In the course of laying pavers at the Ayr Church, my "water-resistant" digital watch got caught in heavy rain - on my wrist. It was at least the third time it had happened. The first time it dried out satisfactorily. The second time the seconds were permanently affected. But this time the whole readout was awry and no amount of exposure to a warm dry environment seemed to help. Bought some two and a half years ago to replace the previous watch whose case broke at Assembly in Perth, this one had now come to a premature end - the time had come to buy a new one.
By the way, if anyone offers to sponsor you on an Emmaus Walk, take up the offer. You will find it a deeply enriching experience. The worst that will happen to you is on Thursday night when you are asked to take off your watch and put it in your bag. When I was an Emmaus pilgrim, I had a medical specialist in the bed next to me. His life was constantly governed by time and he was painfully lost without his watch. One way or another we are governed by time.
But there is more to time than the minutes and hours and days and years ticking by. In the Greek of the New Testament, that kind of time is chronos. We need it to measure our days and activities, to see what we have accomplished and what is yet to be done. We need it to get a handle on both news and history. We need it to measure our days, to know our age, to chart our progress through life It gives us our sense of "chronology".
In childhood, we looked forward to birthdays. They became a sign that life was opening up ahead for us. But you can reach a stage when birthdays may not hold the same appeal. The may become an achievement, but they are also a sign of limitations up ahead. It is an old person's comment that "you have to be careful of birthdays - too many of them can kill you!"
But the Greek of the New Testament has another word for "time" - kairos. This has been described as "a definitely limited portion of time with the added notion of suitableness." It is the right time, the opportune moment.
In today's reading Jesus has left the carpenter's shop in Nazareth. He has come to the Jordan River to join the crowds being baptised by John. John was calling people to repent of their sins and be baptised. But Jesus had no need for repentance - this was his first identification with sinners.
As he came out of the water "he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove" (Mk 1.10).
We need to grasp what was happening here. John the Baptist, Luke tells us, would be "filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth (or from his mother's womb)" (Lk. 1.15). It is unthinkable that Jesus the Son of God was any less endowed. But his earthly life, like yours and mine is to be, was a life of faith, of conscious dependence on the Father. He had "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness" (Phil. 2.7). As a child he needed to grow "in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men" (Lk 2.52).
Here was a visible and audible manifestation of the Spirit and the Father, bearing witness to the truth of his identity and confirming all that enabling wisdom and power without which his ministry would be impossible.
But then v. 12 - "the Spirit sent him out into the desert." Mark uses a rather strong word here. Matthew and Luke record that Jesus was "led by the Spirit" into the desert (Mt. 4.1; Lk. 4.1). Mark is saying that the Spirit "threw him out" into the desert. Having borne witness to him as the Son of God, temptation is now the order of the day.
Matthew (4.3-10) and Luke (4.3-12) record for us the three major temptations - to use power for his own good, to attract a following by signs and wonders, to bow down to Satan. These temptations came at the end of the forty days (Mt. 4.2; Lk. 4.2). Mark gives no details, but makes it clear that the temptations extended over the period of forty days (Mk 1.13).
Now the ministry can begin. The limelight is no longer on John - he is in prison. Even the anger and brutality of a Herod can fit in with God's perfect timing - "Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God" (v. 14).
"The time has come" - literally "the kairos has been fulfilled or completed." It is now God's right moment for people to begin to hear and respond to the good news.
So the good news was that God's Kingdom is near - it is arriving! Jesus says this with expectation that the people should be ready and waiting for this. The theme of God's Kingdom occurs again and again in the Old Testament.
In a limited way, of course, Israel was to have lived under God's rule. When the people pleaded with Samuel to give them "a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have" (1 Sam. 8.5), we hear the Lord reassuring Samuel, "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king" (v. 7). The "chosen people" were intended to be an example of living under God's rule. Yet the Jewish nation could never itself be the Kingdom of God - even if they had perfect obedience.
In Acts 1, as Jesus talked with his disciples about the Kingdom of God, we hear their question, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (v. 6) This suggests that, even at that point, their view of the Kingdom was somewhat limited by nationalistic hopes. Jesus, however, responded with a mission of universal proportions - "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (v. 8).
The Old Testament looks forward to the coming of the Kingdom. But the fullness and victory of that Kingdom was always future. Again and again, the prophets said that "the days are coming" (as in Jer. 23.5) and the expression in the King James Bible, "and it shall come to pass in those days "
The New Testament introduces what John Bright called "a tremendously significant change of tense" (The Kingdom of God, p. 197). In the person and work of Jesus the Kingdom has now arrived. The old prophetic hopes are now being fulfilled. The divine work of redemption - foreshadowed for centuries in the sacrificial system - is being accomplished. The gracious call of God to all peoples is going out. " The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near.
This was the message of John the Baptist too. It was not enough to say, "We are God's people because we are descendants of Abraham" (Lk. 1.8). John was saying to the people, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Mt. 3.2). He called them to be baptised as a sign of that repentance.
A good-living Jew? A law-abiding Pharisee? A liturgy-loving priest? A Bible-reading Scribe? Not good enough!" John was saying. "The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Lk. 3.9). The old ways of relating to God were only interim, only stop-gap. They were looking forward, not now their time is coming to an end. This is the time of fulfilment - the Kingdom has come. Now is the time to "repent and believe the good news."
What does it mean to "repent"? Repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of behaviour. It is an about-face - a U-turn, if you like.
The Greek word for "confess" is rather interesting. Literally it is to "say the same thing", "to agree." When we confess our sin, we are agreeing with God's verdict on our life and actions. We are not trying to "pass off" our behaviour as being less serious than it really is. The trend today is to want to be "affirmed". God loves us, but he doesn't "affirm" our behaviour. We are sinners and the ultimate penalty for sin is death (Rom. 6.23a).
But repentance is going a step further than confession. It is possible to agree that we have done wrong - even to have a guilty feeling about it - yet fail to repent, to come to God with the desire and intention of being different.
But Jesus called them (and he calls us) to "believe the good news." In the same verse where Paul tells us that "the wages of sin is death", he goes on to tell us that "the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6.23b).
The Kingdom is at hand. We become part of the Kingdom by repenting and believing the good news - receiving the incredible gift of God's love and forgiveness and new life through the Holy Spirit.
I have a new watch now - I do need to keep track of the chronos! But the essence of my life is to live within God's kairos. For his kairos has come. His Kingdom is near. Nothing is more important than to have repented and believed the good news - and to live now (and forever) in the reality of that Kingdom.
What about you? Have you repented and believe the good news? Are you living in the reality of God's Kingdom? Do you have the love and care and urgency of Jesus in praying for, loving and calling others into the life of the Kingdom? It is kairos-time. The Lord is calling - let us respond to his call.
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