We were preparing our fishing nets in the boat when James and John left with him. All the hired men looked at Zebedee as he let his sons go—just like that. It was so abrupt, so all-at-once. I mean, no one leaves! Not around here anyway, and not when livelihood and family bond you to a place. No, no one leaves but for the day of disaster and the fear of ridicule! Why did one simple invitation carry so much weight? What did they see in this man, Jesus, anyway?
I’ll tell you what they saw, simply because now we all know. Hear then, about the first glimpses of the gospel of Jesus, who is the true Christ, the true Son of God.
John came baptising in the wild places
He preached up a storm
He railed against selfishness
and the way of independence–that merciless freedom
He came at us with words that shook us awake
“Turn, redress what’s wrong and prepare for the way of forgiveness”
He told us of the great release from sin’s death grip
The whole province flooded in
pouring out their sins and desiring to hear from God
He broke Israel’s prophet drought
He reminded the people of Elijah, God’s mouthpiece
and compassion washed over every heart that came
From the Judean hills to Jerusalem’s temple steps
These days fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah had said
Echoing the fortunes of the nation of Israel in slavery and in exile
and declaring the realities of great liberation and final deliverance:
“I will send a singer to lead this triumphant procession
whose message will hew the path you are to take—
Listen, his voice is raised in a remote canyon,
‘This place is about to be awash with God-life
Ready yourselves for the LORD Almighty’”
So that’s what John did—
Hearing the people confess he baptised each one
Waist deep in the Jordan River
The same river their ancestors had crossed
into the promised land of Canaan
Here he was–a prophet among prophets
He wore a rough shirt made from camel and a crude leather belt
He had breath that smelled like insects and warm honey from the comb
And his message was just as hard to take:
“Do you see God’s power in me?
Do you think my words carry so much weight?
Well, I tell you the best is yet to come!
You’ll see I’m just the curtain-raiser
Wait until I’ve faded into the background,
then you’ll see the One I’m talking about!
Comparing Him with me is like confusing the resplendent King
with a fisherman’s lackey!
I have been given authority to baptise you with mere water
Consider the power of the One who will immerse you
in the very Spirit of God”
Then the decisive moment came—
Jesus arrived from Nazareth in the north
He was baptised by John in the Jordan alongside all the people
Jesus would later testify to his experience:
“As I came up out of the water I saw heaven ripped open, gaping
The Spirit descending on me,
beating like the wings of the wild
then alighting like a dove come to rest
A voice came from this window on heaven with precisely the same grace,
“You are my true Son, my beloved one—
Can you sense my delight in you?”
Jesus left the crowds of the Jordan
Where God’s Spirit thrust him into a solitary place
There the wilderness consumed him for forty days—
Wild beasts prowled and paced, scuttled and slithered
and the angels kept vigil through every danger
But he absorbed every temptation until Satan was spent.
That day on the shores of Lake Galilee will be etched in my memory for good. It was after John had been taken away from the people. I guess the authorities wanted to crush any uprising by throwing him in prison. Little did anyone know that this was not the kind of movement quietly suppressed or controlled or contained. First Simon and Andrew left their net where they had flung it out. I often wonder if the words Jesus used to choose them were words for all the listening ears, “Come after me, and you will be fishermen alongside me—we will cast the net wide, capturing whole people.”eI saw it in their faces as each one greeted him, that this was something more than earthly power.
Down the beach a little, Jesus stopped right beside our boat. We hired men were almost ready to untie the mooring lines. That’s when he caught the attention of James and John and called them from the boat. Even as they helped launch us it was clear that we were sending them. As we cast out into the deep we left them there—waist deep in the water, turning towards the Master.
We prepared for the catch with these events replaying in our minds and the announcement ringing in our ears. Even then our hearts were being captured by God’s great message:
“Mark this day—
As we live and breathe, God’s Kingdom is at hand
When it hits you between the eyes, act
When it casts you abroad, trust
Let this God-news do its work among you!”