Jesus’ ministry now begins in earnest. He has been baptized in the Jordan, and he has been tested in the wilderness. Now Jesus begins to announce that God’s new way, rooted and extending from God’s always way, is here.
To a people walking in darkness, to a people with fleeting hope, to a people living under the oppression of personal and political burdens, Jesus says, something, someone, is coming onto the scene. Jesus’ call is simple and radical: repent, turn around, move in a new direction.
The call is personal, but never individualistic. Jesus extends the call to us to be his disciple, his follower, but in responding to that call, we enter into a community of discipleship. Jesus says: repent! Stop living as you have lived. Some (NT Wright for one) sees this as a charge to move away from violent, revolutionary attempts to overthrow Roman, and rather to engage in practices of Shalom. This may be true, but Jesus is more broadly calling people to live a whole new lifestyle, a Beatitudes, Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) type of lifestyle that operates in ways completely contrary to the ways of the Empire (Roman, and even more contemporary). Followers of Jesus are to look and act differently.
Take a look at a fairly new book—Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity, and Why it Matters by David Kinnaman. It is a stinging indictment on the impressions young Americans have of Christians. The Christian community does not fair well. Descriptions of Christians include words like—hypocritical, insensitive, judgemental. It is a tough read, but an important read.
Jesus called people to a new way of living—Repent, turn around, for the ways of the Father are breaking into the world with freshness and vitality. Ordinary people, fishermen in this case, heard the invitation from Jesus: follow me! “At once,” the text says, they dropped their nets, their livelihood and followed after Jesus.
What makes people give up their normal, comfortable, routine way of life for something risky and unknown? These fishermen dropped their lives as they knew it to follow Jesus! The kingdom is breaking in. God is doing a new thing. It won’t be about fishing anymore; now it will be about seeing something transformative happen in people’s lives and in the Empire. (See Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity to see how this movement tangibly spread throughout one Empire).
There was, and there is something provocative and compelling about Jesus that causes people to drop everything in their lives. There is something provocative and compelling about Jesus’ followers when we live out the Sermon the Mount. Quietly sometimes, often slower than we would like, the ways of the Kingdom invade and transform. Lives change. Worlds change. All for the better. All for God’s glory.