October 11, 2015
If I were to ask you, “What is the most famous sermon ever preached?” undoubtedly some of you would say, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards. Google it, and you’ll find it first on many websites. Many of you know Edwards was a pastor in the 18th Century, and God used him and George Whitefield to bring about the Great Awakening – a spiritual revival in the American colonies. He preached the sermon on July 8, 1741 at the First Church of Christ in Enfield, Massachusetts. It’s a great sermon – I’ve read it many times. In fact, when I was in high school, we even studied it in an English class, at a public high school. Can you imagine the ACLU getting wind of that today. Well, in the sermon, Edwards makes these now-famous statements:
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.”
Wow – those are fearsome words. Awesome words. True words. Who preaches like that anymore? No one. It’s said as Edwards preached this message, people in the church began weeping and crying out for mercy before he even finished. Today, in our entertain me, make me happy churches, most would walk out.
I would suggest Edwards’ sermon – one of the most famous sermons ever preached – finds it’s truth in the most famous – at least the most important sermon ever preached – one by Jesus Himself. We find a summary of His message in our text today.
We began a study of the Gospel according to Mark a few weeks ago. In the prologue, the first half of the chapter, Mark introduced us to the main character of the story – Jesus Christ, the Son of God. You see, I’ve suggested before we can ever talk about what Jesus said or even what Jesus did, we have to know who Jesus is. And we learned that He was the promised One to come. John the Baptist was His forerunner, and quoting Isaiah, John said, “Make ready the way of the LORD.” And we saw the word Lord actually refers to God Himself.
Such that John said, this One coming, I’m not even worthy to stoop down and untie His sandals. In preparation for His coming, John called people to repentance to prepare the way of this One promised for centuries throughout the Old Testament. And so, one day, Jesus came. He came to be baptized by John and as He came out of the water, the Spirit of God was seen descending on Him – in fulfillment of OT prophecies – the very Spirit of God would rest on Him. And then a voice came from heaven – the voice the Father, “You are My beloved Son. In You I am well-pleased.” There could be no doubting Jesus was God’s own Son – in fact, God Himself revealed in the flesh. This, you see, is a foundational truth of Christianity – that Jesus was more than just a prophet or a good man with some really cool things to say – He is the very Son of God. Last week we saw He was compelled to go into the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan. Mark wants us to understand – as Jesus was about to enter His public ministry, He would be opposed by Satan Himself, because Satan knew He was and what He came to do. This would be a cosmic battle, because Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil – to destroy sin and death.
I want you to catch that – Jesus came to deal with sin, with our rebellion against our Creator. And because we have rebelled – every one of us – God’s wrath is rightly leveled against us – just like Edwards said. In the book of Romans, Paul states his theme in chapter 1, verses 16 and 17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…For in it [that is, the gospel] the righteous of God is revealed.” This is good news, you see – through the gospel we can be saved.
But before there can be good news, there has to be bad news – you see, we do have to be saved, but the question is, saved from what? Why do we have to be saved? Paul went on to tell us in the next verse, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Edwards got it right. What truth do we suppress? That there is a God in heaven who created all we see – against whom we rebelled – and to whom we must give an account. Paul spends the next couple of chapters proving all have sinned – there are no exceptions. As such, every mouth is stopped, and the whole world is guilty – accountable to God. You are accountable to God.
It doesn’t take much to convince people today they’re sinners – they’ve done something wrong – or some things wrong. The challenge is, does it really matter? I mean, I’m not that bad, right? I can always find someone worse than me. And God’s not really that mad. I don’t really deserve eternal punishment – and besides, God wouldn’t do that, would He? He’s a God of love – not a holy God of wrath, is He? [YouTube video] And so we see the gospel as the good news that God loves me, and wants to make my life better. He wants to be my friend, give me good stuff. Like a cosmic vending machine, we can go to Him in prayer and He’ll give me a good marriage, agreeable kids, a good job, money in the bank, a car that starts, a nice house, a happy life.
This Sinners in the Hands of Angry God is outdated. We need to update the picture – give God a makeover. Make Him more palatable, acceptable, likeable. If He even really exists. You see that’s another thing we do. Okay, I’m not perfect, but I’m not sure there’s a God anyway. You see, if I can convince myself there’s no God, I can live however I want.
Having seen who Jesus is, we arrive this morning at what Jesus said. Now, He’s going to say a lot of things through this book – but after He is introduced to us as the Son of God, the very first thing He says is in our text today – let’s read it – Mark 1:14-15.
This is the message of the Bible – of Christianity – that God has fulfilled in time His promises through His Son. That God’s kingdom is here – brought near by the King, and our response to it should be two-fold – repentance and faith. Those words are actually commands – since the time is fulfilled and since the King has brought the kingdom near – Jesus commands us, repent and believe. We’re going to look at these two verses today, and my purpose is quite simple: since Jesus came in the flesh to reveal God to us, since we have a great need because of our rebellion in sin – I’m going to call you to repent and believe.
Look at verse 14 – now after John had been taken into custody, stop right there. John, of course, is John the Baptist. He had been doing his ministry in the south – in Judea. Mark doesn’t tell us here why he was taken into custody – at least not till chapter 6. There we’ll see John was preaching against Herod Antipas taking his brother Philip’s wife – Herodias was her name. In other words, John was preaching against sin – taking a married woman to be your wife – that’s sin. Herod Antipas didn’t like it, so he had John arrested.
Which is interesting – you see, people don’t like it when you preach against sin. Especially their sin. You can talk about other people’s sin – not mine. This is the offense of the gospel. Before there can be good news – that is, who Jesus is and what He came to do – there has to be bad news – we are sinners – all of us – in need of a Savior. Don’t tell me I’m a sinner – I like myself and my way of life, thank you very much. I like my sin – I chose my sin over Jesus.
And then, sometimes we Christians, wanting to make Jesus more attractive – we remove the sting, the offence of the gospel – we remove the bad news. Jesus loves you and wants to be your friend. And that’s true – but there’s something that stands in the way of your friendship – of your being reconciled to God – namely, your sin. Herod didn’t like it – and he had the power to arrest John. You don’t have that power – so you just don’t listen. You don’t agree. You don’t think that we are sinners in the hands of angry God. Hold onto that thought.
After John was taken into custody. The word for taken into custody is a specific and special word throughout Mark. The word specifically means to be betrayed, or to be handed over. For example, Jesus told His disciples a couple of times they were going to Jerusalem where He would be handed over to the religious leaders. The word appears 8 times in chapters 14 and 15, speaking of Jesus being handed over to the religious leadership, then to the governing authorities, and most notably, when Pilate handed Him over to be crucified. You should also know this – Jesus used the word when talking to His disciples – you, too, like Me, will be handed over to the authorities because of your faith. And we remember Mark is writing to Roman Christians who were suffering for their faith under the Neronian persecutions. Be encouraged – Christ was handed over. Because people don’t like the bad news of the gospel.
John was taken into custody, and Jesus came. Jesus says in Luke 16, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached,” meaning, with John, the old covenant came to an end, and with Jesus, the New Covenant begins. You see, the Law was given with all its rules – do this, don’t do this – and we found we couldn’t, because we’re sinners. So Jesus came to bring the remedy to our sin.
Jesus came into Galilee. We remember that Jesus was actually from Galilee – from a little town called Nazareth. But after He came to be baptized by John, He stayed in Judea for awhile – only the gospel of John records that. For example, He met with Nicodemus, and then traveled from Judea up to Galilee by way of Samaria where He met the woman at the well.
Mark skips all that and writes of His ministry in Galilee. You see, that’s where most of Jesus’ ministry took place – He made some trips to Jerusalem, but He spent of His time up north. It isn’t until Mark 8 that Jesus heads to Jerusalem for the final time.
So Jesus goes to Galilee and preaches the gospel of God. Now, you may know the word gospel means good news. This one of the few times it’s called the gospel of God – the only place in the Gospel narratives. Usually it’s called the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here, it means the good news from God, made known in Jesus Christ. And what was that gospel or good news? While it starts with the teaching and life of Jesus, it culminates in His death, burial and resurrection. Which means, Jesus not only preaches the good news, He is the good news. Mark, or rather, Jesus tells us specifically what He preached in the next verse – with two statements followed by two commands. Look at those with me.
The first statement is, “The time is fulfilled.” What time? The time, the decisive moment for the fulfillment of the promises in the OT. You see, after we, people, rebelled against God, He promised a time would come when the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. What’s that mean? Satan had tempted Eve, she had eaten of the fruit, and gave it to Adam, who also ate. His act of rebellion plunged humanity into sin. But God promised when that happened there would come a man who would crush Satan’s head – namely, He would come to destroy the works of the devil – sin and death. Jesus was born of woman, God in the flesh. He came to fulfill that promise, and all the others.
Remember when God appeared to Abraham, and said, through you, Abraham, all the nations of the world will be blessed. And Jesus came, from the nation of Israel, to bless the rest of the world. The time has been fulfilled. Paul said it this way in Galatians 4, “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
The time had come for the fulfillment of the promises. Jesus had come, and in His coming, He brought the kingdom of God. It was at hand. The kingdom of God refers to God’s right to rule His creation. While we had rebelled, Jesus, through His coming and His work, brought the Kingdom of God near. And we are able to enter the kingdom – to become willing subjects of the King. And while the kingdom is here, it’s not here in its fullness. But it will be, one day.
So, how do we enter the kingdom? How do we become willing subjects? Through obeying the two commands Jesus gives in this short sermon. First, we repent. The word means to change your mind – to turn away from your sin and rebellion. Again, this is the challenging part of the gospel – the good news. Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ requires that you confess and repent. To confess is to agree you are guilty of what you have been charged. You are a guilty sinner. This is the rock of offence of the gospel.
Repentance is coming to the realization that you are indeed rebellious. It is coming to abhor your sin. But is more, much more than just feeling sorry about your sin – although it includes that. Paul said there is a worldly sorrow that leads to death, and a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Again, being sorry you’re a sinner isn’t enough. Godly sorrow leading to repentance is, having realized your sin is rebellion and feeling sorrow over sin, it leads you to a change of mind, a change of direction, a change of purpose. I don’t want to be rebellious anymore.
But here’s the truth: there is nothing you can do to erase your sin, nothing you can do to pardon your sin, nothing you can do to make up for your sin. You are, by nature, a sinner. And as such, it is true – God’s wrath is rightly leveled against you. And so you repent – you turn from the sin.
But that’s not all. You turn to Christ. That’s the second command. You believe in the gospel – the good news that Jesus is who He said He was and did what He came to do – to die on the cross so your sins could be forgiven. You see, while it is true that everyone is a sinner such that God’s wrath is rightly revealed from heaven – it is also true that God’s righteousness is also revealed from heaven. After Paul spent almost three chapters proving all are sinners causing God’s wrath to be revealed, he says in Romans 3, “But now apart from the Law – that is, God’s law of right and wrong that none of us could keep, making us lawbreakers – sinners – but now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, having been witnessed by the Law and the Prophets – in other words, promised and foreseen by the OT, that when the fullness of time came, the Son would come. Paul goes on, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.
Believe what? Believe the gospel. Believe the good news that Jesus sent His Son to make a way for your sins to be forgiven – for you to be made right or just before God. Paul goes on – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – that is, God beauty and majesty in His glorious perfections and His standard of perfection. We’ve sinned. But by faith in Jesus, was can be declared right – just – Paul goes on – being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. You can be redeemed – bought out of your slavery to sin, through His work on the cross.
Paul goes on, “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. Propitiation – that’s a big word that simply means Edwards was right. God’s wrath was rightly directed at you, but when Jesus died, He propitiated – He turned God’s wrath away from you by shedding His blood. He bore your sins on the cross – so that all who believe in Him by faith can be saved. Saved from what? Saved from sin, and its corresponding judgment.
After bearing your sins and dying on the cross, He was buried for three days. Then He came back to life – it’s called the resurrection. And because He was raised from the dead, we too, as believers, will one day be raised to be with God forever.
This is the gospel. This is the good news Jesus came to bring. So in His first sermon, He says to you, the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is right here for you to enter. All you have to do is repent – turn from your sin – and believe the gospel. The word believe means trust. Trust that Jesus accomplished what you could not. By His perfect life and death and resurrection for you, if you confess Him as your Lord, you can be saved.