by Dr. Rachel Coleman
Let’s pick up with Mark 3:31, and continue exploring what kind of “teeth” Mark gives to the over-arching command to “repent and believe the gospel.” What does “repent and believe” actually look like in practice, as people leave behind their old lives and follow Jesus into newness of life? (“Leave and follow” is another big-picture way the Gospels describe “repent and believe.”) Here are some musings on the nitty-gritty content of “repent and believe” in Mark 3—5.
First, another big-picture synonym for repent and believe in Scripture is “doing the will of God.” In Mark 3:31–35, a central aspect of doing God’s will is simply being with Jesus. In that sharply uncomfortable little passage, Jesus looks around him and identifies the doers of God’s will as those who are “seated in a circle around him” (v. 34). All the small enactments of repent and believe/leave and follow/do God’s will have their roots in being present with and for Jesus. The question: How are we practicing being with Jesus? How are we offering him our presence and enjoying his presence?
In the beautiful story of the wild storm that is calmed (Mark 4:35–41), a couple more insights come to the surface. Repent and believe plays out when we take Jesus into the boat with us (v. 36). And a key little phrase follows that action by Jesus’ disciples: they took him along in the boat, “just as he was.” Oh wow! That’s a bit of a zinger! Are we welcoming Jesus into our lives “just as he is,” or are we trying to force him to fit a mold that might be a bit more comfortable, a bit less risky for us?
In that same story, we see that the life of discipleship that begins with repentance and belief includes trusting Jesus to bring peace in the midst of our storms. When the boat was bobbing wildly from side to side, nearly submerged by the waves, the disciples cried out, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38). Jesus’ response was a startlingly effective rebuke of the wind and waves, followed by a plaintive question about their continued anxiety and anemic faith (vs. 39–40). It seems clear that “taking Jesus into the boat” as an act of repentance and belief is an invitation to trust that he is both good enough and powerful enough to be all we need in the midst of rocky seas. Where are the cracks in our faith that allow anxiety to trump peace? Where are we doubting either Jesus’ goodness toward us or his power to keep us?
Right on the heels of the storm, as soon as they landed on the other side of the lake, Jesus led them straight into another faith-making situation (Mark 5:1–8). From a scary natural phenomenon to a terrifying psycho-spiritual encounter, Jesus leads them straight from one “impossible situation” to another. It seems that part of a life shaped by “repent and believe” is a willingness to go with Jesus into impossible situations. In both the storm and the encounter with the demon-possessed man, all it took was an authoritative word from Jesus to bring order and peace out of chaos and terror. Where do we need to invite Jesus into our “impossibilities,” to heal us, still our storms, cast out our impurities, or cast down our strongholds?
Mark, it seems, has a great deal to teach us about what it means to live a life shaped by the decision to repent and believe! And we’re only five chapters in—what new insights might lie ahead as the remaining 11 chapters unfold?