3rd Sunday after epiphany Mark 1_14-20 good new/bad news
“I have some good news and some bad news’, the chair person of the ladies guild said to the pastor. ‘The good news is that we voted to send you a get well card. The bad news is the vote passed by 31-30”.
Good news/bad news. “The good news, said the elder to his pastor, is that the congregation accepted your job description just the way you wrote it. The bad news is that we were so imprest by it, we formed a call committee to find someone to fill the position”.
Good news bad news, they always seem to come as one. When there is good news, there always seems to be bad news, or the other way around, there is always good news in bad news: as the saying goes, ‘there is a silver lining behind every dark cloud’. Millions are celebrating the good news that the first black man Barak Obama has been installed as the new president of the United States, however, the bad news is, despite all the words of hope and determination, Obama is only one man and only human and we know the record of human attempts to ‘redeem the world’.
We are currently in the church season of Epiphany. A time set aside in the church to explore the revelation of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. It is a time for us to learn about how God reveals himself to us through his word. The observable fact that good news and bad news come into our lives, gives us a simple but profound way of understanding how God deals with us. The bad news/good news reality is a formula for understanding the bible or as Martin Luther explained it ‘God always speaks to us in two ways; in law and gospel’. Understanding God’s word as being both law and gospel is unique to our faith tradition and the simple key that opens the scriptures to us.
The first words Jesus spoke in his earthly ministry were words of bad news and good news. But unlike the good news bad news jokes I just told you, Jesus was not joking when he spoke these words, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!“ He is not joking about the bad news ‘repent of your sins’, he means it, but just as important he is not joking when he says ‘believe the good news and be saved; believe in me…believe also in the one who sent me.’
Repent and believe, God’s word of bad news and good news is the simple message of Jesus, and it was the simple message of John the Baptist, of the Apostle Paul, of the bible and is the simple yet life changing word of God to you and me;
Law and gospel, the bad news/good news formula is the window which enlightens us to God’s word. It gives us a paradigm or platform from which to understand our relationship with God and his word to us. When we read the bible, when we hear God’s word spoken to us, the widow of both bad news/good news together enables us to understand what Jesus means when he says ‘repent and believe. The bad news ‘repent’ convicts our conscience of sin.
It tells us what God expects of us and reveals to us, that we can never achieve what it demands, as Jesus says “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery (you think you can keep this command, well).’ I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ The bad news of Jesus’ ‘repent’, tells us that when we read the bible are hear Isaiah say ‘all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.’
We can know for certain that even the good we do for others, the good deeds in our service to the church are never good works to impress God enough to get us to heaven. This is the law, the bad news.
The good news however, which must always accompany God’s word of bad news, comforts us and releases us from the terrors of sin and guilt. It demands nothing of us yet gives everything. It assures us and gives us certainty that despite our failure to keep what the law demands of us, we are forgiven because of Jesus death on the cross. This is what Jesus meant when he said ‘believe the good news’.
The goods news is that ‘whoever is baptised and believes will be saved’. The good news is as St Paul says ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. The good news is as Luther discovered, that we are save by no merits of our own, but by faith alone in Christ alone. This is the good news Jesus was speaking about and is now speaking to you.
The good news is spoken most clearly in Holy Communion. It is here in this meal, where Jesus says ‘take and drink this IS my body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ We eat and drink pure good news, pure gospel. The bad news is dealt with and destroyed as we partake of the supper. Holy Communion is the observable and tangible forgiveness of God.
We must in no way confuse this pure good news with the bad news and doubt our forgiveness, doubt the grace of God. When God forgives it is complete, or in Jesus words on the cross, ‘it is finished’. When God says it is done, it is final!
And with these words of Christ ‘your sins are forgiven’, our Christian life begins. It begins anew each time we leave the Lord’s Table. We walk free from here to live our life travelling the road between God’s bad news and good news. As an analogy similar to our Christian walk between law and gospel, when Julie and I lived in Alice Springs, we decided to travel to Adelaide via an outback road through William Creek. Well, it rained all night which made the road very muddy and slippery.
I used to wonder why outback roads were so wide when very few cars travelled them. Now I knew. When they are wet, the wide road lets you slide from one side of the road to the other around corners. Bouncing off one embankment you are corrected back to the centre of the road, then as you slip off the other side around the next corner, the embankment corrects your direction and you are able to continue on the road.
The embankments on the wide road keep you from falling off the road into a bog and also keep you going in the right direction; the wide road between the two embankments gives you freedom to negotiate the road.
In the same way God’s word of bad news and good news are like the embankments. As we travel down the wide road of life, when things become slippery and we slid off our Christian walk, God’s word of bad news, calling us to repent, bounces us back onto the road again. It stops us from falling right off and loosing sight of Jesus. God’s word of good news is the other embankment.
After hitting the bad news we are speared off onto the other side of good news which comforts as and assures us that Jesus as forgiven us and that news sets us on the road of righteousness and the road that leads to eternal life.
This is what it means and this is what we do as you and I together live the life and walk the journey to the new Jerusalem between the two words of Jesus ‘repent and believe’.