Since the beginning of the year,
we’ve been thinking through some basics.
First we started thinking through the question:
“What is the local church?”
And so we started reflecting on what makes the local church unique—
what does it mean to be a community
who trusts and celebrates and embodies Jesus in the world?
And then we asked another question:
“What is the gospel?”
What exactly is the good news that the church proclaims?
And so to help us work through some of that,
we wrestled through some Gospel Cliffsnotes handed to us by the early church—
what’s called “the Apostle’s Creed.”
Those were the ancient words that we confessed together a few minutes ago.
We started recognizing
that the good news really is news
and the good news really is good.
The good news is about what kind of god God is
and what kind of world we’re living in.
For the summer months here at BCC,
I thought it might be worth diving straight into one of the gospels
to learn from the mouth of Jesus himself.
we’re reflecting on what it means for us to be a Jesus community
and we’re reflecting on what the gospel fundamentally is…
so let’s hear it straight from the horse’s mouth (or the lion’s mouth.)
So without any more introducing or recapping or piddling around,
I’d invite you to find the gospel of Mark.
If we’re going to start,
let’s just dive right in.
(1.1-15) The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
What we just read is the opening of the gospel according to Mark.
The first fifteen verses.
For the next twelve weeks or so (through the end of August)
we’re going to be exploring Mark’s gospel—
a gospel that’s almost unanimously considered to be the earliest account of Jesus’ life
(probably written sometime before the year 70).
What can we learn from Jesus as we begin to follow him around Galilee?
What can we learn about God?
What can we learn about the good news?
What can we learn about our lives?
So two questions for us as we move towards the table this morning—
what is the good news according to Jesus?
and what would it look like to take Jesus seriously?
First question first.
What is the good news according to Jesus?
What is the gospel according to Jesus?
Jesus would probably be a good person for us to learn from when it comes to talking about “the good news”— what does he say?
Listen to verses 14 and 15 again.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “In a few years I will die on a cross so that you can go to heaven when you die. Repent and believe the good news or else!”
I think I read verse 15 wrong:
The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Believe the good news—
the kingdom of God has come near.
The gospel according to Mark is about (v1)
“the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”
We don’t get much of an introduction in the gospel of Mark.
No Christmas stories.
No nativity scene.
Mark just plunges us into the story of Jesus—
plunges us into the story of the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.
The story of Jesus is what the story of the Old Testament was headed towards.
“Remember those mysterious words of Isaiah the prophet (v2)?
That voice that would be calling out in the wilderness, in the wasteland?
That voice telling us to get ready for the coming of the Lord—for the arrival of Yahweh?
“That voice pointing us toward the day when the God of Israel
who rescued us from slavery way back in the day with Moses
would rescue and redeem us again?
“And not only us but the entire world?
“Well hold on to your seats, because this is the beginning of the good news about that.”
And then a voice does appear in the wasteland.
“You remember John, right? (v4)
“That guy who was calling all of us to change the way we were living?
Who was calling us to turn around, to repent?
“And he was plunging us under the waters of the Jordan River
(where Joshua first led us into this land)
and challenging us to become the true people of God once again?
“Well, that guy—
that crazy, camel-skin clad guy who lived in the wasteland and ate locusts
and stirred up the nation until he was finally arrested (v14)—
that guy that we all remember was preparing the way for arrival of Yahweh in the Messiah.
“Let me tell you his story—it’s good news.”
And after fourteen verses of building and anticipation—
of Mark saying (v1) that he’s got good news about Jesus
of John the Baptist saying (v7) that someone is coming who is more powerful than him,
of a voice from heaven saying (v12) that this Jesus is his Son whom he love—
we finally have Jesus saying something.
He begins to (v14) proclaim the good news of God.
Jesus finally speaks.
And he says (v15),
“The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news.”
The kingdom of God.
That’s the good news according to Jesus.
That’s a phrase that sounds kind of churchy, kind of Bible-y, and sometimes we all blow past it and assume we know what it means.
But the kingdom of God.
What does that mean?
For that matter, what does “kingdom” mean?
That might be the place to start.
I mean, we don’t use the word “kingdom” very often in everyday life.
Probably because we don’t have kings in the United States.
There ARE still kingdoms in the world—
there are still some absolute monarchies in the world
like the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the kingdom of Swaziland—
but most the kingdoms that we’re most familiar with are in Disney movies.
Let’s be honest—most of what we know about kingdoms we’ve learned from Frozen.
But maybe we can run with that.
Because even the reign of Elsa in Frozen
can point us toward what a kingdom is.
In Frozen, the kingdom of Arendelle is the realm (the sphere of influence, the area)
that is under the rule and reign of Queen Elsa.
It’s the place where things are as Elsa wants them to be.
And at the end of the movie—when Elsa finally sorts herself out—
the kingdom becomes warm and green and prosperous.
The realm under the rule and the reign of the Elsa
flourishes because that’s what the queen wants.
Imperfect example though it is,
I think it gets us to a working definition of what “a kingdom” is.
A kingdom is the place where things are
as the king wants them to be.
Almost every Bible translation translates he basileia tou theou as the kingdom of God,
even though there are ways of translating it that might make it sink in a little more.
You could say the dominion of God
or the ruling power of God
or the government of God.
When we hear that—the government of God—
it at least makes us stop for a minute.
“Wait—what’s he talking about?”
One old translation of the Bible
(that’s almost impossible to read because how literally it translates the greek)
says, “Fulfilled hath been the time, and the reign of God hath come nigh” (YLT).
The reign of God hath come nigh.
Now we’re getting somewhere, I think.
The reign of God—
life being arranged the way that God intends,
the world being ordered the way God designed,
things being the way that God wants them to be—
That hath come nigh.
The kingdom of God is Jesus’ way of announcing that the rule and reign of God— the world as God wants it to be— is coming close.
That’s the gospel according to Jesus.
And I think that’s the entire story of Jesus.
In Mark’s opening verse,
he says that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah—
that Jesus is the long-awaited king that all of Israel had been waiting for.
Jesus is the king and he’s announcing a kingdom.
A dominion, a realm, a sphere of influence,
where things are as God wants them to be.
And so as we watch Jesus throughout the entire gospel of Mark,
as we see him banishing evil from the religious establishment (1.21-28),
as we watch him heal those who are hurting (1.29-34),
as we stare at him touching unclean outcasts and cleansing them (1.40-45),
as we hear him inviting people to leave their lives and follow him (1.16-20)
(and all that happens before we even leave chapter one),
we’re gazing at the kingdom of God.
As we watch Jesus travel around,
banishing evil, healing, touching, cleansing,
we’re seeing things become like God wants them to be.
It’s like Jesus is the living embodiment
of things being as God wants them to be.
If you just watch Jesus, you see the rule and reign of God.
If you just watch Jesus,
you begin to understand why the kingdom is good news.
This is the good news that we’ll be seeing again and again
as we reflect on the gospel of Mark during the next couple of months.
Jesus is the king who embodies and establishes the kingdom.
When the early church developed something like the Apostle’s Creed,
this was the good news that it was trying to to flesh out.
The good news that Christians have been proclaiming since the earliest days of the faith, is the good news of a king and his life-giving, evil-banishing, world-renewing reign.
Jesus is Lord, Jesus is king,
Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father,
Jesus will judge the living and the dead—the king and the kingdom.
That’s what the good news is all about.
What’s the good news according to Jesus?
Why, the reign of God hath come nigh,
and it makes the world warm and green and prosperous.
That was the first question.
The second question is a bit harder to answer:
what would it look like to take Jesus seriously?
The answer to that question is central
to what it means to truly be a Christian.
If we begin to take Jesus seriously,
if we begin to take his good news seriously—
if we begin to take his kingdom seriously—
if we begin to take Jesus seriously,
all our lives begin to follow all of Jesus.
All of of our lives
begin to follow
all of Jesus.
For the earliest church, the good news of Jesus wasn’t
something that we talk about on Sunday because that’s what we do on Sunday,
or something that we’re hoping will help us out after we die,
or something that’s a marginal spiritual hobby.
For the earliest church, the good news of King Jesus and the Kingdom of God
meant a complete rethinking of all of life.
As we’re reading through the gospel of Mark,
we see that if following Jesus affects anything
it affects the common and the everyday.
I mean Jesus went into Galilee (v14).
There’s nothing special about Galilee.
And yet Jesus is announcing the rule and reign of God
and inviting people to believe it.
I think Jesus always works this way.
He doesn’t go
to the flashy,
to the places we expect,
to where looks exciting or relevant—
Jesus doesn’t start his ministry in Jerusalem.
I think Jesus is present
in those parts of our lives that don’t feel particularly spiritual, in those situations that preoccupy our thoughts, in those relationships that consume our energy, in those hours of most days where we’re just struggling through normal life—
That’s where Jesus arrives.
And he arrives even when things may look like they’ve begun to fall apart—
I mean, John the Baptist has been put in prison.
The revival is over.
The crowds are headed back home.
And yet Jesus is inviting us
to recognize what we don’t recognize.
“The time has come” (v15).
“The kingdom of God has come near.”
And Jesus is inviting us to begin rethinking our lives
in light of his good news.
He says (v15), “Repent and believe the good news.”
Repent is just a word that means change.
Change your thinking. Change your behavior. Change your direction.
Stop despairing. Stop rebelling. Stop going that way.
There’s a better way to live.
And over the next couple of months as we follow Jesus, we’re going to be doing some reflecting on what this “better way of living” looks like.
But from the outset we should probably emphasize this:
we’ve got to follow all of Jesus.
And that’s no easy feat—
because as we’re going to see,
Jesus has a crazy plan for plan for becoming king.
Even here as Mark is just beginning his story, we get a glimpse of where following Jesus will take us.
It will take us into the wilderness (v12).
Into the badlands. Into the wasteland.
To the place filled with danger and hunger and threatening beasts (v13).
Inevitably following Jesus leads us
to the danger of this table.
Following Jesus leads us to the cross.
The earliest Christians remembered that
…the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
We come to this table week after week
to remember that the kingdom of God is breaking in even at this table—
even in the danger and temptation of the cross.
even in the wilderness.
The rule and reign of God is coming close
even in the places of our life filled with danger, filled with hunger, filled with wild animals.
Jesus is there with us even in the wilderness.
Especially in the wilderness.
And Jesus is asking us to believe this good news.
He has the credibility to talk like this, you see,
because he used to be dead, and he’s not anymore.
And his empty tomb whispers to us that God is establishing his kingdom even where there is no hope.
Especially where there is no hope.
In just a moment, you’ll be invited to come down this center aisle,
to receive a bit of bread, to dip it into the cup,
and then return to your seat along the side aisles.
As you come this morning,
may you believe the good news according to Jesus.
May you believe him when he says
that the kingdom of God is close—
even in our boring old Galilee
and especially in our wilderness.
May you have the courage to take the king seriously
and begin to learn to give all of yourself to all of Jesus.
May the Father give us faith to believe this good news
and strength to change the areas where we live in death and despair;
may we be granted to see that the Son is always with us
even in the wilderness and especially at the cross;
and may the Spirit always center our gaze on the empty tomb,
reminding us that the king was cold and dead and buried—yet he lives.
And our king will one day have us and this world as he has always intended—
warm and green and fully alive.