Jesus is the Man on the Mission
Last fall, a writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opened an article on relief efforts in Milwaukee aimed to help earthquake victims in Mexico City and Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria. To start, she described it this way - that the earthquake so far away in Mexico City also shook the hearts of Latinos here in Milwaukee. The distress of the Puerto Ricans was a distress shared in our city too. And so Milwaukee citizens, leaders, vendors worked together to raise funds for Red Cross relief efforts in those places.
Well, this morning, take that tug in their hearts and return to my office but four days ago as a sweet lady and Grace member entered to pour out her sad thoughts about a world so lost and apart from God. With welled-up eyes she was stuck on the horror of what it is to keep turning one’s heart against God. Together we shared some prayers from Scripture: that on the one hand we cry with God’s people, “how long, O Lord?” and on the other hand ask God for renewed strength to say, “Here am I, send me, send me” into that world. Do you share that prayer, that concern, that tug, too? Do you feel the lostness of the world around you?
The long arms of a parent near you are wrapped twice around their little child as if the child were deathly sick. And the believing parent says, “Actually they are.” That’s sin on your mind and its great need and cry for help. Do you share that hug around daddy’s little girl, as he mouths a prayer in her hair, “Lord Jesus, save this one too.”
There’s a spouse among us grieving at the anger and impatience that has become too much the norm in their marriage, the very relationship they prayed would be a reflection of God’s love has become the devil’s playground. Now she prays for some way to get back on track. Do you hear the spiritual need crying out?
Do you not, believer, spend many thoughts mapping out the spiritual future of those you love? When you listen to someone talk, you can spiritually project the future ahead of their current thinking, their words, their heart, their attitude...how their current dis of the church, current rebellious way, current train of thought steamrolls them to the pit of hell?...OR how about projecting the way of any believer, starting with yourself but all believers great and small? Do you see our path we know is a gauntlet of temptation, intimidation, spiritual traps and false floors? Next time you hug someone - your friend from college, your sibling, your spouse or child - try uttering this powerful prayer yourself, “Lord, save this one too. Show me how I can be your agent to bring heaven’s food to this needy soul.” This is what it is to be on the front lines of God’s great relief effort.
You know where all of this comes from? All this precious attention to souls and spiritual relief efforts? Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel, you could say Jesus’ first act was to stare the devil down in the desert, tempted for forty days, but though Jesus was drained in struggle with temptation, still he was undefeated. His second act is before us today. He entered a mission field, otherwise known as Satan territory of lies and prisonhouse of souls. Jesus today has come to steal and to snatch people to God. Today, let’s be caught up again in his net, renergized, refocused, equipped anew to fish for people by the One through whom this ministry begins and ends, Jesus, the Man on the Mission.
Note right away how Jesus’ preaching starts - “after John was put in prison”. John the Baptist was God’s messenger to prepare the way for Jesus, and King Herod, who was running with the devil, chained him up. Is this not spiritual warfare? John is imprisoned and you’d think God had lost a battle. It should be this momentum killer, with a dark cloud hanging over this whole operation - “who wants to listen to another preacher like John if all it gets you is jail time? Even a sensible fisherman in his right mind who not want to follow Jesus to “fish for people.” “Fish for people, Jesus? You meant, ‘follow me and be flogged by people, jailed by kings, rejected by the masses, crucified by your enemies.’”
But our Lord, who overcomes all things, shows us that there is no setback too great, to circumstance too wicked, no devil or demon too strong for him. Nothing in this world can take away what God himself had come to give. In fact, John’s imprisonment only amplifies humanity’s need for God’s help and how good it is when it comes.
And Jesus held nothing back as he speaks his first words in Mark’s Gospel: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near.” Jesus is announcing himself, and without any setbacks. It’s like he sees a perfect day outside for evangelism. He is the reason the time is come, he is God’s Great King. Any believer’s long-awaited hopes were now to find their end in Jesus. Even if he doesn’t give you popularity, doesn’t get you “in” with King Herod, even if he doesn’t promise a dream life or even a place to lay your head...even if it were just Jesus - so true! - the time is come and we have the full kingdom of God!
And then he draws his sword against Satan, he works a true exorcism in people’s hearts, he speaks to set up the kingdom of God in people’s hearts, he ministers the relief effort, the antidote to the poison, by saying: “Repent and believe the good news!” You see, when we talk about preaching law and gospel, repent and believe, the two core truths of Scripture, it’s not some unimportant, heard-it-all-before preaching. This is how Jesus spreads his kingdom and builds it. Where there is repentance and faith in God’s good news, there are all the blessings of God’s kingdom. The two are inseparable. This is how he arms the soul with weapons against the devil! Jesus rescues souls, strengthens souls and keeps souls his until death only here in this saving message - “repent and believe the good news.”
Think of it this way, what do you think the world would look like if the devil had complete freedom to have his way: you probably see something like incredible immorality, buildings on fire, chaos in the streets, a complete free-for-all and reign of terror. But try again - can you also see how pleased the devil would be with a world full of boys and girls scouts who are doing their duty to God, whoever he is. Can you see how happy he’d be with churches on every street corner, people packing the pews, as long as they never said, “Repent and believe the good news”? How happy to have little pious ones running around, satisfied with their own efforts, pleased with their kindness and generosity, so proud of the hard work to bring their peace to the world. There is no lowly, crucified Christ, treasured at the center of that heart.
You really want to drive Satan far away from you? Want to help a soul? Love the lost? Lead spouses to a fuller love? Save your children forever? Tell them to repent Jesus’ way. We are the ones too soft on our wickedness and too smug in self-righteousness. We need this word again! Do not let go of Jesus’ word “repent” until all earthly hope is lost, until all the lights in the tunnel are out, until your soul has nowhere to hide, where God leads you to confess every letter of ‘I am by nature sinful. That’s the truth of sin. Only there are the devil’s lies finally silent and God’s Word “repent” reigns.
Everything else is what we said in worship earlier - it’s Satan’s world of deception and the truth is not in us.
But it’s also not Jesus’ word of relief without “believe the good news!” Without trust in God’s good news, repentance is just total despair. Consider how Jesus would train his disciples to know that with him there is always good news. In the most impossible places, in the heart of death, at a stormy sea, when the prostitute and tax collector are caught red-handed, there is still good news in this One. Yes, even on the darkest day of history, when Jesus’ own body bled out and his soul crushed by God’s wrath for our sin, especially there, the disciples were trained to know what good news was.
How could we fail to proclaim the fullness of forgiveness after witnessing Good Friday? See how the disciples were given witness to payment in full, life from the dead, that they would spare no good from their good news. They would cast their nets in even the most unlikely places, from the greatest of sinners to the corners of the earth, to enter paganism’s capital cities and Satan’s secured turf - for who knew what God might do when we say, “Repent and believe the good news.”
No wonder Jesus could use fishermen or any person to call into his ministry against the devil. It’s not some built-in-skill or smarts and powerful position that was first required, but the one who has learned from Jesus how to serve souls with his message: “repent and believe the good news.”
Just as the disciples’ training to be his apostles had begun, how are we training to fish for people? How are we recruiting for the ministry of the Word? It starts with each person here, that we continue to help each other know what repentance means and what good news is. Start recruiting your kids by sharing sin’s terrible mess and Jesus’ saving help. Make them masters of the message, encourage them and one another that no matter your vocation or career, fishing for souls with these words are our priority. Recruit them for public ministry as pastors and teachers, especially as you see them share the tears of sinners and the tug for Jesus’ “something about it”.So, dear friends, keep your prayers for souls, for children, for spouses, for neighbors, for the lost world coming. Continue to share that precious attention of God for the care of your soul and the souls around you. But don’t’ forget that this Jesus, the Man on the Mission before us in Mark 1, is just as busy today as ever, toppling idols, overthrowing Satan, and sharing eternal life. So combine those prayers with fishing poles and speak his Word: “Repent and believe the good news.” Amen.