The Facts and the Acts

Proclaim Sermons
February 21, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: In Mark 1:14-15, Jesus gives us the essence of his good news.

Today's reading comes from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. If you haven't read the Gospels before, Mark is a good one to start with, in part because it gets to the point so quickly. Not only is it the shortest of the four, but also it is the fastest moving of them. It doesn't even include a birth story but opens right away with John the Baptist announcing the arrival of the adult Jesus on the scene. There is almost a breathless quality to Mark - this happened, then this, then this - bang, bang, bang.

For example, in a mere six verses from 9-15, we are told about the baptism of Jesus by John, Jesus' temptations in the wilderness and then his arrival in Galilee after John is arrested. There, Jesus preaches "the good news of God."

Let's zero in on the last two of these verses, for this is where Mark gives us the essence of Jesus' message - that which he spent his time on earth delivering. Listen to just those two verses again: "Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'"

There aren't many words here, but these few tell of two momentous indicators that a dramatic change has taken place, and present two calls for action that people should take as a result. Or as one commentator puts it, the two "facts" and the two "acts."1

We'll look at those in a moment, but first notice that Mark tells us that Jesus came preaching "the good news of God." When Mark opens his book, his first sentence says, "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." He looks at the life and work of Jesus and calls it "good news," which is what the word "gospel" means. And that's a correct use of the term. But note that when Jesus comes, he doesn't point to himself - though he is part of the good news - but to the work of God.

The time is fulfilled

The content of that news is what is contained in the two facts:

First, "the time is fulfilled." This is a way of saying that the waiting period is over. We know from the Old Testament that many people were looking for a new action from God, some intervention in the course of history that would change things dramatically. There was a hope for a Messiah, a Savior, and Jesus is saying that that time of waiting has been completed, and the era for which they have been waiting has come.

To get a sense of why this is part of that Good News, think of people who live in countries ruled by totalitarian dictators, where most personal freedoms are denied. In some of those countries, there are embassies from some of the free nations and in some cases, it's possible for the citizens of the repressed nation to go to one of those embassies and apply for a visa to emigrate to the free nation. That permission isn't granted automatically and is seldom given right away. Even assuming there are no things on your record to mark you as an undesirable person, you still are placed on a waiting list until a slot opens in the receiving country, and that wait can amount to years. But then, after a long wait, you finally receive a notice from the embassy that your visa has been granted. That is a day of good news. The time is fulfilled, and your new life is about to begin.

That is similar to what Jesus was saying about God's new action in the world. The time of waiting was over.

The kingdom of God has come near.

And that brings us to the second fact Jesus stated: "the kingdom of God has come near." This is a critical piece of the announcement, because if Jesus had only said that the time was fulfilled, that by itself could just as easily be the beginning of worse news.

To go back to our example of the person in a totalitarian country waiting for a visa, the time of waiting could have ended with a notice from the embassy of the free nation that the visa request had been denied. That would be saying that the time was fulfilled, but that what had come was bad news.

Or, imagine yourself having some physical symptoms that cause you concern about your health. Your doctor orders some tests, and now you are waiting for the results. When the results finally come in, the time is fulfilled, but the news could be either bad or good.

But in the case of Jesus' message, it is pure good news. Not only is the time of waiting over, but the kingdom of God has drawn near. God's new day is about to dawn. Something fresh was beginning with the appearance of Jesus.

Imagine you have a job where the supervisor is difficult or even nasty to work for. But one day, that person is fired, retires, is promoted, dies or in some other way leaves the job, and a new person takes that position. That new person may bring in a new era, especially if he or she is a better supervisor. A new reign begins.

Jesus was saying something like that, only much more so. "The kingdom of God" meant that God was entering human history in a way that offers us new opportunities, new hope, new joy, new ways of thinking and new ways of living.


That leads to the two acts people need to do to take advantage of the opportunity the kingdom of God coming near provides. The first of these, says Jesus, is to repent.

We are used to thinking of that word "repent" as meaning to turn away from our sins, and that sense is included here, but the original Greek word used in the text also means to shift the direction of our lives, to give full attention to the kingdom of God. That's important because, thinking of the gospel as primarily having to do with forgiveness of sins can leave a person who doesn't feel particularly sinful to wonder if repentance has any meaning for them. But here, Jesus says that the approach of the kingdom of God is for all of us, not just those conscious of their sins. Repentance is a direction for our lives. Jesus says a new order is at hand. Get a new mind that fits it.

Believe the good news

The second action, Jesus says, is to believe the good news. To believe something in the sense implied here, is not so much being convinced of a fact, but to act on what we are convinced of. If I believe that a certain doctor can cure me of a disease, then I demonstrate that belief by putting myself in his care. If I believe that the way of Jesus Christ is the best way to live, then I demonstrate that belief by trying to live my life in the way of Jesus Christ.

Also implied in this call to believe is the sense that the time for acting is now. The time of waiting is over. Time's up. Decision time has come. Act now.

There is a sense of urgency here. To return once more to the example of a person who has applied to the embassy of the free nation to migrate there, this call to believe is the equivalent of the person receiving a notice that says, "Come to the embassy on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. for the visa." So if you are that person, and you really want to go to the free nation, do you say, "Well, Tuesday's not convenient. I'll go in when I get a chance"? Of course not. Jesus' call carries that same the-time-to-act-is-now importance.

The heart of the good news is not a new idea or a fresh load of guilt or a novel philosophy of life or a new code of behavior. It is a call to respond to Jesus Christ. It is a call to commit our lives to following Jesus and obeying God.

Some of this doesn't easily connect for us because whatever was meant by the approach of the kingdom of God 2,000 years ago, it didn't mean the end of human pain, suffering, injustice or the unfairness of life. Many things have changed since the time of Jesus, but the power of evil and greed and self-centeredness have marched on unabated.

But know two things: First, that the fullness of the kingdom doesn't come until the end of time. And second, the kingdom is present in an inward way right now. People who commit their way to Jesus Christ experience a sense of joy and peace and hope that often seems not warranted by outward circumstances but which in the realm of the heart and mind - the regions where peace, joy and hope matter most - the table is set, and we are invited.

In the end, the full understanding of Christ's good news message comes not by dissecting it into facts and acts, but by embracing it and discovering in our own lives why the opportunities presented by the nearness of the kingdom of God revolutionize our lives.