Summary: Things sometimes look bad but Jesus coming brings the Kingdom of God near
By Rev Bill Stewart
On the 8 May 1945, Victory in Europe Day, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill broadcast to the nation that Germany had surrendered and that a final cease fire on all war fronts in Europe would come into effect at one minute past midnight that night. The Act of Military Surrender was signed on May 7 in France, and May 8 in Germany. In England the headline in the Daily Mail newspaper declared: "VE-Day—It's All Over." In London more than a million people celebrated in the streets. Winston Churchill appeared with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the balcony of Buckingham Palace before the cheering crowds.
I understand that in Australia we saved the biggest celebrations until 15 August 1945 when Prime Minister Ben Chifley announced the end of hostilities with Japan with the words: "Fellow citizens, the war is over." I know that there are people in this congregation who can remember VE- and VJ-Day. Some of you may even remember hearing those words. What it was like to finally hear those words, "Fellow citizens, the war is over"?
All of us have to imagine what it was like to have been there on that even more extraordinary day when "Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news'(Mark 1:14-15)."
1. "PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD"
What did people think Jesus meant when he said, "the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news"? What did Simon and Andrew and James and John expect when they followed him? The answer is almost certainly to be found in the words of the prophet Isaiah. In verse 7 of Isaiah chapter 52 we can find the first use of the word we translate as "good news" or in Old English "gospel." And what do you know? In the same sentence we find out that in Isaiah the good news is the coming of the kingdom of God:
"How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns'."
In this chapter of Isaiah God has just been speaking about how the people of Israel had been oppressed by the Egyptians and then by the Assyrians. Now God announces through Isaiah the good news that God is coming to save them:
"Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the LORD to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God." (vv. 8-10)
And what happened? God did come to take them home to the land he had promised them! The situation was not so different in Jesus' day. For most of the last 500 years the people of Israel had been under the domination of foreign kings: first the Persians, then the Greeks, and now the Romans. There had been a long, long time of waiting and anticipation. Now Jesus says that God's kingdom is just around the corner. And he begins telling the people to get ready: "repent, and believe in the good news.
2. "THE HOLY ONE OF GOD"
Jesus' message is followed by the call of the first disciples. This is not an accident. I think that is intended to show that to "repent and believe the good news" you have to follow Jesus. You can't accept the good news except by making a personal commitment to Jesus: "And Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, 'Follow me and I will make you fish for people.' And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him" (vv. 17-20). The point that chapter 1 of Mark's Gospel is making is not just that "the kingdom of God has come near", but that it has come near because Jesus the king has come near. What does the rest of the chapter tell us about? Does it tell us about the defeat of the Romans? No! It tells us about Jesus and what he did. And in the process it teaches that the coming of the kingdom of God will involve a different kind of victory.