Life Changing Encounters

Sunday January 11th @ St Michael’s

Readings – Mark 1:14-28; Romans 1:8-17

Have you ever made it a New Year resolution to read through the whole Bible in a year? I won’t ask whether you managed it or not! If it’s not something you’ve tried before, it’s not too late to start, just use a good Bible guide to help you through some of the heavier passages …

Throughout this year in our Sunday services at St Michael and St Barnabas, we’ll be reading through Mark’s gospel … now you may think it’s strange that we didn’t start from the beginning in our reading earlier, but that’s because the Bishop is coming this evening to lead our Evening Celebration, and he will be looking at Mark 1:1-13 at that service.

I’m not going to spend time this morning on a long introduction to the gospel of Mark … just a few basic details, and we’ll pick the rest up as we go along. Mark was probably the first gospel to be written, perhaps only 30 years after the death of Jesus, and although Mark himself wasn’t one of the twelve, he knew Peter, from whom he heard the story of Jesus, so Mark was familiar with the stories of Jesus from soon after Jesus’ death, when there were still plenty of eyewitnesses around to put him right if he needed it.

This gospel is full of movement and action … as you read through it, notice how often Mark uses the word ‘immediately’ or ‘straight away’ depending on the version! He moves quickly from one day to the next … so we’re not going to waste any more time ourselves but make a start on the passage for today.

This passage is from the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry … he has spent 30 years or so at home in the family business, until John the Baptist came to the Jordan with his message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus recognises that this is the signal to make a start … and following Jesus’ own baptism and his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus’ first action is to call disciples to follow him, to build a team around him … and then to announce his ministry. All this takes place in the region of his home in Galilee.

His message is clear from the very beginning …

Mark 1:14,15

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!”

So there are a number of questions we need to ask …

  • What is the Kingdom of God?
  • How do we recognise it (is it still visible/near today)?
  • Why is the Kingdom of God good news?

What is the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God isn’t a place and it doesn’t have any physical features. It’s not limited to the future, or to the heavenly realms. The Kingdom of God is wherever God’s rule is willingly accepted and obeyed resulting in the defeat of evil. That means that anyone who follows Jesus is part of his Kingdom, and one day, when Jesus returns, the whole world will become one with the Kingdom of God as he establishes his rule, finally defeating evil once, for all and for ever.

How do we recognise the Kingdom of God? In the lives of those who live according to his rule. How do we know that’s the case … the defeat of evil in their lives. So being part of the Kingdom of God is much more than going to church and keeping the rules, it’s a life transformed by a relationship with God through Jesus. And that might be hard to describe or define, but I think it’s usually pretty obvious when someone is genuinely handing over their lives to God.

Why is the Kingdom of God good news? Because what it gives is what everyone needs and wants … love, security, confidence, identity, peace, wholeness. These things are behind everything we strive for in life … we may think security comes with having plenty of money … in this current financial crisis, so many people are discovering that isn’t true. We may think confidence and love comes from our human relationships … but relationships fail, and no-one is perfect. We work hard to create an identity for ourselves at our workplace, or by seeking celebrity in one form or another … but it doesn’t last. These things are important to us because we are made in the image of God in order to have a relationship with him … and when we seek them elsewhere, we will, in the end, inevitably fail, which is why the Kingdom of God is such good news.

But being part of the Kingdom of God isn’t the end of the story for us as individuals. Each of us has a role to play and God calls us all to serve him in different ways and situations, but always with a common aim … to extend his Kingdom and rule.

Mark 1:17,18

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Was there ever a time that Jesus called you to follow him? What was your response? It will be different for all of us … for some of us it will have happened in an instant, for some of us it will have been a process over many years. For some of us it will have been a simple decision, others will have battled with their doubts and questions. But there will always come a point when we have to make a decision to obey … when our will and God’s will clash, and we have to choose how to behave, whether to obey, when we realise perhaps for the first time that something we want or do isn’t right before God. It might be a call to leave a job and do something else, perhaps working for a church or going overseas, or it may be that we read a verse from the Bible and realise that we don’t measure up .. a sin we’d rather continue, or a failure to to what’s right.

Later in our service we’ll have our time of confession … when we remind ourselves that Jesus died for our sins, so that we can say sorry and start again … and we may have to do that many times over in our lives, but unless we start with a decision to obey him in all things (even if we then get it wrong) we’ve not yet committed ourselves fully to the life of faith and are simply playing a role, we’re going to church, we look as if we’re keeping the rules, but we’re not yet part of the Kingdom of God and making a difference in the world.

Which brings us on to our second question …

What image/picture do you have of ‘fishers of men’? Is that how you see yourself? While we’re not all called to be evangelists, we are called to be part of ‘Team Church’ – or to use a different, perhaps more appropriate picture, some of us are anglers, and some of us are part of the crew on board a trawler. And we fish, not with hooks or nets, but with lifelines. If we know ourselves just why the Kingdom of God is good news … then we also know that being part of the Kingdom is the only lasting answer to the problems people face in the world … and that we are the only hope they have of finding it.

Mark 1:22

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority …

We have seen that our purpose as a church is to introduce people to Jesus. Being part of the church isn’t enough … being part of the Kingdom of God is the vital thing, and having a relationship with Jesus is the key to that Kingdom. But what is the nature of that relationship? In Romans 10 Paul writes, ‘… if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ (Romans 10:9)

We give Jesus many different titles and cast him in many roles … friend, saviour, healer, messiah, shepherd even brother … but the test of our relationship with him is, is he Lord … does he have the final say in our lives as we make our plans, spend our money and our time, build our relationships with our families and friends? That’s why I’ve asked these two questions on our screen,

  • In which areas of your life have you found it easy to give Jesus the authority?
  • Where/when have you found it hard to be obedient?

Make a note of these questions to take home with you, and plan to set aside a quiet time today to think and to pray about them. Answering these two questions will tell you a lot about the state of your Christian life, and they are the key to improving it.

Conclusion – Mark 1:28

News about (Jesus) spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Think about this for a moment … news spread over the whole region … how? Not through the disciples – they were too busy simply being with Jesus, listening to his stories, watching the miracles … and having the odd argument or two. News spread because people saw what was happening and were astonished, so they talked about it amongst themselves and told anyone who hadn’t heard … the news spread, simply because it was newsworthy, they saw evil defeated and lives transformed by Jesus. And it didn’t stop when Jesus was no longer there …

When (the authorities) saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

Did you see the recent attempt at the world record for toppling dominoes? It took 85 people a year to set up the trail and it spread in all directions … but it only took one domino to start the chain reaction that felled four and a half million dominoes in less than half an hour!

What would have that same effect, here today? Quite simply people that demonstrate the power of Jesus to change lives … just as he did then. The Kingdom of God is good news … and the most effective testimony to the good news are lives transformed by a relationship with Jesus.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes … (Romans 1:16)

Let’s not live as if we were ashamed of ourselves, but with the confidence that comes from knowing we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, here and now. That’s why this verse is our memory verse for the week … why not also make it your resolution for the coming year?

Let’s pray …

LB

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