3rd Sunday after Epiphany – B LSB #’s 394, 412, 570
Text – Mark 1:14-15
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, & saying, “The time is fulfilled, & the reign of God is at hand; repent & believe in the good news.”
REPENT AND BELIEVE
If I, as your pastor, command you to repent of your sins what’s the first thing that would come to mind? Would you sense a knee jerk reaction, a resistance & fighting against the command? “Repent!” It’s an uncomfortable word. It’s hard & uncompromising. It accuses. It’s painful. It’s like a noose, tightening around the neck. Say you’re sorry! Repent!
It’s not the kind of word we enjoy hearing. It evokes rebellion, yet our Savior spoke it in a phrase along with the word Believe. Repent and Believe! In English, they’re translated as a command. That does not leave another option, because in reality hell is not an option. It’s the road that everyone of us was already on, before the moment when Jesus called us.
Before the Holy Spirit calls you to faith, hell is the guaranteed destination. To repent & believe is the option, an option that our Lord & Savior died for. Have you been obedient? Two verses later, Jesus issues another command, “Follow Me, & I will make you become fishers of men!” (Mark 1:17 ESV) Are you obeying that command? PAUSE
In the OT reading we heard about Jonah. Isn’t it ironic how he was called to be a “fisher” of men, but when he refused, was swallowed up by a fish? The tables were turned.
Seems to me that God has a sense of humor, & I appreciate that sense in how He inspired the author to write, “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, & call out against it the message that I tell you.” (Jonah 3:1-2 ESV) Now for the punch line, ‘Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord.’
Isn’t that an understatement? Jonah got the point. If you & I are not obedient to God’s
call, our lives can become as messy as if we were swallowed up by a fish. So what will it take for you to be obedient to your Lord’s calling? How often does God have to discipline you before you get the point? Repent! & Believe the good news!
Do you understand why Yahweh is speaking to you? It’s not simply because you are guilty. It is also because the time has come! The reign of God is near! It’s near. Don’t you see it? Are you that blind? Must you also, like Jonah, run away from your Savior? Repent & believe the good news. There is nothing to fear. Come, follow Me!
The decisive time has arrived. The great moment foretold by the OT prophets is here. God has invaded history. Christ has not only entered our world, He has entered time. He’s brought with Him God’s final offer of grace, & His final summons to accept it & live by it. Repent & Believe. PAUSE
Is that knee jerk reaction still bothering you? Maybe this will help. When Mark writes that the reign of God is near, he is emphasizing God’s initiative & God’s action.
That Kingdom belongs to the God who invades history in order to secure man’s redemption. Not even the gates of hell can prevail against our Savior’s invasion. Not even Satan can hold onto those who belong to Christ.
Our repentance & belief is a gift from God. It’s not something we have to do of our own merit, or strength or wisdom. God did not enter time & conquer death only to leave the rest of the work up to us poor helpless sinners.
Mark’s emphasis on the fullness of time focuses attention upon a God who takes action, whose past choosing & redemption of Israel provided the pledge of His activity in the future. That future is ours. God’s promises are ours. His call to repent & believe, is merely the message that the time has come for us to receive our promised inheritance. We have that knee jerk reaction against the command to repent & believe, because instinctively we recognize that we cannot. As Luther taught, we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, or come to Him. God must bring us to Himself. El Shaddai must work repentance & belief in our heart & mind & soul.
Thus, when Jesus commands us to Repent, His desire is to encourage us. And since His very words have the power to bring into being that which is not, He is able to create repentance in the hearts of the unrepentant by His mere speaking of the word. Jesus is able to create belief in the hearts of the unbelieving by that same speaking of the word.
We hear much from some Protestant religious denominations about the end times, about times of fear & tribulation. That preaching uses fear as a tool to scare people into coming to church, to frighten them into accepting Jesus into their heart. They use that word Repent as a fearful, threatening club, in order to drive people into the arms of God.
But that is not the picture Jesus uses to draw us to Himself. You don’t beat & frighten a dog into loving you. Why would God do that to His children? If He wanted to frighten us into submission, why did He send His only begotten Son to be crucified in our place? PAUSE
In next Sunday’s gospel lesson Jesus commands an evil spirit to come out of a man, & the spirit obeys. Evil spirits have no choice, but to obey God. However, out of love for us, Yahweh does not compel us to obedience. Rather, He allows us to reject Him, so that our love for Him is neither artificial, nor forced.
Terror can play no part in our love for a Heavenly Father. Obedience out of fear of punishment, is only self-serving, & never God pleasing. The time has come; the reign of God is near, because through Christ, our Father begins to act in a new & decisive way, bringing His promise of ultimate redemption to the point of fulfillment. Now the concluding drama can begin, & it has begun. The time has come, the reign of God is near, & Jesus is enacting that reign by His call to discipleship: “Come, follow me, & I will make you become fishers of men.” Those words were spoken to Simon & Andrew, to James & John. As we read & hear them, they are also spoken to you & me.
We are called to follow Christ, first, so that we ourselves might not be lost – might not be led astray by false teachers. In the book of Acts, Paul warns, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” He’s talking about those who would lead us astray with false teaching.
Then, Christ also calls us for the work of sharing the good news with others, fishing for men. Now that phrase “fishers of men” isn’t simply a cute play on words. It has a long tradition dating back to the OT prophets, & was kept alive by the community living at Qumran, the people who originally hid the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The tradition surrounding “fishers of men” was associated with divine judgment. It was spoken of as a commissioning to do God’s fishing among one’s contemporaries. It’s in light of this “End Times” theme that we are to understand the urgency of Jesus’ call to “Follow Me.” The time has come; the reign of God is near. Repent & believe the good news.
The ultimate function of God’s fishermen is to confront people with God’s decisive action. To unbelief, that action has the character of damnation. To faith, God’s action has the character of salvation. Through the belief & repentance that God has created in our hearts, He has enabled us to follow Him.
That ability to follow is a fruit, or a result, of the repentant attitude that exists in the heart of every believer. That ability to follow is only there as a result of God’s gift to His children, the gift of faith, repentance & belief. We don’t earn it & we do not deserve it. The anointed One, God’s chosen One, is already present among His covenant people, & through Him the royal act of God, in redeeming His people, has begun. The kingdom has drawn near spatially in Jesus Christ, & temporally because Messiah’s 1st appearance on earth was the only salvation event left prior to the end of the old heaven & earth.
Going back to the OT lesson, it says that the Ninevites believed God. And when He saw how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion on them & did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened. That is God’s desire for you as well. The Son of God has already borne, upon the cross, the destruction intended for you & me.
There’s no reason to fear repentance. There’s no reason for you to bear the destruction that God threatens for unbelievers. Christ has already been cursed for our sins. His blood has already been shed. Won’t you believe Him? Won’t you place your trust in the God who would sacrifice His own Son in your place? Won’t you stop refusing God’s grace? PAUSE
The season of Epiphany is about the revelation of God’s plan as seen in His Son, Jesus. Today, the light of God’s call to you has been revealed through His Word. The same Word that spoke, “Let there be light,” & created light, has spoken to you today, & it is the power of salvation unto you. That Word has the power to create & sustain faith, belief & repentance.
Yes, there is a definite relationship between God’s call to repentance & belief, & God’s call to follow Him. Only God’s children have received the gift of repentant hearts, & only His children have been enabled to follow Him. You are those children, & that is good news. Amen.
The people that in darkness sat a glorious light have seen; the light has shined on them who long in shades of death have been. To us a child of hope is born, to us a Son is given, & on His shoulder ever rests all power in earth & heaven. Lord, Jesus, reign in us, we pray, & make us Thine alone, who with the Father ever art & Holy Spirit one. Amen. LSB 412:1, 3, 6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet