Lent1W

 


 

  pastor mei sum

Sermon of January 21st

The Kingdom of God Has Come Near –
Repent! Believe in the Good News!
Follow Me!    

Mark 1:14-20

 

Let us pray. Speak to us Lord, speak to us.
For we are listening. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen. 
 

In this day and age, we can receive news from multiple sources: bad news and good news, fake news and sometimes news that is truly bizarre. My question is: how do we decide which is which? How do we decide what is “good news”? What do we use to make that determination? For many people, “good news” makes you happy or brings you what you want. And for others, “good news” is that which validates you. But what is “good news” for some may not be for others. For example, a hike of minimum pay rate is very beneficial for some people but causes challenges for others.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus advised his audience to repent and to believe in the good news immediately after Jesus announced the arrival of the good news of God? Why did Jesus not say, “The kingdom of God has come near, relax and be happy”? Perhaps, the good news of God is not simply about making us happy and feeling good?

Last September, we studied the book of Isaiah. Through the prophet, God promised the coming of “Emanuel - God with us”. According to Isaiah, ‘Emmanuel’ is not necessarily a joyful event if we stand on the opposite side of God’s sovereignty. The paradox of the coming of God’s kingdom is this: On the one hand, it is a warning about the wrath of God coming near, on the other hand, it declares that punishment is not necessarily the end result of life. We are not reaching the point of no return;   yet, we are very close to it; therefore, Jesus’ proclamation is basically a calling to make up one’s mind.

So often, we understand the first part of today’s passage as a bridge that links us to the opening of Jesus’ ministry, namely, calling his disciples. However, although Jesus’ proclamation and calling his disciples are two separate events, together, they are carrying a message that stresses the necessity of repentance and the belief the good news of God.

In His proclamation: Jesus alerts his audience that an extremely important situation has taken place and no one should disregard it. The Sovereign God is here. The most appropriate action for us in order to avoid the wrath of the just Judge is not to fight against him but return and obey him. There is no way we will return to this all-powerful God unless we believe in Jesus’ announcement: “the reign of God has come near to makeover a world that is so damaged because of sin.” 

The world is so chaotic today and whether you believe or not, we are re-living “the age of Judges” in the Old Testament time: In those days, everyone did as he or she saw fit. Is this not similar to what we see today?” As long as we raise up the banner of “human rights”, we grant ourselves permission to do whatever we see fit. To the generations in the past, to the present generation and the generations to come, Jesus advises: “Repent and believe in the good news.” Here, Jesus is not giving a new message; instead, he is repeating what God had said to his people in the past: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near."1

The event of calling his disciples, as far as I am concerned, is not a separate entity but an explanation that clarifies what “Repent and believe in the good news” really means. By using the incident of calling his disciples, Jesus shows us what it is like to repent to God and believe in the good news. 

Jesus SAW these fishermen. As we mentioned last Sunday, there is a rich meaning beneath the word ‘saw’, it signifies God’s omniscience. These fishermen were working at their daily routine, earning their living through their profession. Casting nets is a sweat investment, you need to know where and when and how to cast your net. It is very much like what everyone does to secure their living. We invest a huge portion of our lives to make that happen and Jesus sees that. Like fishing, sometimes our decision brings good results but sometimes, the nets catch only weeds or something that we don’t want. Jesus sees that. Moreover, like fishing, no matter how much we want to be in charge of life, when we are under ‘the weather’, we can do nothing. Jesus sees that too.

The description of the calling of another two brothers, James and John, who were also fishermen, is slightly different. Again, Jesus SAW them. Instead of casting nets, these brothers were mending nets in their boats. No matter how strong the materials are, nets cannot last forever. They wear out easily and the fishermen need to repair them again and again. Eventually, the nets become dysfunctional and cannot be used anymore and Jesus sees that. Fishing only an analogy to help us realize that all that we do in life is casting our nets and mending our nets.

To Andrew and Peter, Jesus offers a proposal, “How about you letting go of your tools, your method, and your way of coping but follow mine?” On top of this proposal, Jesus guarantees these brothers never the same result: “I will make you fish for people”. What Jesus means here is that only if Andrew and Peter believe in his word and follow him, will the result of their labour be extraordinary and beyond the world’s comprehension.

And if nets represents tools, methods, or coping skills that sustain our lives and help us to survive; then, what does Zebedee, the father of these two brothers signify in this story? I suppose it is about our traditions, our ethical and spiritual values, and maybe it is also about our family baggage; these things are tightly attached to us and influence us. They may be our treasure and valuable; however, they are not necessarily good for us. And as far as Jesus is concerned, these things benefit our lives only if they ally with God’s standard. When Jesus invited these two brothers to ‘follow him’, the response from these brothers is not only to leave behind their broken nets but also their father who represents what they used to hold dear, rely on or be influenced by. In both cases, the responses are immediate because it is a matter of life and death.

What motives these brothers to make such a serious and risk-taking decision? I believe that it is the discontent of their lives. They were so tired, and they didn’t see that any good news may come to them in a very near future. They decided to take the risk, they wanted to find out whether there is a better way to live. Jesus saw that.

Some bible stories like what we heard from the book of Jonah today gives us an impression that God is an angry God, and as long as people disobey Him, he will overthrow their lives. But this is not actually what the Holy Scripture tells us or what God tells us about Godself.

Always, what comes before destruction or punishment is a warning. Many of you are parents, you know what that means. Your ultimate goal is not to punish or to destroy but to correct and to build up. What makes people willing to listen and to change is that when they see a hopeful future, that this is what the good news of God about.

What makes good news good news is that it offers hope that it is not merely a hope but a promise that leads us to a life-giving ending. Nobody will follow Jesus if they do not first realize what they used to have is insufficient and leading them nowhere.

Many people have decided not to follow Jesus because the journey is not that compelling – who will want to be tortured, killed, and be buried? But these people miss the most important point – which is no matter if you are a follower of Christ Jesus or not, no one can escape from being tortured, killed, and buried. Because of sin, we all live under the power of death and evil. We are lucky if we are buried, we know that many who died in wars and in tragedies do not even have a tomb.

But life shouldn’t end like this, and this is why Jesus insists to call the news that the world may not consider to be “good” good news. The good news of God is that through the power of the Holy Spirit and in Christ Jesus, we have a different ending – an extraordinary ending – our destiny is to be resurrected like our Lord and to live forever with our Creator God.

Jesus’ “Follow Me” invitation address not only the twelve, or people that lived in the past. He says to you and me this morning, “I see you, and I know that you have been trying very hard. Believe in the good news of God; leave behind your methods, your coping skills, and your way of life; leave behind your baggage, your burdens, because they cannot set you free and they cannot lead you to true happiness and life eternal. Therefore, follow Me!” 

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1 Isaiah 55:6

 

 

©2018, Pastor Mei Sum Lai, MDiv. Please do not reproduce this article in whole or in part, in any form, without obtaining the written permission of the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Updated: February 2nd, 2018