who is all this meant for? Well, if it’s just an interesting story about how Jesus called his original disciples and it has no purpose other than that, why did Mark bother writing it down and why should we bother reading it? But when you realize that the gospels were written for all Jesus’ disciples in any age, and it’s totally meant for us right now because we’re Jesus’ disciples too, then what might be tucked away in this story for us, as well?

The first thing that struck me was that nothing would have changed in the lives of Peter, Andrew, James and John if Jesus had not come down to the beach that day and called out to them. It’s one of the first things we learn in the gospels, that becoming a disciple is all Jesus’ doing. He chooses us. But that’s what discipleship meant in a 1st century context. It was a highly selective process. You didn’t choose to become a disciple, you were chosen, a point Jesus confirmed in John 15:16 in the choosing of his own disciples, when he said, “You didn’t choose me, remember, I chose you.”

If I’m saying, therefore, that I am a disciple of Christ, I am also saying that Christ chose me, because that’s how it was done in the gospels. Jesus already had his sights on Peter, Andrew, James and John when he headed down to the beach that day. It was all part of a plan – a plan that had actually been hatched a long, long time before that day too, because when speaking of his disciples to his Father in John 17:6, Jesus said, “They were yours in the first place; you gave them to me.” So the Father and Jesus were both involved in who would become disciples. It was the Father’s choice originally, but Jesus was totally tuned to which men the Father had in mind, a point we see later in Luke 6:12-13 when Jesus prayed all night to his Father in the choosing of twelve apostles.

Tucked away in this story of Jesus calling out to four fishermen to follow him, therefore, is the astounding realization that the Father and Jesus specifically chose them. This was no random process. It was in their plan all along that Jesus would have a group of disciples following him, and that both the Father and Jesus would have a very personal hand in who those disciples would be.

And notice the timing too. It was on that day that Jesus took a stroll down to the beach to call out to those men to follow him. Jesus had probably watched them fishing on other days, but this day was the day. This was the time to get these men called and on the way to being disciples. It was all according to plan, not only for Jesus to have disciples on the first place, but also who those disciples would be, and when they would be called to follow him.

And there was no hesitation on the part of the disciples either. Jesus called out to them to follow him, and in Mark 1:18, “They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.” The same thing happened when Jesus called to James and John. When Jesus knew the time had come, “Without delay he called them,” verse 20, “and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”

Something goes click in a disciple’s head when the day planned for his calling arrives. One minute these four men were happily fishing away, probably not thinking much of anything beyond the immediate need, and then they hear Jesus’ voice from the beach. But they’d been chosen, so that was it; their minds automatically responded, which is enormously encouraging to know, because that’s how it is with disciples. We respond to our Master’s voice when it’s time for us to be called. We can’t help it. It isn’t something we initiate or that we contribute to. It doesn’t require us ‘coming to Jesus’ or ‘giving our hearts to Jesus’. When the time comes for our discipleship to begin, it’s like the day Jesus walked down to the beach to call out to those four fishermen: Something miraculous happens in our heads, and life as we’ve known it changes forever.

And from that point on Jesus does in our lives what his Father designed disciples for. When Jesus called out to Peter, Andrew, James and John, it was the beginning of a process, which Jesus describes in Mark 1:17 as “making a new kind of fisherman out of you.” He’s going to teach them how to fish for people. Jesus does not say, “Come follow me, so you can have a wonderful, personal, intimate relationship with me,” nor does he say, “Come follow me, so you can have all sorts of spiritual manifestations and spiritual experiences to make you feel all warm and fuzzy with God.” A personal relationship with Jesus would exist, oh yes, and they would also experience the Spirit’s power in remarkable ways (oh yes again), but never for some selfish, personal reason. Jesus calls men and women to be his disciples to train them to become excellent and highly effective net catchers of people. It is an entirely unselfish calling.

And the means by which Jesus makes his disciples into effective net catchers of people is rather simple: “Come with me,” Jesus says, “and follow me,” which in the Greek means, “Walk with me and assist me.” It meant join him in what he was doing. Do it with him. They would learn on the job as they did it together. Jesus isn’t the teacher up front with his disciples all sitting in a neat row scribbling notes. He wants them actively involved in everything he’s doing. They’re more like apprentices than students.

And what are Jesus’ disciples to be actively involved in? In the same thing HE was actively involved in when he took over from John the Baptist after John was “put in prison” in Mark 1:14. Jesus immediately “went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” And the good news contained a two-part message: First of all, it was “Time’s up,” verse 15, “God’s Kingdom is here,” but followed immediately by, “So, people, it’s time for some radical changes in your lives, and some serious belief in how great (and revolutionary) this news is.”

We have to add the word “revolutionary,” because what Jesus was saying was utterly radical at that point in time. It meant throwing everything in your life to the wind and throwing in your lot totally with God instead, because, like a massive alien spaceship approaching Earth, God was on the way to the Earth to set up his Kingdom. So get ready for it by dumping all loyalties to other kingdoms, and joining the revolution.

It was great news, because it meant the Kingdom of Heaven would now be a force to be reckoned with on the Earth, directly challenging the kingdoms of the world under the devil’s rule, exactly as Daniel and other prophets had predicted. This was the amazing time the Jews had so desperately been hoping for – for at least four centuries – and now Jesus was saying it had arrived. The juggernaut was on the move, so believe it and jump on board.

That was the message, and Jesus immediately started recruiting disciples to assist him in getting it across to people. But why choose four ordinary fishermen? What could they do? Well, we see how brilliant Jesus’ choice was, because the sight of fishermen chucking in their jobs to follow him was a perfect illustration of what Jesus was saying about dumping loyalties to all other kingdoms now that God’s Kingdom had arrived.

This comes clear when you realize that all fishermen were basically working for King Herod. Peter, Andrew, James and John, along with all the other fishermen hauling fish out of the Sea of Galilee, couldn’t just throw their nets out any old time they pleased and get all the income from the sale of their fish. It didn’t work like that at all, not while King Herod was in charge, because Herod viewed the Sea of Galilee as his own private pond.

In Herod’s mind he had every right to act like the Caesar in Rome, who claimed every bit of fishable water, ocean and lake, belonged to him, and so did all the fish that came out of those waters too.

To quote from one book I read, Herod “developed his own microcosmic version of Caesar’s claim to own all the oceans and waterways of the realm and everything in them; at every turn, family fishing businesses, like those of Jesus’ disciples, were caught in his conglomerate net, forcing them to procure fishing licenses and leases, to produce demanding quotas, and to pay taxes, tolls, and other fees to an extensive bureaucracy monitoring the whole fishing enterprise, from catching to processing to shipping.” It was all highly regulated in Herod’s favour, because there was a huge demand in the Empire for Galilean fish, and lots of money to be made.

When Jesus called to four fishermen, therefore, to dump everything and follow him, it was a direct slap in the face to Herod. It tied in directly with Jesus’ preaching about God’s Kingdom arriving and jumping on that bandwagon instead, and chucking all loyalties to other kingdoms to the wind. It was the first open hint of what Jesus had come for, and it was political.

On one side of this brewing political storm was Herod, picturing the kingdoms of this world and their rulers, who think everything on this planet belongs to them. As far as Herod was concerned he owned the Sea of Galilee, he owned every fish and clam that came out of it – and he owned the fishermen who fished it. So imagine what life was like for a 1st century fisherman like Peter or Andrew: Your life and livelihood totally depended on the catching and selling of fish, so under Herod’s rule you were stuck. You had to go along with his ridiculous regulations and charges, or else. You were in the system, and you couldn’t escape it. To resist it was financial suicide.

But here were four ordinary fishermen who simply turned their backs on that entire system and walked away from it. And they did it without a moment’s hesitation or thought about themselves and how on earth they were going to survive financially by following Jesus.

It was probably the greatest snub to the pride and power of pagan kingdoms since Daniel and his friends refused to bow down before Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image. But that was the power and purpose of Jesus’ call to those fishermen. It flipped a switch in their heads that enabled them to follow him and not Herod, to illustrate exactly what Jesus meant when he cried out, “The time has come. God’s Kingdom is here, so repent – make a choice which kingdom you’re part of – because the great news is, the clash of kingdoms has begun.” And here were these four men jumping off their boats as wonderful proof of it.

I doubt they had any inkling at the time that jumping off their boats to follow Jesus was clear proof that what Jesus was saying was true, that the revolution had begun, and the age of absolute pagan rule was over. I also doubt they had any idea that the moment they stepped off their boats in response to Jesus’ call Jesus was already fulfilling his promise to make them into a very different kind of fisherman, capable of netting people.

But what did Jesus mean in the first place when he said he would make them into fishers of men? Well, the whole context here is about assisting Jesus in his political revolution, of establishing God’s kingdom on the earth right in the middle of a powerful pagan kingdom with a king like Herod, who ruled every part of people’s lives and demanded absolute obedience. What Jesus meant by “fishers of men,” therefore, was netting people to join the revolution and assist him in establishing the Kingdom of God on Earth. And by jumping off their boats to join Jesus, they became the revolution’s first recruits, who in turn would then be made into effective recruiters of other people for the revolution by Jesus.

When those four men stepped off their boats, therefore, it was the day the revolution began, and the netting of people to join it began in earnest. It’s interesting, then, that the first thing Jesus did after recruiting Peter, Andrew, James and John, was to head off to Capernaum together, “and when the Sabbath came,” Mark 1:21, “Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.” Jesus wasn’t hanging around; he went straight to the best recruiting spot available, the synagogue, and did a wow of a speech that “amazed” people (verse 22).

But what really amazed the people in that synagogue was the powerful confidence oozing out of Jesus as he spoke (22). He wasn’t like “the teachers of the law,” who spoke only about the Law and how best to keep it in every detail. Jesus talked in much loftier tones, as one who saw a much bigger picture unfolding, who understood the significance of the times they were living in, as though he had an inside track on things.

And isn’t that exactly what we have as Jesus’ disciples today too? We know what’s really going on in this world. Oh, it looks like the world is under the complete control of human rulers and they decide everything – just as it seemed in Judea when King Herod ruled supreme – but we “believe the good news,” as Jesus said in verse 15. We believe God has been actively recruiting and training a steady flow of revolutionaries ever since Jesus arrived, as living proof that HIS Kingdom is here too, because that’s what Jesus got started in the gospels.

The gospels tell us what’s really going on – that first of all, Jesus came to start a revolution; secondly, that he immediately began recruiting people to join him in that revolution; and thirdly, that he set out with his fellow revolutionaries to amaze people with their confidence, authority and power. And all for one purpose and one purpose alone, to prove the Kingdom of God exists on this Earth, by showing what it’s like in direct contrast to the kingdoms of the devil so that more people are caught in the net and join the revolution.

And to further prove that this was now the big picture unfolding in the world, there was immediate opposition from those who were already ruling the world, who didn’t take kindly to their position being threatened. This soon became apparent when an evil spirit interrupted Jesus in Mark 1:23, by yelling out through a man the spirit had gained control over, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”

It’s interesting that the evil spirit said ‘us’, which suggests he’s speaking for the whole demonic realm. So this is a face-off between the kingdom of evil and the Kingdom of God, and it’s happening only moments after Jesus has got the revolution rolling. Clearly, then, the evil realm is worried, and understandably so, because they knew the prophecies in the Old Testament that big things would happen when the Messiah arrived, and now, suddenly, here he was. In what sounds like a mix of panic and aggression the evil spirit yells out to Jesus, “I know who you are; you’re the Holy One of God.” The evil spirit realm was obviously in no doubt that in the person of Jesus the Kingdom of God had arrived.

And we see in the evil spirit’s reaction what that meant as far the evil realm was concerned. Their immediate concern was what Jesus intended to do to them: ”What do you want with us?” the spirit cried, because they knew they were in deep trouble. And in asking Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us?” we see the evil realm actually accepting their lot in life, that with the arrival of the Kingdom of God in the power of God’s Holy One, Jesus could do whatever he liked with them. So when the evil spirit asks, “Have you come to destroy us?” – it is admitting that Jesus can destroy them any time he likes. Is the Holy One of God going to destroy them right away, then, or later?

Can you see what’s happening here? In the evil spirit’s mind it’s already game over. We’re only moments into Jesus’ ministry and the demonic world is already accepting they’ve lost the fight. The revolution that Jesus has only just started with his first four disciples has already been won.

In the great clash of kingdoms begun by Jesus’ arrival, the demons are already saying it’s no contest, because they know who Jesus is. They know exactly what they’re up against in the person of Jesus and they shiver, because they know their time is up and the era of their evil angelic rule is over.

But like a cornered rat the evil spirit comes out fighting, accusing Jesus in front of the whole congregation that the Holy One of God is a heartless killer. Well, Jesus is having none of it and tells the evil spirit to shut up and leave the poor man alone, and to everyone’s amazement (Mark 1:27) the evil spirit does what it’s told, providing living proof in only moments of the revolution starting that the contest between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil was over.

So why, then, did Jesus need disciples? If the revolution was already over, and all Jesus had to do was tell a demon to go and it went, like oil scattering from a drop of soap, then why didn’t Jesus capitalize on his power and shut every demon up and establish the Kingdom of God worldwide right away?

Well, that’s what we’re about to find out, because we’re only in the first chapter of Mark, and there are fifteen chapters to go yet, so what’s tucked away in those other fifteen chapters that disciples of Jesus need to know?

Well again, imagine being Jesus’ disciples and watching what happens next. Jesus has just shown, right off the bat, that he has the power to “give orders to evil spirits and they obey him” (27). The focus at this point, then, is on Jesus’ power and authority, which is exactly what the demonic world wanted. They wanted people associating Jesus with chucking his weight around and establishing his Kingdom by violence and destruction. That’s why the evil spirit yelled out, “Have you come to destroy us?” to sneak it into people’s minds that Jesus was your typical pagan bully obsessed with force and violence to get his way, just like King Herod. It’s like someone yelling out, “Help, help; he’s going to kill me,” which isn’t true, but it gets people to side with him.

Again, Jesus is having none of it and tells the demon to shut up, because that isn’t what the Kingdom of God is all about, as we see in what Jesus does next. He immediately heads off to Peter and Andrew’s home where he finds out Peter’s mother-in-law “was in bed with a fever” (30), and without hesitation “he went to her, took her hand and helped her up” (31). And one has to wonder how many great revolutionary leaders started their revolutions like that, with a humble act of love for a little person with a fever.

But it gave Jesus’ disciples their first clue as to how the revolution would be played out. It wasn’t by gathering an army to strike down the forces of evil. The only show of force Jesus had used so far was to shut the demons up from identifying who he was (34), because he knew what people were like; as soon as they cottoned on that he really was the great Holy One of God ushering in God’s Kingdom they’d be diving for their swords and axes to fight and kill.

But that’s not how the revolution would be played out, because Jesus had already made it clear he was fishing for people, not killing them. And he clearly demonstrated that by immediately healing someone, which worked wonderfully, because that evening the whole town turned up with their sick and demon-possessed. It was like fish jumping into a net to be caught.

So this is how you caught people and recruited them. It’s quite simple; the focus isn’t on power it’s on people. And to net people you love them. And you love them by wanting to see them healed from whatever evil has done to them. You don’t condemn them or judge them for being stupid. Instead, you make it obvious, like Jesus did, that you care. And this is the kind of disciple Jesus is making us into so we become effective and skillful recruiters for the revolution he began. People get to see the revolutionary ways of the Kingdom of God being played out in our lives and our circumstances, and they are hooked. They may not know they are hooked but they are, as they pick up on the beauty of unselfishness and begin to live it in their own lives. In other words, they pick up from watching us what Jesus’ disciples picked up from watching him, and that’s how the revolution of God’s Kingdom grows.

That’s why we read the gospels, so that we pick up from Jesus exactly what those original disciples picked up from him. We see through their eyes what Jesus was really all about. He was all about revolution and driving back the forces of darkness with power and authority, oh yes, BUT, take note, it was never by the methods used by the kingdoms of the world. His only weapon was love, but look at the revolution it created: People flocked to Jesus without a weapon in sight.

I have to accept, then, that as Jesus moulds me into his disciple people will be hooked on the beautiful, unselfish ways of the Kingdom of God. Wherever I go I’m part of the revolution Jesus began, revealing the radical difference in God’s Kingdom so that people are caught up in it. Jesus chose us as his disciples for one very simple and totally unselfish purpose: We are nets designed to catch people, so the revolution that Jesus began grows through us too.

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