Jesus will completely turn your life around
When I’m preaching, I try my best to make good eye contact. I have one friend who gets nervous if he has to look at the faces of those he’s speaking to, so he primarily looks over their heads and at the back wall of the room he’s speaking in. That wouldn’t work for me. While I’m speaking, I’m actually trying to read people’s faces to make sure I’m communicating clearly.
Generally speaking, that works well for me, but on occasion, it becomes very clear that certain people really don’t want to be there or aren’t interested enough in the teaching of Scripture to pay careful attention. They make that clear by staring at their phones, staring out the windows, or falling asleep. Sometimes they even get a little aggressive.
I still remember when I was a relatively new pastor and catching a glimpse of someone sitting in the back of the church sanctuary on a Sunday morning with a scowl on his face and his arms crossed. He was visibly angry and I could tell he didn’t want to be there, but I also knew a little bit about his backstory. He had no faith in Jesus and was angry about the fact that his fiancé had become a believer. He also resented her growing involvement in church and was angry about what that might mean for their life together.
It was a little awkward to preach that morning with that man scowling at me the whole time, but in time, his attitude drastically changed. A few months later, after reading Scripture that had been sent to him in the mail, he came to faith in Jesus Christ and his life completely turned around. He went from hating Jesus and resenting the church to loving Jesus and becoming actively involved in church ministry.
Jesus delights to radically transform our lives. He loves to take a life that’s headed in one direction and steer it down a brand-new path. That’s something we see illustrated in multiple ways in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel. But before we get to see the transformation Jesus accomplishes in the lives of others, we’re shown glimpses of the difficult things Jesus had to endure first.
“The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.” (Mark 1:12-13)
I believe the key to understanding the grand narrative of Scripture is to ask the question, “How is this trying to point me to Jesus?” when you’re reading every section of the Bible, whether you’re in the Old or New Testaments. And if you’ve ever read through the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, you’ve certainly read about the 40-year journey the people of Israel took when they were freed from bondage in Egypt and made their way to the Promised Land. But what does that have to do with Jesus?
During that 40-year journey, the people of Israel were miraculously led by God. A pillar of cloud and fire appeared in the sky and showed them where to go. They were also miraculously protected from the sting of serpents and their clothing didn’t wear out. Food in the form of manna and quail would drop from the sky at God’s direction, and water was miraculously given to them to satisfy their thirst. This journey was a time of testing for them, and many in that initial generation failed that test of faith. They distrusted God and grumbled against Him in the desert whenever they felt hungry or didn’t like the food they were given. They gave in to the lies and deceptive assurances of Satan so that the first generation died in the wilderness and the Promised Land was given to their children.
At the outset of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was presented with a similar test. The Holy Spirit led Him out into the wilderness where for 40 days, Jesus fasted from eating food while Satan tempted Him. Satan tempted Jesus to find satisfaction through earthly things like food, boastfulness, and pride, but Jesus rejected the temptation. And with each temptation, He quoted from the book of Deuteronomy to the devil. These were the very passages that were first communicated during the 40-year exodus of Israel. (see Matthew 4)
When Satan couldn’t succeed in tempting Jesus to veer from His divinely orchestrated mission, he left Him and the angels ministered to Jesus while He was in a physically weakened state. Jesus the Messiah did what the people of Israel were unable to do for themselves. He endured Satan’s schemes and temptations in the wilderness and demonstrated His righteousness, His trust in the Spirit’s leading, and His confidence in the Father’s plan.
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.” (Mark 1:14-15)
Having successfully completed this initial test, Jesus visited the town of Galilee and began making the message of the gospel known. As He spoke to the people, He made sure they understood that there was no better day than today to trust Him and experience the kind of life transformation that the Holy Spirit delights to foster.
Jesus told them that the “time is fulfilled.” The long-promised day of His arrival had come. The day they had eagerly anticipated every time they read the prophetic words of the Old Testament prophets had arrived.
Jesus also told the people to “repent and believe in the gospel.” That’s such a beautiful statement that I hope we’ll give thought to as well. If you’re reading and hearing His words, and you don’t have a relationship with Him, He’s inviting you to turn away from your false beliefs and trust the good news of abundant and everlasting life that can only be found through Him. And if you do have a relationship with Jesus, the message is the same and it’s just as relevant for you today as it was the first day you trusted in Him. Repent and believe in the gospel. That’s the ideal summary of what we’re called to do every day of our earthly lives.
When I notice sin in my life that’s the fruit of me believing false things about what will satisfy my soul, I’m called to turn away from those lies and believe in the good news of what will actually give me peace and hope. I need to do this every single day, and so do you. We’re bombarded with lies all the time. We’re encouraged to trust circumstances, governments, medicines, politicians, ambitions, accolades, and acquisitions. We’re promised that we’ll find the “good life” through the prominence we achieve or the earthly riches we’re adorned with. But if we place even one ounce of faith in something that can be taken away from us, we need to repent and come right back to believing the gospel again.
The gospel teaches us that Jesus is the truth and Satan is a liar. The gospel assures us of hope beyond our circumstances. The gospel promises us a new name and a place in God’s eternal family and divine kingdom. The gospel assures us that we are cleansed of our sin and shame through the work Jesus accomplished when He shed His blood for us on the cross. The gospel assures us that just as Jesus rose from death, so too will we if we are united to Him by faith.
Repent and believe in the gospel. This is our daily mission.
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.” And 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 1:16-20)
When you were a child, what did you think you were going to do for a career? Did you get to do it, or did the Lord steer you in a different direction? When I was young, I assumed I was going to own a grocery store like my father did. In my teenage years, I realized that while I enjoyed business and entrepreneurial things like my father, I didn’t want to own a grocery store. I wanted to teach history, become a radio DJ, and own car washes. Then the Lord made it clear to me that I was going to serve Him as a pastor, but because He’s full of grace, He has also allowed me to teach, work in radio, and do some fun entrepreneurial activities on the side.
Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John were fishermen like many people in their community (and their families) happened to be. When they were children, they probably assumed this was what they were going to do with their lives. When they became adults, I’m sure they became quite confident that the rest of their lives were going to be spent floating on the water of the Sea of Galilee and pulling up nets of fish that they would then process and sell in order to meet the needs of their families. Somedays, I’m sure that felt like a great life. On other days, I suspect they may have wondered if there was more to life than fishing.
Then Jesus showed up and invited them to follow Him. He told these fishermen that He would make them “fishers of men.” That’s a big change from what they were used to, but certainly, a statement that must have aroused their curiosity. But they left their family businesses and chosen professions and accepted Jesus’ invitation. For the next three years of their lives, they traveled and served with Jesus. He discipled them and showed them what it’s like to lead, teach, and care for people. They took this all to heart, and after Jesus ascended back to Heaven, they carried on His mission of sharing the gospel far and wide. Ultimately, they gave their lives for this task, and all except John were eventually executed.
Now that might sound like a sad ending, but is it? I don’t think it’s sad. These men had a sense of purpose to their lives. They knew Jesus, were trained by Him, and lived with a deep conviction that they were being sent into the world to help point people to Him. They knew what it felt like to have such a deep sense of mission for what they were called to do that they were willing to be imprisoned, exiled, tortured, or executed rather than abandon their calling.
Is that how we’re approaching life? Do we have such a deep sense of Christ’s calling on our lives that we’d be willing to endure the worst this world could throw at us rather than abandon what He has been calling us to do and empowering us to accomplish through the power of the Holy Spirit?
Now it may be true that at some point in your life, the Lord may call you to change your vocation because of a specific way He wants you to serve Him next, but for most of us, I believe His intention is to do amazing things through us in the midst of our current context.
“Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called, unless there be to him some special call from God to devote himself to the ministry. Go on with your employment, dear Christian people, and do not imagine that you are to turn hermits, or monks, or nuns. You would not glorify God if you did so act. Soldiers of Christ are to fight the battle out where they are.” -Charles Spurgeon
Let Jesus transform you. Don’t give in to the tempting lies of Satan. Repent and believe the gospel daily. Trust the leading of God the Father, rest in the work of God the Son, and rely on the empowerment of God the Holy Spirit as you honor the work He is doing in your life by completing the mission He’s given you in this world.
© John Stange, 2023