We are in Mark chapter 1 this morning.
Last week we saw in the baptism and temptation of Jesus that three important works had begun: substitution, identification and authentication.
This week Mark begins his account of the public ministry of Jesus in verses 14 and 15.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
That ministry begins with the end of John’s public ministry. The other gospels fill in some details for us. John was arrested after publicly condemning the immoral marriage of Herod Antipas. Verse 14 tells us literally that John was “handed over”. We’ll come back to that in a moment.
The beginning of Jesus’ ministry takes place in Galilee. What do we know about Galilee.
Trevin Wax, writing for the Gospel Coalition, describes 7 distinctive traits of the region.
“The northern province of Galilee was decisively distinct—in history, political status, and culture—from the southern province of Judea which contained the holy city of Jerusalem.
Admitting that the following is a drastic oversimplification but hoping that it’s not a complete caricature, Professor France summarizes seven differences:
Racially the area of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel had had, ever since the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century B.C., a more mixed population, within which more conservative Jewish areas (like Nazareth and Capernaum) stood in close proximity to largely pagan cities, of which in the first century the new Hellenistic centers of Tiberias and Sepphoris were the chief examples.
Geographically Galilee was separated from Judea by the non-Jewish territory of Samaria, and from Perea in the southeast by the Hellenistic settlements of Decapolis.
Politically Galilee had been under separate administration from Judea during almost all its history since the tenth century B.C. (apart from a period of “reunification” under the Maccabees), and in the time of Jesus it was under a (supposedly) native Herodian prince, while Judea and Samaria had since A.D. 6 been under the direct rule of a Roman prefect.
Economically Galilee offered better agricultural and fishing resources than the more mountainous territory of Judea, making the wealth of some Galileans the envy of their southern neighbors.
Culturally Judeans despised their northern neighbors as country cousins, their lack of Jewish sophistication being compounded by their greater openness to Hellenistic influence.
Linguistically Galileans spoke a distinctive form of Aramaic whose slovenly consonants (they dropped their aitches!) were the butt of Judean humor.
Religiously the Judean opinion was that Galileans were lax in their observance of proper ritual, and the problem was exacerbated by the distance of Galilee from the temple and the theological leadership, which was focused in Jerusalem.
The result, he says, is that ‘even an impeccably Jewish Galilean in first-century Jerusalem was not among his own people; he was as much a foreigner as an Irishman in London or a Texan in New York. His accent would immediately mark him out as “not one of us,” and all the communal prejudice of the supposedly superior culture of the capital city would stand against his claim to be heard even as a prophet, let alone as the “Messiah,” a title which, as everyone knew, belonged to Judea (cf. John 7:40-42).’
It was not out of the “pure” culture of Judea that the Messiah was born, but the ‘compromised’ region of Galilee. It was with the unrefined accent of the Galileans that he spoke. And it was into their towns that he began to minister.
Notice the first work of Jesus according to Mark: he came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel. Never forget that the first work of Jesus was preaching. What did he preach? The gospel of God.
Remember that gospel was a political term, it described the announcement of good news to be celebrated and passed on. Mark tells us in verse 14 that Jesus proclaimed the gospel of God. What is that?
He elaborates in verse 15. The good news of God is that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.
We don’t use the word much in our day, kingdom. It’s a recurring theme in three of the four gospels.
The word kingdom in the gospels:
Jesus used parables to teach about the nature of the kingdom of God.
“He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.'”
He had personal conversations about what is required to enter the kingdom.
“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.'”
He taught revolutionary values and standards for life in the kingdom.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven . . .”
What do we mean when we talk about the kingdom of God?
Today we think of kingdoms like the UK. They are mostly symbolic. The Queen and her family are symbols of wealth and tradition. Their lives may capture the imagination of many, but there isn’t any real power in the modern kingdom.
In the ancient world, a kingdom was very different. An ancient king had ultimate authority. The word kingdom could refer to the geographical area over which a king ruled. It could also describe his authority to rule. You can think of the words realm and rule.
The kingdom of God is the rule of God. He is the creator of the universe. He is almighty in this universe. It his right to rule it all. Yet not all of creation submits to that rule. In the gospels, the kingdom of God is the new beginning of the rule of God in his creation. It begins with those who recognize him as king.
In Mark 1:14-15 we see three principles about the kingdom of God.
1. The kingdom of God is good news, not good advice.
Jesus came proclaiming the gospel of God – the kingdom is at hand.
This is not the offer of practical teaching for living a successful life. It is not the posting of a list of rules for membership in the religious ‘club’. It is not the placement of a burden of responsibility on human shoulders.
The gospel of the kingdom is the announcement that something has been done entirely apart from the wisdom and action of humanity. The gospel of the kingdom is the announcement that a Savior has come to achieve a great victory for his people.
You’ve heard the joke about Sundays in America. Each week millions of people who desperately need exercise gather on their couches to spectate the efforts of 22 people who desperately need rest.
When my family went to the Superbowl parade in Kansas City, we joined hundreds of thousands of people to revel in a victory which we did not accomplish. I was not on the bus, I was in the crowd. And I was happy to be there. It was a celebration of the victory of another.
Do you see the significance?
To enter the kingdom of God is not to be handed a list of rules, self-help principles or a moral burden to bear. To enter the kingdom of God is to first and foremost join the celebration and enjoy the benefits of another.
We would experience far more joy and freedom in our lives, Christians, if we understood this principle. A Savior has come for you and has achieved a great and ultimate victory for you. His work is finished, the outcome is decided. We are invited along to the party.
2. The kingdom of God is now (and not yet).
The time is fulfilled. Mark could have used two words for time. Kronos refers to the regular passage of time. Kairos refers to a unique moment in time, an opportune moment. A moment of decision. Mark uses the latter. The time is fulfilled. It is complete.
The kingdom is at hand. It is at your door. The kingdom of God has arrived.
The NT teaching of the kingdom is complex. In some places the kingdom is described as a present reality and in others it is a future experience. In some places it is a personal, spiritual reality and in others it is an objective and universal experience.
It helps to remember the concepts of rule and reign. The rule of the kingdom began with the first coming of Jesus. The power of God entered the world of time and space. The invitation had gone out and the first citizens were making their way in. Wherever a heart yielded to the King and begun to experience his liberating power, the kingdom had come.
The kingdom is now.
But the kingdom is not yet fully realized. When Jesus returns, the world will be made new and become the realm of God. He will bring final justice, he will wipe every tear from our eyes and he will put a final end to death, mourning, crying and pain.
The kingdom is not yet.
This dichotomy of the kingdom can be seen in John the Baptist.
John experienced first hand the arrival of the kingdom. He felt it’s coming with the full force of the power of the Holy Spirit coursing through his soul. He saw it in the Spirit descending on Jesus and the heavens torn open to reveal the voice of God. He held the king in his arms in the Jordan river.
And yet he was ‘handed over.’ He was given over to the enemies of the kingdom. They cut off his head. Where is the kingdom now?
To enter the kingdom of God in this life is to enter a world of conflict. It is to walk in the light and to walk among those who hate the light.
When Jesus came with the kingdom of God, the power of the King was evident. Many were healed, some were raised from the dead. The kingdom came with power.
Yet many more were not healed. John was not raised from the grave.
The kingdom is now and it is not yet.
We must endure for a while. We must wait patiently for our coming King.
We must pray for breakthroughs and healings and power. We can rejoice when those come and we can trust patiently while they do not.
3. The kingdom is opened with faith and repentance.
The announcement of the kingdom demands a response from us. Repent and believe.
This is the requirement for entry into the kingdom. This is the key that opens the gate.
Repent and believe are two sides to the same coin.
To repent is to turn from. To believe is to turn towards.
The repentance and belief Jesus called for are not limited to isolated acts in our lives. It is a call for a fundamental change in our commitments. It is a call to abandon the thrones of our lives and make way for the true king.
Who is on the throne in your life today?
There is good news in this call.
Turn with me to Matthew 21.
28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
Who were the first to enter the kingdom? Jesus tells us it was the tax collectors and the prostitutes.
If you were to rank the godliness or righteousness of people in Jesus’ day, these would be the last on everyone’s list. They were the ones who had abandoned faithfulness and righteousness to accumulate a lifetime of sin debt.
And they were the first ones to enter the kingdom.
How is that?
Because in the kingdom of God, godliness is a trajectory. It is an orientation. The tax collector who bends his knee in submission to the King is, in that moment, a godly man. He has the favor of God and the prospects of a good future.
Maybe you don’t feel so godly this morning. Maybe you feel like you are far behind in the race of righteousness. Take courage friend, godliness is a trajectory.
Do you know your sin? Do you feel your need for a savior? Bring your repentance and your trust and the gates of the kingdom are wide open for you.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown