Repent and Believe, You Fishers of Men

Text: Mark 1:14-20

Repent, and believe in the Gospel;” these are some of Jesus’ first words in the Gospel of Mark. The time is now here, the time is now complete; drop what you’re doing, turn, and believe in the Gospel. If we had to summarize all of Jesus’ teaching into one little particle, it would be that. Jesus was saying that the time was at hand. The Son of God had now taken on flesh to suffer for the sins of the world in order that forgiveness may be proclaimed to the world, and thus that the name of the Lord be praised from the rising of the sun to its setting. His words to us today are the same, “Repent and believe in the Gospel, you fishers of men.”

I.

The Gospel text begins, “Now 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.’”[1] John the Baptist’s ministry has now come to an end. It was a stark and interesting ministry. John preached out in the wilderness, dressed in itchy clothes and eating strange food, calling people to repentance through the preaching of the Law. His job was to prepare the way of the Lord and to make His paths straight by calling sinners to repentance for the forgiveness of their sins. John witnessed later that his ministry must end for that of Christ to continue. He said, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”[2] John’s ministry ended in his being beheaded for his faith after witnessing to King Herod.

And yet, in some ways, it continued in the proclamation of Jesus – “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” The time is now fulfilled, Jesus said. The time long expected, the time long hoped for, the time long watched for, has now arrived. The Seed who would crush the head of the ancient serpent, the Redeemer that Job confessed, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, and the heavenly King proclaimed throughout the Psalms, has come to earth. The ministry of Moses and all the prophets pointed entirely to this moment. This moment is that the king of all that there is, has come down from His throne to be beaten, spit upon, crowned with thorns and nailed to a tree, all for you. And so, repent.

Jesus’ message: repent. It’s the same message that Jonah brought to Nineveh. It was the capital of bloodthirsty Assyria, the scourge of the ancient Middle East and the enemy of God’s people. They were pagans, evil people, spiritually corrupt and dead inside, bearing the fruits of all kinds of evil. And yet, God sent His prophet Jonah to preach His Word. And you know what they did? They repented and believed in God. We may not be violent, evil, pagan devil-worshippers, but inside we carry the same temptations to sin. Repent, Jesus says. Repent of everything that leads you away from the Word of Christ. Repent of the times where you thought more highly of yourself than you ought; repent of your anger against your spouse, against your children, even your hatred for elected officials. Repent for the times you felt justified in choosing extra-curricular activities when they conflict with church. Repent…and believe.

Believe in the Gospel. For every struggle over sin, for every angry thought, for every impure desire, believe. Believe that Jesus died for your sin, for mine, and for the sins of the entire world, because He did. Though He was in perfect unity with the Father and Holy Spirit before all time, not subject to death, decay, and the stress of this world, He had compassion on us and stepped down to earth. Jesus Christ is all the love of God in the flesh to save us. He was not content to sit on His throne separate from us, but instead took upon our human frailty to be God with us, to carry our sins to the cross, and to die there to win our salvation.

II.

Now, “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.’”[3] This text is one we go to for the foundation of the office of the ministry, the pastoral office. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus called men to assist Him in proclaiming the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. In this case, He likens it to fishing for men. As Jesus passed by alongside the Sea of Galilee, and seeing Simon and Andrew, James and John, He called them away from their nets, nets that need mending, and gave them the net of His Word.

I sometimes wonder about this illustration because, usually, fishing involves death. Fishing is fun, and we do it for enjoyment and food, but it didn’t exist before the Fall into sin. The fishing that Jesus called the Apostles to is different. I know that you can catch and release, but Jesus was calling these fishers of men to catch and keep. They were to proclaim God’s Word, that in Christ all sins are freely forgiven by His death on the cross, and to keep proclaiming it. The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Holy Gospel and brings us to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Let’s go back to these words of Christ, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” A lot of the time spent on this text focuses on the following aspect. We’re told to, before all else, follow Jesus. We’re told to follow Jesus and to never let up. That’s good and true, but I want to focus on these 4 words, “I will make you.” In the Greek, it’s more “I will make you, I will shape you, I myself will form you into fishers of men,” and that is exactly what Jesus does through the preaching the Gospel. Though there is nothing good in us, though on our own we are unable to truly repent, Christ comes to us and gives us His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in us to bring us to repentance, to believe in Jesus, and to receive the forgiveness of sins.

Through the preaching of the Good News, Jesus Himself forms you and me into fishers of men. The net He gives us is His Word. He shapes us, forms us, and leads out into the world to cast His net to catch men. We go out proclaiming that God is here. We speak the truth of His love and forgiveness. Christ forms us to go out sharing the hope that we have of eternal life, and that, even in the midst of despair, anxiety, and suffering, Christ is with us at all times and in all places. Through its proclamation, God’s Word becomes a net that captures people unto salvation.

The closing hymn today, “Come, Follow Me,” the Savior Spake, has a couple really good verses. It goes, it part, “I am the light, I light the way, a godly life displaying; I bid you walk as in the day; I keep your feet from straying. I am the way, and well I show how you must sojourn here below…I teach you how to shun and flee what harms your soul’s salvation, your heart from ev’ry guile to free, from sin and its temptation. I am the refuge of the soul and lead you to your heav’nly goal.”[4] Christ, our eternal God and Lord, suffered for our transgressions. Through the preaching of His Word He brings us to repentance and faith in Him. As Christians we are then made into fishers of men, casting wide the net of God’s Word. To Him alone be all glory, Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk. 1:14–15.

[2] Jn. 3:29–30.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 1:16–17.

[4] Lutheran Service Book, 688.

The Baptism of Our Lord

Text: Mark 1:4-11

You probably know these words from the Catechism, “What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”[1] We talk a lot about Baptism, about how it brings us the forgiveness of sins and rescues us from death and the devil through the gift of faith, which receives these things. We know that Baptism is for sinners. In Baptism the Old Adam in us, our old sinful nature, is daily put to death and the new creation we have been made in Christ daily arises to live in righteousness and purity.

Baptism is for sinners. Baptism is for the washing away of sin through the forgiveness of that sin. Today we celebrate Christ’s Baptism. Now, if Baptism is for sin, why was Jesus Baptized? Jesus is sinless; He has no sin that needs to be forgiven, so why be Baptized by John in the Jordan River? If you look in the hymnal at the Order of Holy Baptism on pg. 268, that first prayer is called Martin Luther’s Flood Prayer. Part of it affirms that God, “through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your [God’s] beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, [You] sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”[2] Luther would elsewhere say that Baptism was made primarily for Christ, and then afterwards for us. Through His Baptism in the Jordan River Christ continued His work of salvation by taking our place, and thereby made our baptism a true washing of salvation.

I.

The text from Mark 1 begins with the account of John the Baptist. We hear that, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”[3] By now we should be familiar with John; we had him pop up in the readings a few times in Advent as well. Part of John’s preaching included that there would be one coming after him whose sandals he was unworthy to untie. This one is mightier than he and would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John was identified by Jesus and the evangelists as the prophet who cries out in the wilderness. Jesus said John “is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you,’” and, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”[4]

John proclaimed a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. His call was to prepare the way of the Lord, calling to mind the people’s constant transgression against God’s Law. He reminded people of their sinfulness, but also comforted them with the promise of the Messiah who would cleanse them of their iniquity, and to that end people were baptized by him. They heard the Word of God, became repentant and confessed their sins, and received forgiveness. This all kind of revolves around the fact that people are sinful and need forgiveness. But then why was Jesus baptized? He didn’t have any sin, so what is this about “fulfilling all righteousness,” as Jesus says in Matthew?[5]

II.

I’ve already drawn upon Luther for some insight today, so I will let him explain a little bit. Preaching a sermon on Baptism, he said:

“[Christ] accepted it from John for the reason that he was entering into our stead, indeed, our person, that is, becoming a sinner for us, taking upon himself the sins which he had not committed, and wiping them out and drowning them in his holy baptism. And that he did this in accord with the will of God, the heavenly Father, who cast all our sins upon him that he might bear them and not only cleanse us from them through his baptism and make satisfaction for them on the Cross, but also clothe as in his holiness and adorn us with his innocence.”[6]

The purpose of Jesus being baptized is the same as His entire life on earth, to take our place. We are born and die as sinners. In this flesh we never escape the snares and schemes of the devil, the temptations of the world and our flesh. All too often, we find ourselves falling, or even ignoring the fact that we do not behave the way we should. We do not love God above all things and do not love our neighbors as ourselves, and we do justly deserve temporal and eternal punishment. But God desires not the death of the sinner but that he turn, repent from his ways and live. But, we even fail at the whole repentance thing, too.

That is why God sent His Son – to save us from our sins. It pleased God, even as it pained Him, to place our chastisement upon Christ. Jesus took upon our flesh to bear our sin and take our place in death so that we might take His place in life. Thus, in order to fulfill all righteousness, Christ even took our place in His Baptism. In His Baptism He made the good confession that we fail to make when we fail to be truly repentant. He who knew no sin became sin and was Baptized for our forgiveness. By His washing in the Jordan River Jesus sanctified all water with His own Body to be a renewing flood and washing away of sin. St. Paul illustrates what this means for us in his letter to the Romans.

III.

Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”[7] Paul is saying that when Christ took our place and sanctified Baptism by His washing in the Jordan River, He made it so that we too may share in His life. In the waters of Holy Baptism we are united with Christ’s death. Just as Christ died to sin, so is the old nature, the old sinful Adam in us, put to death. We were buried with Him by baptism, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too may be brought to new life.

The context of Paul’s writing this was to encourage the Roman Christians to no longer devote themselves to the pleasures of the flesh, either by becoming slaves to the Law or by throwing off the Law entirely and committing whatever sins they want, figuring that God will forgive no matter what. But, Paul says that we are united with Christ through Holy Baptism. This includes the glorious when we shall see Christ in the flesh. Scripture says, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin…Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”[8]

By His Baptism Christ took our place, repenting when we too often fail to do so. He repented of sin He did not have and, by His Body, sanctified our Baptism to be a washing away of sin. In Baptism we are united with His death and resurrection. Through this washing we receive the gift of faith that receives the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. This eternal life in heaven we now have. For the Christian, eternal life begins at the font. So now we live, no longer as slaves to sin, gratifying the desires of the flesh, but as alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. All thanks, honor, and glory be to Him who by His life, death, and resurrection, even His washing in the Jordan River, secured for us the forgiveness of sins. Amen.


[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 339.

[2] LSB, 268.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk. 1:4–5.

[4] Matt. 11:10-11.

[5] Matt. 3:15.

[6] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 51 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 315.

[7] Rom. 6:3–4.

[8] Rom. 6:5-6, 8-9.

Rise and Shine

Text: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

There’s a popular children’s song called, “Rise and Shine.” It’s a song about the Flood, but the refrain repeats the words, “Rise and shine and give God the glory… [you] children of the Lord.”[1] Aside from singing that often as a child, whether in Sunday or Vacation Bible School, most of the time that phrase came up it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. “Rise and shine!,” mothers all over the world yell to wake up their children. Maybe it’s accompanied by the smell of breakfast, maybe not. The phrase, “Rise and shine,” is reference to the Old Testament text for the Epiphany, Isaiah 60:1-6. In it we heard, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”[2] In this cold, dark time of the year, and of the world in general, we are less then twelve days removed from the joy of Christmas. Today we celebrate the Epiphany, which is the revelation of God the Son in the flesh, particularly to the wise men from the East. We learn that Jesus Christ, the true Light of the World, has now come and has redeemed us from the darkness.

I.

In the text from Isaiah we hear of the future glory of Israel, a future that has now come to fulfillment in the revelation of Jesus Christ. We read, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”[3] The Old Testament is filled with visions and promises of the future, promises of glory and peace. It seems that at almost every corner of the Old Testament, there is some prophecy or promise of a glorious future for Israel. We Lutherans are known for seeing the Good News of God everywhere in the Bible, but we also know that there is Law with the Gospel.

Before the Lord speaks of the coming Light and His rising glory, He shows why it is necessary. He says in the previous chapter of Isaiah, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you…your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness.”[4] The Lord contends with His own people, even with us. He says that when we look around and see the world filled with evil and death, it’s not because God isn’t there. His hand is not too short to reach out and save, and He’s not deaf to our pleas. Instead, it is the sin of the world that has led things to the way they are.

God’s indictment is that the iniquities of mankind have hidden His face. His own holy people have transgressed: their hands are filled with blood, both from violence and from sacrificing to idols, their fingers are dripping with the iniquity of their actions. The transgressions then seep inwards, their lips speak lies and tongues wickedness. Their wickedness even extended to gathering for worship. God explains, “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God.”[5] Their gathering to worship was a charade. They delighted to hear God’s Word, as long as they didn’t have to change, as long as they could remain concerned only about themselves. Likewise, our sinful temptation is always to gather but then not do…at least, not until later.

Therefore, Scripture says, “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.”[6] God looked upon the thick darkness of the earth, knowing that, in it, there was no one capable of following His Law, no one capable of not sinning, no one capable of truly seeking Truth and Light, and so He resolved to do something about it. St. Paul writes in Galatians 4, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.”[7] This we celebrated at Christmas when Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, was born to redeem us from our sin.

When the wise men came to Jerusalem, they were seeking that Light, but they did not realize the extent of the darkness. When King Herod heard that they were seeking the King of the Jews, he was afraid that there would now be a credible threat to his throne. See, Herod ruled by force, and when you are a tyrant, you are always afraid of challengers. He implored the wise men to find the child and report back, so that he could worship, too. This, of course, was a lie. Herod was interested in the Light only insofar as it fit into his system. The King of the Universe would bow to him or be destroyed, or so he thought. We behave the same way when we expect that the will and Word of God as revealed in Scripture bend to our way of thinking and powers of reason.

II.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” Rise and shine, for your Light has come. Though the world had been covered in darkness, and in many ways is still covered in the darkness of sin, the Light has come that shines in the darkness and is not defeated. Once we were in darkness. We were each conceived in iniquity and born in sin. Before we received the gift of faith through Baptism, through the preaching of God’s Word, there was nothing truly good in us; for there is no good apart from the Light of the world. But now, in our time, in our presence, the Light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon us.

Once we were in darkness, fumbling our way through life. Indeed, the sin that still resides in our flesh still tries to push and pull us in whatever direction. But now, we are not in darkness, but in Light. And the Light is this: Jesus Christ, true God yet fully man, was born of the Virgin Mary. For our sake, He who knew no sin, became sin. He bore the weight of our sin, the guilt of our bloody hands – both from being at times physically violent and the angry thoughts we harbor inside, the shame of our lips which are so quick to gossip and lie, and He died. He died to exchange His righteousness for our transgression and His light for our darkness. By His resurrection, which we are united to through Holy Baptism, the power of darkness over us is obliterated by His Light.

So darkness is destroyed by the Light; Jesus Christ has come into the world to redeem us from the power of darkness, but now what? Scripture says, “The Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”[8] The Light of Christ, which we receive freely through His grace, is not something that we keep to ourselves. The text says later that those who receive the Light are made radiant, made to shine outwards. Are we then to take the Light and hide it under a bushel? No!

The Light that scatters the darkness, that heals our infirmities, that frees us from the punishment we deserve, is for all people. This is revealed as well by the visit of the wise men. They were not Jews, and yet God led them by the star to revealing of the Son made flesh for the world. By this God was showing, yet again, that His free salvation is for all people. This salvation comes as a gift through faith in the Son of God, whose revealing in the flesh we celebrate today. We may be small, but as we gather to receive Christ’s gift of forgiveness through His Word and Sacrament, we are strengthened, called, and led to share the Light we receive with the world around us.

We didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate the New Year together, but as we learn from Christ’s Epiphany today we begin a new calendar year in His Light, the light the scatters the darkness of our hearts and leads us to proclaim His Word to the nations. In His name, amen.


[1] http://www.kididdles.com/lyrics/r024.html

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is. 60:1.

[3] Is. 60:1–3.

[4] Is. 59:1-3.

[5] Is. 58:2.

[6] Is. 59:15–16.

[7] Gal. 4:4–5.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is 60:2–3.