“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon today comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from Mark, the first chapter. Dear friends in Christ, God has had some reluctant preachers, but none more rebellious than Jonah. We all know at least some of the details of this odd little book, perhaps the most fascinating in all of Scripture. In the account of Jonah we see a prophet who is called by God, but flees, a man who spends three days in the belly of a ‘great fish,’ foreshadowing Christ’s own stay in the tomb. This stubborn preacher needs a great storm and the stinky belly of a fish to finally come around and do what he was originally called to do- preach repentance to the exceedingly evil city of Nineveh. “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord… And he called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’” This has been a book filled with wonders, and yet the greatest was still to come. “And the people of Nineveh believed God… When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them.” The people of this wicked city, one of the most ruthless nations in all the ancient world, heard the proclamation of Jonah that the time was fulfilled and the day of destruction was upon them, and what was their response? Repentance and faith!
“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled!’” Just as Jonah proclaimed that “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” so Christ emerged from the wilderness and boldly cried, “The time is fulfilled!” It was the time, the proper time, for Jesus Christ to begin the mission for which He was born. On that first Christmas Eve, Jesus was revealed to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds as the Son of God, as the one who was to save humanity. And when the shepherds returned home that night, they probably thought that this deliverance was close at hand. And it was, but all creation had thirty years yet to wait. For salvation was on God’s timetable, as it had been since the day that Adam and Eve fell into sin. On that day the promise was given to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The entire Old Testament is a narrative of that promise being passed down from generation to generation, of God making the promise more and more specific, and of His gracious preservation of the seed of a woman that would one day become man in the womb of Mary.
For the time that had come was the time of salvation, the time of God’s mighty deliverance, and it ran on His schedule. It was the proper time because it was His time, and it was the proper time because it was the moment in which all the prophecies of the Old Testament found their fulfillment. For the Lord of all heaven and earth was now ready to reveal Himself to those whom He came to save, and He did so by crying out: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel!”
The kingdom of God truly was near, because in Christ that kingdom would be established. In fact, in Christ, that kingdom became incarnate, it was embodied within the human frame of the Son of God. When Jesus said that the kingdom of God was near, He was saying that the kingdom was embodied in the one speaking! It is in Jesus that the kingdom of God comes near to people, it is in Jesus that the kingdom of God comes near to you and me. Creation had groaned for thousands of years to see its deliverer born, then waited in eager anticipation for thirty more, and when Christ began to preach, He said that the hour of deliverance is near, it is almost here, it is coming very soon. For Christ had to show Himself as the Lord and Savior of all, as God in the flesh, He had to proclaim to all people, you and me, who He was and what He had come to do. That is what Epiphany is all about! For the moment of our salvation was that moment when He shed His blood and gave up His life in payment for our sins. It was at that time, the proper time, the time set by God, as the earth shook and the sun was blotted out, that the kingdom of God was established. It did not come quietly. “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The kingdom of God, founded in the blood of Christ, the blood shed for you, would be a kingdom of grace, of mercy, of forgiveness. And the revelation and establishment of that kingdom through Christ’s death and resurrection meant the end of another kingdom, that of Satan.
It is no coincidence that the public appearance of Jesus occurs right after He is tempted in the desert. There Satan was dealt a blow, the second Adam resisted the temptations into which the first Adam fell. Satan’s stranglehold on all humanity was about to end, when Jesus paid the price we owe to God, Satan’s kingdom fell. And so Christ’s message to us is simple- “Repent!” Turn away from the kingdom of Satan and His chains which have long enslaved you! Give up on the old kingdom, look toward the new! Cast off the shackles of sin, Satan’s kingdom has been defeated! Jesus is calling on you to examine your life, to confess your sins, to turn your back on Satan’s kingdom, for his kingdom is at an end. Luther instructs us to “consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife or worker? Have your been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?” When we examine ourselves, we see our sin and our urgent need for a Savior. On the other hand, if we answer ‘no’ to every one of those questions, then we have a much deeper problem- we are blind to our sin, we cannot see the corruption that has filled us since conception. The proper time, the time that has been fulfilled, is a time of repentance- the hour for repentance is now! The urgency of Christ’s call cannot be exaggerated- our sins return us to Satan’s kingdom, they cause us to live in a kingdom that has no more power, that has been crushed by the foot of the Savior. “Repent and believe in the Gospel!”
What Jesus is asking seems impossible. We see every day how we are embroiled in the fallen kingdom of Satan, how much we fall into sin. But yet Christ issues His call. “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” The power of Christ’s call was overwhelming: “And immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” No arguments, no debate, these men, who just a moment ago had been fishermen were transformed by the power of Christ’s call into fishers of men. The Word of Jesus did what it said, and it would do so again. “And going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee and John His brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed Him.”
The Word of Jesus still does what it says, it still has power. It is the call of Jesus that creates faith within the hearts of sinful people, along the Sea of Galilee and two thousand years later in the hills of central New York. You and I know how unclean we are, we see our sin around us and in us, try as we might we cannot break those bonds. We know that we need a Savior, we need the blood of Jesus Christ. For when the time was fulfilled Jesus bled and died on a cross for you, He was bound to a tree so that your bonds may be broken, He endured the agony of Hell so that you do not have to. He who had no sin became sin for you! Without His death and resurrection, Christ’s call has no power, but with those twin events, where the kingdom of God was established and the kingdom of Satan was destroyed, Christ’s call to you brings life! Jesus calls you to repent- through God’s Word of Law the Holy Spirit works repentance within you. Jesus calls you to believe the Gospel- through the very words of the Gospel the Holy Spirit works faith within you, faith which grasps onto the sure and certain promises of God.
The Word of God transforms you, just as it did Simon and Andrew, James and John, into fishers of men. As those delivered from the kingdom of Satan through the shed blood of Christ, we can do nothing else but carry that message to others, knowing that our Lord does all the work, we are only instruments of His call. Luther once called the Church a ‘mouth-house,’ a place where people are gathered who simply talk about Jesus and His salvation to others. With the same Word that worked faith in our hearts now upon our lips, we know that we are fishing for people with the tools that God has provided, with the promise that “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” The call of Jesus then brings us into a life that is shaped by the cross, it is shaped by our baptism, it is shaped by His words in our text: “Repent and believe the Gospel!” Each and every day we die to sin in repentance and rise to Christ in faith. The Holy Spirit works in us to make the moment in which Christ called us to faith a continual part of our lives- each and every day then is a day in which we turn from the old kingdom of Satan and toward the new kingdom of Christ.
Jesus proclaimed: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” This time was not only fulfilled on the night of Jesus’ birth, in our text for today, or even only upon the cross. Today it is fulfilled in your hearing as you once again hear that message of Christ’s death and resurrection for you and the forgiveness of the sins of all. It was fulfilled on your Baptism day, and every time that a child is brought to this font to hear Christ’s call. It is fulfilled each and every time that you receive our Lord’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. In short, the kingdom of God is at hand each and every time that sins are forgiven. And yet we look toward another fulfillment to come- that glorious Day when God will raise us and all the dead and give eternal life to us and all believers in Christ. May our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ bring you to that Day through the power of His Word and the gift of His forgiveness, Amen.