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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz

Feb 18, 2018  SERMON TEXT

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! AMEN

The text for our meditation today is the Gospel Ledsson for this 1sxt Sunday in Lent, Mark 1:9-15. There we read these words:

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 being torn open 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." The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. 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."

We begin in Jesus’ name, Amen

I have a Lutheran friend who frequently complains about Lutheran preaching. "The pastor frequently tells us from the pulpit that we must repent," says my friend, "but he never tells us exactly what it means to repent." Today in St. Mark chapter 1, Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent and believe the Gospel."

Dear Christian friends, On its bare surface, the word "repent" simply means to turn, to change your mind, or to change your behavior. .....Stop doing the wrong thing you are doing. .....Stop thinking or saying the wrong things you are thinking or saying. .....Start doing or thinking or saying something different, something acceptable.

When someone says the word "repent" to you, you need to pay attention to the context in which the word was spoken. For example, suppose you walk into someone’s living room and put your feet up on the coffee table. When the owner says to you, "Repent," he/she means to say, "Find a better place for your feet."

If someone else is in the kitchen and overhears the owner say that same word, that other person will probably understand the word "Repent" to mean something different. For the person in the kitchen, the owner’s word "Repent" actually means, "Get your hands out of the cookie jar."

In a similar manner, when the preacher says to you, "Repent," you need to pay attention to what else he has been saying before you can know what exactly he means by "repent." Context is everything:

If the sermon has been addressing disinterested and lifeless worship, then the word "repent" in that context actually means something like, "Pay attention!" or "Take to heart the promises of God!" or "Act like Holy Communion matters to you!"

What if the sermon was about the pious and good work of giving an offering? Perhaps in that context the word "repent" might actually mean, "Stop being cold hearted and stingy" or "Do not leave the support of the church to someone else. Put your own shoulder to the wheel."

Suppose you have a lazy attitude about baptizing your children. Repent! In that context, the word "repent" means nothing except, "Bring the kid to the font, and then spend the rest of your life teaching him from the Scriptures what happened to him there!"

In today’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus began to preach. And all of His preaching boiled down to these Words: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel."

Stained Glass Baptism Window

The Lord probably had many other things to say, but Mark recorded only these Words in particular. Why these Words only? Because these Words are really the only Words that matter for the entire mass of all humanity: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel."

There are three especially important things we should notice and remember about the Lord’s Words, "Repent and believe the Gospel":

1. The first thing to notice is the Person who spoke that sermon. This was no mere man; this was God in the flesh. The man Jesus is the same God who spoke the Word "Light" into the timeless darkness—"and there was light" (Genesis 1:3).

The lips that formed the Word "repent" in today’s Gospel are the same lips that said, "Come out" (John 11:43), to a dead man named Lazarus. "And the man who had died came out of his tomb" (John 11:44).

When Jesus says the Word "repent" in today’s Gospel, that Word carries the same divine, miraculous, result-producing power of the creation and of the resurrection of the dead. This is good news for you and for me because "repent" means to turn, to change your mind, or to change your behavior.

BUT, here is the difference. If your mother or father tells you to change your thinking, then you have a job to do. If a police office or a civil judge tells you to change your behavior, then you have a job to do.

When your God tells you to "repent,"—as Jesus says in today’s Gospel—He is NOT telling you that you have a job to do! Jesus is doing the job for you! Jesus’ Word "repent" delivers to you the very power needed for your repentance, for your turning, for your change of heart and mind and speech and behavior.

As an analogy, think about a mother and her little child and the hot woodstove in their living room. As the child toddles toward the woodstove, mom will not merely sit there and say, "Stay back." Mom will jump to her feet and grab ahold of the child and turn the child away from danger, all while saying to the child, "Stay back from the wood stove."

In the same way, when Jesus says "repent" in today’s Gospel, He is acting like a mother toward you. He is not merely calling out to you or warning you to change direction. Think of our Lord’s Word "repent" grasping ahold of you and turning you toward safety, not by your power but by His (Acts 5:31, 11:18).

If you refuse to repent, turn, change? Perhaps you are telling Jesus that you want nothing to do with His Word and His power; that you prefer the woodstove and would rather be burned.

2. But what does my own personal repentance look like? What shape shall your repentance take for you? That brings us to the second thing we should notice about our Lord’s sermon in today’s Gospel.

Jesus preaches in a very general manner here: "Repent and believe the Gospel." Jesus does not mention the Fourth Commandment, or the Seventh, or any of the other commandments. He simply preaches the bare Word, "Repent."

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

In so doing, Jesus is allowing you to figure out from your own personal context what needs to change in your life. For the guy in the living room, "repent" means, "Move your feet." The guy in the kitchen hears the same word to mean, "Get out of the cookie jar."

When Jesus says "repent" to you, the context of your life is everything. You are a baptized child of Christ. That means you have the power of the Spirit and the working of the Divine Word. Jesus knows you know the Ten Commandments.

You and He both know which ones you are happy to keep and which ones you routinely ignore. Allow the Holy Spirit His divine work: Listen to Jesus’ Word, "repent," examine your own life in light of the Ten Commandments, and turn away from those unrepentant things that He brings to your mind.

3. The third thing to notice about our Lord’s sermon is the rest of the phrase: "Repent… AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL." Our Lord’s Word "believe" carries the same divine power as His Word "repent."

In the same way that repentance is something that Jesus creates for you (Acts 5:31, 11:8), so faith is something that Jesus gives to you. That is the significance of your Baptism; that is the necessity of hearing the absolution— the word of Jesus’ forgiveness— spoken to you in worship; that is the very nourishment you receive in the Holy Communion.

The Word "believe" is the Lord’s own divine light shining in the perpetual darkness of your heart. The Word "believe" is your God’s spoken power of resurrection from the dead.

When Jesus says the Word "believe" to you, this Word is His powerful act of redirecting your steps into a very specific direction—not toward death and destruction, but toward forgiveness and life.

To quote the father of John the Baptist, Jesus preaches "to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:79). "AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL," says the Lord.

At the very beginning of his book, St. Mark carefully described for you what the Gospel is, so that you will have no doubts and no worries. The Gospel is the good news concerning "Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1).

The Gospel is not your effort, not your turning, and not your act of faith. The Gospel is your Lord’s effort on your behalf: living for your life; dying for your death; rising for your resurrection from the dead.

The Gospel is Jesus facing your temptations and participating in your struggles. The Gospel is your Lord’s compassion toward you and His endurance for your sake. The Gospel is Jesus’ forgiveness of all your sins. The Gospel is your Lord’s spoken power for your repentance, and the anchor of your faith.

"The kingdom of God is at hand" because the Lord your God draws near to you in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. "Repent and believe the Gospel."

Christ is risen.

Luther Rose
Christ Is Risen
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