This is the second message in the series, "Living by the Commands of Jesus." Original date: January 13, 2008
Last week we began a series of messages asking the question, “What does Jesus call us as His people to do?” Remember that whatever He commands is for our joy, not a new rule or law to live by, something to make life harder. No—what He commands is always for our joy, and it makes life better and richer and fuller. Well, we saw that He gave us a very clear blueprint for life in the Great Commission passage, Matthew 28:18-20:
18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Especially these words:
…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…
I love doctrine, good sound teaching. We call sound teaching “orthodoxy” which means “straight teaching.” “Ortho” is the Greek word for “straight”, so an orthodontist works to give us straight teeth.
But there’s another “ortho” word: orthopraxis. It means “straight practice” or “straight living. Jesus wants us to have “straight teaching”, but even more so He wants us to enter into “straight living.” He wants us to obey everything He commanded us.
I told you last week the story of missionary George Patterson working in Honduras in the 1960s and 70s, and how they taught church leaders to focus on the seven basic commands of Jesus. They asked converts to memorize a list of seven of Christ’s basic commands:
1. Repent and believe: Mark 1:15
2. Be baptized (and continue in the new life it initiates): Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1-11
3. Love God and neighbor in a practical way: Matthew 22:37-40
4. Celebrate the Lord’s Supper: Luke 22:17-20
5. Pray: Matthew 6:5-15
6. Give: Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 6:38
7. Disciple others: Matthew 28:18-20
That’s the outline we’re going to follow as we focus on obeying Jesus’ commands. The first one is
Repent and believe—Mark 1:15
Now let’s also try to memorize this list, one at a time each week. So let’s repeat that word for word:
Number One: Repent and believe—Mark 1:15
Very good! Let’s look at that passage, in context, starting in Mark 1:14-20:
14After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15"The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"
16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 18At once they left their nets and followed him.
19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
The first basic command of Jesus is “repent and believe.” This is the same as His command to Nicodemus in John 3:7: “You must be born again.” Conversion, salvation, new birth, “repent and believe”—they all refer to the same thing. It refers to when we realize that we are spiritually broken and we put our trust in Jesus and only Jesus as the one who can fix us.
When I was in college, I met my friend Jeff Taylor. Within a day or two of the beginning of school we’d met and discovered how much we had in common. We were both believers. We’d been raised less than thirty miles from other. We had the same taste in music, movies and books. We joked about having one brain between the two of us, the kind of connection where one of us could start a sentence and the other would finish it. We went through student teaching together, went to Europe together and he ended up being our best man at our wedding. In college, wherever Glenn was, Jeff was bound to show up as well.
Well, we have a pair that always seem to keep company in the Bible as well. It’s interesting how these terms “repent” and “believe” appear together. Where one is, the other is bound to show up. And even when the word isn’t there, the idea is.
That’s how “repent” and believe” is in the Bible: two inseparable friends. Let’s look at what “repent” and “believe” mean.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for repent is nacham, which means to feel deeply sorry for wrong deeds. In the New Testament, the word is metanoia. We get that word by putting together two words—the one for change (meta) and the one for thinking (noeo). So “repent” means to “change your thinking” about your life and the direction your life is going. In the Bible, the call to repent is the calling to change the way you look at life as well as to change what you’re doing with your life. It’s a call to change from NOT having God and His ways at the center to turn to Him and to make Him your chief joy and the center of your life.
That leads us right to “believe.” If I turn from something (that is, me living my life as I please) to something, what is it that I turn to? I turn to God, I put my trust in Him, and I live in such a way that He takes up the central, controlling place in my life.
Let’s look at it this way. You can compare the whole business of “repent and believe” to a heart transplant. I looked up some facts on heart transplants. The very first heart transplant was done by Dr. Christian Barnard in 1967 in South Africa. Today over 2,000 heart transplants are done in the US every heart, and about 3,000 elsewhere around the world. Over 80% of transplant recipients live longer than a year, and there are thousands of people who have lived for many years with a transplanted heart.
Every transplant starts with the realization that the old heart isn’t working the way it should. Irregular heartbeat, poor valve performance, shortness of breath, weakness and chronic fatigue are evidence that the heart isn’t working right.
There’s also evidence that there’s problems with our spiritual heart. The number one evidence that there’s something wrong with our spiritual problem is lack of love. How do we know that? Well, Jesus commanded us (it’s number three on our list) to love God with our whole selves and to love people as we love ourselves. If it’s His #1 command as far as living goes, it must be our #1 problem when we don’t know Him.
The old heart doesn’t love God and has an awfully hard time loving people. Dr. Jesus puts His holy stethoscope on our chest and says, “It’s too sick—it has to go! Living on this heart isn’t living at all. We need to replace it.”
The problem with our spiritual heart is huge, and it’s won’t change through minor treatments. Sometimes when we’re sick, we can try this medication or that treatment, but our spiritual heart is not just a little sick—it’s “desperately sick.”
Jeremiah 17:9 says
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? (NASB)
So this is Jesus’ strong medicine: “You must be born again… you must repent and believe…you need a new heart.”
Jesus never said, “You must join my church. You must adopt my customs. You must learn my traditions. You need a new religion.” He knows that that’s like giving an aspirin to someone with a dying heart. It’s just not enough. And it’s dangerous to think that that’s enough.
He says instead, “Repent and believe.” When a new heart has been transplanted, it takes over doing what the old heart should have been doing. Oxygen goes out through the blood vessels to bring strength to the whole body. Carbon dioxide is scrubbed from the blood. The power of that new heart changes everything.
That’s the promise found in Ezekiel 36:26, where God says:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
The “repent” part is when the heart of stone is taken out; the “believe” part is when God puts in a new living heart.
Let’s think more about the second half of this command: believe. It should be really clear by now that Jesus isn’t just calling on people to just believe that certain things are true. Remember that He first said these words to a Jewish audience who believed in God, who believed that God has spoken through the Scriptures, and who believed that God had a plan for Israel: the coming of the Messiah.
When Jesus uses the word “believe” here, it’s clear that He has in mind, “Trust with all of your being.” The Greek word for believe is pisteuo which means to be convinced, to put confidence in, to trust. It means both that we believe that certain things are true, and that we are convinced that we can trust the One who made the promises.
Go back to Mark 1:15. There He says,
"The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"
What’s the good news? That the Kingdom of God is near! That the time has come!
So—what’s the Kingdom of God—and what time has come?
In the New Testament, the Kingdom of God is God’s present and future rule through His Son, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus says, “The time has come” because Jesus was bringing God’s rule into the world in a new way in His life and mission.
The kingdom of God isn’t an earthly kingdom. Remember when Pilate asked Jesus if He was a king? It’s in John 18:36 Jesus says that He is a king, but He also says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” His kingdom is wherever He is loved and obeyed. So His kingdom is right here, right now.
And at the same time, His kingdom isn’t all here yet. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done…” (Matthew 6:10). So in another sense, the Kingdom isn’t here yet, and won’t all be here until Jesus returns to this world.
This is the Good News that Jesus commands us to believe: God’s presence and kingly reign was breaking into our world through the presence of Jesus. He is our King. He’s so wonderful, so powerful and so compelling that we drop everything and follow Him, just like those first disciples there on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. We believe what He says and more important, we believe Him. And when we do, He gives us a new heart—the kind that loves God and loves people. Our sins are forgiven. He paid the price for our sins when He died on the cross.
Maybe you remember the story from last fall about a woman who went missing and the relentless faith her husband had that she hadn’t just run off.
Tanya Rider, 33 of Maple Valley, Washington, was found September 27, eight days after she went missing. Her car had gone off the road into a ravine, covered by brush. Her husband Tom reported her missing, but was told by police that they thought she’d run away. Tom wouldn’t take that for an answer. He pressed police to start a search.
Tanya's car had tumbled about 20 feet down the ravine and lay buried below heavy brush and blackberry bushes. Rescuers had to slice the roof off to get her out.
Tom Rider said he had been just sitting down to take a polygraph test at the King County sheriff's office so officers could exclude him as a suspect in his wife's disappearance, when officers told him the car had been found. They used her cell phone signal to track her to the ravine.
Tom Rider should get some kind of reward as the man who wouldn’t give up. He explained that he knew that Tanya wouldn’t just run away, and he was convinced that she was in some kind of trouble.
You might say, he had faith in her. He knew what she was like, and running away just wasn’t her. But maybe more important was the faith that she had faith in him. Tanya was certain that Tom wouldn’t give up.
In the same way, Jesus saw us in the ravine, and He wouldn’t give up on us. At great cost and misunderstanding, and at personal risk, He came for us. And now he says to us, “I know you’re broken, banged up and near dead. Just put your trust in Me and I’ll get you out of here.” That’s the simplicity of faith: He is our rescuer. That’s what Savior means: He rescues us.
And now He says to us, “Repent, and believe the Good News. I’ve come for you. It’s going to be all right. Let's get you ought of here.”God is good! That's Jesus alright--the one who goes into the ravine to find us. The one who will not give up.