Our Mission from Jesus: Prophets

by Feb 2, 2010

This week, I had the privilege of teaching at the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class. While experiences like those always confirm to me that I could never be a teacher (I get bored hearing myself talk after about 45 minutes!), it was an incredible joy to interact with 40 people who so clearly and passionately want to spread God’s glory around the world.

My assigned topic was the Mandate for the Nations in the Gospels. For part of our time together, we explored how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament roles of prophet, priest, and king, and how he expects the church to fulfill those roles today. Today, we’ll talk about prophets.

Jesus’ prophetic role was clear from the very first moments of his ministry:

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:14-15)

When most people hear the word prophet, they think of someone who tells the future. Like the tarot-card readers in Waikiki. But God’s prophets are less in the business of foretelling, and more in the business of forthtelling. They tell people what needs to happen right now more than they tell people what’s going to happen in the future.

That’s what Jesus is doing here: “Repent! Believe the good news!” And he says it with prophetic urgency:

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. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:16-17)

In Mark’s gospel, you can see the urgency Jesus had. He says to the fishermen, “Follow me!” To the demon, “Be quiet, come out of him!” To the storm, “Be quiet! Be still!” To the girl who died,“Little girl, get up!” To the deaf man, “Open your ears!”  Jesus demands immediate response. And so:

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. (Mark 1:18-20)

As you read this, it might seem a little unbelievable. How could four guys would just walk away from everything they had to follow a stranger? The other gospels tell us there was more to the conversation, but Mark wants us to see that Jesus had an urgent prophetic mission and that he expects his followers to have the same urgency he does.

That’s why we see these four men leave behind their nets. Quite a sacrifice, because Galileean fishermen made good money. James and John were even hired others to work for them – they may have had a fleet of fishing boats! But the urgency of Jesus drew them to his mission.

And what was it? To be fishers of men.

It sounds like a nice job: following Jesus around and helping him pull people out of the ocean into the kingdom of God. But it’s a term that carried heavy significance to the Jewish men Jesus was calling.

In the Jewish mind, fishermen were symbols of God’s judgment. In Jeremiah 16, God talks about using fishers to carry out his judgment:

“Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them … For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes. But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.” (Jeremiah 16:16-18)

Yowch. That’s the image that would have been on the minds of these four guys. Jesus was calling them to be agents of God’s wrath! To tell people about their sin and their need for a savior from judgment.

That’s the same kind of prophetic role Jesus is giving to us. To help people see God’s glory, which throws light on the ugly darkness in their hearts and forces them to desperately lean on God’s grace.

That’s an intense message, and not many people want to listen to it. Look at the prophets of the Old Testament, and the receptions they received. Not pretty. Look at the apostles of the New Testament, and the brutal deaths they received. Ugly. Look at the controversy Tim Tebow kicked up last year over a few simple Bible verses on his eye blacks.

But here’s the promise of Jesus:

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33).