Mark 1:14-15 –Jesus Begins His Ministry
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15 ESV
This reference to John being arrested I will speculate is being used as a dating tool in this passage. I won’t dwell on the reason for John’s arrest now. I plan to get to that later. I want to talk about Jesus proclaiming the gospel of God, the good news of God. These are the first recorded words of Jesus in Mark, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.” There appears to be no record of converts before the calling of the disciples. I don’t know if Jesus had his own evangelistic services or not. But certainly counted among his converts are the disciples.
The command of Jesus to repent and believe holds some special significance for me today. I have been touring links from Jeri Massi’s blog concerning the horrible sins of Jack Hyles and his cronies. Robert Sumner in The Biblical Evangelist has a thorough expose with letters from Jack Hyles attempting to defend the allegations. The renowned Rick Meisel of Rapidnet fame document some troubling first-person accounts of the devastation Jack Hyles and his teachings have caused many familes. What struck me about Rick Meisel’s analysis of the situation is the observation that it was Dr. John R. Rice who pioneered the “easy believism” phenomena that began afflicting the fundamentalist movement. The easy believism de-emphasizes repentance at the expense of claiming “converts.” These “converts” have never truly faced their own sin issue to effect true repentance.
But here’s Jesus’s two-part sermon: repent and believe. Repent–acknowledge and turn away from sin. Believe– hmmmm….interesting, what were they to believe at this point? On this side of the cross, we say, “believe that Jesus Christ shed his blood for your sins.” But this is Jesus preaching before his atoning work on the cross. The mechanism for salvation in this time was much the same as it is now. The pre-crucifixion believers looked forward to the cross while we look backwards to the cross. The Old Testament saints understood perfectly that Jesus Christ would come. “Believe” is “faith in God.” John MacArthur answers the question this way:
Now, the means for salvation has always been the same: Faith. And, at any given point in the unfolding revelation of the Word of God, salvation came through faith, believing God. Abraham believed God. It was counted him for righteousness. What did he believe? He believed as much as God had revealed. And, God had revealed even by that time that he was sinner and that the only savior was God, and that God would pay the penalty for his sin. Now, he didn’t understand all there was to know about Jesus Christ, but he understood enough to know that he was a sinner and needed a savior and God would provide a savior. That is why it says in Hebrews 12, that Moses could foresee Christ, even Moses.
Jesus is calling all to repent and believe. This is a command. If it is a command then all are able to obey this command. Spurgeon explains it this way in his sermon on July 13, 1862:
For this is the difficulty with many awakened sinners: may I believe? Have I a right to believe? Am I permitted to trust Christ? Now this question is put aside, once for all, and should never irritate a broken heart again. You are commanded by God to do it, therefore you may do it. Every creature under heaven is commanded to believe in the Lord Jesus, and bow the knee at his name; every creature, wherever the gospel comes, wherever the truth is preached, is commanded there and then to believe the gospel; and it is put in that shape, I say, least any conscience-stricken sinner should question whether he may do it. Surely, you may do what God commands you to do. You may know this in the devil’s teeth—”I may do it; I am bidden to do it by him who hath authority, and I am threatened if I do not with eternal damnation from his presence, for ‘he that believeth not shall be damned.'”
Although this may present a problem for the Calvinists, this passage is clear that we are commanded to believe. Does God command something that he doesn’t put in our heart to do? Would he say, “repent” but at the very same time harden someone’s heart so that they could not believe? Fortunately these matters are in God’s hand and he is the righteous judge. I just have to believe that if someone is approached with the opportunity, wants to believe, that they will be enabled by God to believe.