Mark 16:15 (King James Version)
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
In her 1938 book “Christ and the Fine Arts,” Cynthia Pearl Maus tries to give us some insight into the purpose and usefulness of religious art:
“Classical religious paintings render at least two great services. One is to impress deeply on the mind and heart some great truth or Biblical scene which has made only a slight impression before. … The other great service which classical pictures render is to call our attention to a side of some truth which we have never before noticed.” (“Christ and the Fine Arts,” p.7)
As it happens, the same person who blessed me with Ms. Maus’ wonderful anthology of Christian art and literature also gave me a very old print of an etching by Swiss painter Eugène Burnand (1850-1921). Monsieur Burnand became quite famous in his own lifetime for his landscapes, his amazing portraits of soldiers from World War I, and his paintings and etchings on Biblical themes. The picture with which I have been blessed is inscribed on the back:
“Allez, préchez l’Evangile à toute Créature. Marc XVI, 15.”
Below that inscription is the version of that verse in English:
“Go ye into all the World, and preach the Gospel to every Creature.”
I have had the picture for a while, but until I had read Ms. Maus’ insights into the purposes of religious art, I hadn’t really taken a good look at it. Yes, I recognized the figures and the scene–Jesus and the beloved apostle John by the shores of Galilee–but as Robert Browning wrote, I had passed it “Perhaps a hundred times, nor cared to see,” and so had not meditated upon the picture. But yesterday I did, and it made me think back to the verse that it illustrated.
In M. Burnand’s picture, Jesus has His arm across the young apostle’s shoulders, and He gestures off into the distance away from the lake. John himself focuses intently on that horizon toward which the Master points, his hands clasped in front of him as if calmly awaiting further instruction. His youth is evident from his short hair, his unbearded and unlined face. Jesus’ brown eyes are gentle and sincere, and there is a suggestion of a halo around his wavy dark hair. Both men are detailed and filled in by the artist, but the background is merely sketched in, with a vague suggestion of cumulus clouds far behind them over the lake.
In the Gospel of Mark, the scene for the verse “Go ye into all the World…” is at a table, most likely even inside a room. (Mark 16:14) But Burnand has moved this to the lakeside, perhaps to tie it into John chapter 21, in which the young apostle figures more prominently. Whatever M. Burnand intended, the picture is quite effective at stirring up thoughts about the verse itself.
Where once Jesus had called His disciples out of their boats on the Lake of Galilee to follow Him, He now is sending them out on their own. He had once told them “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) They were not fishers of men to begin with, but after three years and many trials and teachings, they were ready to be sent out. And so Jesus sends them into the world, away from the lake with which they are so familiar, away from the hills and towns of Galilee, away from Judea itself, to preach the gospel to all creatures and to make disciples of all nations. (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19) Theirs is not to be a familiar life but an unfamiliar one. Theirs is not to be a life of common toil but a life of uncommon grace. Theirs is not to be a life spent looking behind them nor down at their feet, but a life spent looking beyond the horizon to the prize of eternal life in Christ.
“Go ye into all the World,” Jesus says, gesturing at that place away from the lake and the “world” these men knew. It is as if Jesus is saying, “Go out and spend your life in service to God, in preaching the gospel I have given you, in living not for today but for tomorrow. Go OUT THERE, away from the places where you have already let down your nets. Go there, to the other side of the world, and cast wide your nets, and capture those who have been lost. Bring them home to God.”
Jesus’ commission to us is not to stay where we have been, not to cast our nets where we have always cast them–and where we have always come up with little or no catch. Jesus says, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will catch some.” (John 21:6) In short, we cannot be fishers of men if we stay fishing where we are, and we are not likely to catch many souls for Christ if we keep fishing the way we’ve always done. Jesus is teaching us a new way to live, a new way to share God’s grace, a new way to serve God.
For you and I, going into all the world may be as simple as turning around, going in a direction we have not gone before. It may mean practicing everyday evangelism by making a difference in someone’s life–someone we would not have encountered if we’d gone the way we usually go. Perhaps going into the world means actually going on a mission trip, or it may mean becoming a major sponsor for someone else going on a mission. Perhaps it means reading your Bible at work so that you’ll have the opportunity to share the gospel. Perhaps it means reaching out to widows and orphans and foreigners and prisoners with the ministry of Christ. Perhaps it means street preaching, or having a church car wash, or offering your home for a Bible study. Going into the world may take many forms in our lives, but what it always means for everyone called by Christ is that we are to leave the familiar behind and live new lives that are ruled by the Holy Spirit. We are to become something we could not have been if we had stayed in our familiar zone of home and comfort.
Our Lord is pointing toward the whole wide world. Look intently at that horizon, look beyond those distant hills and that storm-riddled lake, look out there and GO there. “Follow,” He once said. But now He says, “Go.” So, let’s go!
Gracious Lord God, Your Son has called me to step out of my familiar place and go into an unfamiliar world. Rest Your hand upon my shoulder, Lord, and give me Your strength. Teach me to focus on that far horizon, to run the race set before me with my eyes set only upon You. I am ready now, Lord, send me. Amen.