“Repent and Believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:1-20)

Ash Wednesday
February 17, 2021

“Repent and Believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:1-20)

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first of the forty days of Lent. And while we’re not able to meet in person today, due to adverse travel conditions, we still are able to meet here, online, to meditate on God’s Word. And we’re thankful for that.

One thing we’re encouraging our people to do this year for our Lenten devotion is to “Read Mark.” That is, we have recommended a schedule for reading through the Gospel of Mark over the forty days of Lent. The readings average only about seventeen verses a day, so that’s very manageable. We’ve included the reading plan as a bulletin insert the last couple of Sundays, I’ve posted the schedule on my Facebook page, and I’ve sent it out to our members for whom I have email addresses. If you would like a copy of the “Read Mark” devotional plan, let me know, with your email address, and I can email it to you.

The first reading today, to begin our readthrough of this gospel, is from Mark chapter 1, the first twenty verses. And not only does it get us started in Mark, it also works to get us going in Lent. For Lent is a penitential season, a season of repentance, as we hear now in the words of our Savior, “Repent and Believe in the Gospel.”

We’ll focus on verses 14 and 15, where it says, “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.’” This is our text.

Jesus’ proclamation of the gospel begins with an announcement: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” What does Jesus mean by this?

First, “The time is fulfilled.” That is to say, everything that has been leading up to this moment and preparing for this time has now come to pass. All of Israel’s history, all of human history, has reached the point God had in mind. The prophecies foretelling what the Lord would do–those prophecies have now reached the point of fulfillment. This is the moment the world has been waiting for. Indeed, this is the moment the Lord has been waiting for and working toward. It is now here in the coming of Christ. All that is packed into Jesus’ words, “The time is fulfilled.” Think of what St. Paul says in Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” And this was that fullness of time. This was just the right moment for Jesus to come on the scene.

The time is fulfilled, “and the kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdom of God: This is God’s gracious rule and reign among men. It is God’s end-time kingdom of grace and blessing. And Jesus is the king who ushers it in. That’s why Jesus can say that the kingdom is “at hand.” It’s right here among you. The kingdom arrives with the presence of Jesus. That’s how it comes near.

The Lord had promised this end-time kingdom in the prophecies of the Old Testament. The arrival of this kingdom would mark a time of marvelous abundance and blessing, of a sea-change in the affairs of men, and of a seismic shift in the ages. God would visit his people to bless them and redeem them. The Lord would come to act both in salvation and in judgment. All of that is wrapped up in Jesus’ announcement, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

If the time was fulfilled and the kingdom of God was at hand back then, it is certainly fulfilled and at hand now. So now what? What does this mean for our lives? What is Jesus’ message to us in view of these things? Here it is: “Repent and believe in the gospel.”

Repent and believe: The two go together like hand in glove. You don’t have one without the other. When Jesus calls you to repent, he also calls you to believe. Jesus calls you to believe in the gospel, so that your repentance would not leave you desolate and in despair.

“Repent and believe in the gospel.” What is Jesus saying to us with “Repent”? He’s saying: Turn from your sins. Turn away from them in sorrow and contrition. Mourn how you have messed things up. Change your mind, change your whole way of thinking. Turn from the world’s way of thinking and from the selfish desires of your flesh. Recognize how you have broken God’s commandments: that you have not loved God with your whole heart, that you have not loved your neighbor as yourself. For that’s what sin is. That’s what being a sinner is. Own it. Confess it. Don’t rationalize your sins or excuse them away. Don’t get by with just comparing yourself to other people, focusing on how bad they are. No, look in the mirror. See how you yourself have sinned–in thought, word, and deed, in what you have done wrong and in what you have failed to do right. Admit that you’re a sinner, lost without God’s mercy and forgiveness, with no righteousness of your own that would avail before God. Recognize your emptyhandedness before God’s throne of judgment. All of that is what’s packed into this one word, “Repent.” Do you hear this call to repentance? Jesus is speaking to you today.

But thank God, Jesus has another word to speak to us today. And it is this: “Believe in the gospel.” The gospel is the good news of God’s undeserved grace and favor toward sinners like you and me. This is something to rejoice over, that God speaks words of salvation and grace to us, words of comfort and consolation.

Now this gospel is not just some vague, fuzzy fluff, like “Everything’s OK. God’s a nice old softy. He doesn’t take sin that seriously.” No, it goes much deeper than that. And it has very specific content. The gospel is very specifically focused on and centered on God’s own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the only gospel there is. For Jesus Christ is the heart and soul of the gospel. His person, his work–the person and work of Christ is the specific content of this good news. Who Jesus is and what he has done–this is what makes the gospel good news.

You see, this man Jesus who is going about Galilee–he is the very Son of God come in the flesh, come down to earth to bring salvation to lost sinners. True God and true man, he is our brother and our Savior. As our brother, he fulfills the law on our behalf, always doing the right thing, the way man was meant to do it. And Jesus then is our substitute in taking the punishment that the law requires for sinners. Even though he had no sins of his own, Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross. He shed his holy precious blood for our forgiveness. And because he is the holy Son of God doing these things, his sacrifice is sufficient for all of us, for all men everywhere. Christ’s righteousness is enough to cover the entire world. God pronounces us righteous for his sake. It’s a free gift.

This gift, then, is received through faith. That’s why Jesus says, “Believe in the gospel.” To believe, biblically speaking, is not just to know about something in your head, with no connection to your life. No, rather, to believe is to trust, to entrust yourself to this gospel of Christ, to know in your heart that this is your only hope of righteousness before God. “Believe in the gospel,” that is to say, Trust in Christ. Take refuge in him. He is your Savior. He will save you from your sins. He will save you from death and damnation. He will save you by the power of his resurrection to eternal life, so that you will share in his resurrection on the last day. This is the content of our faith.

And this faith is worked in you by the Holy Spirit, creating faith and nurturing your faith through the means of grace, Word and Sacrament. The fact that you trust in Christ–this is itself a gift from God. The Holy Spirit gave you this gift of faith in Holy Baptism, and he continues to strengthen your faith as you receive Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. God’s mighty Word creates and awakens the very faith it calls for. And this is why it is so vitally important that you continue steadfast in the Word and the Sacraments, in the life of the church gathered together.

“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.’” Dear friends, Jesus comes to us today, to our Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God. It’s time for us, on this Ash Wednesday and throughout this season of Lent, to hear his call to repent and believe the gospel. And as you read Mark over these forty days, you will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory, both now and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Published in: on February 17, 2021 at 8:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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