Jonah 3:1-5,10; Mark 1:14-20
January 25, 2015
A man who was a high school industrial arts teacher came to church for special occasions with his wife who was a deacon in a church I served. He was pleasant but clear he was not a believer. Our high school youth went on summer mission-work trips. One year he came to me and offered to go with the group saying, “I’ve got tools and skills for this kind of work, and I’d like to help. You know I’m not a believer, but I promise I won’t do or say anything to undermine anyone’s faith. When you have study and worship, I’ll just go in another room.” After three years of going on the youth mission trips he joined the church. He said, “As I sat in another room listening, I was impressed with how real and important Jesus was to these young people, and I wanted to follow Jesus too.” A couple of years later he became a deacon.
He heard Jesus: “Good news! Your time to turn around and come home is here. Nothing can stop God from welcoming you to a new life of exuberant confidence.”
God’s good news is not just for those whom Jesus is calling for the first time. As we see in Mark 1:14-20, Jesus’ call is good news for all of us.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
John the Baptist introduced Jesus and his ministry, which Jesus kicked into high gear after John was arrested. This shocked Herod Antipas who thought he had eliminated John’s troubling preaching only to hear that Jesus preached the same message, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Like the game Whack a Mole, Herod got caught in a game of Whack a Prophet.
Many sermons on this passage focus on the pairs of fisherman brothers: Simon and Andrew, James and John. But it also invites us to see, understand and respond to God’s good news.
God’s good news is that “the time is fulfilled.” The start of Jesus’ ministry was the turning point in God’s plan to redeem humanity. Jesus’ preaching invited people to an unprecedented opportunity to participate in God’s redemptive plan. Whatever they might have been waiting for, the decisive moment had arrived. The rest of the New Testament extends the propitious moment even to us.
All through Hebrew history God’s people had been waiting for the Kingdom of God to dawn. They saw a few brief glimmers such as the good years of David and Solomon, but from Moses to Nehemiah and Ezra they mostly experienced yearning and disappointment. Jesus preached that heaven had come to earth for those who would believe in and live in it. For us too, God’s good news is to live in the exuberant confidence of the Kingdom of God regardless of our circumstances.
Repent just means to turn around. Repentance is not about feeling miserable or wallowing in guilt, shame and regret. Repentance is God’s good news that we are no longer captives of our past but welcome to turn toward home.
In our time people say they “believe in” God meaning they believe God exists. About 25 times the New Testament speaks of believing in Christ in the sense of trusting Christ for the totality of life, but only a couple of times affirming God’s existence. Mark 1:15 is the only place the New Testament says to “believe in” the Gospel. This is living daily as a resident the Kingdom of God.
Though Jonah preached to Nineveh in a spirit of judgment and hostility rising out of ethnic, cultural and religious prejudice and hatred, his message was God’s good news to the people of Nineveh. They turned around, and God was merciful.
John the Baptist had introduced the four fishermen to Jesus so when Jesus called, they received and followed God’s good news! It was their time to turn around. God welcomed them to a new life of unlimited exuberant confidence.
You may feel that Highlands Christian Church is marking time on this interim journey between pastors. However, I tell you with considerable confidence the time is fulfilled! Now is God’s time of Kingdom opportunity for you! You are not waiting for a new pastor. God is preparing you for a new pastor, whom God is also preparing for you. The spiritual fervor and hunger of people in this congregation is readily apparent. God is among you! So Jesus’s call to repent is a call to leave behind your limitations. Believe in God’s future for Highlands Christian Church by living now what you believe God’s future is for you.
You may feel your life is in a holding pattern. That tug deep inside that wants more is the Holy Spirit saying, “Now is your time! The circumstances you think are hindrances are God’s opportunity.” The Kingdom of God may seem obscure, but Jesus wants you to know that it has come near, not at an exotic, unattainable distance but in your small daily details. So let go of your regrets and inhibitions, your uncertainties and inadequacies. God is welcoming you to exuberant confidence as a resident of the Kingdom of God, which while hidden from ordinary folk is your most enduring and substantial reality.
Joe was a developmentally disabled man who came to the lunch with worship the church I served in NJ had for street people. He helped set and clear the table and played a hymn on his harmonica as part of our worship. One day he said, “I’ve been working on something special for today,” and played Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. A dozen or so unlikely people got a taste of the Kingdom of God!
Good News! Your time to turn around and come home is now. God welcomes you to a new life of exuberant confidence as people of the Kingdom of God.