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God’s Word for You

Mark 1:14-15 Repent and believe

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, July 3, 2021

“Come, Follow Me”
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. 15 “The time is fulfilled,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

John was put into prison by Herod Antipas. The story is the story of a selfish ruler with few morals and an ambitious woman with no morals at all. While Antipas was a guest in the home of his brother Philip and his wife Herodias, he persuaded his brother’s wife to abandon her husband and marry him. Although the story is quite a soap opera and gets even more convoluted, this was the basic issue of adultery to which John the Baptist objected and about which he had urged Antipas to repent. Instead, Antipas arrested John and imprisoned him in the fortress called “The Sword” (Machaerus). This fort occupied a prominent hilltop on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. John remained imprisoned there for two years, most of Jesus’ early and middle ministry (he was executed in the winter of 29 AD). The Romans tore the 150-year old fortress down to its foundations during their conquest and subjugation of Judea in 72 AD.

Mark associates Jesus’ words here with the time of John’s imprisonment, but we should be willing to separate verse 14 from what came before in this chapter. Mark’s turn of phrase, “After John was put in prison…,” sets this account apart from the preceding context. We are fairly certain that Jesus was tempted in the late summer or early fall, but that John was imprisoned in the following spring. In fact, all of the material recorded in John 2:1-4:42 takes place between Mark 1:13 and 1:14. Therefore about seven or eight months had passed since the Lord’s temptation. The expression “went to Galilee” gives evidence to Jesus having spent time in Jerusalem with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21) and Samaria (John 4:5-42) before returning to Galilee. We will see later on that these verses took place on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee in the fishing village of Capernaum. It was there in his adopted home town (Nazareth had already rejected him) that Jesus began to call men to be his followers.

Verse 15 presents the first words spoken by Jesus in Mark. I wonder whether the first words Jesus speaks in each Gospel have a special significance to the author’s text; perhaps not exactly a theme, but an underlying thought we do well to remember. In the first Gospel, Jesus says: “Let it be so now, because it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). An underlying theme of Matthew’s Gospel is that the Messiah fulfilled all of the requirements of the Old Testament law; including all righteousness.

The third Gospel shows young Jesus saying, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be taking care of my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). These words are a contrast to Mary’s rebuke that he had worried “your father and I” (vs 48), but Jesus points out that while he is obedient to them, he also has a Father in heaven and must be obedient to him as well. This illustrates the doctrine that Christ is both true God and true man.

In John, the Lord says to a couple of followers: “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38; the NIV’s “What do you want?” is another way of understanding the verb “seeking” ζητεῖτε). This question sets the stage for John’s conclusion at the end of the book: “These words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). If this is what you are looking for, that is, forgiveness and eternal life in heaven, this is what you will truly find here as a gift from God.

Here in Mark, the Lord’s first words are: “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Throughout the Gospel, the coming of the kingdom, faith, and repentance are in the forefront. Even Mark’s account of the crucifixion, brief as it is, shows faith stirring in the heart of the Roman centurion who says, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).

To anyone concerned about their sins, these words of Jesus outline the entire doctrine of repentance and the relationship of the Bible’s two great teachings to repentance on the heart. First, the law convicts us and terrifies us with the judgment of being banished forever to hell for suffering and torture alongside the devil and his condemned angels. So when Jesus says, “The kingdom of God has come near!” he is really talking about God gathering his people into the group of believers that is the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints (believers). But to someone who is troubled over a sin, “the kingdom of God” is also a reminder of judgment day and what will happen to those who are outside the communion of saints. But Jesus offers the way out of hell’s path, the way to heaven, which is the gospel of forgiveness and life. He says, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” This is the hand reaching out to the drowning man; it is the way of salvation. When we set aside our human opinions, our sinful rebellion, our stubborn resistance, and let ourselves be lifted up by Jesus, we are saved. So repentance consists only in two things: fear and faith. Fear is the recognition that my sins have done damage to my relationship with God and they have cost me dearly, so that I stand condemned and certain of hellfire, but faith is the hand of God reaching out to my hand, grasping me the way a father grasps the hand of his child, and faith receives all of the benefits and blessings of God because I trust in Jesus. In modern terms, faith is the I.V. tube that the nurse inserts into my arm so that the benefits of the medicine go where they’re supposed to go.

Believe in the gospel. Believe in Jesus. This is salvation in its simplest words, and it’s yours.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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