Mark 1:14-15 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
I find I rather frequently quote this very succinct expression of Jesus’ message. Various things about it are worth noticing, the first being the timing. Jesus didn’t start His public ministry until John was arrested. I’m sure John wasn’t happy at being arrested, but maybe he would have been had he realized that event was clearing the deck for the ministry of the Lamb of God, whom he had already recognized. (John 1:29, 36) It is also significant that Jesus wasn’t going to steal any of John’s thunder, as the saying goes. John’s ministry was valid and important, and not even the Son of God was going to push him out of the way. The second thing that stands out to me is that the the good news is very simply that God’s kingdom is near, it has become accessible, but repentance is necessary to receive it. Far too often we try to leave repentance out of the picture, either for ourselves or for others. That simply doesn’t work. Repentance is necessary because it is the antidote for pride, which is the original sin. Thinking we don’t need God, or thinking we know better than He does, will positively keep us from His kingdom. That was exactly the sin of the Garden of Eden, when Eve was persuaded by the devil that she could decide something other than what God had said. (Genesis 3:4-6) Repentance is acknowledging we were wrong and then turning and doing something different. At the very least we have to repent of ignoring God in order to turn to Him to receive His salvation.
This is the message I preach, and how I wish it were more received! Japanese are very hardworking, to the point that one of the first Japanese expressions a foreigner will learn, living here, is gambaru (as an expression of resolve) or gambatte (as an admonition to someone else). There is no direct English equivalent, but the closest you could come would be “try hard,” or “do your best.” That national character makes the idea of salvation by grace through faith very suspect for the average Japanese. There is a proverb that says, “There’s nothing more expensive that what is free.” In other words, there will always be a price to pay, and the more hidden that price, the higher it will be in the long run. The problem for an evangelist in Japan is that countering that expectation can lead quickly to legalism, which is so counter to the Gospel that Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to refute it. As Jesus did, I need to express that following Him will cost you your life, but that the one you will receive in exchange is far better. (Matthew 16:24-25) Of course, our flesh doesn’t like to hear that! However, being upfront about it is far more likely to generate true disciples for Christ than any approach that soft-pedals repentance. I am to continue to insist that salvation is by grace through faith alone, but that receiving it calls for letting go of everything else. I can’t get that through to people in my own strength and wisdom, so I’ve got to trust and depend on the Holy Spirit to do it in people’s hearts and minds, perhaps even using me in the process.
Father, thank You for calling me back to basics. Thank You for the ideas You are giving us for reaching out to our neighbors. I pray that Your Spirit would indeed prepare their hearts for what You want to speak through us, so that they may indeed repent and believe, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!