The world is in a mess. Recession, unemployment, riots, wars, crime. And that’s on top of all the everyday problems ordinary people face. But what is the heart of the problem? Where has the world gone wrong? There was once a prolonged correspondence in the Times on the question, “What is the root cause of all the troubles in the world. The matter was finally settled by the author G.K. Chesterton, who wrote, “Dear sir, What is wrong with the world? I am, yours sincerely, G.K.Chesterton.
He was absolutely right, of course. Before any of us start putting the world to rights we need to take a long look at ourselves, and if we are honest and not blinded by pride we may not like what we see. If only we could all stop being selfish. But we can’t. However much we try to live perfect lives, we can’t do it! We need help!
If anybody is serious about wanting to change, we need the one person who can help us. The greatest teacher in history, the one perfect human being, perfect because he was not only a man but he was also the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus was born into the world to put things right, to help people change. This was his mission. And right at the beginning of his ministry Jesus brought a message which shows us three simple steps we can take if we want our lives to be different.
Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Repentance is a very important word in the Bible. We hear it sometimes in reports from the courts, “the accused was unrepentant”. But what did Jesus mean when he called men and women to repent?
At its root the word repentance means A COMPLETE CHANGE OF DIRECTION
The A12 Boreham Interchange is a very confusing junction. All those roundabouts – it is perfectly possible to follow the signs for the A12 and end up joining that wonderful road, but heading North instead of South. Lovely road but completely the wrong direction. Now if it should happen that you find yourself on the A12 going in the opposite direction to the way you wanted to go, there’s no point in turning off and trying all sorts of minor roads. The only sensible thing to do is to go all the way round one of the roundabouts and come back on the A12 in the right direction. To do a complete U turn. And that is what repentance means. Doing a U turn in life. The root of the word for repentance is to change your mind – and that is what Jesus calls every one of us – change your mind!
So many people spend their lives running away from God as fast as they can. Jesus calls people to repentance, to do a U turn so that they are running towards God instead of away from him. Repentance – a complete change of direction. If anybody wants to meet God, they have to change direction. If you have your back to the light, all you can see is the darkness of your own shadow. If you want to see the light, you have to turn around and walk towards it.
Then repentance means dealing with the sins in our lives. We all know what sin means – we see it on TV, and read it in the papers. Most of all we know about sin in our own lives. All the things we do and say and think which hurt other people and actually hurt ourselves. Lying and greed and immorality and hatred and selfishness and pride. All the things we would love to change about our lives if only we could. Repentance to deal with sin has three parts and it begins when we recognise the problem of sin in our own lives. When we “acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness” and are truly sorry for our sins. Then we need to confess those sins before God and ask his forgiveness, for the times we sin against God and against our neighbours, through ignorance, through weakness, but most of the time through our own deliberate fault. And thirdly we need to be sorry enough for our sins that we are ready to give them up and let God change us! Jesus says, repent. Change direction. Acknowledge your sins, confess them and change your ways.
The Greek which the New Testament was written down in has two ways of giving commands. One would be the one-off event, repent just once. But the word used here means more. It means repent lots of times, keep on repenting. The first act of repentance is only the beginning. We need to keep on turning our lives round, to keep on saying no to sin and yes to God. The starting point to changing our lives is repentance.
Then the second step Jesus gives us to changing our lives is this.
BELIEVE THE GOSPEL
Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” (Jesus) said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Believe the gospel. Believe the good news. We began to see last week how the good news is all wrapped up in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The world is overcrowded with self-help books and lifestyle gurus and make-over programmes. But the truth is that only one person can help us to change, only one person can save us from ourselves, and that is Jesus Christ. The good news IS Jesus – his life, his death and his resurrection.
Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” (Jesus) said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
We all have things in life that we look forward to, birthdays, Christmas, holidays, maybe retirement? The Jews had been looking forward to the arrival of their Messiah for more than a thousand years, the time when God would act as King and save His people. And Jesus brings the message, the time has come! The kingdom of God, the Kingly Rule of God is near! God’s Kingdom is not territory. It is not the people who serve the King. The Kingdom of God is the things God does as King. The time has come when God will act as King and save his people! So, says Jesus, believe the Good News!
Believe that God WAS acting as King in Jesus. The Creator was stepping into His Creation to repair the damage done by sin and to offer forgiveness and new life through Jesus to everybody who believes. Jesus came and lived a perfect life and showed us and taught us how we should live. And by dying for our sins in our place on the cross and rising from the dead Jesus offers us forgiveness and eternal life.
But we each have to BELIEVE the Good News, believe the gospel. And that is much more than knowing about the good news. It is much more than intellectual agreement to certain ideas. Believing the Good News is about putting our trust in the Good News. I think that roller-coasters are safe. I can do the physics which says that when that car loops the loop and you are sitting upside down then you should stay in the car and you shouldn’t fall out. But I can’t truly say that I believe roller coasters are safe if I am not prepared to put my money where my mouth is and take my seat and go for a ride. Believing the gospel means putting our trust in the good news of Jesus Christ and living every part of our lives based on his command and his promises, trusting Jesus for everything!
Repent, believe the good news, and the third step to putting our lives right comes when Jesus says,
Mark 1: 16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
That is what the Christian life is all about. Following Jesus. Learning from Him. Becoming his disciples.
And that is what Simon and Andrew did, AT ONCE. Because the time had come, the Kingdom of God was at hand, and that demands an urgent and immediate response. The King has arrived, but he is moving on. We have to follow him NOW, or never. It was the same for James and John.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Without delay Jesus called them. Without delay James and John followed him. In a way I feel sorry for Zebedee and the hired men. Jesus came and called for followers. James and John went but their father and his employees were just abandoned. Following Jesus was a complete break from their old lives. They just left their nets. No compromise. No turning back. AT ONCE they upped sticks and followed Jesus.
There is a story of a competition in hell for ways to keep human beings away from God. 3rd prize went to the suggestion, “Tell them there’s no heaven.” 2nd prize went to, “Tell them there’s no hell.” But the prize was won by the suggestion, “Tell them there’s no hurry.”
Being a Christian demands wholehearted obedience to Jesus and his commands. Following the example of love and sacrifice which Jesus gave us. Simon and Andrew, James and John left their nets. Following Jesus will always be costly – it will always involve sacrifice. Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler that obeying the ten commandments was not enough. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me,”Jesus said.
There is no room for competing interests – Jesus comes 1st, 2nd and 3rd! But the command to follow Jesus comes with a promise.
Mark 1 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
“I will make you, ” says Jesus. God loves us so much that he reaches down and loves and accepts and forgives us just as we are. But God loves us too much to leave us just as we are. So God promises not only to accept us but to change us – to give us a brand new life, life in all its fullness. “I will make you” says Jesus. One day two speakers were on their soap boxes at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park when a tramp passed by. The communist speaker said, “Marxism would put a new suit on that man.” The Christian preacher replied, “Jesus Christ would put a new man in that suit.”
When we hand our lives over to Jesus Christ he promises to make us into what he wants us to be – the very best person we could ever become. So whatever we give up to follow Jesus we gain so much more than we could possibly lose!
Follow me and I will make you FISHERS OF MEN. Jesus had a special job for those first disciples. It would be their task to continue his work after his death and resurrection, after Jesus returned to heaven. The disciples would continue proclaiming the Good News and catch men and women into the safety net of the Kingdom of God. And that task continues today. Jesus calls all Christians to be witnesses for Him, to tell other people about the wonderful things God has done in our lives so that others will follow Jesus too.
So here are the three steps we can all take to changing our lives. Here is the invitation Jesus makes. The invitation is for all of us – but it comes today and it calls for an urgent response.
15 “The time has come,” (Jesus) said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” … 17 “Come, follow me,”