Text: Mark 1:14-20
Date: Epiphany III + 1/21/18
A main theme of this liturgical year is a new creation, that in Christ you are a new creation. Because Jesus was baptized He began to fulfill God’s Law and defeat sin, death and the devil for you. Because Jesus is truly God and truly man He is the door to salvation for you. Because Jesus called disciples the Church’s mission is His mission. This new creation is called the kingdom of God.
That’s what Jesus came proclaiming beginning in Galilee. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” It was the same sermon John the Baptist preached in the wilderness, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:1-2). Today Mark mentions the arrest of John. The Evangelist assumes that you, his audience, already know the story of how Herod “seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (Mark 6:17-18). To hear God’s condemning Law, to say the least, is not a happy thing.
John’s arrest was a signal to Jesus that the time of the one who prepared the way was coming to an end and it was time for our Lord’s ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing to begin. He proclaimed the gospel of God, the good news of God’s mercy, love, and grace. He proclaimed, “the kingdom of God is at hand.” This kingdom comes to you in Christ. Saying it is “at hand” however, means this is just the beginning, means there is more to come.
What is the kingdom of God? In short it is God’s reign and rule. But now that reign and rule consist in two things, both God’s Law that reveals and condemns sin (just ask Herod!), but it is also God’s Gospel that reveals God’s love and gift of the forgiveness of sins and new life.
Furthermore, the kingdom or reign and rule of God is only just begun in this life. For it leads to a greater life in the future. That’s why the message is “repent and believe in the gospel.” It takes time to repent and believe. In fact, it takes a lifetime. You know, some believe, we call them Calvinists after the theologian John Calvin, some believe as he taught the doctrine of double predestination. That is that God has already known and determined from the beginning who were going to be saved and who were going to be rejected because of unbelief. If this is so, then it is fair for us to ask, “why bother with evangelism?” We bother with it, first, because Jesus commands us to witness and proclaim the gospel, but more importantly, because it is only through the Word of God that a person can come to saving faith at all. The Bible does not teach “double predestination,” only the comfort of knowing that our salvation is totally gift of God and in His almighty hands. For even those who receive the Word, repent and believe can still fall away from the faith. And even those who reject the gospel, while they are still here, as one hymn puts it,
There still is room! His house is not yet filled,
Not all the guests are there.
Oh, bring them in! Their hunger shall be stilled
With bread, yea, bread to spare.
Go, call them from the lanes and byways,
From winding roads and crowded highways.
There still is room! There still is room! (TLH 509)
Even though God is already reigning and making of us a new creation, the old creation is still hanging on. The Bible in the King James proper English calls it “sin which doth so easily beset us” (Heb 12:1). So repentance must be a daily thing. Remember Luther’s testimony that the entire life of a Christian is one of repentance. But then not just sorrow over sin but that coupled with faith in the forgiveness of sins which is what it means to believe in the gospel.
John started it in the wilderness. Jesus continued it when John was silenced. Jesus too was in a sense both the messenger predicted in Malachi as well as the Lord Himself who would finally render judgment and confirm mercy. Therefore Jesus creates the Church in which He continues to proclaim the message of repentance and faith. He chooses and calls disciples to this day.
Why did Jesus choose to call fishermen to be His messengers? Well, as He said, He made them to become fishers of men. As Jesus said in His Parable of the Net, “the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad” (Mt 13:47-48).
Look at how many times of teaching and miracles Jesus performed in a boat on the sea, (and even on the sea without a boat!). These sailors demonstrated human weakness, doubt and fear so that the might of the Savior would be the more obvious and demonstrated.
Some may think that Jesus chose fishermen because they assume “mere” fishermen were not as educated or well off. But notice that when He called James and John they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants.” The Zebedees had quite a major business!
These were part of the foundation with the prophets of old of the Church, the Body of Christ through whom Christ’s message continues through the ages to this day, the message of salvation, “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” This is done through pastors and missionaries today. But it is also happening by Christian parents as teachers in their own homes, in congregational members all in their conversations and witness to all around, and through the various media, print, radio, television and the like.
Not because of our wisdom or influence but solely because of Christ Himself speaking and working through His word coming from our mouths does God cause people to stop in their tracks and consider their real problem of sin, to repent and then to hear and believe the Gospel, believe that God forgives sin and gives new life, and creates a new “you” when He works faith in your heart; faith in the One who with His holy life and sacrificial death on the cross opened the kingdom to all believers.
So once again Christ says to us and through us, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”