Good morning from Liverpool, New York! Our reading for this Monday, August 18, 2014 is Mark 1:14-16.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (NIV)
Timing is a matter of everything. We read in Ecclesiastes, chapter 3 that “there is a time and a season for every activity under heaven.” Certainly in my own experience I have verified that this is true, both in a natural sense and also with the consideration of the choices we should make. For instance, as we are readily approaching fall we know that certain things we need to get done to prepare our homes for winter. If we are given time and weather to accomplice these outside things then we have to give them priority knowing that at a certain time we can’t do them once the snow flies. We also need to be sensitive to timing in our relationships. There are better times to share some things to others than others, and sometimes we need to prepare the heart of people to be receptive to the matters we might want for them to consider.
So is it with sharing the truth about Christ. We may say at any time to someone lacking a relationship with Christ that their lives are filled with sin and warn them of their condemnation and their need to receive Christ. While this may be true, the timing must be right for them to be receptive to this news or else our directness might offend and even cause those we care about to turn off consideration of this most essential truth. The “good news” of forgiveness of sin and companionship with Christ in life through faith will not be heard as “good news” but negative judgment. On the other hand, succumbing to the fear that we shall offend as the reason for never sharing what we know is “good news” may prevent someone from hearing the truth which we know can set their lives free.
If we think about it, most of life’s decisions are a matter of timing. It is regarding this last consideration of the timing for sharing the “good news” of faith in Christ to which Christ refers in our passage. It was only after John the Baptizer was imprisoned that Jesus said “the time has come.” In one sense we understand that Jesus’ cousin John played an essential prophetic role in Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew, chapter 3, verse 3, we discover the opinion shared by Jesus and the early church that John was the fulfillment of the prophecy spoken by the prophet Isaiah five hundred years earlier telling of one who would “prepare the way of the Lord.”
We know what John did; he drew attention to himself and pointed out the injustice of his time. He also built anticipation for God correcting the circumstance by the sending of the promised Messiah whom he and we believe was Jesus. In preparation for Jesus’ ministry we read how John’s message was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matt. 3.2) This is a very similar plea voiced by Jesus we find in our passage for today with the exception that Jesus adds to His call for repentance for us to receive the good news. John’s message was a negative one foretelling of pending personal doom when the kingdom of God comes and God would hold every person accountable for their sin. Jesus’ message also underscored the need for repentance and for the immanence of God’s kingdom but added in the opportunity for believe something positive was going to happen in its unfolding. The repentance of John was motivated by a fear of judgment while the repentance spoken of by Jesus was built on the positive hope that something good was going to come from the coming of the kingdom.
Without Jesus, the coming of God’s kingdom is not good news for us. Only because of Jesus will it be good news for those who repent and receive it. By repenting and receiving Jesus as our God ordained Savior we do not have to fear condemnation with the breaking through of God’s kingdom. Now we understand that the kingdom both John and Jesus spoke of is both available at the present and yet to come. God will break into our world and claim His rightful authority and ownership over it at some point and time. Meanwhile, the kingdom is already present for those of us who will receive Jesus as not only our Savior from sin but the Lord of our lives. The kingdom is coming when “every knee shall bow” before God’s authority even if God is not wanted, whereas, for the Christian we willingly bow our knee and desire God to rule the matters of earth and our lives.
It is unfortunate that it takes the negative news before we are willing to receive and are open to the good news of God’s authority. This is due to our stubbornness and entrenched desire to control life for ourselves. While it is obvious we cannot be successful at controlling ourselves we remain committed to attempting it. Our stubbornness in this matter is the reason God chose to place humanity in a circumstance where we can exercise limited control over life. There are just too many ways we have no control over negative or positive events in life. God does however and just as God chose to place us in an environment of moral and physical struggle to break our demand for control, so also God has chosen to offer us good news of life under God’s control.
The message of John was necessary for preparing us to receive the good news of life’s potential under God’s control. What it takes to experience it is a repentance, or turning away from the insistence for having control. This preparation is a matter of timing. God has been working in human history preparing for the disclosure of this “good news” through the failed exercise of human control, both politically and through religion. At the coming of Jesus the timing was right to reveal the blessings of grace and surrender to the Lordship of Christ. John’s ministry marked the end of attempts for self-restraint. Our inability is obvious and our only hope is to be saved from ourselves. We would not know this until to opportunity for grace and the lordship Christ had been revealed. We would not be open to it unless we first faced our utter failure and hopelessness.
In each of our lives there is a time when our hearts and minds are prepared to be open to the good news offered through Christ. When it comes we must decide to turn away (repent) from our efforts of self-definition and control of life to embrace the lordship of Jesus. Our efforts to repent and conformity to what is right will always be compromised; it is a futile effort of self-control even if it is for good reasons. We need to embrace the fact that we cannot control ourselves without God’s help which comes through forgiveness of sin through the work of Christ and the perfecting of our character via our cooperation with Christ’s Spirit. The availability of the Spirit and the guarantee of the success of our efforts in concert with communion with Christ is truly “good news!” It starts with our repenting from our attempt to control it all without Christ.
Blessings! Dr. Brian Homan