As the Anchor fellowship has restarted for Fall 2021, we are trying out a new approach to studying through the Gospel of Mark: a novelistic, "filling in the gaps" style of imaginative description, where we encounter Jesus just as His original friends might've. So far, it's been really joyous!
I wanted to give you a taste for the start of your Monday (as you'll see, the plain text is from Mark's wordings and the bold text are my imaginative additions) -
As he walked along the shore of the Lake of Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, casting their nets into the water. They had been out all night, seining for fish between their boat and another; watching the moon- and starlight rise, crest and then die away. The sunlight over the eastern hills of the Sea rose to them unwelcome: they hadn’t caught a single fish all night. Not one. They are standing now with their backs to the town, up to their ankles in the water, having cleaned their nets and now casting into the shallows to rinse them. Over the sound of the morning windswell, they hear approaching steps: crunch, crunch, crunch. They turn back.
Watching them is a Man they both have met briefly. Jesus, the cousin of the Baptist, the one from Nazareth. He is standing up the gravelly beach a few steps, his arms crossed, just watching the way they cast the nets in the morning light…
“Come and follow me, and I will teach you to catch men!” he cried. His voice ripples out and then dies out over the waters…
At once they dropped their nets, and followed him. Their internal impulse was identical. Andrew, the first to meet the Man, the one who heard the Baptist say, “Look, the lamb of God!”—is already entirely convinced that this Man is the Messiah. In fact, that’s what he already said to his brother, Simon.
And Simon, the one this Man immediately (and forever) renamed Simon Peter—he is as snared by the presence of Jesus as a passing school of fish!
This trio begins walking up the beach together…
Then he went a little further along the shore and saw James the son of Zebedee, aboard a boat with his brother John, overhauling their nets. These two, along with their father, have been partners to those other brothers. The four boys had all grown up together: James and Andrew, the level-headed reasonable pair of the four; Peter the wild man; and John, the perennial “little brother.” Just moment ago, James and John had been watching the scene play out down the beach and were wondering what the approach of their friends, with Jesus, might mean…
And just as with the other two, Jesus stops; watches; waits. James and John regard Him, wonderingly. Then, At once he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and went off after him.
Andrew—the first to proclaim Jesus as Messiah--
James—the first of the apostles who will eventually die for Him--
Peter—the one whose words will shape this very Gospel--
And John—who will be the last to die of the first generation.
The four of them begin their walk along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, heading south, heading… they know not where. The sound of the lakeshore waves will be the accompaniment to their first fumbling attempts to get to know the heart and mind of their God Incarnate. He Himself delights with a loud booming laughter at the fellowship of His four first friends. He has chosen each of them with great purpose...
“It is possible to look at everything as Christ is looking at it and see it as you shall see it when all is ended. It is possible to pray as Christ prays from heaven and to be conscious that our glorious great High Priest is commanding and executing it from on high, and that all things must give way before His power and will. It is possible to recognize ourselves in the light of a few years from now, when we shall be sitting with Him in the seats where our names are already written and our place prepared, where God ever regards us as already seated. What dignity and triumph this will give to the humblest career, and we shall walk through earth as the children of the King, the heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. He who sits there is but the other part of our personal life; and as we enter into closer union with His person, we shall rise into the constant realization of His glorious power, and learn to shout with the most tried and yet the most triumphant of mortals, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’”
A.B. Simpson, The Christ of the Forty Days
In Matthew 8, we read a particularly rapid-fire series of encounters between Jesus and... great crowds, a leper, a centurion, Peter's mother-in-law, all the sick and possessed of Capernaum, one of the scribes, a nameless disciple, the Twelve, two demon-possessed men, some swineherds, and the townspeople of a town in the Gaderenes district.
And, reading all this, it occurs to me...
That the rest of our life, having encountered Jesus of Nazareth, is our direct reaction to having encountered Him. And, that if our sense of encounter has dimmed, or our reaction has begun to flag or fail, it is time to encounter Him all over again.
Fresh reaction to fresh encounters will always lead to the fruit He desires to see in our, and others', lives. First-handedness is everything. We cannot lead the heart of another to where ours hasn't been; or isn't, presently, itself.
Then Jesus said to them, “I myself am the bread of life. The man who comes to me will never be hungry and the man who believes in me will never again be thirsty. Yet I have told you that you have seen me and do not believe. Everything that my Father gives me will come to me and I will never refuse anyone who comes to me. For I have come down from Heaven, not to do what I want, but to do the will of him who sent me."
John 6:35-38, italics mine
* * *
"Faith is that which, knowing the Lord's will goes and does it; or, not knowing it, stands and waits... But to put God to the question in any other way than by saying, 'What wilt thou have me to do?' is an attempt to compel God to declare Himself, or to hasten His work... The man is therein dissociating himself from God so far that, instead of acting by the divine will from within, he acts in God's face, as it were, to see what He will do. Man's first business is, 'What does God want me to do?', not 'What will God do if I do so and so?'"
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
I've continued on with that writing project I told you about back in January, where, with every single slice of the four Gospels, I write an imaginative vignette that paints either the "before, during or after" of that moment. I was doing some editing this week and came upon one that I really enjoy. Wanted to post it here.
James & John ask for prominence in Jesus’ Kingdom
Then Zebedee’s two sons James and John approached him, saying “Master, we want you to grant us a special request.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” answered Jesus.
“Give us permission to sit one on each side of you in the glory of your kingdom!”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I have to drink? Can you go through the baptism I have to bear?”
“Yes, we can,” they replied. Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink the cup I am drinking, and you will undergo the baptism which I have to bear! But as for sitting on either side of me, that is not for me to give—such places belong to those for whom they are intended.”
When the other ten heard about this, they began to be highly indignant with James and John; so Jesus called them all to him, and said, “You know that the so-called rulers in the heathen world lord it over them, and their great men have absolute power. But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be the slave of all men! For the Son of Man himself has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.”
* * * * *
Many years later…
An old man sits on his stoop and looks out at the view. Below, the breeze is riffling the yellowish-greenish grass back and forth; here and there a stand of wildflowers likewise sways with its onshore gusts. The sun is still and set in its meridian brightness. Distant olive trees are thick with their clumpings of fruit. Even farther down, the land ends sharply at the drop of the cliffs; the color of the sea is as hauntingly blue as it always is. This old fisherman, too tired now to ever overnight again, wonders what this time of year produces for the village’s fleets. He can faintly hear the plash of the waters against the shoreline. It reminds him of the small lake upon which he’d grown up; the call of the sea.
Creakingly, he stands to his feet and returns inside his shanty house. He sits back down to the writing table in the corner. He reads again—still a bit uncertain of its contents—from the letter he’s considering sending out by seven different dispatches. He reads from the opening paragraphs:
Grace and peace be to you from him who is and who was and who is coming, from the seven Spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, first-born of the dead, and ruler of kings upon earth. To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins through his own blood, who has made us a kingdom of priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and power for timeless ages, amen.
See, he is coming in the clouds and every eye shall see him, even those who pierced him, and his coming will mean bitter sorrow to every tribe upon the earth. So let it be!
“I am Alpha and Omega, says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty.”
I, John, who am your brother and your companion in the distress, the kingdom and the faithful endurance to which Jesus calls us, was on the island called Patmos because I had spoken God’s message and borne witness to Jesus…
The old man leaves the letter and goes for a walk. He will consider its sending-out as he walks down toward the sea.