Tonight are the Academy Awards, Hollywood’s annual celebration of itself. I’ve always liked movies so I will probably watch at least some of it. One of the things you sometimes hear at a key point in a movie is. “I’ve got good news and bad news.” This is true not only in movies but sometimes in churches. For example, I read the following good news and bad news for pastors:
Good News: You baptized seven people in the river.
Bad News: You lost two of them in the swift current.
Good News: The Women’s Guild voted to send you a get-well card.
Bad News: The vote passed 31-30.
February 26, 2012
Mark 1:9-15, The Good News of God
Doug Scalise, Brewster Baptist Church
Good News: The Elders accepted your job description the way you wrote it.
Bad News: They were so inspired by it they formed a search team to find someone capable of filling the position.
Good News: Your women’s softball team finally won a game.
Bad News: They beat your men’s softball team.
Good News: Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks.
Bad News: You were on vacation.
There are a lot of Christian preachers and teachers on television locally, nationally and on the web including those of us at BBC, and an interesting exercise is to turn off the volume and try to discern from the facial expressions and gestures you see what the speaker is talking about. With no sound do we look like we’re conveying bad news or good news? I will let you be the judge of that if you ever want to give it a try. In my experience, I don’t know if as many of us are coming across communicating good news as we might hope or as the gospel deserves. The message Christians have to share is good news. It is not bad, angry, or mad news. When Jesus began his ministry he began by preaching the good news of God. Listen to Mark 1:9-15, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As I was thinking about good news, I tried to think about some of the times in my life when I got good or even great news. I know I’ve been blessed to receive a lot of good news though out my life. The top three immediately that come to mind for me are Jill saying, “Yes,” when I asked her to marry me, and a doctor saying, twice, “You have a healthy baby boy.” Being invited to pastor two wonderful churches was good news. Other times come to mind about awards I’ve been blessed to receive at different points in my life, getting accepted into colleges and graduate schools. All of us, if we stop and think about it, can hopefully remember times when we heard good news.
I want you thinking about that because I want you to recall how you feel when you hear good news. I think when we hear good news there are some things that all people may share in common. There is excitement, relief, joy, exaltation, you can’t stop smiling, you may even shout or be stunned into silence, and sometimes there are tears. There is a profound sense of gratefulness, thanksgiving and even humility at our good fortune. Can you picture yourself experiencing that in response to good news?
In today’s gospel Mark says, “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Now if what Jesus is proclaiming and encouraging people to believe is not only “good news” but “the good news of God” (which just might be even better than many kinds of human good news), then if we understand the good news of God, we’d expect our response to it to be excitement, relief, joy, exaltation, smiling, you may even shout or be stunned into silence, and sometimes tears. There may be a profound sense of gratefulness, thanksgiving and even humility at our good fortune. Does that describe how you feel about Jesus and the news he shared?
If you were to read through Mark’s Gospel you would see that is how some people responded to Jesus and his message, while others either didn’t understand or get what Jesus is talking about which is very unfortunate. Some of those who heard the good news included Simon, Andrew, James, and John (Mark 1:17-20), a man with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:23-28), many who were sick with all kinds of diseases including leprosy or demon possessed came to Jesus and were healed, cured, or transformed. Mark 1:40-45 is a classic example of someone hearing and experiencing the good news of God in Jesus and being grateful, excited, and overjoyed. “40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44 saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.” Even though Jesus told him directly to “say nothing to anyone,” the man couldn’t keep the good news about what had happened to himself. When we have good news, we can’t wait to share it. It’s like shaking up a bottle of soda and then opening it, the soda sprays all over the place, we tend to do the same thing with good news, it is hard to contain it or keep it in.
On the other hand, it must have been tough for Jesus that some people didn’t grasp the good news he was trying to share and even opposed him, but it happened. In Mark 3:1-6, we see an example, “Again Jesus entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”
The good news of God that Jesus shared was seen as bad news by some people. That had to be tough for Jesus. Have you ever been in a situation where someone was trying to tell you good news and you misunderstood it or didn’t get the message? When I was a senior at Colby College I applied to a couple theological schools and was accepted. One night in March, I got back to my room after our evening baseball practice in the field house. My roommate said to me, “Some guy named Dean Beane or something called from BU and said it was important for you to call him back tonight. I told him you wouldn’t be back until late but he said it didn’t matter, you were to call.” I didn’t know what to think, maybe they were revoking my admission for some reason I couldn’t imagine at the moment. As my head raced with possibilities, most of which weren’t good, I called the phone number.
Dean Beane answered and I said, “This is Doug Scalise, from Colby College returning your call, sorry it’s so late.” He asked how I was doing and how school was and I said, “Everything is going well.” Then he said, “I called because Boston University School of Theology is offering you a Founder’s Merit Scholarship.” I had no idea what a Founder’s Merit Scholarship was or how much it was or anything because I hadn’t applied for any scholarships so all I said without much emotion was, “Oh, that’s nice, thank you.” Dean Beane, his voice quivering, said, “I don’t think you understand what that means. A Founder’s Merit Scholarship includes full tuition, housing, and a stipend to cover books and other expenses. It is the most prestigious and generous scholarship the school offers.” So I replied with a much more appropriate level of enthusiasm and gratitude, “Wow! That is fantastic. I had no idea; that is great, thank you very much for letting me know. I really appreciate it.” The Dean was sharing great news and initially I wasn’t present to hear the news, then I was fearful or hesitant to respond to the messenger, when all along it was the best possible news that would have a huge impact on my life and my entire future.
It seems to me that a similar thing happens for people when it comes to the good news Jesus proclaimed. Hearing the good news of God, if we hear the message and understand what it means for us, is great news that that has a huge impact on our life and our entire future. According to Mark, the content of Jesus’ preaching is very simple.
There is an Announcement – the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand.
There is an Appeal – Repent. Believe the good news.
“The time is fulfilled” has at least three levels of meaning. The coming of Jesus fulfills God’s plan. At that time, after John the Baptist was arrested, and in that place called Galilee, God stepped into human history in a unique and decisive way. Second, Mark connects the time of John’s arrest with the time when Jesus starts preaching the gospel. The time of John the prophet is over and the time of Jesus and fulfillment has come. Finally, Mark ties the turning point in time to the preaching of Jesus. When the good news of God is preached, it is decision time. The time is fulfilled.
In Mark when Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” he is saying the Kingdom of God is about to appear, which it does throughout the rest of the Gospel. Through the words and deeds of Jesus the power of God is displayed in a way that some people hear and understand and for other people they don’t hear or see it, and they don’t get it or even oppose it.
Jesus’ two part appeal is Repent. Believe in the good news. Repent is the same message John preached and repentance has two dimensions that change our lives for the better. To repent is to turn away from our sins and it is conversion and newness of life. The second deeper dimension is the primary meaning of “repent” in this verse. Jesus calls his hearers to turn around, to shift the direction of their lives, to look, listen, and give their full attention to the kingdom which is arriving.
The climax of the passage is “Believe in the good news.” What Jesus preaches is the gospel or the good news of God. James Bryan Smith writes in his book, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows that we all have ideas that we tell ourselves about God and how God works in our lives. Some are true—but many are false. Smith believes those thoughts determine not only who we are, but how we live. In fact, Smith declares, the most important thing about a person is what they think about God. The path to spiritual transformation begins here. He writes, “The most important thing about a person is what they think about God.” Jesus basically declares and demonstrates by his actions that God is love and God is good. He says believe the good news that the kingdom of God is arriving. Where Jesus is, there the rule, power, and Kingdom of God is at work. For hearers then and now, this truth is not self-evident. Many folks know the phrase, “seeing is believing.” In Mark’s Gospel, to be seen, the good news must be believed. Later on, Mark will share key stories about the relationship between seeing and believing, faith and sight. While Jesus is not present to us in a physical way as he was in Galilee, for us whenever we hear the gospel shared the Kingdom of God draws near to us. For us when we hear the good news, it is decision time. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God and we preach Jesus, but the essential dynamic is the same. The appropriate response is still the same: repent and believe the good news. Then having believed it we seek to be a blessing by sharing the good news with others
Responding to Jesus’ message to repent and believe the good news is kind of like what happens when we go to an airport. Flying back from Florida recently as I was checking in, going through security, walking through the terminal, there was a constant stream of announcements, “Flight 473 for LA is now boarding at Gate 16. Mr. Hernandez, your flight to New York has boarded and we’re getting ready to close the door, please report to Gate 5 immediately or you will miss your flight. JetBlue flight 359 departing from Gate 9 will begin boarding.” Anyone who has flown knows what I’m talking about. Some people never seem to hear any announcements and continue on their way. If the airline or destination isn’t ours, we immediately tune out the rest of the message. However, if we hear our destination, airline, or flight number, our ears perk up, we listen and pay attention, grab our carry on luggage and go to get on board.
That is what it’s like responding to Jesus. Some people don’t think the message is for them and they tune it out, others are preoccupied and don’t even notice. However, for some of us who are blessed to hear and recognize the message; we respond by saying to ourselves, “Good news! That’s my flight home. I’m getting on board and traveling with Jesus, wherever he leads me.”