Monday, July 28, 2008

"Time's Up!"


Mark 1:14-15 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

Scholars believe that this statement is the most concise summary of the message of Jesus in the New Testament. If anyone were to ask what the primary message of Jesus was, the typical answers would be, “love,” or “service,” or “obedience.” See what’s happened? We’ve substituted the fruit for the tree. We’ve exchanged the primary with the periphery. The primary message of Jesus was that the Kingdom of God was bursting in through his ministry. A result of this fact was that he modeled love, service, and obedience. The in-breaking Kingdom of God was the impetus – the galvanization – for everything Jesus said and did. In fact, the default question we can ask of everything Jesus said and did can be, “What does this tell us about the Kingdom of God?”


But what is the “Kingdom of God?” The “kingdom” was often used in ancient Greek literature as a way to describe the “reign” or “authority” of a leader. Alexander’s “kingdom” on the Earth, or Caesar’s “kingdom” of Rome. It can be a political designation, like saying “the land that is controlled by the king.” But typically, it means the “reign” or “rule” or “authority” of the leader. So, Jesus’ phrase, “Kingdom of God” is probably best understood as “the reign or rule of God.” This means that the message of Jesus is mostly concerned with what life, and this world, looks like when it is under complete control – or reign – of God’s will.


But there’s more. Many Jewish authors just before Jesus was born, and many after it, speak of a time when the “rule of God” will come in full. When that happens, no one will have an opportunity to switch sides. You are either on His side, or yours. And God will come to complete this distinction. This is referred to as several things, typically as “judgment.” When God deems the time just right, the “reign of God” will be forced upon every living creature. When this will happen, no one knows. But there are those few who constantly call people to that urgency.


In walks Jesus. Like prophets of old, his message is one of urgency. But his urgency is not based upon impending war or famine. It is based upon this notion of God’s impending rule just about to burst in on the scene and determine which side everyone is on. “The Kingdom of God is at hand” means “it has come.” It is here. The time of half-measures and nonsense talk is over. “Time’s up,” Jesus says. When you encounter me, you have encountered the time of decision. Your response to me and my message is directly linked to how you will be judged by God.


In the movie “Independence Day,” Earth’s major cities are covered by alien ships. Jeff Goldblum plays a cable company specialist who discovers a secret. The aliens have used humans’ satellites to act as communication devices. He has discovered that inside the satellites’ transmission is a code. That code is a timer. And that timer is going backward. He thinks that once this timer is up, the aliens will attack. So, he gets to the President and tells him the theory. The President and his family run to Air Force One as the music builds. Everyone is in a panic; they must get out of the White House before the timer is up. Goldblum runs to his seat on the airplane. He rips open the laptop that shows the timer, and stares in horror. The clock counts down: 5 . . .4 . . .3 . . .2. . . 1. The music revs up – then silence. The camera pans to his face as he says, “Time’s up.” The aliens then begin attacking and the nerds cheer.


“Time’s up,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of God” is right upon you; the timer is finished. What will you do in response?, he wondered. There is only one thing you can do: respond appropriately. I think the literal Greek here is important: “be repenting” and “be believing” in the good news. It is a process of preparation. Jesus is telling his audience to get ready, for God’s reign is here.


We don’t hear the timer anymore, do we? We don’t really know what urgency feels like. We hear that we should “live as if it’s our last day.” If this nonsense were true, then no one would have savings accounts or college degrees or jobs. Jesus is saying something similar to this, but let us not misunderstand him. He’s not saying that we should be in a constant state of hurrying around in panic. Nor is he saying to give up on life because the world’s going to end today at noon. Rather, he is calling people to a sense of spiritual urgency. Anyone who has ever been in a real emergency knows what this is like. In an emergency, only the crucial things matter: not people’s opinions, not prestige, not wealth. All that matters in that moment is the emergency. And for a moment – just a moment – all of life is radically rearranged to fit the needs of that emergency.


Jesus is boldly, deliberately, and constantly telling people that there is an emergency. God’s reign has come upon them in his ministry. What will we do? Will life continue on as normal? Will we ignore the timer? Or will we get “busy” doing something about it? Now is the time, Jesus says, to “be repenting” and “be believing” in the good news. Now.

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