The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”. . Jonah began to go into the city. . . And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. (Jonah 3:1-5, 10)
God gives Jonah a second chance to carry out his mission, to bring the Ninevites back into a right relationship with God, and when they repent and commit to lead a new life, God forgives them as well. This new beginning is the basis of our faith in a God whose primary command is “to love the lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 32ff)
This prophetic work is a good foundation for the beginning of Jesus’ mission of repentance as we see in Mark 1:14-20: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
Like Jonah proclaimed to the Ninevites, Jesus proclaimed that “God has a better plan about how we treat one another and I can show you what it is, and when you repent and believe the good news, the Kingdom of God will truly come near.” Then we see as we continue reading in Mark 1:14-20 that Jesus calls some helpers to build on the foundation established by Jonah, John the Baptist and others, to help he build this kingdom.“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea--for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”
Among other things Jesus was an eschatological preacher and teacher, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God would come into the world. In fact, proclaiming that He was one of the primary ways that God’s Kingdom was coming into the world and would be recognized. He also proclaimed that through the disciples and those who follow them, including those of us who follow Him today, that God’s Kingdom would become just as real on Earth as it is in heaven. I will go so far as to say that making the Kingdom a reality on Earth was, in fact, his primary purpose in coming into the world.
Jesus’ commands found in this portion of Mark, “The Kingdom of God is at hand, believe in the Gospel,” changed forever the way we look at God and the world. To repent is not just to be sorry for our sins, but to change our minds, to change directions, to turn around as the Ninevites did. It is to reorient our whole attitude toward God in the face of God’s coming Kingdom. It is to hear and see the Gospel as being about all of Jesus’ life and work: not just His death and resurrection, but the whole journey, up to and beyond the death and resurrection.
In the call of the disciples that follows Jesus’ proclamation, we see what it means to repent and believe in the Gospel. It does not mean to accept certain “timeless truths,” but to be attached to the person of Jesus. It means to go along with Jesus on his way—a way that will lead both to the cross and the Kingdom. This repentance, this turning around and reorienting our whole attitude toward God results in a personal attachment to Jesus. Like the disciples we will follow him through the cross to his resurrection in a way that we will live and share the Gospel and help bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth as in Heaven.
For some of us this may mean leaving our worldly vocations as the disciples did and serve God and the Kingdom on Earth as priests, pastors, missionaries, youth workers or other full time ways. For most of us it will mean remaining in the world and its structures, but living in and into the spirit of the Kingdom, using our worldly resources to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth.
This is where the Kingdom begins, not in Heaven! This is why God sent Jesus into the world. This is why He called the disciples to help him. This is why we too have been called to be disciples.