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The First Fruit of Faith

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The First Fruit of Faith

Mark 1:14-15      October 17, 1999



We could say that John’s message of repentance was arresting. The thought of a new beginning was attractive. But it was also dangerous.

Not everyone was called to a new beginning. They liked the old way better. One of these was King Herod who had John arrested and beheaded because he dared to speak a pointed message of repentance to him.

It is this continuing message that Jesus takes up from John.

John’s arrest sets the stage for the proclamation of the Gospel. John was said to be merely ‘preaching’ (v. 4) but Jesus is said to be ‘preaching the good news of God’ (v. 14).

It is the announcement of an event, the coming of God’s New World that even now breaks into the present.

The time of waiting for God’s intervention is over and it demands a response. And a response is given.

John was destined for his servanthood of martyrdom and Jesus is destined for his. Jesus too spoke this arresting message of repentance for which he would die.

But his message is the good news that repentance will find its fulfillment now (the time has come), in him (the kingdom of God is near), and by faith (repent and believe the good news).

Here are all the elements of the Gospel – the need to act through faith in Jesus. It is a continuing message, it is an urgent message, it is a hopeful message.

And these two verses are a summary message of what follows about Jesus’ beginning ministry.

His ministry blazes abroad the divine rule of the Gospel.

Everywhere he goes and everything he says requires immediate human decision and commitment about repentance, submission of God’s reign, and trust that the incredible is taking place. And many would indeed believe.

We take our lessons from Jesus about the preaching of the Gospel. After all, it is his good news.

There are three dramas in preaching the Gospel.

1.       It is a Proclamation of Truth - about God’s decisive victory in the struggle with the forces of chaos and death.


Jesus’ clash with Satan in the desert clearly did not end in a tie because the preaching of the good news of God that immediately follows is the proclamation of victory.

Jesus proclaims that the transcendent God who speaks from heaven is now loosed on earth to give his Spirit, forgive sins, and set free from every evil bondage.

We see and hear this victory thoughout Mark’s Gospel where Jesus commands and announces; “Be quiet!”  “Come out of him!” “Be clean!” “Your sins are forgiven!” “Your faith has made you well!” “Be opened!” “He has risen! He is not here.”

As Christians we are not to have defeatist attitudes but confidence in proclaiming that the victory is already won.

2.       It is an Announcement of Testimony – about victory by a witness to the combat.

The kingdom of God is assured. Jesus will spend much time telling people what the kingdom is like.

This suggests that it is much different from the familiar one, so he must correct our understanding. But for now he heralds its arrival.

Jesus is confident that God has prepared the end of the age. He is about to foreclose on the bankrupt kingdoms of the world (the Light Party).

Jesus is a first-hand witness in this struggle with evil because of his recent hand-to-hand combat with it.

Our champion, Jesus, has bested their champion, Satan. And Jesus speaks the testimony of victory.

It is the kingdom of God that will come, not the kingdom of Satan that will remain.

The coming of the kingdom of God is as near as the cross. It is as near as Jesus.

He is the living Word of God, and he writes prophecy like it is history. He cannot and does not lose. His earthly ministry will end as well as it begins.

Just as he is a witness to the victory from the timeless expanse of eternity, so we are witnesses to what we have seen and heard (1Jn. 1:3).

We have many victorious experiences to proclaim that others might believe. Pastor Chris Gouzoules shared things like this with us last Sunday night about his work in Mexico.

Your life in Christ is full of these things to share.

3.       It is an Appropriate Response – by those who hear. 

We talked two Sundays ago about the primary importance of grace. The kingdom of God is not built on our good works but upon Christ’s.

Our part in response to his work is not to lend our backs to add to his work, it is to lend our knees to seal our confession that we could not do his work. We can never add to his finished work.

He is the One who bore the yoke. That is why ours is light (Mt. 11:29-30). It is light because it is no longer a yoke of slavery to sin (Gal. 5:1).

But we are now to bear the joyfully light yoke of labor with him in freedom from sin for the sake of the kingdom of which we are a part.

There are things we are to do, but made possible because he has already done them and made it possible for us to follow.

Basically, all we can do is decide to take our stand for or against God or Satan and to repent or not repent in response to God’s initiative toward us by grace.

The appropriate response, since we can’t do anything to save ourselves, is faith and repentance.

It is a response of acceptance to the grace he makes available to all who desire it.

The Christian community continues to live by repentance and faith since, as we see Mark’s Gospel unfold, it consists of people like us who are far from perfect.

The appeal of grace for a response of faith and repentance continues today both inside and outside the church – to the saved and the unsaved.

But we see at least four obstacles today.

          a.       We Turn Others Away from Repentance by Our Attitude

People often react to the preaching of repentance with the preconceived opinion that it is abusive. And it often has been abusively used to harangue others.

Christians want to defend a godly lifestyle, and rightly so. But they can be misled into preaching their own, often one-sided, form of Christianity.

In effect they are saying, “In order to be saved, you must be just like us – or just like me.” (Now that is a scary thought. I thought we were supposed to be like Christ.)

They must hold to our traditions, we say. Is this because traditions are more important than truth? No, I don’t think so.

This begins to sound a lot like the Pharisees that Jesus pronounced so many woes upon – and whom he said looked far and wide for converts only to make them twice as much the sons of hell that they were.

This is the legalism that we rail against.

This is the issue in Galatians where the Jewish Christians (Judaizers) wanted everyone, whether Jew or Gentile, to conform to Jewish custom.

It is the food laws that Paul spoke against.

It is the unreasonable Sabbath law that Jesus purposely violated.

It is these things that needlessly turn off those who would come to Christ.

We must not needlessly repel those who are coming by pronouncing them guilty as sin.

If they are coming they already know they have fallen short and need the acceptance of Christ’s grace and forgiveness in order to be set free.

They need the same grace from us as they have seen in Christ. The reason he draws people successfully to himself is that he loves them.

Consider the parable of the lost son, the prodigal son.

What would have happened if the elder brother, who lived a faithful but bitter life in the fields, met his brother first as he was coming down the road?

The elder brother was probably bitter because he wasn’t the one who got to go and sin it up big time with daddy’s inheritance.

This is the kind of thing that produces legalists. They are the ones who point their fingers at others in an attempt to lessen the burden of their own hearts.

But if the supposedly upright brother had met him first, rather than the forgiving father, he would have met him with a buzz saw of scolding from his self-righteousness.

The prodigal would have probably made a U-turn in the middle of the road and gone back to the far country.

He would have preferred the pigsty rather than to proceed any further. He was already down on himself.

He had finally come to the place where he was willing to accept truth. But if it was not to be found then why proceed?

We might also imagine that the older brother was one reason why the younger one left in the first place. He just couldn’t ever measure up. Now he would get that same message all over again.

Jesus’ call to repent is not a caustic reprimand but an invitation to change sides – to come home.

He offers a welcoming summons, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  (Mt.  11:28)

He calls for people to respond to God’s initiative. God has unleashed a power that makes repentance possible.

b.      We Don’t Want to Accept Responsibility for Personal Repentance

Another problem in preaching repentance to our generation is created by the human characteristic to get infuriated with anyone who would dare to tell us we need to change.

This is compounded by an equally ingrained refusal to take our own sinful state seriously.

We like to pin blame on others, but when it comes to us we seem to find victim status somewhere.

We’ve seen this in Scripture before too.

What about Aaron and his part in the golden calf scene as Moses comes down from the mountain of God with the Ten Commandments.

What Moses found was a detestable orgy of idolatry after he had left the people in Aaron’s care to pursue instructions from God.

When Moses confronted him, he didn’t fall on his face and confess his part in the sin.

He didn’t say like Moses had said on occasion, pleading with God to take his own name out of the book of life if at least the people could be spared from their sin.

No, he did not confess but tried to escape guilt by seeing himself as a victim. And what do you know? Out came this calf that we just happen to be worshipping (Ex. 32:21-24).

He blamed the people who brought their gold that he put into the fire. He blamed the furnace that smelted it. But he did not blame himself.

He passed over in silence his part in collecting the gold, and making a mold for it, and setting it up before the people, and declaring a day for all the people to feast and worship it (Ex. 32:1-6).

It is our pride that tries to put on airs of blamelessness in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

We will pass the buck and blame the other person, but not ourselves.

And what about Adam? He was another fine case, wasn’t he?

His problem was pride too as he tried to blame both Eve and God for his sin. “You gave me this woman. She gave me this fruit.” But he ate it.

We don’t need to eat everything everyone gives us. We have hands, mouth, eyes, will, and we can turn any one of them.

And Adam had no previous sin to hinder him. He made a free choice.

And Eve blamed the serpent.

This was a classic case of finger pointing.

And don’t forget the serpent, Satan, the accuser of the brethren, the most evil, conniving, finger pointer of them all. “Look what they did, God.”

{Present day situational examples of sins caused by divorce and abuse or other circumstances.}

The problem is that when we lose any sense of sin and responsibility, we also lose any burning desire for pardon.

If we don’t admit we have a problem, we can’t get on our knees in repentance before God for the solution.

We must get arrested before we can get released.

          c.       We Don’t Take Repentance Seriously

A third problem is that our contemporary culture has a shallow view of sin.

Many people have no sense that they have rebelled against God.

Some think there is no such thing as sin.

Some see Christians as those who are insanely tormenting themselves for no good reason.

They see us as preaching a guilt that dampens human spirit and actually causes sin, or at least hinders our ability to live life to the fullest.

Like the Romans of the first century, they see us as doing a disservice to mankind, and themselves doing a service for mankind if they could get rid of us.

A superficial attitude about sin has been satirically rewritten in the “Prayer of General Confession” from the Old Book of Common Prayer:

Benevolent and easy-going Father: we have occasionally been guilty of errors of judgment. We have lived under the deprivations of heredity and the disadvantages of environment. We have sometimes failed to act in accordance with common sense. We have done the best we could in the circumstances; and have been careful not to ignore the common standards of decency; and we are glad to think that we are fairly normal. Do thou, O Lord, deal lightly with our infrequent lapses. Be thy own sweet Self with those who admit they are not perfect; According to the unlimited tolerances which we have a right to expect from thee. And grant us as indulgent Parent that we may hereafter continue to live a harmless and happy life and keep our self-respect.

          d.      We Have a Shallow View of Repentance

The fourth problem is that many of us have heard the call to repentance so many times that it has become sanitized.

We have had enough inoculations of repentance by now to keep from getting the real thing ever again.

We begin to see repentance as a disease we don’t want to get again because it was painful. So we protect ourselves from getting moved by the H.S.

Many have washed, deodorized, and perfumed their spiritual lives through religious ritual.

They think they have done their duty before God because of it, but countless unconfessed sins lurk within.

Like King Claudius in Hamlet asks, “May one be pardoned and retain the offense?”

Or like King Herod in the play, For the Time Being, who boasts: “I like committing crimes; God likes forgiving them. Really, the world is admirably arranged.”

Or like Huck Finn’s alcoholic father: “The old drunk cried and cried when Judge Thatcher talked to him about temperance and such things. Said he’d been a fool and was a-going to turn over a new leaf. And everyone hugged him and cried and said it was the holiest time on record. And that night he got drunker than he’d ever been before.”

But I wonder if any of these have ever heard of Romans 6.

2 Corinthians 7:10  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.


2 Corinthians 7:11  See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.


Repentance is characteristic of a total change of direction in life.

It is related to an internal change that takes place when something very costly to self-esteem is allowed to take place.

It means being willing to become low and take last place (Mk. 9:35).

It means becoming like a little child (Mk. 10:15).

It means becoming like a servant (Mk. 10:42-45) in the manner of Jesus Christ who gave his life as a ransom for many.

It means to give up trusting in yourself and allowing God to take control.

For some, it means to open that fist you have clenched in the face of God and turning it empty toward him.

For all, it requires a change of outlook, expectation and commitment.

The call of Jesus to “repent and believe the good news” indicates that repentance is not an end in itself but the first step after faith.

Faith is something deeper than rational belief. Faith is the gift of grace.

We can repent once we believe by faith. Huck Finn’s father knew he was a sinner but he couldn’t repent or change because he had no faith – no belief.

Being sorry for sin is not repentance.

Believing the good news enables repentance. It is then that we have faith, but they occur very close together.

The repentance that John preached would have had no effect unless the people believed the message that one more powerful than himself would soon come – namely God in the power of the H.S.

How much more effective the message is now from Jesus himself.

Where faith is absent, repentance will be absent because there is no need.

But where true faith is present, repentance is certain because faith demands it.

Faith is a gift. Repentance is a work that flows naturally from the gift.

God cannot give us repentance. He gives us faith. Repentance is the first thing we do with it. It is the first fruit of faith.

The greater the faith, the greater the repentance.

Now repentance is not just sorrow for sin. It is change because we are acquainted with the sorrow. We know the damage sin causes. We don’t want any more of it.

It becomes a way of life. It is a humble way of living.

Living in continual conscious accountability to God is tremendously liberating.

In remaining close to him we are assured of him and filled with him, and that is the goal of our faith.

Dear friends, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Is. 30:15)

Personal example in Jer. 15.

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:8 NIVUS)

 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:10 NIVUS)

 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, (Acts 3:19 NIVUS)

 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30 NIVUS)

 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:4 NIVUS)

 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, (Hebrews 6:1 NIVUS)

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