Some Missionary Priorities
“Now as He walked by the sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed Him.”—Mark 1:16–18
The opening part of the chapter talks of things that happened to our Lord immediately preceding the opening of His public ministry. He was identified with the Father in heaven in all His purposes for men. He was baptized identifying Himself with the sin of the people. Following that, there came the great voice from heaven, “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” There was heaven’s approval upon His life. Then there came the tremendous temptation and testing of wilderness days. Three great principles for missionary service: identification, the approval of heaven, the testing of the enemy. Looking further into this chapter we will consider what I have ventured to call missionary priorities.
Between verses 13 and 14 of Mark 1, there is a whole year of time, the record of the opening year of our Lord’s ministry mainly in Judea, which is only given to us in the fourth Gospel. But now Jesus comes into Galilee. The voice of John the Baptist has been silenced: you can silence the voice of a prophet, but you can never hinder the purposes of God. So our Lord moved into the danger zone of Galilee, and as He does so this chapter contains a record of some of the events that took place, most of them confined within the limits of one day, priorities which I cannot help feeling have a tremendous significance to us today. In verse 15, the first words of the Master are mentioned; in verses 16–20, the first workers of the Master, the means of fulfilling His ministry; from verse 21 to the end of the chapter, the first works of the Master, the fruitfulness of His ministry. In passing, so that you have it clear in your mind, between verse 39 and verse 40, there is the Sermon on the Mount which is not recorded by Mark. He is not writing the Gospel of the King, but of the Servant of Jehovah.
As we consider some missionary priorities, what is our message? What are the principles of our service? Where are the evidences of fruitfulness in our testimony? These are some of the things with which we are confronted in the opening chapter of Mark. Notice the first words of our Lord: “After that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying, The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent ye and believe the gospel” (v. 14). I wonder if any more could be said in so few words as that. He has begun where John the Baptist ended. He is speaking, you notice, of an imminent crisis. The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand—our Lord is conscious of ministering in crisis days and therefore He demands a crisis on the part of those who listen to Him. “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.”
Now this is still the call of the Gospel. We live and speak and move in days of immense crisis. The kingdom of God is at hand. The return of our Lord must be near. Everything points to this, therefore crisis days demand crisis ministry, and the Gospel today is still the same gospel of the New Testament, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.”
To repent is something more than to be sorry for something. It means to change your mind, think again, consider your position, admit you’re wrong and do something about it.
To believe is something more than to assent to historical fact about Jesus. Belief involves the commitment of a life to Jesus Christ. Whatever we may say about free grace, the Gospel is in fact costly grace. It demands a change of life which is to be followed by a life of faith. This is the Gospel, and without faith repentance only leads to despair. Without repentance, faith is only presumption. You cannot really repent without believing: you cannot truly believe without repentance. These are still the basic elements of the Gospel.
The burden or the thrust of the message of the Master was: Enter ye in at the strait gate…because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13–14). That was the burden of His message. Is it ours? Is this the Gospel we preach, or is it some other Gospel? Does it have an urgency in the light of these crisis days? Does it demand willingness for a change of life, followed by life on a new principle altogether? Does it demand the forsaking of sin and the commitment of our lives to Jesus Christ as essentials for salvation?
The Gospel is disturbing. Repent ye, change your mind, start anew, think again, then believe, not simply accept statements of fact, but rest in the Gospel. There is a lovely translation from another language of this which says: “Let your heart be at rest in Christ.” That is the Gospel. That is always the key-note of the good news. Therefore the first missionary priority is to make the message clear and plain. Let it be absolutely forthright, and let us be sure that this is what we believe, what we teach, and how we live. Repent, believe—not one without the other.
Please notice not only our Lord’s first words, but His first workers: two pairs of brothers. It is good when whole families turn to Christ! Here are James and John, Andrew and Peter. We are introduced to them in this chapter, verses 16–20. Now will you please notice the sequence? First it is repent, then it is believe, here it is serve—called to service. Be careful that you do not begin at the wrong end. Service for the Lord which is not based upon repentance and faith has no value whatever.
Here is our Lord recruiting His helpers, beginning with His disciples. He is calling to Himself those who are going to be responsible for spreading the glad tidings, and I want to ask you to look with me at some of the principles which our Lord followed in making His choice.
In the first place He chooses men already working (v. 19). When He had gone a bit further, He saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother who also were in the ship mending their nets. Our Lord looks for and chooses people who are not idle, but who are working; and the best preparation for any future task for God is faithfulness and toil in your present sphere. The only proof that a man will make good in the service of the Lord is that he is making good where he is right now. The Lord never chooses lazy, indolent, slack men. Faithfulness in present duty is always the key to open the door to enlarged opportunities for Christ.
See next His method of enlisting them in verse 17. Will you please notice the order? Yes, He wants us to become something, but before we can become anything, He says, “Come ye after Me and I will make you to become…” He wants to make us. First of all He makes and then He uses. Why do we try to make ourselves when Christ all the time wants to make us?
The first two brothers were casting their nets into the sea, and the second two brothers were mending their nets. I think that is significant. In Christina service, there is a fourfold process with our nets, if you like to take them as a picture of our ministry and testimony. First, the net has to be cast and then having been cast, it has to be dragged. Peter dragged the nets ashore laden with fishes (John 21). Then the net has to be washed, and Luke 5:2 tells of some disciples washing their nets after a fruitless night, and lastly the nets have also to be mended. Thus the Christian is involved all the time in these four things: casting, dragging, washing, and mending the net. Casting involves wear and tear; dragging involves toil and dirt; and when nets have been cast and dragged, they need to be cleansed and mended.
May the Holy Spirit ask this question to you: Are you serving the Lord today with a net that is desperately in need of cleaning? He found these two men and He said to them: “Come after Me and I will make you to become fishers of men.” Somehow in my heart (and I trust in yours) there comes an echo, “Lord Jesus, I want to come after You that I may learn to cast and drag the net, but above all that I may learn to give time for the net to be cleansed in Thy precious blood, for the net to be mended as I meet Thee today.” O God, grant that if there e dirty nets they may be cleansed, and if there be torn nets they may be mended!
Notice again there is a further principle here. The Lord Jesus does not await our time when it is convenient for us to respond. We must answer to His time. “Straightway they forsook their nets and followed Him…And straightway He called them” (vs. 18, 20). This is Mark’s favorite word. This is a note of urgency, immediate response, need, and they forsook their nets and their parents, and they followed Him. Christ’s call came with a sense of urgency. Their response was absolutely immediate. You cannot wait your time, you must fit into God’s time.
Therefore, let me give you some of the things that I learn from His first workers. The kind of people that God will use are people who are busy and faithful in their present employment, not day-dreaming or idling around, not slackers, but people who are at the job working constantly. He will use people who are learning what it is in Christian service to cast and to drag their nets, and what it means to have their lives constantly cleansed in the blood. Nets that have been torn are to be mended in His presence, men who sense the urgency and the importance of it all, but who are not so busy that they have not time to come to Jesus that he might make them to become…These are the kinds of people that Jesus looks for in His work.
Now look at His first works, the first fruits, the thing that I believe happens when you and I follow Jesus as He asked these two pairs of brothers to do. The events recorded for us from verse 21 onwards all took place in one day, at least until we come to the thirty-ninth verse where, as I said, you have the Sermon on the Mount and then immediately afterwards the cleansing of the leper. Here is our Lord’s ministry on one Sabbath day, and in that sense I wonder if we could follow Him on this Lord’s day. We have only time to look at some of the outstanding principles. He silenced a demon in the church, vs. 21–28. He stilled a fever in the home, vs. 29–31. He subdued sickness in the crowd, vs. 32–38, and then He stayed disease in the desert, vs. 40–45. Notice a very suggestive thing in the sequence of events on that Sabbath day and that which followed: he began in the church, then the home, then the street, and then the desert.
I recall that a few years later our risen Lord stood and said: “But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The church, the home, the street, the desert. Here is our Lord anticipating the whole program of missionary enterprise and giving us priorities.
Where does missionary enterprise begin? Right here. Where is its next outreach? In our home life. Where does it follow from that? The street, and then right out into the world. Here are your missionary priorities and here is our Lord practicing them on this first Sabbath day.
What does He do in the church? The day began there for Jesus. Does it always begin there for you? You know, demons make a point of coming to church! I think you have to be very careful that you do not bring them with you. The devil in the street is one thing, but the devil in the church is another, believe me, and wherever you have Holy Spirit instruction, you have satanic obstruction. Wherever the Spirit teaches, Satan seeks to undo that which is taught. Truth will never go unchallenged.
Picture that synagogue service. The chanting, the ritual, the form, the correctness, but the deadness of it. Suddenly Jesus came, and began to teach, but not as the scribes, but as one having authority (v. 22). I was interested in those words, so I looked up what various people had to say about it and there is a little statement by Dr. Campbell Morgan which intrigued me: “It was the authority of naked, eternal truth coming through a perfect life.” Immediately there is that authority, Satan gets excited and confounded and confused, and begins to challenge and to make a noise.
Oh, Lord, have mercy upon us! Our churches are so apart, and let’s say our preaching too (for none of us is exempt from this) that we’ve almost got right away from this whole conception of the miraculous. What hope is there for authority like that? The eyes of the Lord search to and fro through the whole Earth to show Himself strong on the behalf of those who are perfect toward Him. That is the only hope of any authority ever being exercised in our testimony. He spoke with authority, “the naked, eternal truth of God coming through a perfect life.” Is it impossible to believe that the same eternal truth can come with some measure of the same authority through lives that are utterly at His disposal, entirely yielded and abandoned to Him?
The devil caused an awful lot of trouble that morning! He made a noise about it, cried out, and before the Lord put him out, he did as much damage as he could, the unclean spirit had torn the man, cried with a loud voice and came out of him. I want you to notice that this devil is a very sound theologian. Listen to him in verse 24, “Let us alone, (he wasn’t alone there, he spoke for other people) what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us? (The devil knows he meets his master when he meets Christ). I know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God.” Yes, that statement of the confession of the deity of Christ marks him out as a better theologian than many people even today. He was no match for the Lord, and he knew he was out-mastered and beaten, but oh! The stir and excitement that he caused before he was driven out.
Let us ask ourselves, have we ceased to be amazed at anything that ever happens in our church? Are the days of miracles so departed from us that we have no sensibility to the spiritual conflict that ought to be, and indeed is, in existence every time we meet together like this? Of course we are told today that there is no such thing as demon possession, that the psychological ignorance of those days attributed to demons what doctors can now explain in a different way. But was the Lord ignorant? He certainly believed in demon possession, and is it not true that in every one of our lives we are either demon-possessed or Holy Spirit-possessed? Isn’t there some disease in your life this morning that only Jesus can heal? Oh, for a flash of revelation upon our hearts of the real spiritual issue that is involved in our testimony! Oh, that in your life and mine we might hear Jesus say, as He said to that man: Hold thy peace, as He rebuked him and bade him be silent, and drove him out.
What Jesus did in the synagogue reminds me of missionary priority in all our witness that the greatest miracle is needed inside the church. That is where it must begin. It was a priority that there in the house of God, where people were assembled together, the demon was rebuked, silenced and driven out. May the Lord grant that that may happen in lives today!
The next priority was a fever that was in the home. From the church to the home was the order, and if what happens here doesn’t affect what goes on there, it’s not much worth. Christianity is a life. Many people leave their religion behind when they leave their church, but Christ turns home into church. Have you ever thought about this? I think there are folks at home today who wait to know what we have seen and what we have heard in church. Do you ever tell them? The trouble is, may I say it, that some of us see more in church than we hear—in fact, the eye may be wide open and the ear tight shut. Indeed I would even go further, and say that often it is the open eye that closes the ear. Something or someone that we look at immediately shuts the ear to the Word of God. It is always better to have your eyes shut in church and your ears wide open!
The home to which Jesus went was Peter’s home. Think of it a moment: Peter, his wife, his mother-in-law, Andrew and Jesus. Oh, what a privilege to have the Saviour there! That is the place where Jesus went after the service was over.
Where do you go after church? I want to say that many spiritual gains of the day are lost because of where you go when the service is over. Peter’s mother-in-law was sick of a fever, the Scripture says, and she lay absolutely prostrate, burning with fever. Are you? Oh, you say, I’m here in church. Yes indeed, but I tell you there are many, many people just like Peter’s mother-in-law. They are not confined to bed, but they are in church with burning heads, burning memories, burning consciences, burning hearts: they are sick of a fever. These are feverish days, and this is the kind of world we live in. People come out of all the hectic rush and pressure of it and are just burning. They are not shut up at home, they are in church. Verse 30 says: “And anon they tell Him of her.” That word ‘anon’ is the same word again as ‘straighway.’ Notice that the cure was immediate and complete. He didn’t say to her, “Take it easy for a week; relax for a little while.” No, she was immediately well and strong, and she ministered unto them. The proof that she was well was that she began serving.
Next there was sickness in the crowd. The city was gathered together at the door. Our Lord’s day was never done. There is a simple principle here that I wouldn’t like to bypass: “They brought unto Him all that were diseased…He healed them” (Vs. 32, 34). He won’t do our work. We can’t do His. How long is it since you brought anybody to Jesus for healing? How long is it since you tried? Perhaps there is so little healing these days because there is so little bringing. If you talk about the pace of the life you have to live, what about this day in the life of our Lord? Just mark these phrases, v. 21, straightway; v. 29, forthwith; v. 30, anon, immediately; v. 31, again immediately. There is constant movement, constant pressure.
I suppose one of the real problems (and here is a very big missionary priority) is to know how much work we can claim strength to do. When is it time to rest? Indolence is wrong and sinful, but so is overwork. A net that is never cast into the sea is useless, but a net that is torn and never repaired is dangerous, and I don’t think anyone can settle for anybody else about this.
A man owned a pigeon that was born in its cage. One day he let it out to see if it could fly. Sure, it could fly right enough. It flew round and round, up and up, on and on, became slower and slower until eventually it fell crashing at his feet. It knew how to fly, but it didn’t know how to stop!
The Lord Jesus wants men who are not indolent but who are not overworking. They may be hopeless for the service of the Lord if they are lazy, but they are dangerous in His service if they are overworking. That is where nets get torn, nerves get frayed, and things happen that are not to the glory of God.
Observe the practice of the Lord Jesus: “In the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (v. 35). He went away from the throng and He sought the throne of God alone. He went from preaching to praying; He prayed before He preached and He prayed after it, before His work and after it, and surrounded it with prayer. May I say to you that effectual testimony for Jesus depends not upon natural gifts but upon heavenly grace. Pity the worker, pity the missionary, pity the Christian who is too busy to pray.
Jesus sought a solitary place, rising from a short sleep, waking nobody up, slipping out of Peter’s house alone, walking along deserted streets before dawn, beyond the boundaries of the city up to one of the hills. There He prayed through those early morning hours about what had happened the day before, and what was going to happen that day. He had no sin to confess, but He had great business in hand. He was found by His disciples who thought that He was just wasting precious time: “All men seek for Thee…” He didn’t go back to that same crowd. His task was not the conversion of a city but the evangelization of the world, and He went elsewhere.
As we conclude this passage of Mark’s Gospel, I would underline these missionary priorities again. What is our message? How do we live? What about the principle of our service? Are we trying to make ourselves, or have we learned the principle to come in order that He might make us to become? Are we people who are busily engaged and therefore He can trust us to be faithful? Are we men who can be trusted in any situation to bring glory to His name? What about the demon that we bring to the church right inside our heart—the demon of discontent, of criticism, of prayerlessness, of barrenness, of a tongue that would pull others to pieces? What about your home? Has the fever been stilled? Jesus can still it with a word if you bring it to Him. What about the crowd in the street, our next priority? Out of a life from which the demon has been cast, and the fever has been stilled, comes the witness to the crowd: have you begun to bring that He might begin to heal? Don’t expect the Lord to do the healing until you have done the bringing. God grant we may learn above all in missionary priorities that He calls us to be disciples and apostles, to go in to Him for instruction and out in witness, in for surrender and out in service, in in humility and out to obey: “Ye shall go in and out and find pasture.”