What did Jesus preach? As an itinerant preacher, He went from town to town across Galilee to deliver a message in various public and private venues. “Let us go somewhere else to the nearby villages,” He told His disciples, “so that I can preach there also” (Mark 1:38). He even insisted that “that is why I have come” (v. 38), by which He indicated that itinerant preaching was His primary vocation. But what did He preach? While the canonical gospels preserve only a few of His sermons (e.g., Mark 4, 13; Matthew 5), Mark gives us a summary of the message the itinerant Jesus preached everywhere:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
— Mark 1:15
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. This statement suggests that freedom is no longer a dream; it’s finally here because God is here in the person of Jesus. Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, who has come to establish an eternal kingdom. As “time is fulfilled” doesn’t have in view a chronological reference (chronos), but a transhistorical one (kairos), Jesus’ freedom proclamation marks the beginning of the end of Caesar’s imperial rule and of all evil forces oppressing humanity. How in the world is that possible?
Repent. If you want to experience freedom, this is your imperative. But don’t let our contemporary usage of the term associated exclusively with feelings of remorse mislead you. That’s just the first step of repentance. In Hellenistic and Biblical literature, and in the way Jesus used it, repent means fundamentally “to turn” and has in view a change of course. To repent is to slam on the brakes from going your way and make a U-turn toward the way of God. There can be no freedom without repentance and no repentance without a radical turn to God. A change of course from human depravity to the “way of the Lord” is needed (1:2-3).
And believe in the gospel. Would you affirm that belief in the gospel is what makes someone a Christian? Would you also affirm that belief is not something that you do once and then forget about it? If you answer both questions in the affirmative, consider their implications for repentance. With both verbs stated as commands, repent and believe describe a lifestyle rather than a once and for all activity. Jesus calls His followers to repentance in the same way as to belief. Both are imperative to staying on the “way of the Lord.”
In what area of your life do you need a U-turn to the way of God? For the kingdom of God to be at hand in your life, repentance is your belief’s companion. Jesus said it best, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (8:34).
Repent and believe is what the itinerant Jesus preached, and it’s the way the kingdom of God can be at hand in your life.
Lord, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry, and I earnestly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your Name.
Ben Pascut, PhD
Ministry Director, CU Lux (Yale University)
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