Sunday 18 February 2024 Lent 1
Jesus announces the Good News
Genesis 9:8–17; 1 Peter 3:18–22; Mark 1:9–15
Context: a Service of the Word for adults
Aim: to be thrilled by the teaching of Jesus
JESUS’ MINISTRY BEGINS
2000 years before media-savvy politicians found themselves in front of microphones, the writer of Mark’s Gospel loved a soundbite. He summarised the entire of Jesus’ teaching in three punchy sentences: ‘The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’ Virtually everything Jesus taught can be gathered under one of those headlines. Jesus could have put the whole thing in a tweet and still had room for an emoji.
THE TIME HAS COME
Mark’s Gospel hurtles from one event to another. The word ‘immediately’ comes again and again. God was doing something new on our planet. Its beginning was marked by Jesus’ baptism – God lovingly absorbing himself in every aspect of the human condition. There was a time of reflection for Jesus, alone in the desert resisting the temptation to sidestep the enormity of what his ministry would cost. And then there was an explosion of activity.
The day of the Messiah, the great leader for whom the Jews longed, was imminent. The moment the Scriptures had anticipated when God would intervene decisively in human history, was close. There were several ways that the Old Testament described the leader – a shepherd, a servant, a conqueror. Jesus refused to be drawn on whether he claimed to be the Messiah. He told his followers to look at what was happening and make up their own minds. But Mark needed no convincing – he announced it in the very first sentence of his Gospel. Jesus, though, made a point of distancing himself from those who wanted him to be a military hero who would overthrow the enemy. Instead, he saw himself in the role of a servant to vulnerable people.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME NEAR
Jesus made the Kingdom of God central to his teaching. It wasn’t a physical place, and it wasn’t a particular group of people. Jesus used it as a way of describing what the world is like when God is accepted as king and obeyed. In God’s Kingdom, the sick are healed, the hungry are fed, the oppressed find justice, peace is established and suffering ends for all. Jesus pointed ahead to a time when the Kingdom would be made perfect in God’s presence in Heaven. But now that he was present, its time had come. In him, the Kingdom had begun breaking through, and his actions as a healer, a peacemaker and a transformer of the lives of the most defenceless people were a demonstration that it was true.
In the Kingdom of God, Jesus taught, people would do what is good not because they feared the consequences of doing wrong, but because they appreciated the principles at the heart of doing what is right. They would love one another in the same way that he loved them. God required not a change of behaviour, but a change of heart.
REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS
This was the biggest challenge. The Kingdom would only come about if people took action. ‘Repent’ means turn around - a complete change of direction. Jesus’ followers were to see themselves as God’s children. Their lives must carry the DNA of Jesus, the one whom God himself declared to be his Son at his baptism. They must seek justice wherever it was denied. They must bring about peace. They must give themselves selflessly on behalf of the poor. They must love people unconditionally. This too is our call as people of the Kingdom in this ‘in-between’ time, after Jesus has lived and before God brings all things to a climax in the perfection of heaven.
This challenging life was such good news because Jesus promised to be utterly committed to his followers in a way greater than anything they had previously experienced. What’s more, being in this new community was not just going to improve their time on earth. The ultimate reason for following Jesus was that the exhilarating life he offered them would endure forever. After death, their lives with Jesus would continue in the presence of God throughout all eternity.
That was Jesus’ gracious gift. It still is unparalleled good news. Believe it! Be a signpost to the Kingdom this week and forever. The time has come!
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