Mark 1:14&15 “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time is come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.'”
It has sometimes been said that Jesus didn’t come to preach but to do things that we might have something to preach. To be sure we have a story to tell to the nations, and God in Christ has seen to it that there is a message good news to share, but the Lord Jesus did stand before men as the greatest of all preachers. He was the final Prophet sent from God to declare all that the Father wanted mankind to know. Nothing more has ever been needed from heaven. What is before the world in the Book can make people perfect and thoroughly equip them for every kind of good work. So no more revelation has ever been given, nor ever shall be. None is needed because Jesus didn’t forget to say anything. The revelation of the infinite Jesus is sufficient. He came preaching, and Luke tells us how effective it was, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside” (Lk. 4:14). That will always be the great model for the evangelism of the world. Without the Spirit of God I feel I am utterly unable to speak to you. I have not those gifts and talents which qualify men to speak. I need an afflatus from on high, otherwise I stand like other men and have nothing to say. May that be given to me, for without it I am dumb.
We are told in this particular text in Mark when Jesus began to preach, where he first preached, and what his message was.
1. JESUS FIRST PREACHED AFTER JOHN WAS PUT IN PRISON.
This seems to have been about a year after his baptism. We see from John’s gospel that the Lord had gone to Galilee for a period, not preaching publicly, but with a little group of disciples. From there he went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. He kept traveling with a group of disciples, returning through the Jordan valley to visit Samaria. It seems to have been late spring or early summer, for the fields were white to harvest, and that must have been the time that the news came to him of John being imprisoned. That was the signal for Jesus to commence his own ministry. We now meet Jesus the preacher in his own right. There has been little public speaking while John was still engaged in his ministry, but once Herod throws him into prison then Jesus steps out of the shadows and lifts up his voice with strength. He can go into Galilee confident that John had done what God had called and prepared him to do, and his work was over. John had laid a sure foundation and Jesus can build on it. Let me turn that a couple of ways.
Consider those people who had been converted and baptized through the ministry of John, who heard the grim news that Herod’s soldiers had arrested John. They would have been utterly depressed. What was the Lord doing? He had removed the greatest preacher in the world. God himself had snuffed out that light. He had allowed this punishment to fall upon an utterly righteous man who loved him. Thousands were dying who needed to hear his messages. Tens of thousands would turn up if it were announced that John was going to preach somewhere. But John was behind bars in a horrible dungeon. What was happening? Is there knowledge with God of things below? Does God know what he is doing? How often, alas, have we thought like that in the last twenty years as a number of pulpit luminaries have been extinguished.
But God buries his workmen and builds his church. Take Moses from the people of God and he will give them Joshua. Elijah is elevated and Elisha will do the work. Take John the Baptist away and the voice of Jesus himself is heard. It has been like that throughout the history of the church. The century of the reformers ends and then God raises up John Bunyan and the Puritans. The last of the Puritans is scarcely in his grave when God raises up Whitefield, Edwards, Rowland and Wesley and there is the Great Awakening. The voices of those remarkable men are scarcely silenced when God gives M’Cheyne, Bonar, Nettleton, Spurgeon, Walther, Kuyper, and J.C.Ryle to the church. Indeed, Ryle could interview an old man who used to listen to Daniel Rowland in Llangeitho. Then comes the 20th century and Christ gives such gifts as these to men: Warfield, Machen, Schilder, Schaeffer, Lloyd-Jones, Van Til, Murray, as well as those they have influenced and thousands of faithful pastors. Of course the church is not built on men, however talented. The church is built on the rock, on God’s unassailable truth. Its foundation is not human personalities. Men like us are all expendable in the sight of God. Strike down a shepherd and the Lord will raise another. The Lord will build his church. Let a tyrant kill John the Baptist and God brings out Jesus to preach the Sermon on the Mount, for the Lord must build his church.
Again let me turn it in this way, to remind you that there is a time for everything. There is the baptism of Christ, and a voice from heaven and the Spirit comes, but then there is a year’s silence while Jesus goes to weddings and feasts, and walks with his friends by the seaside, and John is perplexed. Why isn’t the axe being laid to the root of the trees? Where is the baptism with fire? But the Lord God Almighty is in charge and at his own time he will send his Son into Galilee. With God things don’t just happen, everything by him is planned. We take that by faith. We are not the strategists standing around a table covered with the vast map of Israel, the Mediterranean, Jerusalem, Samaria, the Jordan Valley and the lake of Galilee, with a light shining brightly on it. We are not moving counters by little rakes from one centre to another on the map saying, “We will deploy the men thus and thus. We will raise a preache this place or that, and arrange a revival here or there . . .” It is never like that. We Christians have no knowledge of the future except in terms of broad eschatological hope, but we have much knowledge of present duties and what God expects of each one of us: “Be this sort of father, mother, husband, wife, church member, student, preacher, workman, manager, neighbour.” There are inevitable perplexities and disappointments, and God doesn’t tell us why, but he does tell me to be a certain kind of minister, and to all of us to be steadfast and unmovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord. That is our responsibility, not to try to know what has not been revealed to anyone, but to be obedient to what we’ve been told by God. Thus it was, not until John’s ministry was violently terminated was the silence of the Lamb of God was broken, and Messiah began to preach. Now we must ask, secondly, where it was that Jesus preached.
2. JESUS FIRST PREACHED IN GALILEE.
The centre of the Galilean ministry was Capernaum which is on the northern shore of the lake of Galilee (v.21). We might have thought that Nazareth, which was also in Galilee, would have been the obvious place, but Jesus didn’t start in his hometown. He leaves his mother Mary and his siblings and he heads north east, about fifty miles from Nazareth. Why? You suggest that prophets are without honour in the place where everyone knows them. That’s true. So did Jesus go to Capernaum because there he would be taken seriously and a great work would be done? It didn’t work out like that. Capernaum rejected him just as Nazareth had, and for that both cities will be condemned in the last day. If the mighty works done in them had been done in Sodom that wicked city would have repented. The men of Nineveh will rise on the day of judgment and say, “Woe to you Capernaum, Bethsaida, Nazareth! If we had seen and heard Jesus preaching with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven we would have embraced him, but you rejected him.” Galilee had the Light of the World in their darkness, but they didn’t come to it. They had mighty signs when even the dead were raised but they ended up agnostic about Christ. They smiled to one another, and debated a bit, and decided, “The jury’s still out on Jesus,” and carried on with their lives. The intensity of spiritual light is no guarantee of spiritual sight. If men are totally blind then it matters not how bright the light may be. So it was for Capernaum and Nazareth: Jesus Christ preached to them, and he was full of the Spirit, yet those communities – dead in their sin – were, incredibly, unmoved by his words.
But there were good reasons for him to go there. From Capernaum he could walk along the shore and find some brothers, James and John, Andrew and Peter, working with their fathers as fishermen. Capernaum was the first place he called his disciples. There was a tax office in one place as the fishermen would be taxed on the amount of fish they sold and also there would be boats bringing in produce from trans-Jordan which would have to pay customs and one of the officials working there was called Matthew. These chosen apostles from Capernaum were going to have enormous influence on the church for 2000 years. They were the very best men for this work. That is how God works, he takes the long term view of things.
Capernaum was the perfect centre for the Lord, in fact Matthew calls it Jesus’ own community – “he came to his own town” (Matt. 9:1). It was a strategic place for ministering to Israel. Jesus could walk to all the western lands, and he could get by boat to the other side of the Jordan. All the northern part of Israel was open to him. Capernaum was the centre of that area called by the prophet Isaiah, “Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2, quoted in Matthew 4:15&16). This is the heart of the old northern kingdom, renowned for its spiritual darkness. It was a morally and religiously confused, compromised region; its people had some fear of Jehovah and yet they served their own gods whose followers they married and whose followers married their children. This was not ‘our own beloved Galilee of we Jews’, but Galilee of the pathetic depraved and deprived Gentiles. An unattractive area, like Aberavon was in South Wales in the 1920s, existing in the shadow of vast steel mills, belching out smoke into the polluted skies, full of labour unrest and the General Strike. A place of long grey winters, hardly a place a top doctor from London would bring his bride to set out on his new career as a preacher. Surely he would go to Park Lane, or Chelsea. But it was to the Forward Movement Mission there in Sandfields, Aberavon, that God sent Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. And how devastating was his work there. As one 17th century English writer said, “I had rather see coming toward me a whole regiment with drawn swords, than one lone Calvinist convinced that he is doing the will of God.”
The damaged people who lived in Galilee had had to endure two captivities, but it was for this rootless people that a day was coming, prophesied Isaiah, when they would find liberation and light. If Christ goes to Galilee then there is no part of Israel nor Samaria where he will not go. His servants will do even greater things. They will take the gospel to the uttermost corners of the earth. Matthew says now that Jesus was bringing God’s word there their new day was dawning. It was to be in this same area in three years’ time that the resurrected Christ would spend most of his forty days with his disciples. “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” That was the message Jesus told Mary to pass on to Peter and the other disciples (Mk. 16:7). “We will meet again in Galilee,” and that is virtually how the gospel ends.
How can this event, God’s choice of Galilee, be applied to the church today? Dr. Ligon Duncan turns it this way, “God’s grace is manifested in the most unlikely of places. If you and I had been planning where Jesus would do his ministry for its most strategic impact on Israel, surely we would have said, ‘Lord, go to Jerusalem. That is the centre of government. That is the centre of power. That is where you find people with money, people with influence, and people with education. They are there in Jerusalem. Go there and do your ministry. Don’t go to the backwaters of Galilee where the ignorant and the poor and the uneducated and the morally depraved exist. Don’t go there, go to Jerusalem. We can find you financial support for your ministry. We can spread the word of your ministry much faster, if you’ll just base yourself in Jerusalem.’ But God had other plans; he had determined that his Son would minister in unknown places with ‘funny sounding names’ like Zebulun and Naphtali. To Galilee of the Gentiles the Messiah must go as the prophet has said. That is where he would send his Son, not to the aristocracy of Jerusalem, but to the despised, the compromised and largely ignorant masses of Galilee. That is where he would fulfil his ministry. To an incohesive Gentile-Jewish population, there the Father sends the Son. Think of it, my friends. Our Lord Jesus was reared in Galilee, and it would be in Galilee of the Gentiles that he would spend the larger part of his earthly ministry. Not in Jerusalem, not in Judea. God’s grace is manifested in the most unlikely places and before people whom we may think of as the least worthy to receive it.” I guess that the vast housing estates built in the latter half of the 20th century, especially after the second World War, are the most spiritually needy areas in the country today, and it is one of the saddest symptoms of the weakness of the gospel church that we haven’t begun to tackle the problem. We have acknowledged its existence for decades, but we have got no further than that. The Reformed churches are nowhere near to producing men who can invade them and settle in their midst in the name of Jesus – as this Saviour once made ‘his home town’ a Galilean community of all places.
But what is most important is this, that the Lord Jesus took the initiative and went there. No committee of John’s disciples wrote to him and suggested a Galilean-wide crusade. He took the decision all by himself, and he set off evangelising Galilee and involving himself in that world, and he did so for their redemption. The Lord took a decisive grip of Naphtali and Zebulun in their own three-dimensional reality and he set about transforming their whole way of life. It was his love for them that drove him there. As Jesus preached to them those people found themselves living in an age of fulfilment. They weren’t thinking any longer, “O, some day things w t [characters missing here] better. One day the Messiah might come.” No. God’s hour for them had arrived. Their day had dawned. “Arise!” the Lord was crying to Galilee, “for your light has come.” They were those upon whom the end of the world had come. An involved God had taken pity on that muddled twilight zone, Galilee of the Jews and Gentiles. The incarnate Son of God had taken a human body and he had settled into those circumstances. He had not chosen to hold audience in the Temple in Jerusalem, but to a place concerning which people raised their eyebrows: “Can any good come from there?” There he pitched his tent in the middle of our human struggle. There he knew misunderstanding, rejection and hostility. There he learned what it is to eat one’s bread in the sweat of one’s brow. Into that seething mass of struggling Jewish-Gentile humanity, under the heel of alien Roman power, with the insupportable burden of Pharisaic legalism with its humbug pretentiousness and the compromise of pagan syncretism everywhere – Christ was there, where the sweat and tears were, where the blasphemy was, where fears and ignorance were. That is where the Messiah came.
Christ did not come above it, immune from it, surrounded by a squad of armed heavies, but he made himself vulnerable, often alone, poor, exposed, that is where the Lord was, right inside the human struggle to survive. That is the great picture and model for the church of all ages. We dare not stand in glorious self-righteous detachment from the oppressed, but down there we too have to function as his followers because that is where our Lord really began. That is where your witness and mine must be conducted, in those places where men live and suffer and die, where women give birth, where thorns and thistles are, where mankind has to meet the last enemy, down there, surrounded by their pretentiousness and mockery and swearing and unbelief. That is our vocation.
It is the easiest thing for me to denounce the young people of this town from this pulpit. To utter my oracular pronouncements about their degenerate behaviour on Saturday nights from the magnificent isolation of this place – how easy to do that. But the model for my engagement with them must be the involved Christ who went to the darkness of Galilee, and visited their homes, their weddings, their feasts. He didn’t cry, “Bring back the birch.” He didn’t speak up for the establishment, but he stood for righteousness. He didn’t even live in a manse, but he was with the outcast in the stable, and with the refugee in Egypt, and with his family in Nazareth, and with the poor and vulnerable and the obscure in Galilee – by his own choice. And that is where his people are to be. So when did he begin to preach? When John the Baptist was arrested and incarcerated. And where did he preach? In Galilee of the Gentiles. One more question: what was the theme of Jesus’ preaching?
3. JESUS PREACHED THAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAD COME NEAR.
We are not told anything about the technique Jesus employed in bringing the message from God to Galilee. The Lord knew better than to reply on certain techniques, rather he was mastered by certain convictions. Technique would have made him an orator, but the Lord Jesus was a preacher and for that theology is needed. ” ‘The time has come,’ he said, ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!'” (v.15). Some of those utterances are not straightforward, even in the 21st century. Jesus spoke in a language that Galilee did not understand – as we speak today. That does not matter. All the basic ingredients are there, as well as the incentive of redeeming love to fulfil his vocation faithfully. There were three elements to his messages, all closely related and inter-dependent:
i] “The time has come,” Jesus told them. That is, the time God had frequently promised their fathers when Messiah would come, and the serpent’s head would be bruised, had in fact come. The time had come when Abraham’s Seed would be a blessing to the nations of the world. The time had come when great David’s greater son would enter David’s city, Jerusalem, and show his kingly power. The time had come when the suffering Servant about whom Isaiah had spoken, the one in whom God delighted, would be bruised for our transgressions, so that by his stripes men would be healed. The time had come which Job anticipated when his Redeemer would live and stand in that latter day upon the earth. That time had come. The people of Galilee and all of Jewry were living in the great day of fulfilment. The time the prophets had spoken about had come. The great critical moment in human history, the great moment of decision, that period when the Old Testament finds its complete fulfilment, that age which the Old Covenant church had anticipated with such eagerness and longing in its most spiritual days- that time had come. “You are living in the age of crisis. The time has come.”
We have one particular instance of Jesus preaching this theme when at the beginnings of his ministry, we are told that the Lord Jesus on a Sabbath day, was attending the synagogue of Nazareth as he always did. Luke tells us that, “he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (Lk. 4:16-21). In other words he was bringing this message to them, that the time God had promised had come. The Messianic age had dawned.
Men and women, aren’t we living in the same age of fulfilment, in the last days, when God’s great crisis is upon us. Aren’t these days of ours those of great critical tension between the first advent of the Messiah and his second and last coming? Are we not those upon whom the end of the ages has come? Isn’t God saying to us this day that our hour has come, and our time is fulfilled? This is a great day of decision for everyone here. The time has come for you to decide whose Son is Jesus Christ. Is he God’s Son, the anointed Messiah, and if he is then has he become your prophet and priest and king? Has he become your Saviour? The time for radical self assessment and decision has come.
ii] Then Jesus preached this message to them: “The kingdom of God is near.” He didn’t come with good advice – “five tips on building a better Galilee”, or “How to have a better marriage”, or, “Learning to live with the Romans.” It wasn’t a piece of political agenda. When Flora Thomson writes of her childhood in the Oxfordshire village of ‘Lark Rise’ in the 1880s she speaks of the village pastor and she says, “his favourite subject was the supreme rightness of the social order as it then existed. God, in his infinite wisdom, has appointed a place for every man, woman and child on this earth, and it was their bounden duty to remain contentedly in their niches.” That might have been the message of much of the professing church in 19th century England. That was not Jesus’ message. He does not come to confirm the status quo of a nation. It was not a new type of spirituality he introduced, or the beginning of a new religious grouping to rival the Pharisees, or Sadducees, or Essenes. What Jesus said would have stirring influence on spirituality, and politics, and inter-racial relations but that was only because it was not focused on any of those things.
Jesus went to Galilee to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of the people who lived there. Jesus had not come to set up in Galilee a new state with territory, boundaries, a currency, and a flag, over which he would be the monarch. He was not talking about a geographical area when he spoke of the kingdom but an activity, a rule over people who had entered this kingdom by a radically different immigration control – a new birth, and by receiving this King into and over their lives. His preaching was a redemptive event. ‘The kingdom of God is near’ means this: ‘the King is near.” Installed at his baptism by divine approval the mighty King from heaven has appeared. The words were an assertion of Jesus’ redeeming power and might. “All those years you have been waiting for the Kingdom of God, and now,” Jesus says, “the Kingdom has come because the King himself has come. I am here.” The Lord was telling the people of Galilee that they were now confronted by a power that they could not avoid. “Come under my power. Live under my rule. Obey my laws. Enter my kingdom.” There was such power in his words and of his works, and so the whole Messianic mission of Jesus was very critical and decisive. It called for urgent action on our part. The time has come; the King is here in Jesus of Nazareth. Hear and obey your kingdom! Listen to the Sermon on the Mount. Can these be the claims of a mere man? One day he says all of mankind will be gathered before him and he will separate them as a shepherd separates his sheep from his goats. King Jesus will do that. Either that claim is a remark of a megalomaniac or they are the words of the King of the Universe. “Your destiny will depend on whether I loved you, whether I knew you or not. To all whom I do not know I will say, ‘Depart from, me,'” he says. The time has come. The King is here.
This same King speaks in the same way today, equally really, equally authoritatively and equally cordially. No longer does he enter the little villages of Galilee, for he is seated at the right hand of the majesty on high. But what kingly authority he has! He has all power in heaven and on earth. He has the whole world in his hand. He upholds all things. He guides and governs the movement of every particle of mass and energy. He governs the galaxies. He is the King of the fish of the sea and the birds of the air. He is holding in his hands the aggregate of all those forces that pulsate in this glorious galaxy and a million million more. This King reigns in triumph over life and death. The vast universe is but a speck before him. Yet he reigns as gentle Jesus meek and mild. The king of love my Shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never. He can still be touched with the feeling of my infirmity. This King is here, in his Word, in his promises, in his commands. The King has come.
iii] Then there is the consequence of this: “Repent and believe the good news,” he said. The King tells the whole world that men and women have to change to enter his kingdom. What a humble message! You say, “I’ve got out of bed on a Sunday morning and made this trip to the centre of town, and had a problem in parking, but finally got here . . . only to be told something as simple as that? The King has come, so all change!” I would reply to you with one observation, do you remember the journey that the Lord Christ made? From the midst of the throne of God to the stable of Bethlehem, to the villages of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem. He came loaded with such a depth of theological knowledge that all the theologians and philosophers of America, and Scotland, and Holland together cannot attain. He came in the form of God, with all the profundity, and inerrancy of divine insight into the world and the heart of men. He came in all the brilliance of his insight and massive intellect, and he said, “Repent!”
It is so easy to disdain the simplicity of it all, and disdain how personal it all is, and try to make the Christian message rather sophisticated. There was an Ulster preacher whose name was H.H.Orr, and Christians said about him that those initials of his stood for ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ because that is what he preached, urging people by repentance to avoid the one and receive the other. Once someone, exasperated by his plain speaking, said to him, “You are like something that came out of the Ark.” He replied, ” I’d rather be something that came out of the Ark than something that never got into it.” Jesus speaks to the professor with exactly the same message as he speaks to the drunkard. “Repent,” he says.
Jesus was absolutely straight and told everyone in Galilee to change, and I am saying to the congregation, to the members of this church and to every Christian in earshot that we all need to change, because our lives are not being controlled as they should be by the presence of God. Our discipleship lacks decisiveness, extravagance and wonder. We have lost the thrill of the man has who is digging a hole and by chance stumbles across treasure-trove. There is too much defensiveness, and too many excuses for sub-Christian living, too much sheer ordinariness about us, too much averagism, too much looking to men. The King has come! Every time we meet here, the King is here! We have to turn, and change, and move on to new levels of zeal, and dedication, and knowledge, and cross-bearing, and forgiveness, and hope.
During the last two months a score of people have come to this church for the first time, and they have kept coming back. If threescore had been invited then I believe many of them would have kept coming back. Men and women, let us dream of packed churches, and impact-filled Christianity, and a great awakening, because the King has come and we are determined to turn from our lethargy and our guilty silence. We are witnesses to them that Jesus is, that he lives, that he has the most marvellous words of life and forgiveness, and that he gives strength to change and power to keep. If there is too much paralysis then let’s change. If there is a lack of enthusiasm then let’s change. If there is a dispiritedness in the congregation, then let’s change. If there is a reluctant grumbling spirit – please change! It seems to me that if the King comes here each week – and he does – then we’ve all got a lot of changing to do. I’m saying to you to put your backs into the work, and throw your support behind all that this church represents for the cause of Christ. Do not discourage. Don’t tell anyone that you don’t expect this congregation to grow while wanting it to shrink. Do not dispirit. There are the Sunday services and then there all the departments and outreaches. The King has come, so turn! Change! Put every ounce of zeal and effort into this great work of bringing in his kingdom. Apply your talents, and your money, and your time into this work because the time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Change your ways!
But I speak to you who are not yet Christians that God wants you to change. He means by that some very simple things, that you change the way you have been spending Sunday mornings and you start to come here and to listen and be informed, and you really try to understand about God’s Son Jesus Christ. Then you start coming Sunday nights too. Then you start to obey what you hear. You start to talk sincerely to God – your own private genuine words and sentences and sentiment to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. You have to deal with your prejudices. Everyone who listens to me is locked inside a cage of their own prejudices. Every bar in that cage is a prejudice. That cage is the place you feel secure, and where you are determined to remain, even those of you who pride yourselves on how radical and contemporary and revolutionary you are! Young people, proud to be free thinkers as respects their parents and superiors, but locked in a cage of peer group conformity. Others so afraid of the sheer cost of becoming a Christian, especially an old-fashioned one. I am asking how cool is it to be living inside a cage? I want you to turn around and change. I know that this is the most awesome demand that I can make of any human being because I am not talking about how you look, and your hairstyle, and accent, and clothes. I am not even talking about a change of location, but a change deep down in your ‘heart’ – that dispositional complex which is the real you, deep down at the roots of your life. I am pleading for a new Boss to take over your life and set it in a new direction. I am pleading for a revolution so that you change your ideas about what matters most in your life, and that it’s not the things you’ve been looking at but the things you cannot see. I want a revolution in your assessment of the relative merits of time and eternity, so that from today onwards you live for eternity. That is repentance.
Do you have the courage to come out of the cage of your own self-satisfaction, and your own complacency – thatwith its various bars, ‘success,’ ‘routine,’ ‘security,’ ‘confidence’? I want you out of that cage and standing before God with the acknowledgment that you have messed up your life so far by keeping Jesus out of it. You’d thought that that was very smart, and everyone else was doing it, but now you see that it was the most foolish thing you could have done. Now I believe that it is absolutely hopeless for me to ask you to do that. I don’t believe you have the courage or the ability to change in this way, and so when I have stopped asking you to repent I will soon be asking God the Holy Spirit to work here because unless he works in your life you will remain locked in your cage for ever. We have truly turned when we know that our sins make us unable to get out of the cage, and that we’ve got to have the grace of God.
I believe that we begin a new life – we take the first baby steps – when we tell God that there have been sins in our lives for which we are sad. That is what they are – they are sins. There are not big sins and little sins, grey sins and white sins, sins of many years ago and sins of last night. There are simply sins, and they are mine and they are yours, and we need an absolutely new journey, to go in a new direction, away from our guilt about these sins to God. I want you to change, to change your mind about yourself, and to say to God, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” I want you to change your mind about Jesus, that he is the King, and that he matters, and that he matters more than anything else in the world. That is repentance. That is an indispensable part of being in the kingdom of God.
It does not mean that we become sinlessly perfected. Sin continues in us but we can never again be complacent about it as we did in the years when we lived in our cages. There is a story told of a farmer, who was a man with a tremendous temper. He terrorised his workmen. He cursed his dogs, and even his wife and children were afraid of him because of explosive fits of rage. But he heard the preaching of the gospel as an older man, and he was brought to Christ. He was crushed by the realisation of his sin, and he came to the Lord. Three weeks after his conversion, he was working in the fields, a farm labourer made a mistake, an animal slipped and this farmer went ballistic. He exploded with the same old language and the same unpredictable intensity of the past. He stopped, then his face grew red and he went back to the farmhouse where his wife was working, preparing lunch. He slumped down at the table, a grim mass of farming humanity. His wife said to him anxiously, “What’s the matter?” He said to her, through his tears, “I am no different than I was before.” She said to him, ‘Dai, there’s all the difference in the world in you. You never repented of your sin before. You were never broken by your temper before. I see a change in your life towards what’s happened even today. There is all the difference in the world in you.” That farmer had really repented, but he had not been perfected, nevertheless, like all God’s elect, he was a true Christian. His attitude towards sin had changed. That is repentance
Has your attitude towards sin changed? Have you repented? Have you come to the point where you no longer defend yourself and the only place you seek for refuge is in the forgiving love of the heavenly Father, whose mercy you apprehend? Have you turned your back on sin? Have you got to the point where you can never be complacent about sin again? Have you run to Christ? That is repentance.
“Repent,” Jesus said, “and believe the good news!” (v.15). There is good news! God has so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son. What good news! Our sins, though they are as red as crimson can be made whiter than snow. What good news! The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin. What good news! He that comes to me I will in no way cast out. What good news! Jesus told them to come to him and he would give them rest. What good news! I can have rest if I come to the Saviour. Here is an offer of rest. How can you refuse it? The King himself is offering it to you.
Some one was once talking about the mercy and love of Jesus, and concluded by saying, ‘Ah! isn’t it astonishing?’ An elderly Christian lady spoke up and said, ‘No, not at all.’ They turned to her and all said, ‘Yes, it is.’ “Why,’ she said, ‘it is just like him. It is just like him.’ People recount to you some great kindness they have received from a certain person. You say, ‘I can well believe it. It is just like him!’ So perhaps you cannot believe that Christ would save you, guilty, dirty hypocrites as you are. I tell you, it is just like him. He saved Saul. He saved me. He has saved many here. He may save you. What is more if you come to him he will save you and not cast you out. So, change! You must change. You have to turn. I plead with you to repent. Here is good news of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Believe it! It is for you who change and trust in the Lord.
20th October 2002 GEOFF THOMAS