Mark 1:14-15 “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
A key concept at the heart of Jesus’ preaching was the well-worn preacher’s call, “Repent!” It wasn’t a very new message, was it. When God came to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden after they ate the forbidden fruit, what was his message to them intended to do? He was calling them to repent. When you read the prophets that God sent to his Old Testament people, a common theme running through all 17 of them is the call to repentance. When John the Baptist came preaching and baptizing, how did the people know he was a prophet? Like those before him he preached repentance.
It doesn’t stop there. When Peter preached to the crowds on Pentecost day, what did he tell them to? “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you.” When Paul summarized his ministry to the Gentiles in his trial before King Agrippa, he told him, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God.” Every day, Jesus’ call to repentance is still directed to you and me.
So often people think of repentance in terms of changing behavior. The Bible itself calls for such “fruits” of repentance. But behavior has never been God’s first concern. In the New Testament’s Greek, the word “repent” is formed by combining the words “change” and “mind.” It is God’s call to change, not first of all your doing, but your thinking. Ultimately, it will change your very being. With the command to repent, God is saying, “Stop thinking about sin. Stop wanting what I have forbidden. Stop considering sin enjoyable. Stop thinking you must live for yourself. Stop harboring lustful, hateful, hurtful, resentful attitudes. Change your thinking!”
Have we? Have we changed our minds about sin? At times we have our behavior more or less under control. In our minds some of our past sinful behavior still sounds appealing. When someone has been awful to you, what is your immediate gut reaction? Smother them with love? Or are anger and resentment closer to the mark? Changing our minds about sin is a work in progress.
Sin isn’t the only thing Jesus calls us to see differently. “Believe the good news.” Every pious Jew in Jesus day was waiting for the time when God would keep his promise to send the Messiah to deliver God’s people. Now Jesus had good news. God had been faithful. Jesus is that Messiah with more good news to share.
“The kingdom of God is near.” God’s kingdom is not a place on earth. Jesus was not going to establish a political kingdom in Israel. God’s kingdom is spiritual. It is Jesus’ ruling activity in the hearts and lives of all who believe in him. Wherever Jesus is present with his word, there his kingdom is. This kingdom was was not coming soon. It was near because it was standing right in front of them. Jesus brought forgiveness and life to sinners, and all who believed his promise had the kingdom’s gates flung open wide. They entered as they believed.
Jesus still preaches “repent and believe the good news” as we begin the season of Lent. Do you see why it makes sense to follow Jesus closely through this season? Early Christians established Lent as a “penitential season.” Nothing changes our minds about sin like following Jesus through his suffering. Nothing stirs our hearts to faith like seeing his love at the cross, dying for our sins. The time has come. Listen to what our Savior says, see what he does, and you will find God’s Kingdom at the end of this pilgrimage. Its gates are open wide for you to enter.