Upon his return from the wilderness, and after John was arrested, Jesus began preaching this message:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15, ESV)
This is the announcement. This is what the Jews had been waiting for. This is the gospel.
The message Jesus preached was set in two functional parts: a announcement and an invitation. The pronouncement of Jesus here in Mark is about as basic as you can make it. The time is fulfilled. One of the things that aided the authority of Jesus was the fact that He did not enter into our world of politics as a detached or entirely original entity. He did not just pop up out of nowhere.
Matthew and Luke both make a great significance of his birth 30 years earlier, and John’s gospel takes his origin back to the very creation of the world. In this way, Jesus was not presenting something new, but something very old. Curiously, some of the criticism He faced was from those who did not believe His person, and thereby His message predates the thirty year lifespan of His body. So, prior to making any request, Jesus first announces that He is not only part of a long line of people involved in God’s work in our world… He declares that the timeline has reached fulfillment in Him.
Not only has the timeline reached a culmination point, but the physical presence of God’s Kingdom has arrived. We could not reach heaven, so heaven came down to us. Jesus describes it’s location as being “at hand” which means has come near. The ‘hand’ part of that translation makes me think that the Kingdom is something you can reach out and grab. While it may be true that there are handles that we can take ahold of ourselves, I think a better way of thinking may be that the Kingdom has come within diving distance – so jump in with both feet! You won’t be able to pull it around, but it will move you from the place your life is now to the new eternal life God has prepared for you. This is the announcement of the Kingdom of God.
Next comes the invitation. You’ve heard about the Kingdom… Here is how to get there. Repent and believe the gospel.
Repenting almost always involves turning around. Sometimes it literally means doing a 180 and facing the very things from which we run. Is there something you are continually avoiding that you suspect should be reconciled? You won’t get far into the Kingdom unless you face it. Other times it means turning just a few degrees to the left or right. When trying to put together a wooden shelf with screws, if they require a flathead standard screwdriver and I am holding a Phillips screwdriver, repenting does not mean throwing down the screwdriver and getting a hammer to pound the screws in. It means getting the right screwdriver for the job. If we are constantly trying to use the wrong tool for the job, simply because we like the tool or feel more comfortable with it, we will not get far in the Kingdom. Repentance always means turning, always means change, and always, always means submitting to God’s authority for our life instead of living by our own standards and preferences.
Then Jesus asks us to believe. This is where I think this is more than reaching out and grabbing. True belief involves investment. It involves putting your weight upon God’s promises and trusting that God will hold you up. It’s not knowledge or feeling – belief is an action. There will always be some parts of our lives that will remain invisible to all but God and ourselves, but if your ‘belief’ is entirely invisible, I would question how valuable and how real it is. If someone tells me they love their family, but I never meet them, they never show me pictures of them, and they never tell me stories about their life as a family…it makes me doubt the truth of their claim. If we believe the gospel and are part of God’s kingdom, there should be some kind of evidence of that in our lives that others witness. We are called to be witnesses of God, but those around us should be witnesses of our love for God and God’s love for us.
This is the gospel. This is the main thing. It was not the only thing. It was the first piece that needed to be set before any other ministry would be done. The teaching, healing, deliverances, and forgiveness extended all grew out of this first piece. All of those ministries and all of our ministries find their root in this gospel announcement and invitation when Jesus came to tell us the Kingdom had arrived and there was a place for us if we were willing to turn and join Him.