Where would Jesus begin his ministry if he was starting today? Let’s imagine that the Old Testament prophecies DIDN’T say that he had to be born in Bethlehem. Let’s imagine that the prophecies DIDN’T say he had to be born to a virgin, from the line of King David. Let’s imagine that the right time for the Savior to be born was about thirty years ago, somewhere in America.
If that were true, he’d be starting his ministry right now. Where would Jesus be preaching? Seattle? Somewhere in the Midwest? Florida? What city would he be in? Or maybe he wouldn’t be in a city, maybe he’d start out in the country.
Who would Jesus surround himself with if he was starting his ministry in modern America? What kind of people would he call to be his inner circle of apprentices? Electricians? Waiters? Would they work at Boeing, Microsoft or Starbucks?
Our Bible reading for today will help us to answer these hypothetical questions. In Mark, chapter one, we hear about the beginning of Jesus’ preaching ministry, and how he called some of his first disciples.
Mark 1:4-11 (ESV)
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
16 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. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 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. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
Our text tells us that Jesus started his ministry in Galilee. So, the first question that we want to ask is, "Why? Why Galilee? What was so special about Galilee?”
Well, if you asked a Jew from Jerusalem this question, he might have said…
“Well, nothing is special about Galilee. Jerusalem is where it’s at. We’ve got the Lord’s Temple here. All the important traditions and the religious leaders are found here, not in Galilee. Jerusalem is the cultural and religious epicenter of Jewish life.
Galilee, well, Galilee only has little synagogue Bible classes. It’s separated from Jerusalem by sixty-miles of Samaritan land (and nobody likes going there).
It’s a country setting. They’ve got farmers and fishermen, you know, blue collar workers, not a glorious capital city with important rulers and religious teachers.
In addition to all this, in Galilee you’re going to come into contact with a lot of non-Jews. That’s why it’s called “Galilee OF THE GENTILES”. You see, there are two major trade routes that run through Galilee linking Egypt to Asia. There’s the “Way of the Sea” that runs along the Mediterranean to the west, and there’s the “King’s Highway” to the east.
To answer your question, there’s nothing special about Galilee. It’s just an ordinary piece of land trampled by merchants and bordered by unbelieving nations.”
And perhaps this was one of the reasons why Jesus chose Galilee. He hadn’t come to make a name for himself among the religious elite of Jerusalem. He had come to reach out to ordinary sinners.
Look at Mark 2, verse 16. There it says…
“16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw [Jesus] eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”And what better place to reach out to sinners than in a place flung far away from the Lord’s Temple. A place where the unbelieving world had paths running through. A place that was full of common people, everyday sinners who needed to hear about God’s Good News.
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:16-17 NIV).
One of major goals of Jesus’ life was to remind the people of God’s promise to send a Savior from sin. In Luke 4, verse 42 it says…
42 At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent...” (Luke 4:42-43 NIV).▬
Of course, another reason Jesus began his ministry in Galilee was to fulfill a 700 year old prophecy. In Matthew 4, verse 12 it says…
“12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:▬
15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:12-16 NIV).
This leads us to our second question. Why did Jesus choose fishermen to be his apprentices? He was going to mold a group of men to announce the Gospel to the villages of Galilee and Judea and then when he was gone – to take his message out into the world. Why would he choose fishermen? And especially why would he choose these fishermen?
If we were to ask someone who lived on the sea of Galilee at this time to tell us about fishermen, they might have said something like this…
“You want to know about fishermen? Well they’re a dime a dozen around here. On a good day there are probably 250 boats out there on the lake. There’s plenty of fish to be had.
If you’re going to be a fisherman, you better have strong arms and a sturdy back. You’re going to be throwing nets and hauling them in a lot. And when you’re not doing that you’re going to be pulling oars. And when the hard work is done, there’s plenty of other tedious chores to do, with all the net mending and gear maintenance that needs to be done. And then there’s sorting and packing of the fish too.
What about the character of the fishermen here? Well, with so many boats out there we get some rough characters like James and John. And some loudmouths like Peter. Peter’s brother Andrew is a little quieter, but that’s probably because his brother does all the talking for him!
Don’t get me wrong though. Just because they’re a little rougher on the edges doesn’t mean they’re bad people. They’re human, just like everybody else. Peter’s married. And I hear his mother in law is sick right now. He’s got things to take care of. I guess it’s good that he’s in business with Zebedee and his boys. They’re bold, but at least they’re bringing in enough fish to make a living of it.”
As for their jobs and lives, these fishermen were ordinary. As for their personalities, they were also ordinary. They had their own faults and failings, just like everyone else.
And perhaps that was why Jesus chose these common fishermen, because they were relatable. They were common sinners, the very people that Jesus wished to reach with the Gospel.
These four men needed to hear the Gospel for themselves. They knew that they were sinners (see Luke 5:8). And they knew what that meant when this life was over. They needed to hear that it wasn’t their job to erase their own sins. They could never do that. They needed to hear that all the hard work in the world couldn’t scrub out a single sin – but God’s Son was about to take an eraser to their record of evil once and for all on the cross of Calvary.
Now, I don’t want you to get the idea that Jesus just walked up and miraculously made these men his followers. Peter, Andrew and John had all met Jesus before (John 1:29-42). Down on the Jordan river, closer to where it spills into the Dead Sea, John the Baptist had called Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. And John and Andrew had been listening. They had followed after Jesus to meet him and spend some time with him. The result of their visit with Jesus was that they believed He was the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior long promised and now finally sent from God.
Being fishermen didn’t define these men. That’s not what they were all about, that was just their job. They were followers of the God of the Bible. They were waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue them.
When Jesus later approached them in Galilee, and told them he was going to make them “fishers of men”, he was inviting them to be part of his teaching team. And they quickly dropped what they were doing and went with him.
That’s something that we need to learn to do too, isn’t it? Christ is our Master. He has erased our sin record forever. He is the Son of God. When we hear him calling us through his Word to some task or job, then we need to drop what we’re doing and go! Nothing can be more important than what Christ directs us to do through the Bible.
In his ministry, Jesus sought ordinary sinners, to save them. This is comforting because we’re all ordinary sinners. Our culture values movie stars and famous people more than “regular” people. But when you take off the make-up and examine the family relationships of the superstars, you find that at the core, they’re no different than you and me. They’re people who have to put their pants on one leg at a time. They’re people who have problems, who get cancers, who will die one day. Ultimately we’re all ordinary sinners who will stand before God to be judged.
And that’s okay for those who know Jesus, because we know that Jesus came to save us.
Jesus told these Galilean fishermen that he was going to make them into, “fishers of men”. And I want to pause for just a second on that phrase. It sounds a little funny to the ear, doesn’t it? I mean were they going to be catching people who didn’t want to be caught? Is that what Jesus’ ministry was all about, tricking people into following him? Not at all.
Think about it like this. My daughter Marnie has a beta fish named “Harold”. Once a week someone has to clean Harold’s tank. If we don’t, the water will get toxic and he’ll die.
Harold doesn’t understand. Each time I try to fish him out, he darts away. I have to be slow and careful if I’m going to get him into the little clear cup that will serve as his temporary home till I get the tank cleaned and refilled with fresh water.
I’m catching him for his own good. But Harld doesn’t understand. So I have to be gentle and smart.
You and I have to have the same attitude when it comes to fishing for sinners with the Gospel. We have to wait for the right opportunity. Fish have to be hungry if they’re going to bite. We have to be gentle. We’re not catching fish to eat or put on the wall, we’re luring sinners into the safety of Christ’s loving arms. But sinners don’t understand that. The devil and the world has convinced them that we Christians are up to no good – that we’re hunting for trophy converts, or something like that. So, we need to be gentle, and approach people like Jesus did.
He was one of them, human. He pointed out sin and the consequences of sin - death and hell. He pointed out God’s promise of salvation made and fulfilled. Our reading says Jesus preached…
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV).This method still works today. We are common people reaching out to common people. We can point out sin and its consequences. We can point out God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ, made and fulfilled. And the Holy Spirit can change people’s hearts as we speak this simple Good News.
If fishermen can do it, I think we can do it too.
So, where would Jesus begin his ministry if he were starting today?
I’d have to say he’d start in an ordinary place, among ordinary sinners. For these are the people he came to save.
He could start in Hollywood or Lynnwood, West Virginia or West Seattle. The point is, he would select an ordinary place and ordinary people to receive this most extraordinary gift of forgiveness of sins through His blood.
And it would be these same ordinary people he would then send out to bring the gift to others.
When Jesus sent out His apostles to share the Gospel, he told them…
“…Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8 NKJV).Go and do likewise. Amen.