The gospel of Mark says in it's first chapter in verse 15, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand!". It marked the beginning of Jesus ministry. He began going through the villages of Galilee making this proclamation! This, before he called any of his disciples by the sea. It seems to be the 1st step in becoming a follower of Jesus. So what does it mean? And even more how do we understand these archaic ideas today.
In today's world the repent part of this seems like the most difficult. No one in today's global, secular society wants to feel condemned or judged. Repentance involved an admission of guilt alongside a commitment to turn from that behavior, never to return. It literally means a 180 degree turn around. AKA you were walking this direction, you met Jesus, and now you are walking the opposite direction. Now instead of living your life to please your own desires and wishes, you live life putting the Mission of Jesus first. We turn from our sinfulness and walk in grace to becoming more like him every day.
Repentance by itself is difficult, but very possible. We have some incredible example in scripture. Think of Zacchaeus, or the woman at the well. A negative example is the rich young ruler, when he encountered Jesus, he rejected Jesus' message, and the Bible tells us he walked away sad. When we meet Jesus it is inherent that to follow him we also accept His rule in our lives, forever.
But, lets be honest, if repentance is tough, then belief is even tougher! Repentance and the life of faith is predicated on belief. Who can hear a message about the Kingdom and the abundant life found in Christ? Who can respond by "turning away" from all that is familiar to pursue that which is foreign and all consuming? Who can make these absurd changes unless there is a head/heart response that gives us the ability to hope in Christ. This hope is called belief. Jesus says, "repent the kingdom of God is at hand." The challenge to believe is the much harder of these two commands.
Belief is what drove Jesus to the cross. He believed that He was sent of God, and that God had willed Him to suffer the cross so that He would be exalted. He also knew that unless the perfect sacrifice was made, no lasting forgiveness could be given to all mankind. Belief is what drove the ancients; Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David... Hebrews chapter 11 recounts how this belief both called God's people to faith, and also how it condemned those who refused to believe. Romans 4:3 says, "'What does Scripture say?' Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Hebrews 3 is a chapter that fully encourages believers to not let their belief grow stagnant. Read this, "See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end." (HEB 3:12-14)
So here is the simple challenge made to all men of all times: Repent! Turn from your selfish ways, and believe in Jesus. Believe that you can be forgiven of all your wrongs, and that you can lead others to know about this Jesus. You can be transformed, from an enemy of God, to His representative. The simple first command of Jesus: Repent and Believe!
This gospel is free, but it costs us everything. What have we to lose, when what we gain is of infinite value! Be bold! Be courageous! Come Follow Jesus!