↓ Below is the sermon’s audio recording from Sunday morning service.
[Read Mark 1:1-15]
John, the forerunner
How interesting that this story is supposed to be about Jesus, and yet, after the opening sentence, Mark talks about John first.
A cousin of Jesus, John was a popular preacher. Yet John said, “If you think I’m so great… hah, you should listen to Jesus!” When Jesus was baptized by John, a voice from heaven confirmed Jesus’ authority. Jesus wasn’t just John’s cousin; he was the Son of God, the promised Messiah himself.
Mark uses John’s words and the baptism scene to accomplish a few things. First, by showing Jesus’ identity, Mark reminds his readers why they should listen to Jesus’ message. Also, he emphasized that Jesus wasn’t just another holy man. Lastly, this isn’t a new guy with new teachings. Jesus is here to fulfill the old teachings.
So, what did Jesus say and do? Mark says in verses 14-15: “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
Here, Mark summarizes the essence of Jesus’ preaching, which was, “Repent and believe the good news!”
I want to spend the rest of this sermon unpacking those few words. Let’s start with the word “repent”.
Repentance involves the mind too
Here are three thoughts about repentance.
First, Jesus isn’t preaching something totally new. John preached repentance and forgiveness of sins; Jesus also preached repentance. Though the idea of repentance isn’t very unpopular these days, it was an important element of Jesus’ message. He wasn’t just saying, “Don’t worry, be happy.” After Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and raised to heaven, his disciples continued to teach that repentance from sins is a necessary part of following Jesus.
Second, an unrepentant people cannot welcome the Lord. If they are enemies of the Lord, they will fight him, not welcome him. They will say, “We didn’t vote for you. Go away!” or “We don’t need you. Who are you anyway?” That would make the Lord’s path bumpy rather than straight, wouldn’t it? John was sent to prepare the people of Israel to receive their God when he came. That preparation involved confessing their sins. The act of baptism let them physically express their change of heart and their willingness to listen to God anew.
Third, repentance has to do with the mind. Often, we think of repenting as mainly having a remorseful feeling or stopping a bad behavior. Well, that’s true, but in the Greek language—the language Mark wrote in—the literal meaning of “repent” is “to change one’s mind or thought.” It’s not just our outward behavior we need to change, but also the thoughts which lead to that behavior. How often have we tried to change a bad habit, only to fail because we were cutting the tree at the branches rather than the roots?
Eve’s sin did not begin with a conscious desire to rebel against God. It began with a seemingly innocent thought, suggested by the devil. Sometimes our own sins aren’t obvious, because they begin with seemingly innocent thoughts like, “If only I can have this, I will be happy.”
For the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, their sins may have begun with good intentions like wanting to please God. It’s interesting that Jesus criticized the most devout-looking Jews among his people. He didn’t criticize their devotion. Rather, he said their devotion was channeled in the wrong direction. They were obsessed about following unnecessary rules instead of understanding God’s heart.
That’s why we need the Holy Spirit to help us see when we’re going in the wrong direction. You can pray the words of Psalm 139:24, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” And remember that our God is gentle. Don’t be afraid. God isn’t waiting to spank you like a naughty child. God waits to embrace you and show you how to live more fully.
Some Christians describe repentance as recognizing that you were traveling in the wrong direction, then changing direction. So, what is the right direction? Jesus said, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” In this context, moving in the right direction is to “believe the good news”.
Good news about the kingdom
What did Jesus mean by “good news”? Well, it’s definitely not how Christians today would describe “good news”. Our current definition is this: “Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross for your sins. He came back to life in 3 days and reigns with God forever. If you trust in Him as your Lord and Savior, you will have eternal life.” But this cannot be what Jesus meant by “good news” in Mark 1:15. Jesus did not begin teaching about his death and resurrection until later, which is recorded in Mark chapter 8 (verse 31).
Rather, Jesus’s good news was most likely news about the kingdom of God.
A kingdom implies a king, his people, and the land he rules over. The first time we see a kind of kingdom is in Genesis, where Adam and Eve lived under God’s rule. However, they rejected God as king, and this kingdom was spoilt. The next time we see a kingdom is the ancient nation of Israel. Israelites repeated the sins of Adam and Eve and lost their land to foreign invaders. But God didn’t give up on people. He sent prophets to tell Israel about a coming Messiah who would restore his kingdom.
Jesus taught that he was the fulfillment of these prophecies. He is the Messianic King who brings God’s kingdom. In Mark chapter 1, he says this indirectly. But in other parts of Scripture, you can find Jesus’ clear declarations of being this Messiah, such as in Luke chapter 4.
In Jesus’ time, Israel had been conquered by the Roman Empire. But many Jews had hope that a Messiah would restore their kingdom and pride. Listening to Jesus’ words, many Jews would have thought, “Finally, God is going to get rid of the Romans!”
But they were mistaken. Because the kingdom of God is not a physical kingdom but a spiritual one. Jesus stated this clearly before his death. In John 18:36, he said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Jesus came not to free them from the Romans but a greater enemy: the control of sin over our hearts. Jesus came to liberate us not from external problems, but from internal problems that are the root of all the world’s problems. And this is good news! Because what we need is not just better human governments.
We often complain about our country, our government. Systems are corrupt and broken. Most leaders disappoint in the end. This is why Jesus’ message was good news. Firstly, it affirms that you are right: there is something wrong with this world and someone should fix it. Secondly, God is going to do something about it; in fact, he already started. The solution is Himself. The only leader who won’t let us all down is Jesus—the perfect King, the original King. Only under Jesus’ loving reign can we truly live as we were meant to live.
What kind of kingdom is the kingdom of God? It’s about service, not success. It’s about love, not law. It’s about community, not self-sufficiency. It is entered by free will; it cannot be forced on people. It is open to all; not restricted to certain races, genders, social status, economic status, intelligence, personalities, and so on. In this kingdom, your value as a citizen is not determined by your job, your physical abilities, your contribution to society, etc. You are valuable because God values you as his beloved son, his beloved daughter. I could go on and on about how God’s kingdom is different from how our world operates. But let me end here by saying: Doesn’t this sound like good news?
To summarize, what does it mean to repent and believe the good news? For us today, it means:
Be prepared to change your thinking. Prepare your heart to hear God again. Believe that He is near and wants to speak to you.
Recognize that you won’t find fulfilment or security on your own, whether by building an earthly kingdom or a small comfortable nest. True freedom is paradoxically found by surrendering control to a wise and loving God. It’s good news that we don’t have to figure everything out for ourselves, or to struggle for everything by ourselves.
Listen to Jesus, who brings the kingdom of God. His kingdom is a far better reality than what the world offers. Even long-time Christians have yet to fully digest the good news—that God loves us, that we don’t have to prove our worth, and so on. Unconsciously, we often still follow the ways of this world rather than the ways of God’s kingdom.
Ask Jesus to be King over every part of your life. I pray that his influence will touch every area of our lives, every thought and every desire.
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