The Arrival of the King and His Kingdom
Sermon Passage: Mark 1:14–20 | Preached to Sovereign Grace Fellowship | 03-28-2021
By Peder Kling
The Most Pressing Question: Who is Jesus?
Today marks our second message in our study through Mark’s gospel, which means that this is a new study for all of us.
So, let me quickly hit at the main point of this gospel which I mentioned last week. Mark’s gospel, as I said last week, seeks to answer one simple, yet incredibly important question. And that question is—“who is Jesus?”.
Who is he? I’ve heard many people—those who believe in Christa and those who don’t—say that this is perhaps the most important question you could ever ask. There’s no point in denying his influence on the course of human history. The French general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte said,
Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon sheer force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men will die for Him.
And, the same is true yet another two hundred years later after Bonaparte’s death, to today. You see, what Jesus claimed about himself are not claims which can simply die with the Jesus. If what he said is true, the consequences are infinitely vast, and eternally significant. Jesus claimed to be God. He claimed to be the savior of the world. He claimed that he had the power of death, and it is said of him that he validated those claims when he actually rose from the dead.
More than this, he claimed sovereignty over the universe—that his kingdom was “not of this world”, and that he would rule forever from his throne in heaven. He claimed he would judge his enemies with impenetrable power, and bless his people with imponderable blessings.
With all this in mind, Kevin DeYoung once said “Everyone who comes in contact with Jesus has rendered a judgment on him. Even ignoring him is a decision about his identity”. To ignore a man of this much gravitas is to decide he has not gravitas. You better be right. So again—who is Jesus?
We would do best to pursue a greater clarity, understanding, and certainty on just this question. And, I’m not simply referring to unbelievers or agnostics who aren’t sure how to answer this question. Even for us believers who have an answer to Jesus’s person and work—we would do well to press deeper into this question so that we can understand with greater clarity and confidence who Jesus is, what he accomplished, and what that means for us. To put it simply—if we claim Jesus’s glory, wisdom, goodness, love, and justice are infinite as God is infinite, then there is no exhausting the question, “who is Jesus?”.
So, that’s what the gospels, generally are all about. And, Mark’s gospel does not waste any time in telling us exactly who Jesus is. Last week, we saw that the first thirteen verses in Mark open the gospel with the clearest answer to this question that we will get in all 13 chapters of the gospel. Mark tells us exactly who Jesus is in verse 1—“the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. That’s who Jesus is, right there. He’s the Christ (i.e., the Jewish Messiah), and he’s the Son of God. Then, Mark ensures us that he’s not the only one saying it. In the rest of these opening thirteen verses, Mark reminds us that John the Baptist said it in his ministry; God said it at Jesus’s baptism; and Jesus himself proved it when he went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, without sin. Mark, John the Baptist, God himself, and Jesus all tell you that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God who saves his people from their sin. This, of course, is not to leave out the Old Testament references that are scattered throughout those verses, which serve as yet another testimony that Jesus is the Messiah whom the Old Testament promised. The answer to that question, “who is Jesus?”, is given to you right there at the beginning of Mark’s gospel, with a host of witnesses to prove it. He’s the Messiah—the Christ, the Son of God. We looked at that in more depth last week.
But, what does this mean, then? What does it mean that Jesus is the Messiah, and that he is God’s Son? We don’t want to assume we understand what this means. I would remind you that, after Jesus’s disciples spent several years asking themselves, “who is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?”, Peter finally says in chapter 8 verse 29, “you are the Christ”. We might at this point in the story feel a sense of tension resolved, we can relax as the readers. He finally gets it. Then, of course, he doesn’t. Only two verses later, Jesus tells Peter, “get behind me Satan!”—quite simply, at the root, because Peter didn’t understand his own profession. He didn’t understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ. He thought it meant that Jesus would bring him worldly fame, pleasures, and a worldly kingdom. He did not realize the Christ would come with a message of faith and repentance, humility, and heavenly glories which last forever rather than worldly glories which can be destroyed by a simple moth. That’s why Jesus’s rebuke continues, “get behind me satan, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man!”. Peter, to use C. S. Lewis’s phrase, was “far too easily pleased”. Sadly, when we misunderstand what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah, we always underestimate his glories rather than exaggerate them. If only we would keep asking, “who is Jesus?”.
And I fear—in fact, I know—today that there is a massive problem of people claiming Jesus as the Messiah and savior with a wrong understanding what it actually means. Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons each have their own view on it. Moralists will say it means he is a prime example for us. And even in the church, I fear many Christians aren’t too far away from Peter’s misunderstanding when they use Jesus Christ as a means to their own ends, purposes, worldly freedoms and excuses.
So, what this all means is that we don’t simply need to know that Jesus is the Messiah (which, again, is clear in the first 13 verses), but we also need to understand what sort of Messiah he is, that we might benefit from him. The rest of Mark’s gospel is designed to show just this to us through story. I love that about the gospels. They aren’t didactic, dry descriptions of what kind of Savior Jesus is. They take us directly into a personal confrontation with Jesus—his teachings, his actions and miracles, his personal interactions with his peers, enemies, and disciples. We even get insights into his prayers and his emotions. Through this story of Jesus, it is near impossible to read it without being moved in your emotions and understanding as you discover exactly what kind of Messiah Jesus is, and what it means to follow him.
Four Descriptions of Jesus in His Message
So, this story begins in our passage today, with a statement in verses 14 and 15 which introduces the central focus of Jesus’s ministry. Look at those verses again, real quick. They say,
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.
That’s a summary statement of Jesus’s ministry, right there. It tells us that when Jesus began his ministry, he began proclaiming “the gospel of God”, and the way he proclaimed the gospel of God was by proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom of God. Do you see the connection between the gospel, and the kingdom there? But notice that he says “the time is fulfilled”—meaning, it’s all here. It’s here, with Jesus’s arrival. Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God, and the gospel of God, are all intimately related, and hit the stage of history at the same time. So, how are they related? What’s going on with these different categories—the kingdom, the gospel, repentance, faith? This is literally what Jesus came proclaiming as the Messiah. We would probably do well to consider this core message which Jesus brought, wouldn’t we? And perhaps most importantly, when we press into these matters we will learn more about the Messiah and his glory. We will be able to answer more clearly and confidently that great question, “who is Jesus?”, if we understand his kingdom and gospel.
Today, we are going to first look at these two verses and consider 4 ways they describe Jesus the Messiah, that we might follow him. A man’s message says a lot about a man, doesn’t it?
Now, as we look ahead to the rest of our passage, Jesus calls four of his disciples in verses 16 through 20 of our passage. This is the first time we see Jesus actively in ministry, interacting with people. And, what I will become clear is that Mark did not choose this story as the debut showing of Jesus’s ministry simply because it’s what happened next in the story. Instead, this story serves to showcase what we will learn about Jesus in verses 14–15.
So, what are some things Jesus’s message (or, verses 14–15 more generally) tell us about Jesus?
1. Jesus Christ Offers a Kingdom of Blessings
First, it is worth noting that Jesus came proclaiming the gospel of God. Now, if you’re a Christian and know the gospel, this might confuse you a little bit. For example, you could go to 1 Corinthians 15 which is a classic verse that describes what we know to be the “good news”—or, “gospel” of Jesus Christ. There, Paul says “I would remind you… of the gospel I preached to you”. And, when he reminds the Corinthians of the gospel, what does he say?
“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, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve”
So there, the gospel is that Jesus died for our sins, and that he rose from the grave to claim victory over death on our behalf. Had that happened yet when Jesus arrived, proclaiming the gospel in Mark 1:14? No. So, was Jesus proclaiming a different gospel then?
Or you could think of Paul’s word in 2 Timothy 2:8, when he says “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel”. The gospel as we rightly know it today is just that—Jesus died for our sins, and he rose from the dead to give us eternal life.
So, the question is this—what exactly was Jesus talking about when he came proclaiming the gospel of God? He hadn’t died yet! That gospel, or good news, wasn’t accomplished yet! So, what’s happening in this verse? Our verse says he came proclaiming the gospel of God saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand”. In other words “the time is fulfilled because the promised king and Messiah is here, and the kingdom of God is at hand because (you guessed it) the promised king and Messiah is here”.
You see, the good news of God is that your sins are forgiven through Jesus’s death, and that you have eternal life in his resurrection if you would trust him with faith for such blessings. At the cross, Jesus finally and definitively dealt with the sins of his people, and offers them eternal life in his resurrection. But, we are ever so short-sighted if we confine the good news of Jesus Christ to forgiveness of sins and new life. As Ephesians 1 reminds us, “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”. Your forgiveness—or justification, to use a more technical word—means you are now made right with the king and creator of the universe who is thereby pleased to bring you into his family through adoption, and to pour upon you his blessings of protection, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, and eternal glory on the other side of the grave. In other words, he is pleased to bring you into his “kingdom of righteousness and peace and joy”, Romans 14:17.
If only we could only begin to imagine the blessings associated with God’s kingdom, believe them, and receive them by faith. Think of Colossians 3:1, which calls us to this.
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Which kingdom do you pursue, delight in, and hope in? If you find most of your time is spent fretting or longing over the fleeting things of this world, I suspect your soul is stewing in the kingdom of this world. That does no good thing to your soul, your family, your relationships, your faith. Jesus, in our passage, says to you “the kingdom of God is here, repent and believe in the gospel”. You know, that gospel that offers not only forgiveness of sins, but also the eternal blessings of citizenship in his kingdom. I love how Colossians 1:13 says it as a matter-of-fact “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son”. Receive that by faith, and rest in it.
So, what does this all say about Jesus, who brings the gospel of this kingdom? It means that he offers more than forgiveness of sins in his gospel. He offers in his gospel a kingdom of limitless blessings: justice, forgiveness, peace, righteousness, joy—and, most importantly, fellowship with God who will protect and satisfy you forever, even through the darkest moments in life. This is what Jesus came proclaiming in his words, and even in his miracles. This is ultimately what Jesus secured for you on the cross.
2. Jesus Christ is the Sovereign King
Now, in case we miss it—the fact that Jesus arrives with the kingdom means that he is the king. The first words Jesus says in his ministry literally say, “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand”. Why? “Because I arrived!”
Today is Palm Sunday—so, you might have that famous passage of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey in mind. As people were receiving Jesus with the coronating picture of palm branches, you can imagine that the people got the message. They were receiving Jesus as the promised Messiah who would sit on David’s throne forever, and execute justice on their behalf.
In fact, we saw Jesus’s royalty last week in the first 13 verses of Mark’s gospel when Jesus is referred to as “the Son of God” in verse 1 and 11. When God says at Jesus’s baptism, “you are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased”, God is referencing his own words from Psalm 2. That’s a Psalm which anticipates God’s anointing, protection, and blessings upon the promised Messiah who would bring justice to his enemies. Psalm 2 reminds us that one day the Messiah, Jesus, will execute vengeance against his enemies, and rule the whole world with perfect righteousness and justice. The Psalm concludes with saying,
Therefore O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Jesus is that son, that king, that Messiah. God said it at his baptism in verse 11, and our passage picks this up in verse 15 by describing the king proclaiming the same message. “The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel”, for the king is here and his wrath is quickly kindled, but blessed are all who take refuge in him.
But, what we must not miss is that the king is the centerpiece and true blessing of the kingdom. When the king comes, so does the kingdom. “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand”. We aren’t talking about a dynasty of kingdoms, here—such that the kingdom is simply continued on from one generation to the next. Not at all. Jesus is the centerpiece, the pride, and the blessing of the kingdom of God. There’s a lot of talk about “the kingdom of God” out there—and, it often includes subjects like “kingdom ethics”, or “kingdom expansion”, or “kingdom work”. People get all confused about “what is the kingdom of God”? It really comes down to defining the kingdom with reference to the king—his righteousness, his ethics, hissacrifice and love, his sovereign work through his spirit and people to spread his kingdom. In the end, he’s going to get all the glory, praise, and honor—and we will be satisfied in him and his sovereignty.
I love how Isaiah 33:17 illustrates this as it anticipates the Messiah’s arrival. In the passage, God is talking to the outcasts of society in Israel. And the promise to them is this: “your eyes will behold the king in his beauty”, and it then goes onto describe that beauty in ways that might make you long for heaven—and not just heaven, but your king.
Do you Want Heaven without the King?
What this all means, then, is that our passage does not merely describe Jesus as a Messiah who brings the gospel of a kingdom with great riches and blessings. It means that he is the central blessing in that kingdom. As one preacher (John Piper, in his book God is the Gospel) said applied it this way in a way that is incredibly probing to us today—
The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?
Isn’t that piercing to our modern, materialistic minds? Sadly, far too many people want to go to heaven simply because they are materialists. They project heaven to be a place of materialism rather than a place of worship and adoration of God. And if you tell them that the kingdom of God is about God, many will say “well that sounds boring”. To them, I say, “then you don’t know my God.” For the Christian, heaven will simply be an extension of what we live for now—worshipping and rejoicing in God. As the Psalmist in Psalm 73 said,
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
If what I’m saying to you doesn’t sound good to you, then you simply don’t want heaven.
Bringing this Together...
We have seen that Jesus’s opening statement tells us that Jesus, as the Messiah, offers a gospel about God’s kingdom, and all the blessings therein—not just forgiveness. And, since he is the king and crown of the kingdom, we would do well to recognize that God’s kingdom itself is about the king in his beauty who ultimately is our joy.
This is all beginning to form what kind of Messiah Jesus is—what he taught, claimed, and did. Now, what else might this statement in verses 14–15 have to say to us about Jesus the Messiah, and his kingdom?
3. Jesus Rules the Heart
Notice that Jesus’s command in our passage is to “repent and believe the gospel”. So, Jesus is the sort of king and Messiah who requires repentance and faith.
What we need to see here is that repentance and belief are matters of the heart and soul, not external conduct. Worldly kings and rulers, if they’re doing their job right, are mostly concerned about conduct. They keep order and peace by calling people to obey the law. Jesus, however, is concerned about the heart. He keeps order and peace by calling people to repent and believe the gospel. Jesus the Messiah, there, has jurisdiction over the hearts of men—not just their actions.
Now, just so we know what Jesus is calling us to in this passage—what is repentance? Some will tell you it is to change your mind, your will, or your direction with a 180-degree turn. In some ways, that’s right. But it’s too vague. There is a repentance that will send you to hell—and, I don’t care if our repentance involved taking a U-turn from alcoholism to sobriety. The question you need to ask is the question of motive. What is leading you to repent? Are you afraid you might upset someone? Perhaps you might make ruin your reputation, your friendships, or your job if you don’t change your behavior? Those reasons are ok, in some ways, but they aren’t going to please God in the end. How about this one—are you afraid of falling out of fellowship with God? Are you afraid of angering or displeasing him? Godly repentance, at some level or another, needs to have fellowship with God in mind. A classic passage on this is 2 Corinthians 7:10, which reminds us that “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
Godly grief, there, is focused on the grief involved with displeasing God. It says with David in Psalm 51, “against you, and you only have I sinned, O God!”. No doubt, David sinned against Bathsheba and her husband, and all Israel too. Yet, David was so radically concerned about his offense before God that he said “against you only have I sinned”. That’s godly grief and godly repentance that leads to life.
Yet, because Godly grief is Godly—and focused on God, it never remains in shame or despair. You see, Godly grief and repentance turns to God who forgives and clothes you with the righteousness of Christ. That’s why “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret/shame”. God forgives you on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness, and you are as righteous as Christ himself is before God.
Hence, we are called to repentance and faith. Faith is simply the other side of the same coin with repentance. You repent because you believe there is a fellowship, a forgiveness, and a joy to repent to. And, in your repentance, you receive, rest in, and trust in Christ and all his blessings by faith, for your salvation.
This really is all about God, and fellowship with him through his Son. King Jesus is not primarily after your obedience. He’s after your heart, your loyalty to him, your love for him. If your heart is cold against him, he simply won’t have you in his kingdom.
So, we have seen in verses 14–15 that Jesus, as the Messiah, offers a gospel about God’s kingdom. And, since he is the king and crown of the kingdom, he is therefore the centerpiece of joy and praise in his kingdom. Of course, this means that he won’t allow haters into his kingdom. He’s after your heart, not your obedience. So, he is the sort of Messiah that requires faith and repentance—love and loyalty from the heart.
4. Jesus Rules a Peculiar Kingdom
[Peder skipped this part when he preached the sermon.]
Now, there is one last description of Christ and his kingdom in this passage, and it’s more elusive. In verse 14, we are told that Jesus began his ministry “after John the Baptist was arrested”. The KJV says he was “put into prison”, there. While that’s what happened, the actual word there is “handed over”. John the Baptist was “handed over” to governing authorities. The reason I point this out is that this word is strategically used throughout Mark’s gospel to illustrate what happens to those associated with Jesus and his kingdom. Jesus says twice in Mark 9 and 10 that he will be “delivered/handed over” to the chief priests, to be killed. In Mark 13:9, Jesus tells his disciples that they will face the same fate after being handed over to worldly authorities. Now, does this sound like the kingdom of a sovereign Lord and Savior at work? At first glance, no. But in the end, Jesus is shown supreme and sovereign because of the persecution. Despite the persecution and death, Jesus’s kingdom thrives. Despite the persecution, Jesus sovereignly sustains and satisfies his people so that they are willing to trust him even to their death, that they might be raised again with him. It’s a peculiar kingdom, you see—it’s a kingdom that demands loyalty and love from the heart, and it’s a kingdom that cannot be destroyed despite 2000 years of opposition. Why? Because its king, the Messiah, is her sovereign Lord.
So, those are the four ways verses 14–15 describe Jesus Christ and his kingdom.
The King in His Beauty Calls Fishermen
But, we read in our sermon’s passage the story of Jesus walking along the sea of galilee, calling Simon and Andrew, and James and John to follow him (verses 16–20). What does that passage have to do with everything I just said about Jesus and his kingdom? Everything.
You see, in this story we see all these pieces come together. Jesus begins to establish his peculiar kingdom by calling a peculiar people—common fishermen, of all people. Why would they drop their nets and follow him? I mean, I would understand if they were religious zealots looking for a rabbi to follow. But, blue-collar fishermen? Why did they drop their nets? Because he’s Jesus, the sovereign Messiah—and, he spoke. He is the sovereign Lord, and he speaks to his people, directly to their hearts which he is ultimately concerned about.
This story of Jesus calling his disciples does not simply tell us—but, shows us—that Jesus truly is Sovereign. Jesus called, and these men answered in obedience. They were persuaded to leave their nets, vocations, families, and follow a stranger. And, do you see the language in these verses? “Immediately they left their nets”, verse 18. When Christ is set on calling his own, they hear his voice and they follow with willing, repentant, believing hearts that have been transformed by his grace.
Don’t miss how awesome this is. He has sovereignty over the hearts of his people. He doesn’t not simply require of his people faith and repentance; he gives it. He does not merely have jurisdiction over their hearts; he sovereignly changes their hearts so they will repent and believe upon him for salvation.
So, we have seen that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Yet, even more than that, we have seen a picture of what that means today. He is a Messiah who came with the gospel of God’s kingdom, and all the blessings therein. He is the Messiah who came as the personal sovereign king of that kingdom—a king to be seen and admired in all his beauty. We have seen that he is after our hearts, that we would repent and believe upon him and his blessings for salvation. And, with a brief glimpse at his calling upon the disciples—we see that he not only requires our hearts, but he sovereignly softens our hearts that we would be willing and eager to follow him. I pray that especially is a comfort to you, knowing that he only needs to say “follow me”, and you will repent and follow him. If you know yourself rightly, you will admit that you are unable to follow him with the godly grief, repentance, and faith that he requires. Yet, there is hope, because he is sovereign and good. So, pray to him for help. Pray to him for faith, for, as Peter says in 1 Peter 5:10, “10…the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”