Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | January 26, 2009

Sermon on Mark 1:14-20


Text: Mark 1:14-20


“We should have fewer spaghetti suppers and more serious work on the defense of the faith in our churches.”  That quote comes from John Warwick Montgomery, one of my favorite Christian apologists.  He made that statement last October on a Lutheran radio talk show that I frequently listen to over the internet.  I like Montgomery’s statement not just because it makes a strong statement in a compelling way.  I like his statement because it causes you to think about the church’s ministry.  What should be our congregation’s primary message and service to our community?  I’m not opposed to spaghetti suppers and fellowship events, but I agree wholeheartedly with Montgomery that churches would help people much more if they were more involved with thorough studies of the Scriptures and the Christian faith, and not so wrapped up in the next event that involves food!

Montgomery’s statement should lead us to evaluate our presumptions about the church’s ministry.  If the church’s ministry is not to put on spaghetti suppers, what is our ministry?  What is the church’s message to the world?  What is the church’s mission to the world?  Those very important questions, which will determine how we operate as a Christian congregation, are addressed in the Gospel for today’s service.  Let’s take a look at those verses from Mark chapter one, let’s challenge our presuppositions, and let’s discover (or rediscover) what the ministry’s message and mission is.


Did you watch the inauguration on Tuesday?  What did you think about the prayers — the invocation at the start of the ceremony, and the benediction at the end of the ceremony?  Even though the prayers were spoken to God, it was obvious that there was a message to people in those prayers.  Rick Warren’s opening prayer told you about his theology.  We heard quite a bit about the way God preserves and protects a nation (the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed).  Thankfully, we heard the name of Jesus invoked, but only as someone who changed Rick Warren’s life, not as the one who gave his life to bring us eternal life.  Joseph Lowry’s closing prayer also told you about his theology.  If Warren appealed to conservatives, Lowry appealed to liberals.  He talked about the many different religions through which people seek God.  He made a strong push for social justice in his conclusion.  But one thing was obvious: Both prayers were not only addressed to God, but they also had a message for the listeners, and the messages from those two pastors were not the same.

This begs and important question.  As the church carries out its ministry, what should its message be?  A focus on God’s providence and protection, like Warren’s prayer emphasized?  A call for social justice, as we heard in Lowry’s prayer?  Or something else?  Perhaps the best place to answer that question is to turn to our Lord himself and to see what he preached when he began his ministry.  Mark writes, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  ‘The time has come,’ he said.  ‘The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!'” 

John the Baptist had just been put in prison for speaking out against the immorality of King Herod.  But John had always pointed people to Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, and so John’s unfortunate imprisonment became the fortunate beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  And as Jesus’ ministry was inaugurated, his message was much stronger than anything you heard in Tuesday’s inauguration prayers.  “The time has come.”  The special, designated time in history that the prophets had pointed to for ages had finally arrived, and its significance for the world was not about to go away.  “The kingdom of God near.”  Jesus’ ministry enacted his Father’s plan to provide the righteousness that is completely absent from people’s lives.  Jesus’ ministry enacted his Father’s plan to provide the forgiveness that people desperately need for union and communion with God.  And that plan, which would establish the kingdom of God, was now in motion.  God’s reign and rule through his Son had begun and was here to stay.  And so Jesus said, “Repent, and believe the good news.”

There are words we come across so frequently in the Bible that we forget what they mean or how much they mean.  “Repent” and “believe” are, in my opinion, two of those words.  Repent doesn’t merely mean that I feel sorry because I was caught doing the wrong thing.  Repent actually means to have a change of mind — a complete, 180-degree turn.  When the Holy Spirit works in a person’s heart to believe in Jesus, part of that work means that a person is spiritually turned around.  They will continue to struggle against sin, but they no longer see sin as “okay.”  They don’t think that they have no need for Christ.  The Spirit leads people to recognize that they are lost and condemned creatures because of their sin.

Alongside the call to repent is the call to “believe the good news.”  Know and trust that God’s kingdom brings us the good news that is embodied in Jesus Christ.  Know and trust that Jesus Christ was your perfect substitute every day of his life until his death.  Know and trust that Jesus Christ paid your penalty for sin on the cross and won your victory over death by his resurrection.

If you think about it, “repent” and “believe” naturally go together.  Are you going to repent unless you recognize that you need someone who saved you from sin?  Are you going to believe in Christ as Savior if you don’t think you need repentance or forgiveness?  Repentance without believing is just remorse, and believing without repentance trivializes the gospel into “Jesus loves me, this I know, and this is all I want to know.”  There’s a good reason why Jesus’ message was to repent and believe: You can’t have one without the other.

The ministry of the church needs a message.  Should we go with Jesus’ message?  Is “repent” and “believe” the message that’s going to bring in the crowds?  Conventional wisdom says, “No!”  And given the fact that we haven’t exactly had people pounding down our doors to hear us preach repentance and faith should tell you how well this message doesn’t connect with the postmodern world.

If our goal was merely to be an institution, than I suppose we should reexamine the ministry’s message.  But we are here to carry out the ministry Christ has given us, and the message is integral to that ministry.  Our feeble attempts to tweak or alter or improve the message do not help the Holy Spirit one bit.  We don’t come here to tell God how to fix our soul’s problems anymore than we go to the emergency room and tell the doctor how to fix our health problems.  If doctors actually did what medically uneducated patients told them to do, I suspect we’d see a much higher rate in medical fatalities.  So what do you think would happen if we rewrote the message Jesus gave his church to proclaim?

Fortunately, there is no need to rewrite the message.  The call to “repent and believe the good news” is Christ’s message.  And you know how much that message means to you.  For you and I were headed on a crash course to hell before the Holy Spirit turned our hearts around in repentance.  You and I would have been content to trust in ourselves had the Holy Spirit not used the news of Christ’s grace in the means of grace to deliver Christ’s grace into our hearts.  Each one of you is a testimony that the ministry message given to us by the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is the one and only message needed to bring people into the family of believers.


 The January 2009 edition of Christianity Today featured an article that was critical of many current techniques of church marketing.  I laughed out loud when this edition arrived in my mailbox, complete with a “Jesus logo” that was clearly a parody of the Starbucks logo (the magazine cover was shown to the congregation at this point). But all good humor has an element of truth in it, and that was certainly the case with the “Jesus logo.”  One common trend in the church today is to market Jesus.  Find out what people’s expectations are about God, discover a felt need that Jesus can fulfill, and let that be the way you carry out the church’s mission.  It’s good economics!  Let the market dictate our mission!

Jesus essentially began the New Testament church’s mission in the Gospel for today.  So if we’re going to evaluate the way the church carries out its mission, I suppose we should look at the way Jesus started the church’s mission when he started his ministry.  “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’  At once they left their nets and followed him.  When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.  Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”

Last Sunday, we heard Jesus call Philip and Nathaniel to be his disciples.   Today we see Jesus call two sets of brothers — Andrew and Peter, and James and John.  Three of these four became the “inner circle” among the apostles during Jesus’ ministry.

We could say quite a bit about each of these men, but I want to focus our attention on Jesus’ actual words.  “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Jesus made an obvious play on words, given the occupation of the men he was calling to be his disciples.  They were fishermen by trade, and their new trade was to be fishermen of sorts — except that they would catch souls, not fish, and they would use a message, not a net, to do their work.  The mission of the ministry is to catch souls.  And just as fish didn’t jump into the fishermen’s boat on their own, souls don’t jump into the church on their own.  So Jesus calls these men and several others to be his apostles, ministers of the church, and he teaches them the message of the gospel so they can preach that message to the world and carry out the church’s mission in the process.

Over fifty years ago, a radio preacher by the name of Donald Grey Barnhouse, described in one of his sermons what a city would look like if it was taken over by Satan.  His description would surprise you.  Let me quote a description of that sermon found in a book I’ve been reading: “Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other.  There would be no swearing.  The children would say “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday … where Christ is not preached” (quoted from Christless Christianity by Michael Horton, page 15).

If we aren’t preaching the message about Christ, we aren’t carrying out the mission.  If we aren’t preaching the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for our salvation, the church won’t be fishing for souls, just popularity.  If our message focuses primarily or exclusively on the Christian, and minimally or not at all on Christ, we will move closer into the direction of Barnhouse’s description.  We will become a church full of people who think that they are good, but do not rely on Jesus’ blood and righteousness to make them holy before God.  But then we won’t be in the church.  We’ll only be in our own delusion!

That’s why we need to remember the message before we start our mission.  We need to go back to “repent and believe the good news,” and then take that message to a lost world.  Just look at what that message has done for us!  Natural-born enemies of God have become his righteous and holy saints!  People who naturally run the other way when God approaches have been brought into his family and wouldn’t want it any other way!  Souls that were once covered in the filth of sin have been clothed in the righteousness of Jesus!  That is what the Spirit has accomplished in our hearts through the invitation to “repent and believe the good news.”  We should not doubt that the Holy Spirit will use the same message to accomplish the same purpose for others.


Most of you have not been called into the public ministry of the church.  However, that doesn’t mean you don’t play a part in the church’s mission.  Practically speaking, the majority of people who become members of a church came there because they had a connection to someone else in the church.  There’s not one of us here today who doesn’t know someone who needs to benefit from the church’s mission and hear the message Jesus gave us to proclaim in the ministry.  And you can play a part!  I know that confessing your faith to someone else can be scary, especially if you’ve never tried or haven’t tried in a while.  But that’s why it’s important to fill up your own soul with the message.  Study, read, and take the Scripture’s message to heart, so that your faith will be strengthened.  Then you will also be ready when the opportunity arrives to confess your faith to others, and play your part in the church’s mission to proclaim repentance and faith to a world that needs Jesus.  Let’s pray that God gives us the opportunities, and that we stick to the message when those opportunities come!  Amen.



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