THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NEAR
Key Verse: 1:15
“’The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
In the previous passage we studied the prologue of Mark’s Gospel. He begins by telling us right away what he is writing about: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a] the Son of God.” Mark tells us that beginning of the good news about Jesus, did not start with Jesus, but several hundred years earlier with the words of the prophets Isaiah and Malachi. Strangely enough these words were not about Jesus, but about one who would come before Jesus, John the Baptist. Mark then goes on to tell us about John’s ministry and how he prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah. Finally, Jesus arrives but not to take over John’s ministry and begin His own. Rather, he came to be baptized by John to “fulfill all righteousness.” By being baptized, Jesus completed identified with sinful human beings, and God opened up heaven and declared that Jesus was His beloved son and sent His Holy Spirit to rest on Jesus. In this way, God himself proclaimed Jesus as our Messiah. However, it was still not quite time for Jesus to begin His ministry. He was immediately led out into the wilderness by the spirit to face the devil’s temptation. This wilderness training completely prepared Jesus for what He would face in His own earthly messianic ministry.
In today’s passage, we see that John’s ministry was now over, so it was time for Jesus to begin His own ministry. Mark quickly gives us the content of Jesus ministry and then describes several events that give us a brief look at what this ministry was all about and how we should respond to it. May God bless our study of this passage, open our spiritual eyes and ears so that we can see clearly how we should respond to the good news about Jesus our Messiah, the Son of God.
First, the content of Jesus teaching (14-15). Look at verse 14. “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” It is not known exactly how long it was between the time of Jesus’ baptism and John being taken into custody, or what Jesus was doing during this time (other than the forty days Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that Jesus spent in the wilderness). However, what is clear from both Matthew and Mark’s account is that Jesus earthly Messianic ministry did not begin until after John had completed his ministry. John himself said that Jesus’ ministry was going to far surpass his own ministry, and it was God’s will that nothing should interfere with Jesus’ ministry in any way. This is why Jesus had to wait for John’s ministry to be completed before His ministry began. Jesus was always aware of God’s perfect timing for everything.
Another interesting point about the beginning of Jesus ministry is where it began. Jesus does not begin His ministry where one might expect: i.e. Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith. In Jerusalem was the temple, the leading religious teachers and rulers of the Jewish people. However, Matthew, Mark and Luke all make a clear point that Jesus went into Galilee to begin his ministry. Matthew, who was writing for predominantly for a Jewish audience, emphasizes that this too was in fulfillment of a prophesy from Isaiah: “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future, he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:1-2) Mark and Luke, writing for predominantly Gentile audiences, do not make as many references to the Old Testament scriptures as Matthew does, but it is apparent that everything Jesus does is in accordance with the perfect plan and will of the Father. Therefore, Jesus could not just start His ministry wherever it might seem the best place to do it from a human point of view.
Mark then tells us that Jesus went into Galilee “Proclaiming the good news of God.” But what exactly was the “Good news of God?” Look at verse 15. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” First of all, this good news had to do with the time. What time had come? Of course, we can put Jesus in time in terms of human history, but this is not what Mark or the other gospel writers are primarily talking about when they say, “The time has come.” The time they are talking about is the time that God established to bring about His world salvation work; The time when the promises of the Old Testament were brought to fruition in Jesus. When Jesus first came onto the scene and was baptized by John, at that moment heaven was torn open and the Spirit of God came descending down. Up until that time, heaven had been closed off. People like Abraham, David and the prophets were looking forward to it with great hope, but it had not been opened up because of men’s sins. After Adam and Eve sinned, God cast them out of paradise and placed an angle between man and heaven where Revelations tells us the Tree of Life resides. That angel effectively closed off heaven from man because our sins made us unworthy of entering, but with the arrival of Jesus that all changed. In Jesus, the king had come; the Kingdom of God has come near.
At the end of verse 15, Jesus tells us very clearly what our response to the good news of God should be: “Repent and believe the good news!” Because of the constraints of human language, it appears that there are two sequential things that must be done; the first would be to repent and secondly believe the good news. In reality neither of these things can take place without the other. If you believe the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the grace that he offers will not only enable us to repent but will also require us to so. We cannot follow Jesus without turning from our wicked ways. On the other hand, because of our wickedness, we cannot turn from our wicked ways unless we believe that Jesus gives us the grace sufficient to do so. Repenting and believing the good news must go hand in hand, there is no other way.
Second, Jesus calls His first disciples and their response (16-19) Now that we have heard in Jesus own words how we should respond to Him let’s see how this works in real life. Let’s first look at verses 16-18. “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.” Who were Simon and his brother Andrew? They were simple, probably uneducated, fishermen. They don’t seem like the type of people the King of kings would want to surround Himself with. Yet these two ordinary fishermen were the first two people Jesus called to Himself. Why these two. From a human point of view, it seems to make no sense because fishermen are not the type of people that you build a government around. But the kingdom Jesus came to establish is nothing like the kingdoms we are familiar with here on earth. It is not a kingdom that establishes itself through force. It is a kingdom that simply invites people in. It is not a kingdom that needs a bunch of policy wonks thinking about what policies would make it run the most efficiently because it already has perfect policies that were established in eternity. It is a kingdom that simply needs workers to tell others about it and invite them in. In verse 17 it says this is the reason Jesus gives for calling them.
Jesus called them to teach them how to fish for people to populate His kingdom. Another way of saying this is that Jesus called them to be his disciples. The rabbi-disciple relationship was very common in Jesus time. All of the leading Jewish scholars had followers who learned from them. Therefore, if Jesus had been an expert in the Law, it would not have been unusual for him to have a number of young men following him around and learning from him. There are two reasons that make Jesus having disciples unique in His time or any other time. The first is, Jesus was not recognized as an expert on the Mosaic Law. Of course, we know that He was because He was the author of that Law, but there is no indication that Jesus had any formal training by a teacher of His own. This would mean that for Jesus to have followers, He must have been teaching them something else in which He was an expert. The second thing that sets Jesus and His disciples apart is the manner in which He gained disciples. If a young man was interested in getting formal training in the Law or any other subject, he would go out and look for the appropriate teacher and ask that teacher if he could become his student. Jesus method for gaining disciples was completely opposite of this. Instead of the student asking the teacher for training, Jesus called his disciples and told them that He would train them in what He wanted to teach them. Once again, we can see that God’s ways are not our ways.
How did Simon and Andrew respond to Jesus’ very unusual calling. Look at verse 18. “At once they left their nets and followed him.” They did not hesitate at all. They simply quit what they were doing and followed Jesus. This is the response we must have when we hear Jesus calling our name. Nothing else in this world is more important than following Jesus. Only Jesus can lead us to eternal life. A job may lead us to our next meal and some financial security, but it will not help us escape the grave. Likewise, a family or friends may lead us to a certain amount of satisfaction in this life, but they cannot help us when it comes to dealing with our sin problem. Only Jesus can solve our ultimate problems; the dual problems of sin and death. Jesus offers forgiveness for our sins and He alone is the way to His eternal kingdom where we can live together with Him forever. Nothing should stop us from leaving whatever it is we are doing and following Jesus.
In verses 19 and 20, James and John give us another example of the correct response to Jesus’ calling. They not only left what they were doing, but they left their father behind as well. It is important to note two things about James and John leaving their father. First of all, they did not leave their father helpless. They left him with hired men who could continue to help fish and support his family. The second thing has to do with the hired men themselves. Their fishing business must have been a successful one if they were in a position of hiring people to help them out. This mean that James and John were leaving behind a secure life to follow a man who had nowhere to lay His head – Jesus was homeless and had no job. James and John apparently did not take time to consider how humanly crazy their decision to follow Jesus was, they simply left what they were doing and followed Jesus. We need to learn from them.
Third, Jesus teaches with authority and demonstrates this authority (21-28) Look at verse 21. “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.” For about three years, Jesus’ primary mission was to teach people about the good news of the kingdom of God. Although he would later be forced out into uninhabited places because of the sizes of the crowds who flocked to him, he began his teaching in the synagogues where people would gather to worship God and listen to a local scribe or pharisee give lectures on the meaning of the Old Testament scriptures. These “teachers of the law” would often refer to the traditions of their forefathers or other, more famous teachers of the law. This was the authority they used to back up their preaching. But Jesus was different. Jesus did not rely ancient traditions or the teaching of others when He preached. Jesus would often begin His teaching with the words “Very truly I tell you…” Jesus’ teaching was His own teaching and He taught it base upon His own authority.
As he taught, an evil spirit overheard Him. Jesus’ teaching alarmed this evil spirit because he realized who Jesus really was. The evil spirit addressed Jesus directly and said, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Even though the demon had correctly identified Jesus, Jesus was not looking for this type of testimony about Himself, so He commanded the evil spirit to be quiet. Then Jesus commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. To the amazement of everyone in the synagogue “The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. Jesus healing ministry and His casting out of evil spirits were not the main point of Jesus’ work. They were to be used as signs, to demonstrate the authority, power and truthfulness of His teachings. In this instance, it made the people in the synagogue really take note of Jesus’ teaching and the authority that went along with it. They quickly spread the word about Jesus all over the whole region of Galilee.
Jesus Heals Many (29-34) After teaching at the synagogue, Jesus went to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was apparently living with them and was in bed sick with a fever. In her condition she was helpless – She couldn’t do anything to serve Jesus or even her own family. But Jesus didn’t want her to remain in this condition, so He took her hand and helped her up. Immediately she was healed and began to serve Jesus and His disciples. This story reminds me of the story of all Christians. Before Jesus takes us by the hand and helps us up, we are all just as helpless and useless as Simon’s mother-in-law with a fever. Ut when Jesus helps us up, He completely heals us and enables us to “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”
Verse 32 tells us, “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.” The people waited until evening after sunset to bring the sick and disable to Jesus because that was the official end of the Sabbath and according to Jewish tradition it was against God’s law to help or heal people on the Sabbath. Of course, Jesus would later teach “The teachers of the law” that it is always lawful to do good on the Sabbath. However, that is not the point that Mark is trying to make here. Mark is showing that Jesus’ popularity was increasing rapidly. Moreover, people believed that Jesus had the authority to heal their sick and cast out the evil spirits of those who were possessed by them.
Jesus Prays in a Solitary Place (35-39) Look at verse 35. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” We can imagine that Jesus was very tired after a long night of serving people, healing the sick and casting out demons. It would seem reasonable for Him to sleep late and get some good rest because His fame was increasing, and people would naturally demand more from Him. But Jesus did not think like this. He knew that now it was more important than ever for Him to seek out His Father’s will and guidance. So, before the others woke up, Jesus found a solitary place where He would pray. When His disciples found that He was not in the house, they immediately went out looking for Him. They thought that now that He was beginning to be known in Capernaum, He could get really famous if He just stayed there and continued healing people. God’s plan was different. Jesus did not come to get famous as a miraculous healer, He came to teach as many people as He could about the Kingdom of God. So when His disciples found Him and urged Him to show Himself again to the people of Capernaum, Jesus said, “No, let us go to some nearby villages so I can preach there also.” The disciples were thinking humanly – about popularity and public influence, but Jesus was thinking according to God’s plan – what did God send Him to do. Like Jesus, we should pray first before acting. It is always good to get up early and begin the day with prayer and Bible study.
Jesus Heals a Man with Leprosy (40-45) In the final six verses of this chapter we have a story of Jesus showing compassion to a man that society had rejected. The man was a leper which meant that he had to live away from other people and was considered unclean. Nobody wanted anything to do with this man, but he knew that Jesus could heal him if Jesus wanted to. Instead of covering his face and declaring that he was unclean like he was supposed to do, this man begged Jesus on his knees to heal him. He said to Jesus, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus showed His willingness to heal him completely in two surprising ways. First of all, Jesus reached out and touched the man to heal his physical problem. Jesus did not have to touch this man. He could have simply said the words “I am willing. Be clean,” and the man would have been healed. But Jesus took an extra step by touching the man and showing him the love, compassion and acceptance of God. Secondly, Jesus instructed the man to go to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded so that he could be declared clean and be reaccepted into society. Jesus wanted the man to be made completely both physically and socially. Jesus wants to heal us completely so that we can be useful productive members of society. We do not know if the man actually went to the priest and offered those sacrifices, but we do know that he disobeyed Jesus command not to tell anybody. The man’s advertisement of Jesus’ healing powered forced Jesus to stop going into towns because of His popularity, yet even this could not stop God’s world salvation work.
In this passage we saw how Jesus began His public ministry. It began with the calling of the first disciples and teaching the people about the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught with authority which was demonstrated in his healing abilities and His ability to silence and cast out demons. As we study the Gospel of Mark I pray that we react like His disciples when Jesus called them.