Listening to Jesus When He Preached

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 1:14-15

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:14-15 rsv

HIS MESSAGE SUMMARIZED

Suppose you could be transported back in time to listen in on some past event just as it happened. What moment would you choose? What would you want most to have heard? Would it be the singing of the great Caruso, or President Lincoln actually giving his Gettysburg Address? What about the first rendition of Handel’s Messiah or the opening night for Shakespeare’s Hamlet? To hear any of those would be a fantastic treat for me. But if I had to choose one event at which to eavesdrop, one message to overhear, I would go further back in history. I would stand among the people of Galilee almost twenty centuries ago, listening to the very first message proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth.

That’s not possible, of course. We have no time machine to take us back through the centuries and no devices, at least currently, to pick up voices from the distant past. What we do have, however, in the pages of the New Testament, is a brief summary of our Lord’s first public address. That’s found in Mark 1:14-15. What do you suppose it was?

Jesus had just passed through an exalted, unforgettable experience. After His baptism in the river Jordan, heaven had seemed open before Him. He had heard a voice from heaven saying to Him, “You are my beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” That was the sure sign to Him that His mission had begun. Then had followed His forty days in the desert – weak with hunger, assailed by strong temptation. He had resisted all the attacks of the Evil One, and now was returning to the world of men, strong in the Spirit of God, to begin His ministry. When the crowds gathered to hear Him, this was His inaugural theme, His keynote address: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”

We don’t know all that He said on that day. We can’t see the light in His eyes or sense the power in His voice. But how thrilling it is that we can know the essence, the burden, of His message! If we can understand these few brief words, we will have grasped the core of the New Testament gospel. And far better, if we respond to them in faith, we will have found the way of life.

THE ANNOUNCEMENT

The preaching begins with a twofold announcement: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus is saying here that something momentous, something climactic, has occurred. The long- awaited time has come! We’re accustomed to using that word time in more than one way. Perhaps most often we think of it in a linear sense, as chronological time. Here is a particular event. Something happened before it, something happened after it. All are points on a line of time. By that use of the word, we express order and duration.

But there’s another usage with a different flavor and emphasis. I’m thinking now of what we call the appropriate time, the right time, the moment of opportunity, the moment of truth, as we say. That’s what Jesus has in mind here. Sometimes what happens in a five-minute period may be more freighted with meaning for life than the preceding five years. When Jesus proclaims that the time has been fulfilled, He is telling His hearers that they have come to a crisis in human history. This is the hour for which everything else has been preparatory. This is the fulfillment of all that had up to now been only hinted at and held out as a promise. This moment in God’s purpose is what all the world has been waiting for.

“And just what is that?” someone asks. “What is the meaning of man’s history, if it has any meaning? Is there a special time that helps us to understand all the rest? Can any one event or series of events give us a clue to the whole mystery?” According to Jesus Christ, the answer is “Yes.” The days of His ministry were the special ones and the decisive event above all others was this: “the kingdom of God has drawn near.”

What is this “kingdom” of which Jesus speaks? We usually think of a kingdom as involving several elements. There is, of course, a king, a ruler, a sovereign. The kingdom implies also his subjects, his domain over which he rules. But the phrase “the kingdom of God” involves much more. Here we are referring not only to the Lord, and to the extent of His dominion, but to His active, reigning power. This is something present, alive, dynamic. God’s kingdom means the mighty expression of His lordship in the midst of human history. That’s why the word of Jesus takes the form of a dramatic announcement. “Hear ye! Hear ye! The time is fulfilled, and God has come in person to rule!”

But what’s new about all that? Hasn’t God always been the king? Certainly, in the sense that He’s the Creator and owner of this world – and of all worlds. But according to the Bible, the rebellion of His human creatures has produced a new situation. We who rightfully belong to Him have come under the dominion of sin, under the sway of evil powers. By misusing our freedom and choosing to go our own way, we have become hopelessly enslaved.

Now the Old Testament foreshadows and prepares for what God is going to do about this situation. We can sense on many of its pages the yearning expectation that God will come to set things right. Listen to these exultant words from Psalm 96: “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the woods sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth” (vv. 11-13).

Or again, hear these longings for an ideal king from another Psalm: “May he judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with justice! In his days may righteousness flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more! May he have dominion from sea to sea” (Ps. 72:2,7-8). But in the Old Testament that hope is only a vision and a prayer. “Take heart! God is going to do something wonderful for His fallen world.”

The New Testament, on the other hand, announces that He has come in person to do it. That is the throb and thrill of this tremendous claim: “the kingdom of God has drawn near!” Here’s a world groaning under alien rule. We are gripped by a tyranny we chose but cannot now escape from. But now, in the fullness of the time, God comes to free us.

He comes, astoundingly, in a genuinely human life – in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He comes the Lord of glory, the king of all kings, as a humble obscure man, straight into enemy-occupied territory. He throws down His challenge to the entrenched powers of evil, all the malignant forces that hold mankind in bondage. These are the rival kings He comes to dethrone. Jesus has met the prince of darkness in His wilderness temptations. In a kind of hand-to-hand combat, He has thrown back every assault. Now begins the strange, awesome divine offensive. Jesus rebukes the demons and they are driven out. He commands the diseases and they disappear. He speaks to raging seas and they quiet down like docile puppies. He even meets King Death in funeral processions and sets His captives free.

As He moves along, the opposition against Him mounts. Wily men taunt Him. Enemies plot against Him. The powers of hell finally engineer His murder. This is their hour and the power of darkness. They seem to win. They have Him where they want Him – rejected, betrayed, mocked, whipped, spit on, strung up to die before a howling crowd. He claimed to be the king! What kind of king is that, dying in ignominy outside the city walls?

But there God’s reign comes breaking in. By His cross Jesus smashed hell’s power. Rising, He broke the back of death. About to ascend to His throne, He could say, “All authority is mine in heaven and on earth.” Victor over all His foes, He is now the exalted One – King of kings and Lord of lords.

Now think of it, that whole drama of divine action is wrapped up in the phrase, “the kingdom of God has drawn near.” And still today, it’s the central theme of all who proclaim the gospel. We Christian preachers are announcers of the reign of God, heralds of the lordship of Jesus, witnesses to the Holy Spirit’s transforming presence in this world. The kingdom of God has come near. Sin is conquered! Death is doomed! Hell is overthrown! What great good news we have to tell!

THE CALL

But that isn’t all. Jesus brought more than a grand announcement. In the light of it, He called His hearers to repent and believe. He summoned them to renounce all false lords and welcome their rightful king. They were to turn from darkness to light, from death to life, from the power of Satan to God.

The call to repentance has two sides. One is a warning of our great peril. We human beings are in danger, vulnerable, immersed in a sea of troubles. We live in a bondage which now robs our lives of meaning and will finally destroy our hopes of happiness. Worse still, we are estranged from our one source of life and help, barricaded in against the only one who can rescue us. Any message, therefore, that lulls us into false security is criminal and traitorous. To whisper to people, “All is well,” when they are enemies to their own peace is the height of cruelty.

Jesus warns us of judgments in this life. The everlasting peril breaks into our world in wars, slums, racial strife, broken homes, political corruption and decaying cultures. In our personal lives, it comes as anxiety, bitterness, emptiness, despair. But Jesus warned men also that bondage, estrangement and danger extend beyond this life. There comes a colossal judgment of which all earthy dooms only give a glimpse. Do we recognize that? Whoever we are, unschooled or sophisticated, prudent or profligate, moral or reckless, we’re all pursued by danger. We all plunge on toward tragedy if we refuse the seeking God.

Yes, “the seeking God.” That’s the other side of Jesus’ call to repentance. Sure judgment is ahead, but a yearning God pursues behind, calling us to stop and turn. “Return, rebel children! The Father waits with outstretched arms. The Savior with wounds in His hands is searching for you!”

So with the urgent warning comes the invitation to believe. As Jesus summons us to turn, He holds out to us the royal gifts of the gospel. God’s new reign means for us adoption as children by the Father, cleansing from all guilt, liberation from the prison of our self-concern. To serve Him brings a share in a new loving fellowship, a sense of purpose, hope, joy abounding in our pains, a fresh capacity to love, a life more abundant.

Christ calls us to receive and rest on His promise of salvation. That’s what it is to believe, to accept the love He offers and enjoy the mercies He gives. Remember that great word of the prophet, “Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters” (Isa. 55:1). And the word of Jesus, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden” (Matt. 11:28). And that of the apostle, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:3c). He is the King who died to redeem you. Commit yourself now to His lordship, to follow Him all the days of your life!

No, we don’t have a time machine and no one of us was privileged to hear Jesus speak in the days of His flesh. But by His Spirit, through His Word, He is speaking still and speaking to you. The grand announcement of the gospel is coming to your heart today. Everything depends on how you respond. Beloved friend, repent now and believe the gospel!”

Prayer: Father, by Your Spirit send this word of the Lord straight to our hearts. May we truly repent, simply believe, and enter into life. Amen.