“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
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, the first thing He says is that the kingdom of God is at hand, so people should repent and believe the gospel. “Repent” is a word that gets a bad rap in our culture. Usually when someone says “Repent”, we might think of a street corner preacher of questionable credentials yelling at people passing by or a booming voice trying to scare people. But repentance isn’t a bad word. It’s a very good word. Repentance simply means turning back toward God. To repent means that we turn away from all those things that we were fearing, loving, and trusting more than God. It means that were letting go of those sins that kept us enslaved.
Repentance—that is, confessing that we are sinners—means that we admit to God that we’ve broken His commandments, whether we were aware of doing it or not. But repentance also means that we receive forgiveness and believe that those sins really are removed from us. This is why Jesus said, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Repentance means that two things are happening: 1) we are turning away from sin and 2) we are believing that we are forgiven because of Jesus’ sacrifice.
When we look at repentance from this angle—from the angle of forgiveness at Jesus’ cross—we see that forgiveness is a gift from God. He gives it to us. He gives the gift of repentance by sending His Son into our fallen world to preach the good news to us. He gives us the gift of repentance when He shows us how none of those idols we’ve set up in our hearts can save us. He gives us the gift of repentance when He reminds us of the forgiveness that He pours out on us through the precious death and resurrection of His Son. Repentance is not a bad thing at all. It is a good gift from God.
The Christian life is one of repentance. As long as we’re in this fallen world with all of its temptations, our weak human nature is going to give in to sin. This will happen throughout our whole lives. This means that God must constantly turn us away from sin and back to Himself. He does this through His Word. That’s why He gave us His Word made flesh in Jesus, His Word in the Scriptures, and His Word preached to us by pastors. God wants us to return to Him, so He gives us the gift of repentance to bring us back. He shows us the truth and sets us free from the lies of the world and the devil. Our Christian life means being turned back to God constantly and hearing the voice of our Lord say, “Believe in the gospel.” Believe that your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. Believe that our Father will draw you back to Himself. Repent and believe that Jesus has died and risen again to give you eternal life.
Gracious God, You are always ready to forgive. Grant me repentance, so that I may turn away from my sins and turn toward Your Son and His cross. Forgive me for my sins and lead me to live confidently in that forgiveness. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
“And [Jesus] said to [Nathanael], ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’” John 1:51
When Jesus was gathering His disciples, He did it using His Word. We read in the gospels that whenever Jesus said to someone, “Follow me,” they did it. Philip, Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all on the receiving end of Jesus’ words and they dropped everything and followed Him. Jesus draws people to Himself using His Word.
Jesus still uses His Word to make disciples. Whenever Holy Scripture is read, whenever a pastor preaches a sermon that proclaims what Jesus accomplished for us, whenever someone is baptized using Jesus words: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you can be sure that Jesus is using those words to draw people to Himself. But sometimes we don’t think that’s enough. We fallen humans try to find something flashier or more impressive. We want to cling to programs or gimmicks or anything besides than these simple words of Jesus read or preached to us.
But as soon as we start to crave something that we think is more impressive, Jesus stops us in our tracks. He did this with Nathanael. Philip was following Jesus after he heard the words of our Lord invite him. Philip went and told his brother Nathanael that the Messiah had been found. Nathanael doubted, thinking that nothing good—nothing impressive or respectable—could come out of a town like Nazareth, but he went anyway to go and see what his brother was talking about. When Jesus saw Nathanael, He said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
Nathanael realized that Jesus was no mere mortal, and he announced that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel. But Jesus didn’t want Nathanael to follow simply because of a show of power. Jesus said to Philip, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you now believe? You will see greater things than this.” (John 1:50) Jesus didn’t want to draw believers through things that simply impressed their fallen flesh. He wants to draw them with His Word—the Word of the cross. That’s why Jesus continued, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) Jesus was talking about His crucifixion, where heaven and earth would be bridged and reunited, where the gates of heaven would swing open to welcome us in. Jesus wanted Nathanael to focus on the cross.
Sometimes we want to focus on things that seem impressive to our fallen nature. But Jesus reminds us that His cross is the greatest good. We follow Him not because of a display of worldly power, but because His Word has made us His disciples by showing us that His cross has opened heaven for us. Our crosses in this life lead us to focus on our Lord’s cross and put our faith in Him rather than what’s impressive to the world.
Heavenly Father, lead me to hear Your Son’s Word and put my faith in Him. Turn my eyes away from the things of this world and focus them only on His cross. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:9-11
When Jesus was baptized, something unique happened. All of the others who had gone out to the Jordan River to be baptized by John had been confessing their sins. As they confessed these sins, as they were receiving John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, it was like their sins were coming out of them and sitting there in the muddy water of the Jordan. Every tax collector, thug, prostitute, swindler, cheat, and robber had their sins leave them and stay in the water.
But then a different kind of Man came along. This Man had no sins to confess. John knew that He had no sins, so he said to this Man, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14) He knew that Jesus didn’t need to repent of anything, and yet here He was, in the same water where sinners had confessed their sins and left them there to drown. But Jesus insisted, saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15) So, because Jesus said that it was fitting and that it would fulfill all righteousness, John baptized Him. It’s when this happened that we read; “he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”
When Jesus was baptized, it was different. The others had left their sins in the water. Jesus soaked them up. He took all of the sins that the tax collectors, thugs, prostitutes, swindlers, cheats, and robbers had confessed and He put them on His own shoulders. He drew them up out of the water and He carried them all the way to the cross. That’s what it meant, “to fulfill all righteousness”—it meant making all of us holy.
Jesus didn’t stop with bearing the sins of people in His own time. He carries our sins as well. When we’re baptized, our sins are washed off, left in the water, where Jesus picks them up. He took our sins and nailed them to the cross. We’re left spotless and pure. In fact, because of Jesus taking away our sins, our heavenly Father says to us, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased,” “You are my beloved daughter, with you I am well pleased.” Because we’re forgiven in Jesus, the Father speaks these words to each of us and He sends us the Holy Spirit to create and protect our faith. We’re made His children because we’ve been baptized and given Jesus’ forgiveness, where He takes all of our sin and gives us His own perfect righteousness.
Father in heaven, at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River You proclaimed Him Your beloved Son and anointed Him with the Holy Spirit. Make all we who are baptized in His name faithful in our calling as Your children and bring us to inherit with Him everlasting life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
“When [the wise men] saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:10-11
Tuesday, January 6 is the beginning of the season of Epiphany in the Church year. It’s during this season that we hear about all of the ways that Jesus revealed Himself to be God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. It’s not particularly difficult to believe that God could become man—after all, He’s God, so He can do anything He wants. It’s a completely different thing to believe that this man, this Jesus, this child sitting on His mother’s lap is God. And yet, here we see the Gentile wise men, from a far-away land, falling down and worshiping Him, this God-in-human-flesh.
The Gentile wise men, although they didn’t have the advantage of being Hebrews and hearing the Word of God all the time, had heard the prophecies. At some point in history, the pages of the Old Testament had found their way to the homeland of these wise men and they had read them. The Word of God had taught them that there would be a Savior, not just for the Hebrews, but also for Jew and Gentile alike. The wise men trusted the words of these prophecies, waiting for the time when the Messiah would arrive.
The surest sign for the wise men, aside from the words of Scripture, was the star proclaiming Jesus’ birth. They knew that this must proclaim something unique and wonderful. After the fall into sin, heaven and earth were dragged into mankind’s rebellion against God. Men worshiped the stars and the sun and moon. Gold was fashioned into idols. Incense and myrrh weren’t only used in God’s holy temple, but also by pagans who worshiped false gods and mortal kings. But now, with the arrival of the Savior, with the appearing of the star announcing His birth, heaven and earth are restored. The wise men don’t worship the Christmas star, as their ancestors would have; rather, the star points them to Jesus. They don’t use gold to make an idol or burn incense and myrrh in front of false gods; rather, they present these treasures of the earth to the Savior. These treasures have been made new, set aside for good and holy purposes. They have been redeemed and are now instruments to point people, both Jew and Gentile, to the Messiah.
Epiphany is important because it shows us that this man, Jesus, is God in flesh, God walking among us. As God, He restores heaven and earth. He redeems them from mankind’s sinful rebellion. He sets them apart for His good purposes: to be used by us to care for us and to always point us to Him. Amen.
O God, by the leading of a star You made Your only-begotten Son known to the Gentiles. Lead us, who know You by faith, to enjoy the fullness of Your divine presence in heaven. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.