Thursday, October 29, 2015

Gospel of Mark: Repent!

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming 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

Here, Mark tells us that Jesus begins His ministry. He also tells us how He begins it. He starts out by calling the people to repentance. How interesting. You'd think that He'd start out by calling people to love each other instead of repenting of their sins. But that's not what He said. And that, of course, leads to a question. Of all the things that Jesus could have said at the start of His ministry, why this? I think that the reason is pretty clear. It's because holy living was important to Jesus. Or to say that without church words, Jesus wanted the people to live as God had created them to live. He wanted them to live God's way. But they weren't not doing that. They were, instead, sinning, pursuing life in a way God had never contemplated for them.

It's important to bear in mind that Jesus wasn't doing evangelism here. He isn't calling some pagans to change their ways. Jesus' intended audience was the people of God, Israel. He was preaching to the Church of His day. It was wandering from the course that their God had set before them. So, as an expression of the grace of God, Jesus shows up to call them back to right living. This preaching of Jesus was a matter of divine kindness.

That will make sense when you remember that God had expectations of His people. How many times had He sent a prophet to call the people back, warning them of dire consequences if they refused? Isn't that what John the Baptist was doing at the very beginning of Mark? And isn't that what Jesus is doing in this part of Mark? And Jesus was quite clear about those consequences. 

I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13
While there were some who took to heart what Jesus said - and were blessed as a result - most did not. And that is why Israel was again conquered, this time by Roman armies. Many people died. And they died because they refused to repent. Jesus called them to repentance but they refused. His threats are not idle.

Jesus still speaks to the people of God, the Church of our day. And one thing that He calls for is repentance. It is, again, a gracious call. But it is also a call with consequences. Jesus is ready to once again punish His people if they refuse to turn from their sins so that they can work at living in the way God created them to live. Holy living is not optional for the Church. Jesus expects it. He will bless those who take Him seriously. But He will also condemn those who don't.

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