The Gospel of Mark: The Kingdom is at Hand

Sermon by David Strain on May 13, 2018

Mark 1:14-15

Well, let me begin by wishing all the mothers of our congregation a very happy Mother's Day. I know and recognize a few of you who are here from out of town to celebrate with your families. We're so glad that you're here. If you're a visitor, we're especially glad to have you. Let me invite you, if you would please, to take a copy of the Scriptures and to turn with me in your Bibles to the gospel according to Mark, chapter 1. We've been working our way through Mark's gospel; we're still in the opening verses of the book, Mark chapter 1. We'll be focused on verses 14 and 15 this morning. So far, Mark has been preparing us for Jesus' public ministry. He has been teaching us about the work of John the Baptist, he's described for us the baptism and then the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.


Today, however, we begin to consider Jesus’ ministry itself in a more direct fashion. And it’s fascinating, I think, I wonder if you’ll agree, that when Mark sets out to describe Jesus’ public ministry, the first thing he does is give us a summary of his preaching. Here’s why I think that’s important. As we read through Mark’s gospel and we ask the question, “Why did Jesus come? What does it all mean?” Mark wants us to pay attention to the way Jesus Himself answers that question. He answers that question for us in His preaching. In other words, the message Jesus proclaims helps us understand the significance of the ministry that He fulfills. As you read over Mark’s account, it would be relatively easy to accuse Mark of imposing his own perspective on the life of Christ, of manufacturing the significance, a significance that Jesus did not claim for Himself. Or perhaps you could accuse the church of doing the same down the ages since these early days in Palestine. And Mark here, in verses 14 and 15, short-circuits all of that by anchoring everything else in his account about Jesus’ ministry by showing us Jesus’ message. Here is what Jesus is all about. Here is the significance of His coming as Jesus Himself explains it to us.


And so that’s where our attention is going to fall – verses 14 and 15. In verse 15, we have the summary of Jesus’ sermon, if you’ll look there with me just for a moment, and you’ll immediately conclude, I’m sure, that Jesus was very obviously a committed Presbyterian because this is a three-point sermon and all I’m going to do is outline the three points and then we’ll work through them together. We’ll pray in just a moment and then read the text. Let me give you the headings of Jesus’ sermon and that will be the headings for our address today. In verse 15 you can see them. The first thing Jesus talks to us about is God’s perfect timing. He says, “the time is fulfilled.” God’s perfect timing. Then in the second point of His sermon, He talks to us about the return of the King. God’s perfect timing; the time is fulfilled. The return of the King; “the kingdom of God is at hand.” And then the third thing He talks about is life under new management; “repent and believe the gospel.” So God’s perfect timing, the return of the King, life under new management. That’s the outline. Before we read the passage together, let’s pray.


Lord Jesus, please would You come and preach Your sermon to us again that we might hear Your voice, that our hearts may be laid bare, and we, all of us, may fall down and say, “God is truly among us,” giving glory to Your name as we learn afresh, or maybe for the first time, what it means to live in Your kingdom and under Your rule. For we ask this all in Your name, amen.

Mark chapter 1 at the fourteenth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:


“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”


Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.


Let me tell you what I hate. How’s that for the opening line of a sermon! Let me tell you what I hate. I hate the word “Loading,” especially when it’s followed by those three annoying little dots. You know, you click on the page and instead of the page opening you get, “Loading…” It drives me crazy! I mean, no matter how long I have to wait, it seems like an outrageous amount of time for my desperately important visit to whichever news outlet I'm using today to distract me from, you know, doing my job. They say that digital media has eroded our ability to wait patiently, and I think in my case that's probably true. 


By the time Jesus began His public ministry in Galilee, God’s people had been waiting patiently for a very long time for the coming of God’s Messiah. God had made His covenant with Abraham almost 2,000 years earlier, promising Abraham that one day, one of his descendants, one of his children, would bring blessing to the nations. And since then, through Moses and again through David and again through the prophets, God had repeated and expanded on that promise. A Savior is coming, Messiah is coming, My kingdom is coming. And now at last in verse 14, Jesus came preaching and he tells us the first thing that He said, verse 15, is “the time is fulfilled.” It’s not another “Loading…” It’s not another, “Wait patiently please, it’s coming.” That’s not the message. At last, the message is, “The time has come. The time has been fulfilled.”


God’s Perfect Timing

And what I want you to see about that is God’s perfect timing. In verse 14 we’re told Jesus began His work in Galilee “after John had been arrested.” Now Mark doesn’t make anything more of that at this point in his narrative so we won’t linger over it, except to allow the fact of the cost of preaching this message of repentance that both Jesus and John share in common. Let the fact of the cost register with us for a moment. Just as Jesus launches out into His preaching career, cousin John is thrown into jail for preaching the same message. Here’s an indication of the cost, the price that John was already paying that Jesus would Himself also one day pay. And yet, despite that ominous note sounding and casting a shadow over the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, He does not hesitate and He doesn’t delay at all. Does He? He doesn’t wait until the dust has settled on the arrest of John, until the political temperature has cooled somewhat. He isn’t looking for a more auspicious time. This is the moment, this is the right time, and so He proceeds.


A Great Challenge

Or think about the venue for Jesus’ public ministry. Mark says Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of God. That’s about a hundred miles to the north from the site of His baptism by John in the Jordan. Galilee – it was not at all this sleepy, bucolic village we sometimes picture in our minds when we think about Galilee. One commentator puts it this way. He says, “We must resist the temptation to picture the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as being centered in some gentle, quiet backwater. He began at a place of conflict, threat, racial mixture, and busy activity.” Galilee was at a major crossroads from east and west. Many of the greatest battles in the history of the ancient world were fought right there. It was a melting pot of cultures and language and history and religion. So Jesus is not easing into things, you know, sort of beta testing His message in some sleepy little village to see if it needs refining and polishing and tweaking here and there. No, He travels after His baptism and temptation, back to His own region where He’d been raised, where His family lived, where His name was known. He heads back to the challenging environment of cosmopolitan, melting-pot Galilee, and there He begins to preach. And He does it, He says, “because the time is fulfilled.”


We all recognize that some days are more significant than other days. Don’t we? Today is Mother’s Day, and so today we celebrate the moms in our lives. We make a fuss over them, I hope. We pamper them some. Children travel home from college or across the country to be with their families this weekend. We, perhaps, are having a special meal today. It’s not that this Sunday is any different than any other Sunday, it’s simply that we have appointed today to be the day that we celebrate Mother’s Day every year.


Actively Working

When Mark records for us Jesus’ first point in His sermon, “the time is fulfilled,” He’s saying something similar. It’s not that God was waiting anxiously for the most auspicious moment when all the stars aligned, when everything seemed to be just right and then He sent forth His Son, the Lord Jesus, to begin His public ministry. No, the construction actually that Mark records Jesus using is in the passive voice. It means not that the time had been fulfilled, not that the time was fulfilled, but it "had been fulfilled." Time was being acted upon. God was bringing it to fulfillment. God wasn't wondering when would be the best time and looking out for the best moment to deploy the Lord Jesus in the great work of securing our salvation. No, He was actively working in His governance of all things by His providence so that this moment that He had chosen, appointed and ordained, this day, would finally arrive. He hasn't been asleep at the wheel of history, you see. In His wise providence, He has been steering it all toward this time and this moment when Jesus stepped onto the scene and began to preach. It was the right message at the right time in the right place because it had been ordained so by the Father. It wasn't in need of any polishing or tweaking or testing out in some little synagogue someplace. It wasn't a work in progress. No, this was the news for which everyone had been waiting, actually for millennia, and now it was here at last. And it couldn’t wait any longer. It had to be let loose; a message that had to be spoken and applied and delivered with clarity and challenge in the diversity and the complexity of life in the towns and cities of Galilee. A message that works right in the heart of the messiness of human civilization.


And so for the first point in Jesus’ sermon, we really are hearing a reminder of God’s perfect timing. The time has been fulfilled. God has brought it to pass. He’s kept His ancient promises in His sovereignty and in His providence. It’s the same point Paul makes in Galatians 4:4. You remember Galatians 4:4? “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Another version puts it this way. “When the time was just right, God sent forth His Son.” God’s timing is perfect as He brings His promises to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ public preaching here was God saying to His people, “At last, My promise is kept.” Promises kept.


Struggle to Trust

Now the fact is, we sometimes struggle to trust God with the reigns of our lives. Isn’t that so? At least that’s the case very much for me. We let anxiety get its talons into us and we find the idea of not being in control of tomorrow actually quite terrifying, truth be told. In those moments, in those moments I think we need to hear the first point of Jesus’ sermon again about ancient promises perfectly kept in God’s timing. When the right time finally came, when not the time for which God had been anxiously waiting but the time He had ordained, when that moment arrived He sent forth His Son. He deployed the Lord Jesus. The crux of history itself played out in the perfect timing of God’s sovereign design. He superintended all the threads of history, all the complexities of human behavior, all the successes, even the sins and the second causes and the apparent happenstances all across the ages so that all would lead to this moment that Jesus Christ might step forward and God might keep His Word and salvation might be accomplished.


Now, given that, given that fact of the faithfulness of God to His promise over the ages fulfilled in Jesus Christ, given that fact, do you really think, do you really think that His promises to care for you, to guide you, to provide for you, to sustain you, do you really think you present a greater challenge to Him in the fulfillment of those promises than the challenge confronting Him across all the ages to keep His Word that a Savior would come and His kingdom would dawn in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ? Do we really believe ourselves so significant, so central to the good functioning of the universe that the apparent roadblocks that appear in our way might somehow derail the plan of God to keep His promises to you? Really? Brothers and sisters, Jesus came because the time was fulfilled, in the fullness of time, when the time was just right. And because He did, you see, there is no problem confronting us so great that we cannot safely entrust it to God’s wise ordering and to His perfect plan. His timing is perfect. Do you really believe that? His timing is perfect. His plan never fails. His promises are sure. You can trust Him. You can. You can trust Him.


Return of the King

Then, notice Jesus' second point. Stealing shamelessly from Tolkien, we might say Jesus was preaching "The Return of the King." The return of the King. Look at what Jesus said. "The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand." You may know that in the Scriptures, the kingdom of God has less to do with the realm over which God reigns and more to do with the sovereignty by means of which He exercises that reign. It's not so much about a geographical place, you know, with boundaries and borders that can be plotted on a map, and more to do with the sphere of divine sovereignty and rule-breaking into human history, governing human hearts by His grace, all our sin notwithstanding. And so here was what Jesus was saying to people as He looked them in the eye, as they heard Him with their very ears. He was saying, "Right now, something is happening that has never happened before. The saving rule of God is erupting into our midst in a new way. His kingdom is at hand. It's near; it's right here. Now that I am here, the kingdom has come."


Now, Jewish expectation was that the kingdom of God would arrive at the end of history. And they tended to understand God’s kingdom almost entirely in geopolitical terms as the vindication and triumph of Israel over all her enemies, especially the Roman Empire. And Jesus here, I think, is cutting through all of that. He declares that instead, with His arrival, in Him the kingdom of God was already among them. The Kingly reign of God exercised in Jesus had a very different character than people were expecting. As the rest of Mark’s gospel is going to show us and demonstrate to us, while the religious elites and the political rulers exercised power for their own ends, Jesus was among us as one who serves. While the most vulnerable of society were downtrodden, overlooked, Jesus’ kingdom restores the sick to health and shatters the power of demonic strongholds occupying the lives of ordinary people. While the culture valued power and prestige and position, the values of Jesus’ kingdom mirror His own character – poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking. When others saw kingly rule as the right to oppress, Jesus’ kingdom brought true spiritual liberty, freedom.


Life Under New Management

And that has massive implications for us. “The King has come,” Jesus was saying. “The rule of God has broken into our midst now that I am here. The time is fulfilled.” That has huge implications. Jesus spells them out in the last phrase of verse 15. What are the implications? What’s the answer to the “So what?” question? Repent and believe in the Gospel. Come and live under new management. God’s timing is perfect. The return of the King. Life under new management. Here’s what it really means to enter the kingdom of God, to bend the knee to King Jesus. And it’s vital, at this point, that we understand what Jesus is saying as one point not two points – repent and believe in the Gospel. Those must never be separated from each other. Even when you see only one mentioned in Scripture, “repent,” or “believe,” the other is always implied. You can’t repent, you see, without believing. Everyone who believes, repents. Repentance doesn’t precede faith as its condition. Faith never exists in the heart that does not turn from sin to God in repentance.


Now I am a hopeless theology nerd, so let me give you a little bit of church history and Scottish theology. In 1717, in a small town in central Scotland, the fantastically named presbytery of Auchterarder was meeting to examine candidates for the Gospel ministry. During the examination, one candidate was asked the following question. His name was William Craig. See how you get on with this question. Here’s what they asked him as they examined him for the work of the Gospel ministry. “Do you believe that it is sound and orthodox to teach,” – sorry – “Do you believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach” – that’s an important correction! “Do you believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that a man must depart from sin in order to come to Christ?” Alright? So get this straight in your mind – “Do you believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that a man must depart from sin in order to come to Christ?” How would you answer that question, I wonder? Is it sound and orthodox to tell someone they must depart from sin before they come to Jesus? Well, William Craig thought it was orthodox and said so and the presbytery disagreed and refused to license or ordain him, and so began a massive controversy in the history of the church.


Repentance and Faith

“Now what does that pretty nerdy piece of historical arcana have to do with anything?" I hear you ask! Well, you see what's really at stake here. Some were teaching, in the church in Scotland at the time, some were teaching that before you had any right to believe the Gospel or trust in Jesus with a hope of finding peace, before you could do that you had to turn from your sin. Here's the problem. It's not possible to turn from your sin before you turn to Jesus! They have separated out repentance and faith and they've made repentance into a condition on the basis of which a person could be said to have the right to trust in Christ. They were suggesting the same thing, actually, that all our hearts tell us every day. Here’s what our hearts say to us. “Before God will accept you, you’d better clean up your act. Before you have any right to look to God with hope that He will love you, you'd better deal with the stench of your sin." Doesn't your heart tell you that sometimes? I guess I'm the only one. My wicked heart, my inner legalist, is telling me all the time, every day, "Before you have any right to expect the loving-kindness of God, you need to qualify. You need to clean up your act. You need to fix your sin."


Go First to Jesus

Maybe you’re sitting in the pew this morning feeling like you don’t belong. You look at your heart and you feel like you shouldn’t be here. You’re not good enough, clean enough, religious enough, deserving enough. “Maybe I should just stay away until I’ve turned over a new leaf. You know, sorted my life out. God wouldn’t want me anyway. I mean, look at me. What a mess.” That’s not the way, is it? That’s not what Jesus is teaching. That’s not His message. Repentance and faith are two sides of one single coin, and they always, always go together in the heart. You don’t repent first and then once you’ve cleaned up your act you can dare to believe and trust in Jesus and find peace. Give it a try if you have to, and you’ll quickly discover that it just can’t be done. There’s no power to repent apart from trusting in Christ. Repentance is in His hands to give you. It’s not in your hands. If you want to be clean, you must start by going to Christ and He will enable you to turn from sin and turn to Him.


We’re like, I think we’re like the two-year-old caught red-handed eating the forbidden chocolate cookies. You know he denies it, but he’s obviously tried to clean himself up a little bit and all he’s done is smeared the chocolate around some more and made the matter a whole lot worse. When we try to clean ourselves up, all we do is make things worse. You can’t do it. To get clean, you need to go to Jesus. You don’t get clean and then go to Jesus. When Jesus said, “Repent and believe,” here’s what He was really saying. He was saying, “It’s time to stop pretending that you are able to be king and in control of your life.” What a lie we tell ourselves that we should be in control. And, of course, reality keeps poking holes in our illusion of control and it causes us infinite stress as we are forced to reckon with the fact that we can’t control ourselves, we can’t control our hearts, we can’t control our families, we can’t control our destinies. And when we keep believing the lie that we’re in control and reality keeps assaulting that lie, we find ourselves spinning out of control with anxiety and fear and it gets worse and worse and worse. The illusion that we are in control promises us a pathway to peace, to freedom, to security, and actually all it does is drive us deeper and deeper into bondage and slavery, to anxiety and fear.


When the true path to liberation is set before us in the message Jesus preached, “Repent,” make like the people in Baghdad at the end of the Iraq War. Do you remember that amazing scene when they finally pulled down that great statue of Saddam Hussein and they’re all celebrating because his regime has been toppled at last? We have a big statue, big idol of “self” in our hearts that needs to be toppled because a true King has come, you see. The true King has come. We were never made to be in control. We were made to bend the knee to the true King who reigns. And in His kingdom, there is peace. That’s what repentance is. It’s toppling that statue. And faith is simply bending the knee and pledging allegiance to the true and better King. The King has come.


Are you living today under new management? If you’ve been in control, or telling yourself you’re in control, it’s time to fire the old manager in your heart. It’s an illusion, it’s a lie, it’s not true. You were never made, you don’t have the capacity, you’re not supposed to be in charge. Bend the knee to King Jesus. Come and live under new management. Enter the kingdom of God by trusting the Lord Jesus Christ who came in God’s perfect timing, fulfilling all His promises, that you, that you and I might have peace at last. The King has come. Time to come and live at last under the true Manager and Lord for which your heart was always made.


Let’s pray together.


Lord Jesus, please would You forgive us for the attempt our hearts keep making to live as though we were king. Forgive us for the ways we separate repentance from faith and instead of fleeing to You, we try to fix ourselves up and somehow qualify for Your love. Show us instead that Your love comes first and You love the guilty sinner. We can respond with joy to Newton’s wonderful lines, “Come ye sinner, poor and wretched, bruised and battered by the fall.” We don’t need to “tarry until we’re better” because, the truth is, if we do that “we’ll never come at all.” Help us please to believe that it’s not the righteous, not the righteous, but sinners that You came to call. And as we see that, would You help us to trust You, maybe for the very first time, to bend the knee to King Jesus. For we ask this in Your name, amen.

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