Following the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus made two claims that caught people’s attention. They were: the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom is near. In our Greek New Testaments, these are statements of fact. My old Greek professor would say that the verbs are in the indicative – the statement of fact – mood. Discipleship to Jesus is based on such facts. The foundation of the faith is built on the indicative – on rock-hard, often historically-verifiable, facts.
In Christianity there are facts to be affirmed: God exists, Jesus Christ is his son who lived a perfect life, died on a cross, was raised on the third day, ascended into heaven, and will return one day. Those are facts, and without them faith in Jesus is illusory. They form the foundation of the faith. But—and this is crucial—they are not the entire building.
Frequently, where we find the indicative (the statement of fact), we also find the imperative (the demand for action.) The two go hand in hand. After the fact comes the response. Because such and such is true (the indicative) this is what you must do (the imperative). In the Bible, as Ralph Martin puts it, we have both fact and act, and the two are bound together.11
Consider some examples: “You have been bought with a price,” (fact); “Therefore, glorify God with your body,” (act).12 “You have been raised with Christ, (fact); “Set your hearts . . . [and] minds on things above,” (act).13 “Your Father knows [what] you need (fact); “seek his kingdom and righteousness,”(act).14 I could go on and on, but let me give just one more: “We have a great priest over the house of God,” (fact); “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith,” (act).15
Sometimes people get the idea that following Jesus is about knowing facts – and it is that. Facts are the foundation, and without a foundation a building (or, for that matter, a life) will collapse. But following Jesus is also much more than that. Following Jesus is knowing facts and engaging in acts. (Of course, this is not about earning your way into heaven. Nothing could be further from God’s mind. This is about living as citizens of God’s kingdom, about genuinely following Jesus: fact plus act.
In our passage, the facts are these: “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom is near.” The acts are these: “Repent, and believe the good news (the gospel).” The word repent is derived from two Greek roots: meta (which means change, as in metamorphosis – a change of form); and noia (or nous, which means mind). Repentance is a deep and real change of mind that leads naturally to a change of behavior.
Sometime people try to change their behavior without a deep and real change of mind. For example, they stop smoking, but they haven’t changed their mind about the pleasures and benefit of cigarettes. And of course, they go back to smoking. It’s inevitable.
In his book, Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller wrote about his addiction to tobacco. He knew all the facts. He knew he should quit. He tried to quit. But he always went right back to it. Then one day he heard a public service announcement on the radio about quitting, made by a man who had lost his lower jaw to cancer. He could hear the man’s odd, hollow, slobbery voice. He could imagine – for a moment he could almost see – what the man talking into the microphone looked like: a man without a lower lip, without a chin. And that’s when he had a change of mind about tobacco. He quit for good.16
Jesus called people to a real change of mind based on fact, not abstract religious data but hard-as-rock realities: God’s kingdom had drawn near, and people could enter it and live under God’s rule, in God’s way, as God’s people. This new reality called for a radical change of mind. A new way of life was being offered. Would they believe it?
The clasp that holds the indicative (the fact) to the imperative (the act) is belief. Jesus called his hearers to believe, and that, of necessity, is a call to action. Mark goes right on to describe how some of his hearers – people name Andrew and Simon, James and John – believed and went on to act on their belief.
The message of Jesus has been summarized this way: “Rethink your life in the light of the fact that the kingdom of the heavens in now open to all.”17 In our age people are still faced with the same decision: Will we believe that Jesus has brought God’s rule to earth? Will we act?
Rethinking our lives, and making the adjustments that are necessary, can be uncomfortable. Living under God’s rule looks different from the life our neighbors lead or, for that matter, from the life we lived in the past. It means living with a new focus on God’s will, not our own. With a new purpose to serve and please God. With new resources – not just money, but God’s gracious help and supply. In a new way – the way of love, not self-interest.
Does that mean that I cannot be a Christian and continue doing what I have always done? It might be uncomfortable, but yes. Believing the good news will inevitably (though not necessarily quickly) move a person from fact to act. Apart from belief, our attempts to repent are nothing more than turning over a new leaf. But when we believe we don’t merely turn over a new leaf. We turn into a new person.
When we hear a preacher talk about these things, the first thing we think is, “I knew it was coming. They’re always saying that. I’m not good enough! I have to change if I want to be a Christian.” That is nonsense! The reality is that we get to change. We get new resources, new desires, new peace, real purpose, a loving family, and a Father who will never forsake us. We get to change!
11 Martin, Ralph P., Mark: Knox Preaching Guides, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981
16 Miller, Donald, Searching for God Knows What, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004, p.58
17 Willard, Dallas, The Divine Conspiracy, San Francisco: Harper, 1998, p. 274