Sermon for Epiphany 3
January 21, 2018
The Preaching of Jesus
Looking through a red lettered Bible, you might think that Jesus had quite a bit to say. One might think that He taught on many subjects and elaborated on many areas of public life and financial well-being. But Mark, here in the beginning of his account of the Good News sums up the teaching of Jesus well: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel.” These are the first words of Jesus in this Gospel and they are the consistent message of Jesus throughout. This same preaching is reflected in our other readings today as well as the appointed Psalm, Psalm 62, which we have not read.
If the time is fulfilled, what is that time that Jesus speaks about or what is it that is fulfilled? It is the same as Jonah spoke of to the Ninevites. There God gave the people of Nineveh forty days before their overthrow. Jesus was saying that the time for Israel was up. The time for God’s judgment had come. There was no more time for warnings and grace periods. The case for Nineveh was like having a paper assigned in class and being given enough time to complete it. You know that you have enough time to prepare and to do what you need to do in order to get the paper completed. However, as Jesus puts it, the time is now. That is more akin to having a balloon payment due on your house that you never thought about nor for which you prepared. The principal has come due and there is no way of getting around it.
Jesus is talking about His coming and His ministry. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Yes, all that He does and says is in fulfillment of what was prophesied. But He is speaking of something more than the coming of the Christ. HE is speaking of more than just what He shall teach and what He will leave as a ministry to His Apostles and the Church. He is speaking of the judgment of God against sin and the overthrow of the devil and the defeat of death. Now is the time that God’s wrath is to be unleashed and His recompense achieved against mankind and its rebellion.
The time is fulfilled because Jesus now stands before men as God and before God as man where He is merciful and gracious to the one and receives anger and abandonment from the other. No, the cross is not to be seen on this day nor even in the same year but it is imminent. It is being fulfilled for it is the course upon which Jesus is traveling. As Mark records, Jesus has been baptized and now is coming out of the wilderness where He spent His forty days in temptation. He has identified Himself with all mankind in temptation and deprivation and is identified as the One without sin that now bears the guilt of sin in Himself and will die for that sin in His own flesh.
The time is fulfilled, for man’s redemption has come and God’s overthrow of all that is not right and very good is being played out. We live in such a time where God’s judgment is being fulfilled for the time of Christ’s return is at any moment. The last mile marker on our journey is already at our side. There are no more sign posts or rest stops ahead. The time is fulfilled and the culmination of all that was begin before time and played out in time is ready to bring time to an end. As Jesus said upon the cross, “It is finished.” Now way only wait for the final page to be turned.
The second phrase in this summary sermon of Jesus, is that, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” At first glance, we might be tempted to think that this is the same thing that He just said but while we might consider the previous statement as judgment, we should see this in terms of promise. The fact that the kingdom of God is at hand is that His reign has come. We just prayed for this as we recited the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer last week: “Thy kingdom come,” where we asked that His kingdom would come to us also. So, how is it then that His kingdom comes? “It is when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” His kingdom comes to us as He extends His reign over us by faith granting to us faith to believe His Word and works holiness in us that we might even live according to that Word now as we shall in heaven.
As Jesus speaks these words, He is indicating that the reign of God comes in Himself whereby He establishes it through His own preaching and teaching. Just as He was anointed by the Holy Spirit for this ministry in His own Baptism, He now bestows the Holy Spirit through His preaching that those who hear would believe according to His word and the kingdom of God would be extended. And so it is even today that the kingdom of God is at hand everywhere the Word of God is taught and proclaimed. As it is Jesus that is presented and extolled as the righteousness of God for sinful man, then as Luke records Jesus saying, “Then the kingdom of God has come upon you,” (Lk 11:20) or “has overtaken you,” as a different translation would say it. The kingdom of God and His reign according to promise, that is according to the Gospel, is in the person of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit working in through the Word.
So, it is in Holy Baptism by the Word of God’s command and promise that His reign is begun as forgiveness is bestowed and renewal is achieved. It is the reign of God that continues in your life through the Word applied as the Spirit does His thing to make you holy and to amend your life towards holiness. It is why we sing praise to God; because we have been included in this kingdom where God is our refuge and fortress, our salvation as Psalm 62 reminds us.
And in the final phrase, “Repent and believe the gospel,” Jesus speaks in the imperative mood. These are commands; must dos. We could put an exclamation point at the end of this phrase to give it the emphasis that it deserves. Jesus isn’t making a suggestion. It is not as if there is an alternative. Jesus is declaring what must now be since the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. It is time to turn from unbelief and the way of life that flows from it and instead believe the Good News and live the life that flows from it.
Repent means to turn away from those unfruitful thoughts and deeds that lead away from God’s kingdom and to turn towards the thoughts and deeds that lead towards God’s kingdom. Those thoughts and deeds are known as the Gospel whereby we look to Jesus Christ as Savior; He who has taken away our sin and has revealed God to us. This is also what St. Paul explains in our reading from 1 Corinthians today. We don’t have time for foolishness as if the return of Christ were some date far in the future.
Have you given much thought to how much life insurance you need? Have you diligently saved for your own retirement? How much planning has gone into your next vacation? You certainly don’t jump into your car for a two day journey without any thought of auto maintenance, money for fuel, where you might spend the night, and whether you will be able to get home. Things in life require planning and we can spend a fair amount of time planning for things that never happen and being ready for this contingencies that never come. But how much time do you spend preparing and being ready for that which you know is coming but you don’t know when? It is not as if we were preparing for a house fire which may happen but is very low risk. We are preparing for what is going to happen and could be today just as easily as any future date.
One of the speakers I heard this last week used the phrase, “Habitats form habits.” In other words, where we live and the environments in which we reside cause us to develop habits according to our needs. His context was life in the Church. To live as Christians is to live within the Church. This isn’t some vague idea of believing and being part of the invisible Church. It is about residing in God’s Word; about choosing the habitat that is shaped and formed by repentance and faith so that the world’s anxieties do not overtake or overwhelm us. It is a life that is devoted to the Apostles’ teaching, and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). A habitat begun in Sunday mornings and continued through the week.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.