We’ve spent four weeks on the opening verses of Mark’s gospel, where Mark has told us about John the Baptiser, who came baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John summoned the people to repent, because the Saviour was coming, who would put into effect God’s new covenant in which he promises to pardon our sins forever and to give us the Holy Spirit to help us to walk in his ways.
And then the Lord Jesus appeared; and he was baptised by John in the Jordan; and then the heavens were torn open and the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove; and God the Father’s voice was heard, saying about Jesus:
You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.
And, at once, the Spirit drove him deeper into the wilderness where he was tempted by the Devil, and surrounded by wild animals. And we thought about how his experience in the wilderness — when he was tempted by the Devil and surrounded by wild animals — was Round 1 of one long continual fight with Satan and with all those who hated him on the earth. His life on earth was one long fight; but in the end, Jesus Christ was victorious, because he triumphed over the Devil and all his demons and over all those who hated him and he triumphed over death. And he now summons sinners everywhere to believe in him so that we may share his victory and receive everlasting life.
So far we’ve been studying the prologue to Mark’s gospel, the opening verses. Today we’re moving into the main body of his gospel and it begins with these two verses — verses 14 and 15 of chapter 1 — which summarise the whole of the Lord’s message. So, we read:
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!’
John the Baptiser
Before we get into the heart of these two verses, notice for a moment what it says about John. Mark tells us that John was put in prison; and that was the moment when the Lord began his work. You see, John’s job is finished. His role is complete. He was sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord; and now that the Lord has come, and is about to begin his work, John’s job is finished. And so, apart from a brief mention in chapter 2 and the account of his death in chapter 6, we don’t hear about John again. His work is over and it’s as if he leaves the stage now, because the Saviour has come.
However, the fact that he was arrested and imprisoned is a reminder for us, right at the beginning of the gospel, that there’s a cost to following Christ. There’s a cost to following Christ. John served the Lord faithfully, doing everything that was required of him. But in the end, he was arrested and put in prison because of his faithfulness. And so, this is a reminder to us that being one of God’s people is never easy. It’s never easy, because the Devil will come at us with his wicked schemes to try to get us to stumble and to fall away from Christ. And an unbelieving world will hate us and will be against us, because of what we believe about Jesus Christ the Saviour.
There’a book I read years ago. I don’t remember much about the book, but I remember the title:
The World: Playground or Battleground?
Many of us view the world as a playground and life is about amusing ourselves. But we need to understand that the world is a battlefield and every day believers need to stand firm in the strength of the Lord so that we are not overwhelmed by the temptations of the Devil and by the hatred of the world. We need to be on guard; and we need to stand firm; and when our obedience to Christ leads to suffering in this world, we need to remind ourselves of our eternal reward which Christ has prepared for all who remain faithful to him.
John was faithful to the Lord and ended up in prison, because there’s a cost to following Christ.
The Kingdom of God
But let’s move on now to the heart of these two verses. And really there are two main points. Since the Lord’s message was that the kingdom of God is near, we need to think, first of all, about the nature of the kingdom of God. What is it? And then, we need to think about entering the kingdom of God. How do we enter it? So, what’s the kingdom of God? And how do we enter it?
And you’ll notice that the Lord doesn’t define the kingdom. He doesn’t explain what he means by it. He simply announces:
The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.
The Lord seems to assume that those who heard him understood what he meant by this term and that the idea of God’s kingdom was well-known and familiar to them. And it was well-known and familiar to them, because the idea of God’s kingdom is found in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God is regarded as the king over all. He’s the one who made all things in the beginning; and therefore he’s the one who rules over all things. He rules over the nations, and every king and queen and ruler and emperor. He exalts one nation and casts down another; he lifts up and he tears down. Everything is his hands, because he’s the King over all.
However, in the Old Testament God was regarded as the King of the Israelites in a particular way. Of all the nations of the world, he chose them to be his special people and he bound himself to them, to rule over them and to take care of them. And so, when they were slaves in Egypt, the Lord was determined to deliver them, because they were his people. And so, he came to their rescue and he destroyed the Egyptians who had enslaved them and he delivered his people from captivity. As their King, he gave them laws to show them how they were to live as his people. And as their King, he provided for them in the wilderness and he protected them from their enemies and he led them, eventually, to the land of Canaan where he would continue to rule over them. While the Lord was King over all, he was the King of the Israelites in a special way, because he is the one who chose them and who had saved them from their enemies and who had given them life in the Promised Land.
Of course, in due course, the Israelites asked for a human king. Though the Lord God Almighty was their King, they wanted a human king to rule over them and to lead them. And so, the Lord appointed, first of all, Saul, and then David, and then a succession of kings to rule over them. The Lord God Almighty was still their King; but he would rule over them by means of these earthly kings. And one day, one day, there would be a King, the Lord’s Anointed King, who would rule over his people perfectly for ever and for ever:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
A King will come who will reign for ever.
And then the Lord Jesus appeared. And what did he say? He said:
The time has come.
And the word used for ‘time’ here refers to a decisive time. So, a decisive time in history has arrived; a new age has dawned; a new order has arrived; the time you’ve been waiting for and longing for and hoping for has arrived, because the Lord’s Anointed King has come to establish his kingdom on the earth and to rule over God’s people perfectly and for ever.
When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, the Lord their King came and he defeated their enemies and delivered them from their misery. And so, when Christ the Lord’s Anointed King came, he did the same kind of thing. So, in the rest of the gospel, we read how he confronted the Devil and his demons, and defeated them again and again. When the Devil tempted him in the desert, he stood up to his temptations. Later in chapter 1, when he was in the synagogue in Capernaum, teaching the people, and a man with an evil spirit cried out and interrupted him, he was able to silence the spirit and he commanded the spirit to come out of the man. In chapter 5, when he crossed over the Sea of Galilee and came to the region of the Gerasenes, that man with a legion of demons met him. The poor man had been driven demented by these demons and he used to run about madly, cutting himself with stones. But the Lord commanded the demons to come out of him. And every time he cast out these demons, he was demonstrating that he is the Lord’s Anointed King who had come into the world to defeat his enemies.
And not only did he cast out demons, but he healed his people from sickness and disease and delivered them from the misery which has befallen us. And he did this because Jesus Christ, the Lord’s Anointed King, had come into the world to deliver his people from our misery. And so, in chapter 1, we read how all the sick came to him, and he healed them all. Then we read of the man with leprosy who begged him to make him clean; and the Lord healed him. Then there was the man who could not walk; and his friends lowered him through a hole in the roof so that the Lord would see him. And the Lord said the word, and the man was healed and could take up his mat and walk. Then he healed the woman who had been sick for twelve years and he brought back to life the 12 year old girl who had died. In chapter 7 there was the man who was deaf and mute; and the Lord put his fingers in the man’s ears and he touched his tongue and his ears were opened and his tongue was loosened so that he could hear and speak. And in chapter 8 there was the Blind Man in Bethsaida who was given back his sight; and in chapter 10 he did the same for Blind Bartimaeus. And every time he healed the sick, he was demonstrating that he is God’s Anointed King who has come into the world to deliver his people from our misery and from all the effects of the fall.
Wherever he went, the Lord Jesus exercised his kingly power and authority. And what he began to do when he first came into the world, he will bring to completion when he comes again. And so every time he cast out evil spirits it was a foretaste of what he will do when he comes again to destroy once and for all the Devil and all his demons and all who have sided with the Devil. He is our all-conquering King. who is able to defeat all our enemies.
And every time he healed the sick it was a foretaste of what he will do for all his people when he comes again in glory and power to deliver us from all our sin and misery and from all the sorrow and sadness of this fallen world. What we see him doing in the gospels, he will bring to completion when he comes again.
And, of course, the main thing he came to do was to deliver us from the guilt of our sin and from punishment we deserve for our sins, because Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed King, came, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom to pay for our sins, so that we might receive forgiveness for all that we have done wrong. By his death on the cross, he has paid for our sins in full, so that all who belong to him have the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life. And when he comes again to judge the living and the dead, Christ the Lord’s Anointed King will declare his people to be not guilty; and instead of being condemned, which is what we deserve, we’ll be invited into his glorious kingdom, the new heavens and the new earth, where we’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest for ever, because the Devil and all who have sided with him will be shut out; and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will has passed away; and in God’s glorious kingdom to come there will only be everlasting life.
The Lord Jesus Christ appeared and he began to preach and to say:
The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.
The time they had been waiting for, and hoping for, and longing for, had come. The kingdom of God was near, because the Lord’s Anointed King had come. And he came to defeat his enemies and to deliver his people from their sin and misery and to give them the hope of everlasting life in his glorious kingdom to come, the new heavens and the new earth, where all who belong to him will reign with him for ever and for ever.
Entrance to the Kingdom
How do we enter Christ’s kingdom? How do we become part of it? The Lord tells us in the same verse. He said:
The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!
That’s how we enter the kingdom: through repentance and faith. Repentance and faith are the path and the doorway into God’s kingdom.
Repentance begins by acknowledging that we’re sinners who have sinned against God continually and who deserve to be condemned. Instead of hiding our sins, we bring them out into the open and confess them before God. And instead of excusing our sins, we admit we have no excuse and that we are guilty.
And so, repentance begins by acknowledging that we’re sinners. But repentance also begins by realising that God is merciful. We need to realise that God is merciful and is willing to pardon our sins for the sake of Christ who died for sinners. If we don’t realise that God is merciful, then we’ll never turn to him for forgiveness. But when we believe that he’s merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, then we’re ready to repent.
And so we turn from our sins and our waywardness, from our unbelief and from our shame, we turn from it all and we turn to the Lord, confessing our sin, acknowledging our guilt, asking him for his mercy. That’s repentance.
But not only do we need to repent, but we also need to believe. And the Lord says:
Believe the good news.
The good news is the news that Jesus Christ died for sinners to pay for their sins in full, so that all who believe in him are pardoned for all they have done wrong and receive the free gift of eternal life. Though you may have done everything wrong, God is prepared to treat you as if you’re done everything right for the sake of Christ who died on the cross as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice to take away the guilt of our sins and to reconcile God and sinners for ever. That’s the good news.
And in order to enter God’s kingdom we need to repent of our sins and we need to believe this good news. We’re to look away from ourselves and we’re to look to the Saviour. Instead of relying on ourselves and what we have done, we’re to rely on Christ and on what he has done for us. Instead of trusting in your own good deeds to make up for your sins, you’re to trust in Christ and in him alone, because by his death he has paid for the sins of his people in full.
The Lord Jesus Christ said:
The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.
And so, we enter God’s kingdom by walking along the path called repentance and by entering the door called faith. And whoever repents and believes is brought into the kingdom of God. We become members of his kingdom right now, in this life, because right now, in this life, he pardons us and accepts us. And right now, in this life, he gives us his laws so that we can obey him and live our lives for him. Right now, in this life, he gives us his Spirit to help us to obey him. And right now, in this life, we can look to him to help us and to provide for us and to protect us against the Devil’s wicked schemes. Right now, in this life, through repentance and faith, we become members of his kingdom; and right now, in this life, we’re to live as members of his kingdom.
But as members of his kingdom, we’re to look forward to the time when Christ the Lord’s Anointed King, comes again, because when he comes again he will bring us into his glorious kingdom to come, the new heavens and the new earth, where all who belong to him will live with him and will reign with him for ever and for ever.
The King is coming again. Those who never repented and believed will be shut out of his glorious kingdom to come and punished forever. But everyone who repents and believes will live with him forever. And so, repent and believe. Repent and believe, because that’s the way to enter the kingdom and that’s the way to have everlasting life.
And when we come into his glorious kingdom to come, we’ll join our voices together and give thanks to the Lord God Almighty for his Anointed King, who gave up his life so that we might have everlasting life. We’ll spend eternity, giving thanks to God for him. And until that day arrives, we ought to live our lives here on earth for him and for his glory, seeking to obey him in all things, and showing by the way we live that we belong not to this world which is destined to perish, but to the kingdom of God which is an everlasting kingdom which will never ever end.