Mark 1. 1-15; Colossians 2. 9-15
We have taken a lot of time to talk about
- Blessing other people.
- Relying on the Spirit: receiving and releasing his power.
- Eating together
- Attending to Jesus, and
- Dialogue that is listening, gently challenging, telling the story of God and our own story, through everyday conversations.
Now, we’ve been learning that “One size doesn’t fit all” and that we must listen rather than simply dumping our message in people’s head-space. But I want to finish off with this question: What is the message? If someone says “Yes, I do want to get to know God better,” or “what is the core of your Christian message?” then what do we say? “Come to Church on Sunday and our Pastor will explain everything!”? I want to give you the tools to answer the question for yourselves. What do people need to know, what do they need to respond to, in order to connect in a living way with the Christian faith, and be “saved”?
Mark opens his Jesus story, by telling us us this is the “beginning of the Good news about Jesus.” And a number of times, in the very first chapter, Mark talks about the “Good news of the kingdom of God.” People were to be told, “the Kingdom of God/Heaven has come near you!” Two-thirds of mark’s Gospel, is about the things Jesus said and did that show what the Kingdom is like. The other third, is about the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. How he died and why.
The first thing to say is rooted in this idea that “The Kingdom of God has come near!”
God is good, he is love, his plan in creating the world was for good. He sees a broken world and it is not the way he wants it to be. So in order to sort it, God made promises to specific people, (the family that became Jewish nation). From the start, the reason he did this was not just for their own benefit but so that the whole world might benefit. As time went on they came to understand these promises to be about the “Kingdom of God”: God’s rule on the earth. God’s rule instead of the other Kingdoms: the kingdom Caesar, the Kingdom of darkness, the Kingdom of “me.” And through the coming of Jesus, those promises were fulfilled.
Saying “The Kingdom of God has come near” means that, despite everything that isn’t the Kingdom of God, despite everything that is the Kingdom of me and the kingdom of darkness and fear and despair and death, God has not forgotten about his world. He plans good for the world. And he keeps his promises. Jesus shows us all that. And by the life he lived and the things he did, he shows us what the Kingdom of God is like: healing for the broken, justice for the oppressed, challenge for the oppressors.
And the second thing to say is about how “Jesus died for our sins”.
Before it happened, Jesus interpreted his death as “a ransom”, a costly sacrifice made to set other people free. (Mark 10. 45) And after it happened, Paul said that the bill for our sins was “nailed to the Cross” (Col 2. 14) and that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor 15. 3) and rose again. That’s important, because it lifts what Jesus did above and beyond the sacrifices that young men and women made on the battlefields of the Somme, the beaches of Normandy, or the deserts of Iraq or Afghanistan. When thousands had died in the trenches, thousands more came to take their place. No one death was, by itself, a triumph. But the death of Jesus utterly defeated death itself: so we are saved from our sins by Jesus death and resurrection.
Jesus’ death and resurrection deals with the “Kingdom of Me” problem that we all have. It deals with the penalty of it. It deals with the power of it. I don’t think we need to go too far into how that works: it’s like someone taking someone else’s punishment. It’s like someone paying someone else’s debt. It’s like someone paying a ransom. It’s like someone dying while rescuing someone else from drowning. It’s like someone dying fighting someone else’s battle. It’s all these things and more.
And there is more. The third thing to say is that the Spirit makes us new.
When he preached the Good News for the first time on the day of Pentecost, Peter called people to respond and promised “You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Faith is more than a transaction. It is a transformation.
Something happens in a person’s life. God moves in. Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians to deal with wrong ideas people had about keeping the “Law” and being “Circumcised” in order to be have new life. But as they have trusted in Jesus, that new life has already happened! Did you notice that in verse 10 he says “You have been brought to fullness in him”; verse 11, “circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands” and verse 13, “God made you alive with Christ” .
Theologically the coming of the Spirit is part of the “Messianic age”. John the Baptist says about Jesus, “I baptise you with water, but he (the coming Messiah) will baptise you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1. 8). When the Spirit came, Peter says. (Acts 2. 17, quoting Joel 2. 28) “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” In 2 Cor 5. 17 Paul says if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here.” Literally “if anyone is in Christ – new creation.” Boom, by the Spirit, not only are people made new, but they become part of the whole new creation, the present-and-coming Kingdom of God.
So the good news is these three things:
- The Kingdom of God has come near; God plans good for is world and keeps his promises.
- The King (Christ, the Messiah) died and rose again for our sins.
- The Spirit makes us new and causes us to live in God’s new Kingdom.
We need to respond to the Good News.
Paul, Peter, and Jesus himself all agree that this Good News demands a response. Jesus said, “Repent and believe the Good News” (Mark 1. 15). On the day of Pentecost, Peter told people to “Repent and be baptised…” Paul mentions baptism in Col 2. 12 and says in Rom 1. 16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”
Three simple, practical responses:
- Repent, which literally means change your mind. Turn around, walk in the opposite direction, as you decide to put God in charge of your life.
- Believe, the Good News. Trust that these three big statements are true: they may not be verifiable apart from a step of faith, but that doesn’t mean they’re not true.
- be Baptised. Take action to bring that commitment out into the open. Do you have to be baptised to appropriate the new life in the Kingdom? Paul would answer “No!” Well, actually, he wouldn’t understand the question; he’d say “How else are you going to take action to “close the deal” with God?
Malcolm Duncan says the Gospel “is not a secret, hidden transaction agreed at night between ‘me’ and God. It is public, it is pervasive and it is transformative. It pulls me into community. It works at the very centre of my being and the very edge of my life. It leads me out to a broken and hungry world and leads me in to the God Who comes to dwell within me in resurrection, life giving, life releasing power… [it] is the only thing that can rescue us from our own ruin in this moment in our history and propel us into a better future.
So that is the Good News. If you’ve never responded to it, I invite you do do so today, And if you have, I invite you to become familiar with these truths so that you can comm8unicate them easily when called upon to do so.