An acquaintance of mine told me he was not going to watch the news anymore because it was too upsetting and ruined his days. We are sometimes taken aback as we observe what goes on in our world. We open our newspapers or turn on the news and see violence and hatred, racism and opioid addictions, suicides, immorality, self-centeredness, crooked politics, calamities, tragedies and injustice – the list goes on and on. It’s a little overwhelming. We might even go so far as to look inside of ourselves where we discover that we are also the problem.
I remember a story I read about G. K. Chesterton, a great Christian writer. The newspaper had written a question, “What’s wrong with this world in which we live?” Chesterton wrote a letter to the editors. He said,
G. K. Chesterton.
We ask with a sense of disappointment, What kind of a world are we living in? Our Scripture reading for today offers some valuable insights. In a rather subtle way, it describes the kind of world that greeted Jesus as He began His ministry.
When Jesus stepped out of the Jordan River after being baptized by John the Baptist and commissioned into service by His heavenly Father, we see Him stepping into a dark, demonic world. We observe Him in battle, right off the bat, with the prince of darkness – Satan – out in the wilderness for forty days. He was tempted by Satan who sought to undo Him, derail Him from completing His mission. Satan and his minions saw Jesus as the Divine Invader.
Later in the chapter, we see the demons cry out, “We know who you are, Jesus. You are the holy One of God.” When Jesus was accused of being Beelzebub (Satan), Jesus referred to Himself as the strong man who came to plunder Satan’s house.
Satan continues attacking Him throughout the Gospel, even using Jesus’ disciples to stop His mission to the cross. When Peter says, You don’t have to go to the cross, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan. You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things, selfish things.”
I’m reminded of the Christian apologist C. S. Lewis’ quote on this subject. He said, “There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every inch is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” So first off, we see Jesus stepping into a dark, demonic world.
Next, we see Him stepping into a hostile world. It is hostile to God. How do we know this? Verse 14 reads, “Now after John was arrested . . .” meaning John the Baptist. It would be unwise for us to just zip by that statement without giving it some thought and reflection. Jesus hears that John the Baptist, this man of God chosen by God, was arrested by the hostile powers in place, namely King Herod, for questioning the King’s character and bringing to light the King’s sinfulness in his marriage. John also pointed to One greater than himself that was to come and save Israel. Herod was hostile to Him, as well.
Later, Herod would have John beheaded. He watched his stepdaughter in a seductive dance, and said to her in his drunkenness, “Ask me for anything and it’s yours.” She said, “Bring me the head of John the Baptist,” which he did. Such evil!
This little statement reminds us of worldly powers that seek to control people for personal gain and are threatened when their power, authority, and integrity are called into question, even in the name of God. They will silence that voice. They silenced John.
In this assertion about John’s arrest, by the way, is some anticipation of the fate of the Greater One to come, which he preached about, meaning Jesus. It’s almost like the faint rumblings of a threatening storm ahead; the same will happen to Jesus.
Jesus went to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God knowing full well the kind of world He was facing. He knew what lay ahead. This world would be unkind and hostile toward Him. Ahead of Him lay rejection, cruelty, opposition, conspiracy, disappointment, unfaithfulness, loneliness, and a cross. In fact, three times Jesus would tell His disciples this horrible prediction about how it was all going to end for Him. That is the kind of world into which Jesus stepped after His baptism and His commissioning. It could be dark, hostile, rejecting, violent, self-serving, confused, mixed-up, blind, and hurting – not all that different from our own.
Yet, after John was arrested, Jesus came. He came proclaiming the Good News of God. His message was simply this: God has not abandoned His sin-sick world, but was going to rescue it. His kingdom, His rule over this world was now breaking in through Jesus. God’s about to do something big. Repent and believe. Jesus would suffer and be rejected. He would die a cruel death on a cross and then rise victoriously again. The dark, demonic, hostile world in which Jesus stepped was so. Yet, He came.
Don’t you find His actions amazing, courageous, and heroic? The apostle Paul did. Listen to his words in Romans,
“For while we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die – but God proved his love for us in that while we were still sinners (while we were still enemies), Christ died for us” (5:6-8).
This is the first answer to our question – What kind of a world are we living in? Yes, it can be dark and sinful, as we’ve seen, but it is a loved world. Behind our Savior’s first step into the battle is love – sacrificial, selfless love. John tells us in his Gospel, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (3:16). While we were still enemies, Christ came and died for us. Jesus came after the arrest of John motivated by love for the world.
Ernest Gordon gives us a powerful example of sacrificial love in his book about World War II, Miracle on the River Kwai. A group of British soldiers, taken prisoner by the Japanese, were working on a railroad. At the end of the day, the tools were counted and the Japanese guard announced that one of the shovels was missing. He strode back and forth in front of the prisoners charging that the shovel had been stolen by one of them and sold to the Thais. He demanded that the guilty man step forward and admit his crime. However, no one did. So the guard yelled that he was going to kill them all. He pulled back the bolt on his gun and pushed it forward again, loading the gun, and aimed at the first man in the lineup. At that moment a young Scottish soldier stepped forward, stood stiffly at attention, and said, “I did it.” The guard kicked the soldier in the shin and spit in his face. The young Scotsman made no sound. Then the guard lifted his rifle by the barrel end and using it like a sledgehammer, came down on the soldier’s skull. The soldier slumped to the ground under the blow’s fatal impact. His fellow prisoners picked up their comrade’s body and carried it back to camp.
Later, when the shovels were recounted at the guardhouse, not one was missing. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” John’s Gospel tells us. What if the young Scotsman had not stepped forward? Would there have been a bloodbath?
The punches of evil had humanity reeling and going down for the full count, but at the right moment, Jesus stepped into the ring and made it His fight. What if He had not been there? The Good News is, He was. He was there because He loved us.
At the bottom line of this passage is another truth, which can be our comfort and strength. It is this: Not only is this a loved world, this is God’s world and no one else’s. As Jesus came proclaiming “the time is fulfilled,” God is in charge of history. He acted to reconcile the world He created to Himself. He did that through His Son, Jesus Christ.
At the end of the Gospel story, who wins the battle? Jesus Christ! It is a resurrection victory, a proclamation of sorts, that this is My Father’s world. It’s like the hymn says,
“This is my Father’s world.
O, let me ne’er forget,
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.”
This is our good news, our comfort, and our strength. He holds this world in the palm of His hand, and nothing is going to snatch it away from Him. The victory has been won. Sure, there may still be evil, and violence, and all kinds of threatening actions around us, but let us remember that we live in the midst of what you might call “mop up” operations. The battle continues. Just as He said, “In this world, you will have tribulation. But fear not! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Christ is Lord. The One who went into action after John was arrested, went out of love for you and me, for this whole world. He won the victory. He accomplished His mission. And He has promised that, at the end of history, He will appear again in glory and majesty and claim it as His own forever and ever. This is the kind of world in which we live. It is God’s world. It is a loved world.
What do we do with these two truths – this is a loved world, and it is God’s world? Two things.
First, act on what our text tells us. As Jesus announces God is drawing near, He says in light of this news, “Repent and believe the Good News of God.”
To repent means a radical conversion of sorts. Turn away from all that is contrary to God and surrender your life to Him. He gets your allegiance from this day forward.
To believe implies a radical confidence in Him, an unconditional turning toward God’s gospel in complete trust ultimately trusting Jesus Christ for life, life eternal. The promise is this, my dear friends: You will be saved and forgiven. You will be given eternal life and belong to Him forever.
Next, as followers of Jesus Christ, let us go on to be of good courage and not despair over the state of affairs in our world. We know the end of the story. When all is said and done, Jesus wins. He is the winner! Those who trust in Him are His own. I may not know what the future holds, but I know the One who holds the future.
I love Paul’s words from Romans 8:38, 39. I challenge you to memorize them. Keep them in your heart, and pull them out in times of discouragement.
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? No! In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is our good news for today! Believe it. Trust it. Live it. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer