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Beginning in Galilee

Category Articles
Date December 30, 2003

People who go to rock, country, or pop concerts have to listen to an “opening act” before the person or group they went to hear takes the stage. People who go to the movies or plays know that often there are several scenes before the main character appears. Sometimes it can be that way even in a church service. A friend, who served on the staff of a church that had a well-known preacher and offered several Sunday morning services, told me that the preacher never entered the service until it was time to preach.

The title of Mark’s Gospel tells us that the whole story is about “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” but then Mark takes us to the Judean wilderness where John the Baptist is carrying on his ministry of preparation for the ministry of Christ. Jesus enters the story during Mark’s ministry, but He does not take center stage in public until John’s arrest. Several chapters later Mark will tell us more about John’s arrest, but for now the important thing is that John is removed from the scene by the providence of God, so that Jesus can begin His public ministry in Galilee with the spotlight of attention on Him, for the whole story is about Jesus and the Good News He brings and is.

I. THE PROCLAMATION OF THE PREACHER

When John was arrested, Jesus went north to Galilee, the region where He had spend most of His life, and “proclaimed the gospel of God.” Jesus main activity was preaching or proclamation of good news that came from God. Someone has observed that God had one Son, and He made Him a preacher. Of course, God made His Son much more than that, but the point is that Jesus’ primary ministry leading up to His death was a ministry of preaching. And, while preaching and teaching are closely connected, the word for preaching makes us know that it is something more than what we usually mean by the word teaching. It is proclamation of a message of good news. The preacher is a herald and the work for preaching means literally “to announce in a loud voice.” Sometimes people wonder why a preacher speaks with intensity and raises his voice. It is because preaching is an activity of proclaiming or announcing good news. Preaching is still the primary method by which the gospel comes to people with the power that calls them to Christ. As our Shorter Catechism rightly says, “The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith unto salvation.” We rely on preaching in our church, and we have two services with preaching every Lord’s Day, because we are confident in this method Jesus used and that God has promised to bless.

What Jesus preached was all good news. The first element is that “the time is fulfilled.” When we speak of time we often mean a succession of seconds, minutes, and hours. We ask, “What time is it?’ or, “Is it time to leave for church?” But we also use the word time in another way. We may say, “It’s time to buy a new house.” Then we mean the right time to take an action. When Jesus said the time was fulfilled He meant that the time chosen by God for a critical event has arrived. God is sovereign. He makes plans. He can intervene in His creation when and as He will. Jesus is saying that the time God has appointed for a turning point in history has arrived. One of the great comforts of Biblical faith is that our God is the God of history. He is not watching as history unfolds. He is planning and controlling history, and He is working according to His purposes.

What time is then according to Jesus? It is the time when “the kingdom of God is at hand.” What does Jesus mean by the kingdom of God? In one sense the kingdom of God has always existed. God created the world, and He rules it. Nothing in the world and no people in the world, not even an Adolph Hitler, or Saddam Hussein, or Osama ben Laden, are outside His control. They reject Him, and rebel against Him, and do evil things, but they are under His sovereign rule and somehow even the wicked things they do are part of His plan and serve His purposes. If we are speaking about God’s sovereign rule of the whole universe and everything in it, then the kingdom of God is eternal. But Jesus is speaking here of something else.

But there is another sense in which the term kingdom of God is used. The kingdom of God can mean, not only where God’s will is imposed by sovereign overruling, but where God’s rule is welcomed and His will is done willingly. This is what the nation Israel was in the Old Testament. God chose these people to be His own. He intervened in history to save them from slavery in Egypt, and He led them to a land He has promised and settled them there. He gave them kings like David who ruled over them for God. God was on their side in their battles with their enemies. They lived under His laws and His protection. So among the nations of the earth, Israel was unique for Israel was God’s kingdom.

But Israel, despite all her privileges proved not to be so different from the other nations. Israel, too, rejected the Lord and rebelled against Him, and eventually came under His judgment. But the prophets led God’s people to hope for a future intervention by God to establish His kingdom in a new way – a much more direct and personal intervention by God. He would come for His people, and deliver them, and establish His rule. They would enjoy His salvation and live under the blessings of His gracious rule. The message of Jesus is that the time men and women have been longing for is now fulfilled and the kingdom of God they have been expecting is now near to them – because He has come. He does not appear as people expect a king to look, but He is Jesus through whom the Lord saves. He is the Messiah chosen and anointed by God for the work of deliverance. And He is the Son of God, God’s own unique Son become a man. He is God come near to His people to save them from the devil and from sin. In the rest of Mark’s Gospel we see Him doing the works of the Kingdom – calling people into His kingdom, healing the sick, exercising authority over the nations, overcoming the demons and the kingdom of darkness, and granting people the forgiveness of their sins.

This is good news. The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come very near in the person and works of Jesus. Have you been waiting for deliverance? Have you been looking for a kingdom where there is salvation and safety? It has come in Jesus. Everything you need for your eternal welfare has been accomplished by Jesus and can be found in Him.

II. THE SUMMONS OF THE SAVIOUR

This announcement of good news that the time has come and the kingdom is near includes a summons. The summons is to repent and believe this good news.

But what does it mean to repent? It means to turn away from rebellion against God and indifference to God and to return to God and to reorient your life to Him and His will. Paul reminded the Thessalonians of their repentance: “how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” There is the two-fold movement – turning away from idols and toward God.

That is what this good news requires. If the kingdom of God is near to us now, then that means not only that salvation has come but also that judgment is approaching. All those who do not return to God will be subdued by God and brought to judgment. The only way to avoid judgment is to lay down your weapons of rebellion and to go back to God.

But this is also what the good news makes eminently reasonable. If you turn away from your sins and go to God, God will accept you and you will receive mercy and all the blessings of salvation that the kingdom of God brings. You will not, like rebels of this world and its kingdoms be arrested or imprisoned or executed. You will be welcome back and blessed. Do you remember the story of the prodigal son who rejected his father, demanded his inheritance, and went off to a far country where he lived a wicked life and wasted all his money. At last when he was reduced to working on a farm, feeding pigs, he decided he would be better off working as a servant on his father’s farm. So he went back, and he found that the father was waiting for him. The father ran out to meet him, and kissed him, and put fine clothes on him, and threw a party to celebrate his return. That is the way those who repent are always received.

Repent and believe the gospel. Believe that the time has been fulfilled, that the kingdom is near in the person of Jesus. The whole gospel comes down to who Jesus is and what God is doing through Him to establish His kingdom of salvation. Believe that He is God come near to us and believe that He accomplishes all you need for salvation. Those who first heard Him announce this good news may have thought, “He surely doesn’t look like what we expected of a king and so far we surely don’t see the glories we expected with the coming of the kingdom of God.” But, nevertheless, this man was the Son of God and He did take on Satan, sin, and death, and He did triumph. Today, as you hear this good news, you may think, “Where is this kingdom of God? I still see the works of the devil, and I still see sin everywhere, and death still claims every life. But did not Jesus rise from the dead? Is He not alive today? Did He not ascend in glory to heaven? Is He not sitting on the throne of heaven? He is the king and the kingdom has come. It is not that the kingdom has not yet come, but that the kingdom has not yet been fully revealed. The reality that exists in heaven where Jesus is now was accomplished by His coming, life, death, and resurrection and one day this reality will be fully revealed in all of creation. Believe that. Entrust yourself to the King, and He will bestow upon you all the saving blessing of His kingdom – partially revealed now and to be revealed fully at the end of the age.

Jesus is still issuing this summons to us. He is doing it right now in the preaching of His word. He issues this summons to non-believers. “Repent and believe the gospel.” And every Lord’s Day He issues calls believers as well to renew their repentance from sin and their faith in Him.

III. THE COMMAND OF THE KING

Having shown us Jesus as a Preacher announcing the kingdom of God and Jesus as a Sovereign summoning us to faith and repentance, Mark now shows us what it means for us when we repent and believe the good news.

Jesus is walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee where there was a thriving fishing industry. He encounters four men, two sets of brothers. The first two are Simon, who later was renamed Peter, and Andrew who were in the fishing business together. These brothers were casting their nets, trying to catch fish. The second two are James and John who worked on the boats owned by their father Zebedee. These men were mending their nets in preparation for another fishing expedition.

Now we know from John’s Gospel that this was not the first time these men had had contact with Jesus. But Mark does not tell us that. He is not trying to keep something from us, but he does not call our attention to it because he has a purpose in mind. He wants to show us what Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom demands of us.

Jesus spoke to Simon and Andrew: “Follow me.” Then He called James and John to do that same. What does it mean to repent and believe? It means to follow Jesus. Repentance means a reorientation of our lives from whatever was most important before, even things good in themselves, to Him. Repentance means centering our lives on Him. For these meant a change of all the routines of life, leaving all behind. They left behind their homes, their families, and their businesses. Will it mean less for us? No, it will not, for repentance requires a radical reorientation. It may not mean that Jesus will call us to move away, to change our jobs and vocations, or to forsake the comforts of our nearby families, but it might. When Jesus calls us, He calls us to leave behind all. When we really hear Him, we do.

But, we do not simply walk away from our old life; we follow Him. We attach ourselves to Him and trust Him for everything. These first follows may have wondered: “Where is He going to lead us? Where will we sleep? What will we eat? What will become of us?” You may have similar questions about putting your faith in Jesus and following Him. What will happen to you? None of this matters. What matters is that you will be with Him and that with Him the kingdom of God is here, and the age of salvation has arrived, and you will receive all the blessings of living under His gracious rule now and in the age yet to come.

When Jesus calls us to follow Him, He does something with us. “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” They have been catching fish. Now they will catch men. Have you ever thought about that metaphor? When we catch fish, we do not do them a favor. We catch them out of their natural habitat so that we can eat them. In the Old Testament fishing for men is always a negative thing. Men are caught for judgment. They do not escape for God sends fishermen to catch them. But now Jesus will make those who follow Him fishers of men in a good and saving sense. Christ will use those who follow Him to catch men out of a sea of judgment so that they may be brought into the kingdom of salvation.

Have you been “caught” for salvation? Then Christ has put you and the whole church into the fishing business. Our work is to catch men for Christ and His kingdom. How do we do that? We do it in the same way Christ did. We preach that in Christ and by Christ the kingdom of God has come and the day of salvation has arrived. And we summon them to repent of their sins and to believe the gospel. It is this message proclaimed with simplicity and boldness that Christ uses to save people from judgment and to bestow on them all the blessing of salvation.

I would make a mistake if I did not ask you again if you have been caught by Christ. Another way of putting it is to ask, “Have you heard Christ calling so that you find yourself compelled to leave all behind and follow Him for the joy of the good news of the kingdom? He calls you now: “Follow me.” Don’t worry about what it will mean for your life. If He catches you, it will mean for you not death but life.

WILLIAM H. SMITH

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Huntsville, Alabama

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