In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
The world today is going to hell in a handbasket…
Kids these days do not know how good they have it…
All leaders and politicians are corrupt…
Violence is worse today than it ever has been…
It is easy to be cynical today, isn’t it? Do you ever catch yourself repeating some of these phrases?
What does it take today, to believe in the good news?
And this is not only true for adults. Teens, middle school youth- do you ever catch yourself saying- “This is dumb.”… “I don’t like that class, that person, that activity…” It is easy to sit back and be critical. A whole lot easier than it is to change ourselves, let alone change the world right?
Theodore Roosevelt has a powerful quote that came from a speech he gave that illustrates this point…
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. –Theodore Roosevelt
In our gospel reading today, Jesus preached a short sermon. He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news?”
How do we take Jesus’ command to believe, or trust, in the good news of God, seriously? How do we refuse to give into the temptation of cynicism and criticism? How do we become the peace of God that we want to see in the world?
We look at the verb that precedes this command. Repent. Repent and believe are both in the active imperative form- meaning that they are both commands from Jesus to those whom he was preaching to- and because we believe this word is a living word- to us. We first need to repent in order to believe in the good news.
Repentance is something that we focus on in the season of Lent. It is something central to our faith. We need to repent, or turn away from our sin and turn to God, in order to be in relationship with God. Repent can be described as turning in a new direction, and in the context of our faith it includes both a change of mind and heart- and a change in our actions. I shared on Wednesday that it could also be seen as having a new perspective. Here we might say that this new perspective allows us to believe in the good news of Jesus. Turn away from whatever keeps you from hearing and trusting this good news. Turn toward Jesus.
When we first repent we are able to hear God’s good news. We heard the good news in our first reading today. (The end of the Noah’s Ark story.) The good news that God has made a covenant with all of creation- all living things, never to destroy the earth with a flood. God’s covenant in this story is not a covenant in the sense of a treaty or pact- which is often what covenant meant. Because in this story only one party has an obligation, and that is God. This covenant is a promise- a promise God makes to all living things not to harm them. The sign of the bow- which was once a sign of war- now becomes a sign of peace. God’s bow of peace in the sky.
We need to look no further than the symbol of our Christian faith for the good news. The cross. Another weapon now becomes God’s symbol of peace. In the cross, Jesus takes on the sins of the world, the suffering of all. In the cross, Jesus hangs in solidarity with all of those who suffer unjustly. In the cross- God reconciles the world, including each of us. God is with us in times of difficulty, in times of suffering, when we face temptation, when we are alone in the wilderness. We are never truly alone, because God is with us. And that is God’s good news.
When Jesus was baptized, a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Here God’s good news exists alongside wilderness. Jesus is the beloved son. Jesus is also driven into the wilderness where he is tempted. And even though Jesus is in the wilderness- he was not alone. He, ‘was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.’ The promise of Jesus’ baptism sustained him during his time of trial.
And the same is true for you. Jesus commands you to repent and believe in the good news of that God has come near- the good news that you are a beloved child, that you are forgiven, that the cross is for you, that God is with you even in times of wilderness. And that promise will sustain you in difficult times. That promise will also drive you to the things God calls you to do.
I believe God is calling us to turn in a new direction. To resist the temptation to hear only the bad news and cynicism that this world can offer. To resist the impulse to sit on the sideline as a critic. But rather, to dare greatly in participating in God’s mission for the world, to participate in bringing God’s peace to this hurting world.
 Matthew Skinner, Working Preaching Podcast.
Photo credit: Bibleresources.americanbible.org