Intro: Have you ever found yourself in a situation where it felt like you were in over your head? I think that Covid has done that to a lot of us as we find ourselves doing things that we have never done before. For me, most of my working life consisted of hanging out with people in Bible studies, meetings, and coffee shops and all that came to a crashing end in the middle of March. Instead, I had to figure out how to do ministry over Zoom and how to create an online worship service, things which I had no idea how to do.
But this is how life is. Life does not wait until we are fully prepared before it sends us a wonderful opportunity or an overwhelming challenge. Those things usually come our way when we least expect them and they don’t give us a choice about whether they happen or not.
But here is something that I am learning. Each challenge contains within it the seed of a new opportunity. And when we can figure out what that opportunity is, we can use the challenge to propel us forward into new and better things that we never thought possible before. It is kind of like jiu jitsu, where you redirect your opponent’s energy and use it against them to defeat them instead of confronting them directly.
So now is a great time for us to begin a new series that we are calling Back to Basics, in which we will be looking at the words of Jesus to see what He says about the basics of life with Him. I think that this is the perfect time for us to have a series like this because Covid has, in a sense, burnt down all the things that are familiar and comfortable to us, including how we do things as a church. As difficult at that is, we now have an opportunity to look at the wonderful foundation that God has given us for life with Him, and then build something new on that foundation, something that will not only be well-suited for the new normal we now find ourselves in, but will also be more attractive than we were before for those who are searching for comfort and hope in the midst of broken and tumultuous world. I am inviting you to step into that opportunity with me.
And the words of Jesus that we are reflecting on today are, “The time has come” which are recorded for us in Mark 1:14-28. And the method that we are going to use as we look at this passage is to ask ourselves three questions: 1. What did Jesus say? 2. What did Jesus mean? and 3. How does this apply to our lives?
I. What did Jesus say?
As we begin with the first question, “What did Jesus say?” let’s start by looking at the background to our passage. Jesus spoke these words at the beginning of His ministry. For centuries, God had been promising humanity that He would send a Messiah who would restore all that had been lost when our first parents sent all of creation crashing into corruption by disobeying the one rule that God had given to them in the perfection of Eden’s Garden. From all the people in the world, God chose the descendants of one man, Abraham, to be His one bright, shining light that would proclaim God’s greatness and goodness and draw people from all nations back into a relationship of life and love with the one, true God.
And when the time was just right, God sent His Son into the world, to be born of a woman and become one of us in order to save us. That God-sent Savior is Jesus. The divine Creator of all that exists worked with His hands and learned how to build things from His human father, Joseph. And then, around the age of 30, Jesus began travelling around the area that is present-day Israel, teaching and demonstrating that the long-awaited new stage in humanity’s life with God had begun.
The essence of Jesus’ message was this: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) So that was what Jesus said, but what did He mean? Let’s unpack His words to get at what He meant.
II. What did Jesus mean?
The word “time” in our first phrase is represented by the word “kairos” in the original Greek, which means a very special moment in time which has the potential of turning things around and sending them off in a different direction. The whole world has been going through an immense kairos moment all at the same time as we struggle to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and all its impacts. The kairos moment that Jesus is talking about is the moment when the life of God’s one and only Son has intersected the course of all human history and brought to life a new creation that will transform this world from the inside out and reach its fullness in the new heaven and earth to come.
And a kairos moment always calls for a decision. Your beloved asks you to marry them. What are you going to say? Your boss calls you into their office and tells you that you are no longer needed in the company going forward. What are you going to do? People all around you are anxious and afraid because an immense crisis is unfolding in your midst. What kind of a person are you going to be in the midst of all that anxiety?
It is the same with the kairos moment that Jesus brings whenever His one and only life intersects with ours. Jesus comes offering us life in God’s kingdom where all things are forgiven because Jesus willingly went to the cross to suffer and die and pay the full cost of forgiveness for all sins for all people for all time. In the kingdom of God, hope reigns supreme because Jesus rose from the dead on the third day that followed and we now know that nothing, not even death, will ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (cf. Rom. 8:38-39). In the Kingdom of God, people are able to see things as they really are because God helps them to see things the way He does. How will we respond to Jesus’ free gift of life with God as our king?
To be clear, the offer that Jesus is making to us and to all humanity is not an expansion pack that we can add to our present life to raise it to the next level. Jesus is inviting us into a totally different game. The faith that receives Jesus’ great and wonderful gift brings to life within us a new person who only wants what God wants, only does what God wants done, and loves God and others with an all-encompassing love from God. Trusting in Jesus transports us into a new realm where we will live forever under God’s loving reign. He is our king and we are his loyal citizens who serve as His ambassadors in a foreign and sometimes hostile land.
Responding to Jesus’ kairos moment is a binary choice. Our answer is either “Yes” or “No.” Receiving the gift of life in God’s kingdom means turning away from what we trusted in before to govern our lives, which is usually ourselves, and believing instead in Jesus. The implications are immense because eternity hangs in the balance. The timing is critical because none of us know when our life in this world will end. So there is an urgency to the moment when anyone meets Jesus. As Paul writes in his second letter to the Church in Corinth, As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation. (2 Cor. 6:1-2)
So how will you respond to Jesus’ invitation to live a forever life with Him as our King? If you have not already done this before, now is the time to put a stake in the ground and say, “Here is where I stand, I can do no other!” If you are putting a stake in the ground and entering the Kingdom of God today by trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, please know that there is much rejoicing in heaven and on earth over you! May God richly bless you as you continue your journey of new life with Jesus!
III. How does this apply to our lives?
Now I want to shift gears and talk about what that new life with Jesus looks like. I think for many of us there is a profound misunderstanding about what our new life with Jesus looks like. Now that Jesus has saved us, we may think that the main thing about our life now is to be a good person that strives to do the right thing as much as we can. Or maybe we think that the main thing in our new life is to live a good life where we enjoy the many blessings God gives us. While there are aspects of both of these things in our new life with Jesus, I think that we may be missing the boat on what the main thing is, or at least I think I have, because as we look at the Bible, the main thing about our new life with Jesus is that we be disciples of Him who make disciples with Him.
So what do I mean by that? A disciple is like an apprentice who patterns themselves after their master or teacher. So an apprentice electrician works with an experienced electrician and learns how to be an electrician from them. In the same way, all of us who are living this new life with Jesus are His apprentices. We are spending time with Jesus and learning from Him how to live this new life with God that Jesus has given us. And even as we do that, and this is the part that I think many of us have forgotten, we are to intentionally live our life in such a way that we spend time with others and encourage them to become His apprentice too.
So how do we do that? For centuries, the approach has been to invite people to church and then let the professional church workers teach them. The church was like a life training school and the approach worked because the church was at the center of western culture and being part of a Christian church was valued by the people in our society. But now our culture has changed. The church is no longer at the center of western culture and being part of a church is no longer valued by the people of our society. So the approach that we as a church have been using for centuries no longer works. It is like the new Choluteca Bridge in Honduras which was completed in 1998. Later that same year, Hurricane Mitch hit and the floods it caused actually changed the course of the river. Now, this new and expensive bridge no longer spanned the river because the river had moved.
Dear friends, the river has moved for the Christian church and we need to adapt if we are going to carry out our God-given mission of making disciples who make disciples of Jesus. But how do we do that? Fortunately there is a disciple-making model that has been around since ancient times and is still in use today in the mission field. And since our western society has now become a mission field, it is an approach that we can adopt and use here as well. It is an approach that was developed and used by Jesus, so we know that it is a good one. It doesn’t require an expensive building, or fancy programs or paid staff. The approach that Jesus used for making disciples was to go and have conversations with ordinary people in the places where His Father had put Him, and an unhurried conversation that involves Jesus always has the potential to change lives forever. In essence, the church becomes a missionary training center where we gather to worship and be built up in faith, hope and love, and then we are sent out to be missionaries to our neighborhoods wherever we live. And am suggesting to you that being a neighborhood missionary is not an add-on to our life with Jesus, but is actually an essential part of our life with Jesus and also, it is through being a neighborhood missionary that we grow closer to Jesus and more fully live the rich, full abundant life that He wants to give us. As we go back to basics with Jesus, the theme that will run throughout this series is that the basics of life with Jesus is inviting Him into our interactions with others so He can draw them closer to Him.
There are two main areas where a little bit of change can make a big difference, and those are Mission Perspective and Mission Practices. For Mission Perspective, let’s focus on some other things that Jesus said.
First, after His conversation with a woman at a well in Samaria which led to her becoming a missionary among her own people, Jesus said to His disciples, “You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35) I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get discouraged because it looks like the church is losing ground in its mission to make apprentices for Jesus. There are less and less people who are going to church, or even interested in the possibility of coming to a church. But Jesus is saying to us, “Open your eyes and look around. When you see things the way that I do you will see that there are people all around you who are hurting and broken and dying, they need the love, hope and life that only I can give them, and, for many of them, the time when they need to hear it is right now. I have been working in their lives for a long time already, preparing them for the moment when you will invite Me into an encounter with them.”
The time we have with them may be one more step in the long journey toward faith for them, or it might be the last step over the finish line of faith, but all those moments are precious and all those steps are important. And it is Jesus who is doing the heavy lifting. When He gave the Great Commission to all His followers to go and make disciples, Jesus ended His words by saying, And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) It is Jesus who helps us to see the opportunities He gives us to share His love with others. It is Jesus who has prepared, in advance, the hearts of the people we will meet in our everyday lives. It is Jesus who pours His love into our hearts so that we are motivated to love others with His love. And when we invite Him into our interactions with others, it is Jesus who loves them, helps them with the problems they face and draws them closer to Him. It is Jesus who is doing all the work. We are simply joining with Him on His mission.
In his book Joining Jesus on His Mission, Greg Finke outlines the 5 Mission Practices that will help us to be neighborhood missionaries. They are:
- Seeking the kingdom – which is watching for God’s redemptive activity in the world and joining in. Basically it means watching for human needs.
- Hearing from Jesus – which is reading the biographies of Jesus (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible), listening to what Jesus is saying to us and applying that to our lives.
- Talking with People – listening to people tell their own stories is how we communicate love to them.
- Doing Good – We are Jesus’ ambassadors in our homes, neighborhoods and workplaces. After we find out what someone needs, then we step in and help them. Often, helping in a small way can make a big difference.
- Ministering through Prayer – When trust has been built up over time, and someone shares a hard thing with us, we can extend grace to them by asking, “Would you like me to pray with you about that?”1
Conclusion: So the challenge that I am leaving you with today is to identify one step that you are going to take this week to grow in becoming more of a neighborhood missionary. Let me offer to you an idea that you can consider. That is to sign up for the discipleship training program that is being offered through the Canadian Lutheran Bible Institute. You can sign up for a discipleship group at the72.ca. But you could do other things instead. You could begin reading through the Gospels, or make a list of your neighbours and pray for them each day, or pick up a copy of Joining Jesus on His Mission, read it and apply what you read to your life. Whatever step you are going to take, I encourage you to identify it and then do it. And remember what Jesus said: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on September 20, 2020. For more information about WGLC go to wglc.org.)
1 Greg Finke, Joining Jesus on His Mission: How to Be an Everyday Missionary (Tenth Power: Tyler TX, 2014), 98.