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.

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