Jesus' Passion for Big Government (Mark 1:14, 15)
Topic: Mark Passage: Mark 1:14–1:15
I. Jesus’ Political Commitments
Is Jesus a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, a Green, or an independent?
To some this may sound like a silly question, but lots of people look to Jesus as a political ally. Those on the “right” often look to Jesus as a crusader against immorality. Those on the ‘left’ often point to Jesus as an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised.
Last Wednesday night, candidates hoping to be the Republican presidential nominee participated in a debate over in Mesa. One of the topics that came up time and time again was the size of the federal government and the size of the federal budget. While the candidates worked hard to distinguish themselves, all of the candidates talked about their commitment to shrink the government.
Well, I’m not really interested in wading that particular issue this morning, but I will share with you one thing I am convinced of about Jesus’ political leanings: Jesus had a passion for big government. (2x)
Now that statement may make many conservatives bristle and many liberals cheer, but let me add to that. If you and I want to truly experience life, liberty, and happiness, we MUST share Jesus’ passion for big government. I think some further explanation is necessary.
II. The Passage: “The Time is Fulfilled” (1:14, 15a)
Look with me at Mark 1. This morning, let's consider verses 14 and 15: 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.”
A. Jesus “On the Stump”
Now as we attempt to understand Jesus' passion for big government, the first thing we need to see here is that, to borrow another political expression, Jesus is now “out on the stump”. No, he’s not running for the Judean Senate, but He is moving through cities and town of Israel; He is out among the masses declaring his message for the first time.
Notice that we’re told WHEN this happens. It's “after John was arrested”. Now Mark doesn't go into the details of that situation until chapter 6, but I do think he wants us to understand the significance of this timing.
If we were to explore verses 2-8 of this same chapter, we would discover that John the Baptist’s (John the Baptizer) role in God's plan was simply 'temp work'. According to the ancient prophecies, he came simply to prepare the way for the Messiah, for Jesus.
And from this small phrase in Mark 1:14 we learn that John had been faithful in fulfilling his calling. His work was done. The way had been prepared. Jesus has come, the very One to whom John had been pointing.
But we also see here the WHERE of Jesus’ new public ministry. Mark tells us that Jesus came into Galilee. Where was Galilee? Well Galilee was a region of ancient Israel situated in the north. Because it represented the northern extreme of the land, its population had long been a mix of Jews and Gentiles.
Because of this fact, Jews in the south usually considered those from Galilee as second-class citizens. So Jesus does not begin His ministry in the centers of power, but out on the fringes.
The Gospel writer Matthew also saw this location as important because it fulfilled the prophecy recorded in Isaiah 9:1:
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations [or Gentiles]. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
As we move into verse 15, we also learn WHAT Jesus was announcing among the masses. Look at the first words of Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled…”
“The time is fulfilled”? What is Jesus talking about? The sense of the original language here is of an appointed time coming to pass. Jesus’ audience knew what He was talking about.
You see the Jews knew that their God had a clock, and that all of the writings of the Old Testament were pointing toward that clock. And when this clock reached the appointed time, God would break into our reality and act for His glory and the good of His people.
And now, the Jewish people, the people of King David and Solomon, this once exalted nation now lived under the oppressive rule of an occupying army. You better believe that they were watching and waiting for God’s intervention and liberation.
So here comes Jesus saying, “The time has come…this is it people…the divine appointment you’ve been looking for!”.
B. The Good News of a Big Government (1:15b)
Now notice how Mark describes this message as the “gospel of God” at the end of verse 14. We see this same word gospel in the very first verse of this chapter. As you might know, this term gospel literally means “good news”. Jesus is announcing the good news of God.
But what is this good news, this gospel that Jesus is announcing?
Well, from 1:1 we see that there is “good news”, there is a gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Is that what Jesus is announcing here in verse 14, Himself as the Son of God? No, in fact, later in this very chapter, we see Jesus working hard to keep His true identity a secret.
Is this “good news”, this gospel, the same gospel that the Apostle Paul would talk about in his first letter to the Corinthian church? He wrote in I Corinthians 15:1-4:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
Is this what Jesus was talking about? Well, no, because this hadn’t happened yet. Jesus did predict His sufferings, but that was only later to His disciples in secret. And they didn’t even understand what He was talking about.
So what then is this “good news”, what is this gospel that Jesus is announcing? What is this news that Jesus is claiming is the fulfillment of everything the ancient prophecies spoke of?
If we asked most people what they believed was the central teaching of Jesus’ message, the heart of His ministry, the main idea of everything He taught, what would be some common answers? Think about that. Would it be love, or heaven, or money, or faith?
Well, I think these verses point us to the correct answer. If you look at Mark 1:14, 15 you will see that we have here 'gospel bookends' or brackets. At the end of verse 14, we read about the “gospel of God”. And then at the end of verse 15, Jesus calls his hearers to “believe in the gospel”.
If we see both of these references to the “gospel” as brackets, there’s a good possibility that the content of this “good news” is somewhere in between. And, in fact, that's exactly where we find it, in the middle of verse 15.
The gospel, the “good news” that Jesus was proclaiming, can be boiled down to this simple phrase, “the kingdom of God is at hand”.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus uses the word love, for example, 36 times. In these same Gospels he refers to the “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” 84 times. Biblical scholars have long been in agreement that the main idea of Jesus’ message was the kingdom of God.
The fact that these are the first words to come out of Jesus' mouth in the Gospel of Mark simply confirm that idea.
The kingdom of God was the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry. It was His passion. It was the teaching that summed up the prophecies of the Old Testament. It was the essence of what God wanted to do in this world.
But what is the “kingdom of God”, or as Matthew often calls it, the “kingdom of heaven”? When you read the Gospels and the beginning of Acts, it’s pretty clear that the disciples, at the beginning, didn’t even have a clear idea about the kingdom.
They thought the kingdom of God was Israel restored to political prominence and wielding military might.
In connection with our series this month, some Christians believe the kingdom of God is simply synonymous with a future thousand-year reign of Jesus on the earth.
Others believe that the phrase “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” is just referring to heaven, the throne of God.
Still others believe that the kingdom of God is another name for the church.
But while all of these answers have some connection to the truth about the kingdom, none of them adequately expresses the heart of this concept.
Listen, if this idea was the main message that Jesus came to announce, then it's critical that we understand it, right?
What has led to so much confusion about this subject is the fact that sometimes when Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God, he seems to be referring to something that is coming in the future, a time when God would put down humanity’s rebellion, restore perfect justice, and once again reign over all creation.
But at other times, Jesus spoke of the kingdom being “at hand” (like we see here in Mark 1), or as something that could be sought and “received” now.
So which is it? Did Jesus come to establish God’s reign upon the earth, or did he simply come to tell us that it’s coming someday?
The answer is “yes”. Both of are true. What alleviates the tension between these future and present understandings of the kingdom of God, or this “now” and “not yet” quality, is the fact that when Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, he was simply talking about the place in which God reigns as king. (2x) (The kingdom is...)
One day that place will be the entire universe, that day when God reclaims creation and finally and fully deals with everyone and everything that defies His perfect and loving design.
But Jesus came, as we see in Mark 1, to give us the good news that we can come under God’s reign right now; that we can begin to live in the joy and peace of His rule in the present.
This idea might be compared to what the Allied forces did in Japan near the end of WWII. In 1945 American B-29’s dropped 63 million leaflets over Japanese cities and combat zones. These leaflets informed the Japanese of the true condition of their government and warned them of the coming Allied invasion. These leaflet were not only warnings of imminent military action, but they were also trying to persuade the Japanese to surrender or defect.
In a similar way, Jesus came to inform us of our true condition and warn us of a day when God would intervene with great power.
Jesus came that we might know life under God’s loving leadership, right now.
THIS is the “kingdom of God”. THIS is the ‘big government’ that Jesus is passionate about. He isn’t passionate about any human party, politician, or social program. He’s passionate about God reigning unrivaled as King over all creation. This is the ‘big government’ that Jesus came to announce.
And God wants each of us to share Jesus’ passion for this ‘big government’. If you hope to experience to true life, and true liberty, and true happiness, then you MUST be passionate about God’s Kingdom. Let me explain what I mean.
Notice that there's more to Jesus' message here. We also see that Jesus mentions a two-sided response to His message. Look again at verse 15: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Now repentance is a theme that appears earlier in verse 4, in connection with John the Baptist. John's mission was to cultivate a climate of repentance among the people. Now,for many people today, “repent” is one of those old-fashioned religious words that seems irrelevant and maybe intolerant in our day and age.
What is repentance? Well, repentance is not only admitting you are guilty in terms of sin, but it is a sorrow over and a rejection of sin. And the context in which Jesus' calls us to repent, that context reveals the existence of another kindgom at work in this world.
If you look at all of the problems in this world, if you look at all of the problems in your own heart, they all come from the same place: they all come from human beings trying to establish their own rule, their own kingship, in opposition to God. Isn't that the heart of sin?
But God cannot tolerate rivals forever. Can you imagine someone trying, every single day, to take your place, as a parent, or as a spouse, or as an employee? No, you would only tolerate that for so long, because you know that wouldn't work and people would get hurt.
But in love, God sent Jesus to proclaim an open door; to declare amnesty for rebels like us.
Repentance is a genuine acknowledgment that our so-called leadership over our own lives will only lead to disappointment, despair, and death. Repentance must be our first response to this good news of God’s reign. You see, we cannot fully accept the loving leadership of God until we have fully rejected the deadly leadership of ‘me’.
But there is an other side to the response that Jesus declares. He says “repent and believe in the gospel.”
What does this mean? What does it mean to believe in the good news? Well, if we just left God’s call at repentance, we would miss the goodness of the good news.
Rejecting the kingdom of “sin” and the kingdom of “me” with all of its hurt, confusion, and pain, can only happen when we are drawn to the incomparable goodness of the kingdom of God.
A beggar will not give up his filthy cardboard box unless there is something even greater offered to him, something that helps him to see the reality of his present condition.
In turning from a life of rebellion against God, we must believe not only believe that we will be spared, but that God has for us a new life that is anchored in His incomparable goodness and love.
What Jesus is calling us to is a complete trust in the loving leadership of God.
Just like repentance, there is no partial acceptance of God’s leadership. We must entrust every area of our life to the King. As the English writer George MacDonald put it, “Religion and life are one, or neither is anything.”
Either your life is fully given over to the purposes of God, or your life is not really life, and your God is not really God.
Do you trust Him? If you do, is that faith translating into a daily hunger for God’s direction and guidance?
Repentance and belief are two sides of the coin that is submission. “I submit to you, O God, because there is nothing in me that will bring life. I submit to you, O God, because there is everything in you to bring me life.”
III. The Ultimate Government Assistance
But we are left with a dilemma. How can we surrender and transfer our allegiance to the King of heaven when the Bible tells us that our hearts, our very essence, is totally corrupted by the rebellion of sin, by an “I know best” attitude?
Well, as strange as it sounds, just as we should share Jesus’ passion for big government, we also need to have a passion for the ultimate government assistance.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote about 30 years after the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He told the Colossians:
[The Father] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins…19 For in [the Son] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him…
Do you see what it says there? Do you see how the “good news” is not only about the kingdom, but also about how we enter God's kingdom? Do you see how this “good news” is absolutely all about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as Mark 1:1 tells us? Do you see how this “good news” is bout the fact that Christ died for our sins as Paul communicated in I Corinthians 15?
Jesus not only came to announce the coming of God’s reign; he also made it possible for us to submit to God’s reign. How did He do that?
By taking, at the cross, the punishment that we rebels deserved. And through that cross, not only does He take us from our insurgency against God and forgive us, but He also gives us a new heart, a heart of loving loyalty to the One who was once our enemy.
Isn't that “good news”? Is there any news better than that?
When we understand these things, it's not hard to see why the kingdom of God was at the very heart of everything Jesus said and did?
This morning you and I have gotten a glimpse of Jesus’ passion for 'big government'; for God’s loving reign, through Jesus Christ, over all things. Even though this is such a big idea, I hope you can see how relevant this is to your everyday life. In all of your struggles, in all of your choices, in all of your priorities and ambitions, are you submitting yourself to the true King?
If we who are blessed to live in a democracy do not first live in a divine monarchy, our democracy, our very lives, will ultimately fail us.
The leaflets have been dropped; God's arms of mercy are open wide. He is calling you to surrender to His grace.