Updated: Oct 29, 2021
This Lord’s Day we welcome to our pulpit the Rev. Jeph Guinan, Director of Alabama Church Planting Network. Jeph will bring the Word of the Lord to us from the Gospel of Mark 1:1-20. In this passage we learn of the true King who comes and calls his people to follow him.
Indeed, the first time we hear Jesus’ voice in Mark’s Gospel, he says ‘Repent and believe the good news!’ The word repent here means ‘to reverse course,’ or ‘to turn away from something.’ In the Bible it refers specifically to turning away from the things that Jesus hates to the things he loves. The word translated ‘good news’ or ‘gospel’ in Mark 1:15 means “news that brings joy.” ‘This word had currency when Mark used it, but it wasn’t religious currency,’ notes Tim Keller. He goes on to say that ‘it meant history-making, life-shaping news, as opposed to just daily news.’ He continues,
“For example, there is an ancient Roman inscription from about the same time as Jesus and Mark. It starts: “The beginning of the gospel of Caesar Augustus.” It’s the story of the birth and coronation of the Roman emperor. A gospel was news of some event that changed things in a meaningful way. It could be an ascension to the throne, or it could be a victory. When Greece was invaded by Persia and the Greeks won the great battles of Marathon and Solnus, they sent heralds (or evangelists) who proclaimed the good news to the cities: “We have fought for you, we have won, and now you’re no longer slaves; you’re free.” A gospel is an announcement of something that has happened in history, something that’s been done for you that changes your status forever.”
Christianity is good news of great joy. Whereas, all other religions say, ‘This is what you have to do in order to connect to God forever; this is how you have to live in order to earn your way to God.’ But the gospel says, ‘This is what has been done in history. This is how Jesus lived and died to earn the way to God for you.’ Christianity is joyful news.
Jesus immediately calls people to follow him saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’ (Mark 1:15). What is this good news of the Kingdom of God? In Genesis chapters 1-2, we see that we were created to live in a world in which all relationships were whole because God was the King. But Genesis 3 tells the next part of our story; that we have each chosen to be our own king. We have gone the way of self. And when we decide to be our own king, our own center, everything falls apart. The good news of the Kingdom of God is that the true King will come back to put everything right and renew the entire world. The good news of the Kingdom, Mark says is this: Jesus is that true King. Jesus is saying:
“Come, follow me. Follow me because I’m the King you’ve been looking for. Follow me because I have authority over everything, yet I have humbled myself for you. Because I died on the cross for you when you didn’t have the right beliefs or the right behavior. Because I have brought you good news. Because I’m your true love, your true life – follow me.”
Over 150 years ago George MacDonald wrote a children’s book called The Princess and the Goblin. Irene, the chief character, is eight years old. She has found an attic room in her house, and every so often her fairy grandmother appears there. When Irene goes to look for her she’s often not there, so one day her grandmother gives her a ring with a thread tied to it, leading to a little ball of thread. She explains that she’ll keep the ball.
‘But I can’t see it,’ says Irene.
‘No. The thread is too fine for you to see it. You can only feel it.’ With this reassurance, Irene tests the thread.
‘Now, listen,’ says the grandmother, ‘if ever you find yourself in any danger… you must take off your ring and put it under the pillow of your bed. Then you must lay your forefinger… upon the thread, and follow the thread wherever it leads you.’
‘Oh, how delightful! It will lead me to you, Grandmother, I know!’
‘Yes,’ said the grandmother, ‘but, remember, it may seem to you a very roundabout way indeed, and you must not doubt the thread. Of one thing you may be sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.’ A few days later Irene is in bed, and goblins get into the house. She hears them snarling out in the hallway, but she has the presence of mind to take off her ring and put it under the pillow. And she begins to feel the thread, knowing that it’s going to take her to her grandmother and to safety. But to her dismay, it takes her outside, and she realizes that it’s taking her right toward the cave of the goblins.
Inside the cave, the thread leads her up to a great heap of stones, a dead end. ‘The thought struck her, that at least she could follow the thread backwards, and thus get out…. But the instant she tried to feel it backwards, it vanished from her touch.’ The grandmother’s thread only worked forward, but forward it led into a heap of stones. Irene ‘burst into a wailing cry,’ but after crying she realizes that the only way to follow the thread is to tear down the wall of stones. She begins tearing it down, stone by stone. Though her fingers are soon bleeding, she pulls and pulls.
She suddenly hears a voice. It’s her friend Curdie, who has been trapped in the goblins’ cave! Curdie is astounded and asks, ‘Why, however did you come here?’
Irene replies that her grandmother sent her, ‘and I think I’ve found out why.’
After Irene has followed the thread and removed enough rocks to create an opening, Curdie starts to climb up out of the cave – but Irene keeps going deeper into the cave. Curdie objects; ‘Where are you going there? That’s not the way out. That’s where I couldn’t get out.’
‘I know that,’ says Irene. ‘But this is the way my thread goes, and I must follow it.’ And indeed the thread proves trustworthy, because her grandmother is trustworthy.
When Jesus called the disciples to ‘follow me.’ They had no idea where he was going. Nor do we. Jesus says, ‘Follow me. I’m going to take you on a journey and I don’t want you to turn to the left or to the right. I want you to put me first; I want you to keep trusting me; to stick with me, not turn back, not give up, turn to me in all the disappointments and injustices that will happen to you. I’m going to take you places that will make you say, ‘Why in the world are you taking me there?’ Even then, I want you to trust me.’
The path Jesus takes you on may look like it’s taking you to one dead end after another. Nevertheless, the thread does not work in reverse. If you just obey Jesus and follow it forward, it will do its work.
Come follow me. As a church each one of us, must hear this call and obey. Will we go boldly into this world declaring the good news of great joy?