‘What child is This?’ Last week we saw Matthew’s answer, that Jesus came to bring new creation and to show Himself to be the true Israel and the true Adam. Today we turn our attention to the gospel of Mark to see Mark’s answer and when we do we find that Mark gives us not so much a summary of what Jesus came to be, but a summary of what Jesus came to say. So ‘What Child is This?’ According to Mark Jesus came to say, “Repent and believe in the gospel.”
He had come up from the wilderness of His temptation and testing faithful, obedient, and fully prepared for His ministry, tempted in all ways we are yet without sin. John the Baptist had been arrested, and when Jesus came into Galilee Mark 1:15 records the message He preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Since this is the sum and substance of the message Jesus Christ came to preach, let us therefore, give the sum and substance of our energy and effort to understand it, heed it, conform to it, and delight in it.
First, this is an Authoritative Command
When He says, “Repent and believe in the gospel” He isn’t suggesting, He is commanding. “Repent” is as much a command as “You shall not murder” and “Believe in the gospel” is as much a command as “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Jesus didn’t come to present the world with another option of spirituality. No. The same God who thundered and shook Mt. Sinai, the same God who will sound the trumpet from the heavens at the end of all things, is now commanding the whole world to “Repent and believe.”
I am aware that the words ‘command’ and ‘authority’ sound jarring, severe, abrasive, and harsh to the modern ear. But one of the glorious things about the Bible is that, unlike ourselves, it’s not subject to any generation’s cultural anathemas. We are modern people, and we may truly feel that authority and those who have it are inherently suspect because authority has so often been abused. So naturally when Jesus comes into our modern sight many see a skewed view of Him thinking that He is little more than a soft-spoken, lovey-dovey, Galilean hippie who preached a message of grace and love. We have a need to be corrected. When we come to the Jesus of the Bible we do not find a Jesus who is safe, but a Jesus who is untamable. One who has all authority in heaven and earth! One who’s very words calm stormy seas and raise the dead to life! The remedy to our modern authority complex is not to rid the world of all authority or even rob God of His authority, but to see authority rightly wielded. When we come to the Jesus of the Bible this is exactly what we see. And once we see and understand what He demands of us, we will not find Him to be severe, we’ll find Him to be sweet.
So wherever the gospel is preached, wherever the gospel goes, whether it’s to 10 people or 10,000 people, every creature under heaven is commanded to turn from sin and turn in faith toward the Lord Jesus. Church, hear the sweet severity of Jesus. Let it jar you, let it bother you, feel the abrasiveness of His command, only let it jar and bother you out of your modern sensibilities and lead you to obey this command and not run from it. Humble yourself now, or God will humble you later. This is an authoritative command.
Second, this is a Two-Fold Command
When Jesus said “Repent and believe in the gospel” he gave us a two-fold command. But upon hearing this two-fold command people of various dispositions and personalities run off in two equally unhelpful directions. On the one hand we find people spreading a message centered on repentance, and on the other hand we find people spreading a message centered on faith. The former will cry out all day long at sinners to repent from their sins and speak boldly of the judgment to come, while the latter will cry out all day long to sinners promising that all sorts of wonderful things will flow forth into the soul of man from believing. The former can seem somewhat threatening and overly pessimistic, while the latter can seem somewhat shallow and overly optimistic. The former try to harden the gospel by avoiding the reality of belief, while the latter try to soften the gospel by avoiding the reality of repentance. Both of these directions are equally unhelpful because they ignore each other. Jesus did not come to only say ‘Repent!’, and He did not come to only say ‘Believe!’ He came with a two-fold command, “Repent and believe.”
This two-fold command explains itself: to repent means to turn from sin and to believe means to turn toward Jesus in faith.
In order to repent we must know what we’re repenting of, so we must have a true knowledge of our sin. Knowing our sin will lead to a hatred of the sinfulness of our sin, a grief over that sin, and a painful awareness or gripping conviction that our sin has offended a holy God who will one day punish sin wherever it is found. But we must not only know our sin, we must also know that when we turn away from sin we’ll find a God who is as willing and eager to receive us back into His arms as the prodigal son’s father was to receive his son back into his.
A true knowledge of sin, a true knowledge of God’s mercy in Christ does one thing: it creates a desire to run after new obedience. This is a change in purpose, a change in direction, and a change in living. We do not turn towards better behavior or better actions first. No, we turn away from sin and toward Jesus Christ and the evidence that we’ve done this will be seen in that we now endeavor to obey Jesus. Many have said throughout the past few decades that one can come to Jesus as Savior without coming to Him as Lord, meaning that one can truly be saved and still be living in sin. This is deceitful, and is really a false idea of the nature of repentance. To repent is to turn towards Christ after you’ve turned away from sin. You cannot have Christ and your sin too. This is not to say that Christians are perfect people, heavens no. But this is to say that the bent of the heart changes after turning to Christ. Though we will struggle with sin and our remaining corruption for the rest of our lives, after turning away from sin we’ll no longer practice sin as a lifestyle, and we won’t be able to sin with our whole hearts. If we haven’t turned from sin, we haven’t turned toward Christ. Sin cannot be our companion if Jesus is to be our Friend. We must turn away. This is the kind of repentance Jesus came to call us to.
In order to believe, or to have faith in Christ, rather than growing still we must turn once again after we have turned away from sin. This second turn is toward Jesus with a deep and earnest trust. This is not an ordinary trust like the kind of trust we have in a chair to hold us up; it’s a trust that clings. Similar to the kind of trust you would have in a parachute during a skydive. When the moment to pull it comes you cling to it knowing it’s the only thing keeping you from an unhappy collision with the ground. So too, Jesus is the only Person who can keep us from a dreadful collision with the wrath of God at the final day. To believe means to cling to Jesus.
Second of all, in order to have faith in Christ, we must look to Christ and not ourselves. This may sound so simple that it’s not even worth mentioning, but there’s a trap many of us easily fall into here. The heart of man can grow so proud that when it comes down to it we’re really trusting in ourselves and in our abilities or gifting even though we say we’re trusting in Christ. This kind of false faith can happen if we do not consistently remind ourselves of the difference between God and us. You see, when you compare yourself horizontally with other men, you may really seem to be quite a good guy or a nice woman. Perhaps other people have even noticed a difference between you and the rest of the people around you and have praised you for being so virtuous. Perhaps you’ve even started to believe such praise, that you really are better than others. To have such an attitude of the heart while professing to be a Christian is as absurd as believing yourself to be a car just because you’re standing in a garage.
A true faith embraces the honest truth about who we really are while at the same time embracing the honest truth about who Jesus really is. A true faith embraces that Jesus is the only Person who can save us from the wrath to come because while our own works are only sufficient to condemn us Jesus’ work is fully sufficient to save us. It’s His work on our behalf that we’re trusting in to save us. This faith, in the full and final work of Christ for sinners like us, is the kind of faith Jesus came to call us to. We must not only receive it, we must rest in it.
So wherever the gospel is preached the core of the message must proclaim this two-fold message that Jesus came to say.
Third, this is a Sensible Command
Some people, perhaps even some of you, think it is entirely inappropriate for Jesus (and anyone else for that matter) to call someone else to ‘repent and believe.’ Because by doing so Jesus would be stating that the one being called to repent and believe is currently living and believing wrongly. This, they say, is the height of arrogance. When Jesus says someone else is doing religion wrong He is thought to be narrow-minded, unreasonable, and intolerant. But I think all men would betray themselves if they got punched in the face. Think of it like this: let’s say you and I were talking about current events around the world and because of something you said I grew angry and out of my anger I then punched you in the face. How would you feel? You can bet that you won’t be feeling warm fuzzy inside! 100% of you would become angry in response. And before ever letting me back into your good graces wouldn’t you demand an apology from me? Not only so, wouldn’t you only be satisfied with a sincere apology? One where I fully and clearly acknowledged the error of my ways, understanding how deeply I hurt you, and recognizing the need to make up for it anyway I can? Wouldn’t you require this of me? Of course you would! You wouldn’t be satisfied with a surface level apology, you’d want me to have genuine sorrow over what I had done to you. All men, without exception, would react this way. And because all men would react this way, it shows what we really believe, and since believe this way why do we then reject the same reality when it’s applied to God’s dealings with man and say it’s arrogant for Jesus to call us to ‘repent and believe?’ Charles Spurgeon once urged this point and said, “Do you expect to be saved while you’re in your sins? Are you to be allowed to love your iniquities, and yet to go to heaven? What, you think to have poison in your veins, and yet be healthy? Be stained, and yet be thought spotless? Harbor the disease the yet be in health? Ridiculous!”
Though many today say the gospel call to repent and believe is against or contrary to reason. I say it is above reason, and if we we’re reasonable people we would repent and believe in the gospel. If anything is unreasonable it’s the false belief of thinking that we can have our sins and the Savior at the same time, or the false belief that we can believe whatever we want to about God and make it out ok in the end. No, the command to repent and believe the gospel is a sensible command, and all men know it.
Fourth, this is an Urgent Command
In C.S. Lewis’ book The Srewtape Letters the demon Screwtape is instructing his nephew Wormwood about how to deceive men. Halfway through the book Screwtape says this, “The great thing is to prevent man from doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about repentance and faith. Let him wallow in it, let him think about writing a book about it…let him do anything but act…The more often he feels without acting, the less he will ever be able to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.”
Do not be tricked. One of the greatest deceptions the devil has ever done is not keeping us from repenting and believing in the gospel, but tricking us into believing we can repent and believe in the gospel tomorrow, tricking us into believing we have time to do it later. The best of intentions to come to Christ, whether for the first time or 500th time, are only intentions if they are not put to action. As the frog slowly and comfortably boils to death in a pot of warming water, so too, modern man reclines in the water of worldliness unaware that he too is submerged and slowly warming to death in sin.
Perhaps we sit so comfortably in the church during sermons that call us to repent and believe in the gospel because we’ve become numb to the things of God. We don’t tremble when we approach the throne, we don’t fear the God we’re coming before even though He is a consuming fire in His holiness. We are far too casual.
Do not be tricked, give up your intentions, and put yourselves to action, not tomorrow, not January 1st, put yourselves to action today! Today is the day of salvation, today is the day of reformation! Today is the day of praise! Today is the day of prayer! Today is the day of evangelization! The command to repent and believe in the gospel is an urgent command.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Since this is the sum and substance of the message Jesus Christ came to preach, let us therefore, give the sum and substance of our energy and effort to understand it, heed it, conform to it, and delight in it.
‘What Child is This?’ Mark’s answer is crystal clear: Jesus came to say, “Repent and believe in the gospel.”