During the season of Lent at New Life Church, we are rehearsing the life of Jesus, pausing to reflect at each major junction in Jesus’ journey to the cross. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, he was tempted in the wilderness. When he returns, he bursts onto the scene preaching a revolutionary message:
Mark 1:14 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Finally, after long waiting, the Old Testament promises of God have found their fulfillment in the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus. God himself has come to establish his kingly rule on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus’ message calls all people to repent (turning away from their idolatrous rebellion against the true King) and believe the gospel (turning toward the “Good News” that God has come to reconcile repentant and believing people to himself and each other through the work of Jesus). Repentance and belief in the gospel re-aligns the repenter-and-believer to God and God’s Way in a manner synonymous with Jesus’ call to “Follow me.”
Mark 1:16-20 “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] 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.”
Characteristic of the action-packed Gospel of Mark, the first Jesus-followers respond to Jesus’ call by immediately leaving their nets (James and John left their dad in the boat!) Mark portrays this forsaking of career and community as being done “immediately,” so we subconsciously impose the meaning “easily” and conclude that following Jesus must be easy.
Still today, Jesus is calling people everywhere, saying “Follow me!” Perhaps when you hear his voice, you can picture yourself jumping out of the boat, leaving family behind and throwing caution to the wind, to follow Jesus—because it must be “easy.” But if you know your own heart, that picture doesn’t accurately reflect the real internal struggle to follow Jesus. No, instead of “immediately” following Jesus with a reckless abandon, we calculate, we doubt, we turn back, we fall fearfully out of the boat instead of jumping out, we interview Jesus first, we linger awhile, and only then do we maybe, actually follow him. And even when we do follow him, often our Simon-like aspiration looks more like Simon than we like to admit—denying that we even know Jesus (Mark 14:66-72).
We consider Jesus’ Way—for example, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7)—and we invent a thousand excuses: "I am too busy, too tired, introverted, don’t know anyone, don’t have a big enough house, don’t like to cook, don’t like to clean up someone else’s mess, don’t like people different than me, don’t think anyone would want to be with me, don’t think the result will be worth the trouble…”
The Church is a place where Jesus-followers can freely admit their difficulty in following him. Side by side, we struggle to follow King Jesus in Jesus’ Way. Together, we repent of our failure to follow Jesus; together, we confess our excuses; and together, we believe the Gospel, which we so desperately need daily.
This week, reflect on the things that keep you from following Jesus “immediately” and confess them to God, agreeing with him that they are illegitimate, albeit real and painful, barriers. Repent of those things, and turn from them. Believe the Gospel that God has come to do in you and through you what you are unable to do yourself, and that life lived Jesus’ Way will always be worth it.
During this season of Lent, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.