For Al Carlson
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.”
I don’t know what to say about Al, really. I always liked him, and his quiet demeanor. I liked how he would come to church Sunday after Sunday though it was doubtful he heard much. It was just what Al did. It was habit. He wanted to go to church. He wanted to. I know that. He hasn’t been here for the last year and a half or so. But it wasn’t much his fault. He couldn’t drive. And the people who were taking advantage of him, and robbing him blind refused to take him anywhere where people might care for him.
Every once in a while I would see Al about town, and talk to him. He told me he wanted to come to church. He told Michael he wanted to go to church. But that is a story for another day. The point is, Al liked coming to church. He believed this Gospel of God that Jesus proclaimed: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” So he came to hear it again and again. He knew the Gospel was his ticket to heaven.
“Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Repenting is something we generally have a handle on. We tend to know what it means. Admitting wrong, being sorrowful for your sin, making amends, and trying to do better. Most religion is made up of repenting in one form or another, doing good works, recognizing the law. It is this believing in the Gospel that needs to be explained. The Gospel, what is it? What does it mean to believe in the Gospel?
Too many people confuse gospel as any religious message about being good, or telling people how to be good. But the Greek word here simply means good news. The good news of God. Repent and believe the good news. Trust in the good news. It really is the opposite of what most religious messages tell you to do. For most religious messages don’t tell you to trust in the good news. They never get beyond repenting in a human fashion. Most religious messages tell you, you can’t trust in the good news for your salvation, but have to do something to earn it, or keep it. They refuse to recognize that we are helpless to do so, that we can’t keep the law. We break it and are guilty by it. Just as Al this last year was guilty of breaking the third commandment, keeping the Sabbath day holy. He was guilty of breaking it, even though he was helpless to keep it. The law tends to be that way. It will catch you one way or another. As my lawyer once told me, there is no spirit of the law, only the letter. And the letter kills. It doesn’t ever quicken or bring to life. Repent and believe in the Gospel the good news.
There is good news. This we can determine from what Jesus says. Believe the good news. But what is this good news. It is nothing more than this, that the Kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is here. That kingdom we pray for when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, Thy kingdom come. It is here. It is here in Jesus Christ. He is telling us to believe in Him because He is the good news, the kingdom of God. He isn’t a law giver. He did not come to give us new rules to live by. We had enough of those long before He came. Moses gave us quite a few. Or at least he gave the Jews enough. Most of them nothing I care for, I quite like lobster when I can afford it.
Even without Moses, the Old Testament, or the Ten Commandments, we know well enough how to live a decent life. We don’t do it. We know right from wrong, yet we too often fail to do what is right, The Golden Rule of treating others as we would like to be treated. But how often do we fail to forgive when we would have others forgive us if we were in the same place? How often do we look down on others for bad choices, when we would not have others judge us the same way? Jesus tells us to repent.
Notice He doesn’t tell us what to repent of. Just Repent! Why? Because you are a sinner. He doesn’t need to tell you what to repent of. Find something, it shouldn’t be too hard. You’re guilty you’re a sinner. Yes you. Repent! Repent for not repenting. Repent for thinking you could make up for your sin. Repent for not believing the Gospel. Repent for thinking you are too good to repent. Repent because Jesus tells you to repent. And he does so, because he knows you are guilty, doomed, lost in your sin, and damned to hell for it. Yes you. The law you try to live by damns you, damns you to hell. You are judged by it even as you do your best to live by it, but fail. You are a poor miserable sinner, just as Al confessed to being Sunday after Sunday in that pew right there. Al one of the nicest unassuming men I ever knew, knew one thing and confessed it, he was a poor miserable sinner that justly deserved God’s temporal and eternal punishment. But Al also believed the Gospel, believed in Jesus, trusted Jesus. What is this Gospel? Al believed that Jesus died for his sin, and forgave him his sin. This is the good news, the good news as it is expressed in the epistle lesson.
Since therefore the children share in the flesh and blood, he (Jesus) himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, … therefore he had to be made like his brothers, in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” The good news? Jesus took on the flesh and blood of his brother, Al, and died in Al’s place destroying the devil, so that Al needed not fear death, or live a life subject to slavery to the law by fear of death. Do you live a life of slavery? Ask yourself that? Do you? Do you constantly live not asking what you can do for your neighbor out of love for your neighbor, but out of fear for your own death. Thinking if I do this for my neighbor maybe I will have fulfilled the law today, earned myself another rung on Jacob’s ladder. Al didn’t worry about that. He didn’t come to church out of fear that he might displease God.
I’ll tell you something about Al. He knew he was being taken advantage of. He did. And he didn’t care. He was much better at turning the other cheek than I am. And he didn’t do it out of fear. Al knew the gospel, the good news. Al trusted it. He wanted to go to church, but he didn’t worry about it. Because he knew that Jesus had become his brother, like him in every way, and offered himself as a propitiation for his life. That is Jesus was a sacrificial substitute for our life. he offered Himself in death for you. To do so He became like you. Yes He “had to be made” like us in every way, because He wasn’t like us before. He wasn’t like us. He had to be made like us. He was God. He was spirit. He was eternal, having been begotten by God, not made, or created by God. God begat God, not man. Jesus was his only begotten son, who became man, that is was made like one of us in every way, partook of the flesh and blood because the children, you and I, share in flesh and blood. And then He offered his flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of God as a sacrifice of infinite value, a priceless propitiation, for you and me, mercifully and faithfully forgiving our sins, the sins of the people. That is the good news Al believed, and trusted in. And because of that propitiation, He now lives with Jesus in His kingdom forevermore.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.