Jan 24: Called to come — and also go
The Living Word Bible study for Sunday, January 24, 2021 (Year B) — TLW03B
This interdenominational Bible study is based on the set readings for Jan 24 from the Revised Standard Lectionary shared by many denominations. It isn’t influenced by any liturgical format but draws out the Bible story in the order of the progressive revelation of OT, NT Gospel and NT letter to find the theme of the message. It’s best to read the Bible passages in their entirety first, asking the Holy Spirit to speak to you about them. Then dig deeper with the help of the commentary and reflection notes.
OT: Jonah 3:1–5, 10 — Jonah, called as a prophet and sent to Nineveh, sees the city turn to God in repentance
NT gospel: Mark 1:14–20 — Jesus appeals to people to repent and receive the kingdom of God and calls His first disciples
NT letter: 1 Corinthians 7:29–31 — The call of the last days is the mission to prepare people for Jesus’ return
And also: Psalm 62:5–12
Theme: From being called to being sent
• See also linked article on this page
Jonah 3:1–5, 10 — Jonah, called as a prophet, is sent to Nineveh
A second chance to preach the Assyrian city’s need to turn to God in repentance
1–2 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
“The word of the Lord came” — the book started with this phrase, Jonah 1:1. The repetition is God offering Jonah a fresh start. It was the same commission, but this time Jonah accepts it.
“Proclaim.. The message I give you” — we think of prophets as foretelling, but the fundamental call of the prophet is to speak out the message God gives them and (as in this case) sometimes act on it.
3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.
“Jonah obeyed” — but with mixed feelings; he still wanted the city to be destroyed, Jonah 4:1–5.
“A very large city” — more than 120,000 inhabitants, Jonah 4:11, then the capital of Assyria. Greater Nineveh covered a bigger area. The “three days to go through it” might have meant Jonah getting his message heard, rather than simply walking in to the centre.
4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
“Forty… days” — often in the Bible a period of testing or judgment. Here, it is a grace period, to give people time to repent. The message sounds unconditional from that headline, but Jonah knew that a condition was implied, and the king of Nineveh hoped that it was.
• For further study, see Jeremiah 18:7–8; Jonah 3:9, 4:2.
5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
“The Ninevites believed” — “believed” is the first word of the Hebrew text, underscoring the immediacy of the change. The Holy Spirit is not mentioned, but surely present — it is His work to bring repentance and this was a miraculous act of God.
“Sackcloth” — the customary sign of humbling oneself and repenting.
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.
“When God saw… how they turned — He relented” — in God’s mind, this was not a change to his intention, because His compassionate and merciful disposition always includes that possibility. God knows the future, and nothing in this account contradicts that.
• For further study, read Psalm 139:4; Isaiah 46:10; Daniel 2:28–29; Matthew 24:36.
SUMMARY Jonah was called as a prophet, with the ability to perceive what was on God’s heart, and to speak it out. God gave him the task of going to Nineveh and preaching its destruction unless they turned to the living God. Revival in Assyrian Nineveh — what an awesome responsibility. The problem was, this was going into a centre of influence of Israel’s most bitter enemy. Jonah, as we know, was more than a little hesitant. He took ship, to go as far in the opposite direction as it would take him. God, in His mercy, spared him from being drowned — and brought him back to Nineveh, now with a story to get their attention.
APPLICATION This is a story of a prophet’s call to speak what God gave Him to say on a difficult mission. Or what he thought was a difficult mission. The difficult part of it was his mind-set about the ungodly people he was sent to, to bring to repentance. In the event “all of them… put on sackcloth”, the sign of a wholehearted change in their orientation, “from their evil ways”. In some ways it goes with the Messiah being “light to the world” and not just the Jewish nation, and Jesus’ parable about a despised and outsider Samaritan being the person who showed love to his “neighbour”. For us, it speaks to our need to go beyond our natural boundaries and be willing to answer a call that will take us to people who do not share our values, let alone beliefs .
QUESTION To what extent do we think about what is on God’s heart, and speaking it out? Who may be called to do this in the church under the New Covenant?
Mark 1:14–20 — The call of the gospel and the first disciples
Jesus’ message is to repent and receive the kingdom of God He brings
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.
“After John was put in prison” — John had spoken out against Herod’s acquisition of his brother’s wife. As a consequence, she nursed a grudge against him.
15 “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
“Time has come… has come near ” — reflects the fulfilment of Daniel 7:22, where God made a promise of His people inheriting His kingdom, but especially the many passages in Isaiah which announce a new kind of exodus.
“Kingdom of God” — the presence of God bringing the just order of God. Jewish groups understood it in various ways, of which a restored monarchy patterned on David’s, a rebuilt temple and a reclaimed land were more about Jewish nationalism; on the other hand, a new deliverance and living in peace under a new covenant were spiritual realities that Jesus inaugurated.
“Believe the good news” — which in its essence is in this statement that the kingdom rule of God is now up close and personal in Jesus, who is received by a change of heart and a new trust in God’s purposes.
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
“Sea of Galilee” — also called Tiberius, Gennesaret, and Kinnereth because it is shaped like a harp. Many of Mark’s early stories are around this location, where Simon and Andrew, James and John earned their living, and (like Matthew and Luke) skips Jesus’ ministry before this in Judea.
• For further study, the early ministry of Jesus, John 2:13–4:4.
17–18 “Come, follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed Him.
“Come, follow Me” — God requires of us three basic responses to His gracious offer of salvation: to repent (have a fundamental change of heart and will), believe (trust that God is who He is and does what He says) and as a consequence, want to follow the Way of Jesus. See v.15 above.
“Fish for people” — the apostles were called to evangelism, and it remains the central mission of every disciple.
19 When He had gone a little farther, He saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.
“James… and his brother John” — their mother might have been a sister of Mary, making them cousins of Jesus, Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:55–56; John 19:25.
“Preparing their nets” — with the detail about Simon and Andrew casting a net, this is the story of an eyewitness, probably Simon Peter, whose preaching in the early church was probably the main source of Mark’s gospel account.
20 Without delay He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him.
“Left their father… with the hired men” — a picture of a prospering family business, which they were leaving. Mark is showing the extraordinary authority of Jesus, who calls disciples and they immediately respond.
• For further study on the kingdom of God foretold (v.15), read Exodus 15:18; Psalm 24:8–10; Psalm 47:2; Isaiah 24:21–23; Isaiah 52:7.
SUMMARY After telling the story of John the Baptist in the context of Isaiah’s word about one preparing the Lord’s way with a call to repentance, Mark relates the story of Jesus’ baptism and testing in the wilderness of Judea. But he wants to connect this with what Jesus said it was all about! Jesus was now back in Galilee, proclaiming a message of repentance and faith, in order to be able to see with new eyes what God’s new domain looked like. He was also calling the first of His disciples to leave their families and businesses, and follow Him in an itinerant ministry.
APPLICATION With the message of the coming of the kingdom of God ringing like a church peal, here by the lakeside four of the first disciples are called by Jesus, to be sent by Jesus to be “fishers of men”. This speaks to us about our awareness of God’s call on our lives, and our personal sense of what the mission of Jesus looks like for us.
QUESTION How do we tell people that the time has come to change our minds about God, believe the good news and see how the kingdom of God has come near?
1 Corinthians 7:29–31 — Called to live in the urgency of the last days
Disciples must focus on their mission to prepare people for Jesus’ return
29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not;
“The time is short” — Jesus could return at any time. Paul writes as if it could be during the Corinthians’ lifetime. Equally, it could be during our lifetime.
“From now on” — there is an urgency. Believers need to live with Christ as their source, not for marriage or for feelings or for possessions. These may be realities but not ones carrying eternal significance.
30 … those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep;
“Those who mourn… who are happy… who buy something” — for this time of urgency. not letting things of the world be their dominant concerns.
31 … those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
“This world… is passing away” — the world as we know it will come to an end at the time of Jesus’ return, and Christians live in the constant anticipation of that event, 1 John 2:17, Romans 13:11. Like all the NT writers, Paul considers all time from Jesus’ resurrection onwards to be the “last days” and Christians are to live for His certain return, but at an uncertain moment.
• For further study about last days, Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2. For Christ’s sudden return, 1 Cor. 3:13 and 15:52; also Matthew 24:44 and 25:13; Mark 13:32–37; Luke 21:24–36; Romans 13:11–14; 1 Thess. 5:1–9.
SUMMARY Paul uses examples of the everyday tensions of marriage and bereavement, celebrations and achievements, not to say that these things are wrong, but in a situation where everything in the world is set to change, to illustrate how our priorities must become different, too.
APPLICATION No one, not even Jesus Himself, knew the timing of His return and Paul fully expected it to be imminent — or at least, believers must learn to live in the expectation of His sudden return. That’s a challenge for us, 2,000 years down the line. It’s difficult not to be complacent. But the broader message is about being Christ-focused in all our activities. What is He doing? He never intended faith to be institutionalised in vast and competing church organisations and their formalities, each claiming a degree of exclusivity. Whether on earth in person, or in our lives as the Holy Spirit, He is on mission, reaching others with His love, provoking us to leave the security of what is familiar (like the first disciples) and be available to Him to go with His message of the kingdom of God.
QUESTION How can we balance all the priorities of life a busy world, with a sense of urgency and expectation that Jesus could return at any time?
PRAYER Almighty God, we confess to You that we are too much like Jonah. We are surrounded by unbelieving people who are without hope, and yet we make Jonah’s mistake in viewing them as adversaries, rather than those You want to reach with Your message of merciful love.
Forgive us for wanting to go in another direction, and for being preoccupied with life’s achievements and tensions, at a time when You are calling us all to readiness for the return of Christ Jesus.
Lord, as Your present disciples, we hear Your call to follow and we pledge our availability to learn as You teach us, and enabled by Your Holy Spirit, to share Your good news with others where you send us. For Your glory and honour, Amen.
And also: Psalm 62:5–12
5 Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him.
6 Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I shall not be shaken.
7 My salvation and my honour depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge.
8 Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.
9 Surely the lowborn are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie. If weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath.
10 Do not trust in extortion or put vain hope in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
11–12 One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: ‘Power belongs to you, God, and with You, Lord, is unfailing love’; and, ‘You reward everyone according to what they have done.’