God’s Upside Down Kingdom

Mark Sermon Pic 3.jpgGet you up to a mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young”

Isaiah 40:9-11

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. Break forth into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Isaiah 52:7-10

Have you ever anticipated something for a long time, and then once it finally arrived it proved to be something different than what you had imagined—different, not necessarily in a bad way or a good way, just different. Perhaps it was moving out on your own for the first time, getting married, or visiting a much desired vacation destination. Perhaps it was meeting someone for the first time whom you had admired from a distance, an author or a celebrity of some sort. Perhaps it was retirement or growing old. You had envisioned a certain scenario many times, but when the reality came, for better or for worse, it did not match your expectations.

Something similar is at work in Mark 1:14-20. In this passage, Jesus announces that, with his arrival, the fulfillment of God’s promises had come and God’s saving reign on the earth had begun. However, as we will see, it was not coming in the way that many had expected. It was not coming with great pomp and circumstance, with the beat of drums or the battle cries of great empires and mighty armies, but it was coming in with the awakened affections of transformed hearts and from the lips of street preachers.

The long-expected kingdom was also not coming all at once with great finality but more subtly through the conquering power of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness at work in the hearts and lives of his people. The long desired king and kingdom had indeed come to this earth in Jesus, but they had come in a way that people did not expect, and what I want us to see is that that reality is glorious and wonderful for all those who respond rightly to its message and hope in and begin to follow the king.

GOD’S KING AND GOD’S KINGDOM HAVE COME IN JESUS

This brings us to the first point that I want us to see today. It comes from Mark 1:14-15, and it is that God’s king and God’s kingdom have indeed come to this earth in Jesus.

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.”

Mark 1:14-15

When Jesus started his ministry, he began with preaching. The content of his message was the good news that the long awaited time of prophetic fulfillment had come and God’s saving reign on the earth had, at last, begun. Therefore, people needed to respond appropriately by turning from their own vision for how life ought to be lived and by embracing the vision and the way of life offered by Jesus. In this manner, the people would be rescued and blessed by the promises of God’s reign rather than crushed beneath the kingdoms of this world.

Now, I want us to think again for a few moments about what Jesus’ preaching of the good news would have conjured up in the minds of his hearers because when they thought of the terms gospel or good news and when we think of the terms gospel and good news—well, we have different ideas in our minds to say the least.

So, instead of reading our ideas back into this story, I want us to think about what these concepts meant to those whom Jesus originally preached them. When we think of the terms gospel or good news, we probably have in mind the Roman’s road, the plan of salvation, or the sinner’s prayer. Those all, in our minds at least, have to do with how an individual can come into a saving relationship with God. That is certainly a vital aspect of the gospel or the good news. However, the backdrop or the context for the term gospel when Jesus first proclaimed the good news here in Mark 1 was not Paul’s letter to the Romans or the plan of salvation that we have developed from it. Paul’s letter to the Romans would not be written for a couple more decades. Rather, when Jesus began his ministry and preached the good news to people on the streets and in the synagogues of Galilee, Jesus’ audience had in their minds the prophecy of Isaiah.

Isaiah’s prophecy is the first place in which we read about the good news. The book of Isaiah is all about the fact that our God reigns. Even though the people of God suffered under the Assyrian Empire and were nearly destroyed when exiled by Babylon, Isaiah declared that the LORD, the god of Israel, reigns, and through it all was orchestrating his plan of redemption for his people and for this world. And, the gospel that Isaiah proclaimed, as we read from Isaiah 40 and 52 a few minutes ago, was that God not only reigned from heaven—orchestrating the events of history—but he would come to reign over his people in a more personal way as well by establishing his saving reign on this earth.

In Isaiah 40 and 52, Isaiah proclaimed the good news that the LORD would come to his people tenderly and with salvation and the whole earth would behold his glory. In the larger context of Isaiah, this good news—this coming of the LORD to reign over his people with tenderness and salvation—would ultimately result in salvation for Israel and the nations, judgment for the wicked, an end to all suffering and death and anything accursed, and even a renewed heavens and earth. That was the gospel that Jesus preached had arrived, and that is the good news his hearers would have had in mind as they heard him.

“Our God reigns! And, the time of his saving reign on this earth has come. Therefore, repent and believe—turn from your own vision for how life ought to be lived and believe in and follow me. The road you are on is leading to death, but if you turn and believe you too can be included in this great work that God is doing.” That is what Jesus preached. He preached that everything that the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets promised and prophesied concerning the future had arrived in the present in his own life and his ministry!

That’s a bold message, isn’t it! And, Mark recorded it for us because he wants everyone who reads or listens to these words to respond in some way to Jesus. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Do you believe that? Do you believe that Jesus is the most important person to ever walk upon this earth? Do you believe that in him God was reconciling the world to himself not counting our sins against us? Do you believe that in him all the promises of God from Genesis to Malachi are yes and a resounding amen? Do you believe that Christ defeated death and the devil through his own death and resurrection from the dead? Do you believe that God’s kingdom arrived in Jesus, that he now reigns, and that he will return again to judge the living and the dead? Do you believe the good news? If so, then why would you not turn from the path you’re on and hope in him?

Jesus is the central figure in human history. In him, all the promises and hopes for this world’s people and this world’s future have come and are coming. So, the only appropriate response is for us to surrender our hearts and our lives to him. The only appropriate response is for us to find our lives and our stories in his life and in his story. Unexpectedly but wonderfully, God’s kingdom has come in Jesus.

THE UNANTICIPATED ARRIVAL OF A MUCH ANTICIPATED KINGDOM

God’s king and kingdom have come to this earth in Jesus. That was the first point. Now, for our second and final point, I want us to see that God’s kingdom has come to this earth in a way that was not expected but in a way that is all the more wonderful because of it. This point comes from Mark 1:16-20

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

                                    Mark 1:16-20

These verses are among the most unexpected verses in the Bible. Jesus had just proclaimed the news that the hour had come, that the time to which the Scriptures and all of history had looked forward to had arrived as God’s kingdom has begun on the earth. What we should expect then as we come to verse 16 is something cataclysmic, something earth-shaking, and something that would be immediately heard and felt from one end of the earth to another. Instead, what we read about is the calling of common Galileans to join with Jesus in the construction of God’s kingdom on this earth.

This is not cataclysmic, but it is extraordinary. What if someone were putting together a team to transform this world today? You would expect her to go to the brightest minds and most innovative people in this world. You would expect her to go to Harvard, Princeton, and Yale and recruit its best research professors. You would expect her to go to New York City or Los Angeles and recruit the most innovative minds behind the world’s most cutting edge technological pursuits.

You would most certainly not expect her to swing by Shelby Lake or Little Turner and invite Jim Bob and Leroy to leave their jon boats and crappie beds in order to help change history and to save the world. You would not expect her to go out into the fields of Ragland and invite Farmer John to carry the message to the ends of the earth! And yet, that is essentially what Jesus did. He had just announced that the hour that all history had been waiting for had come, that the kingdom that would outlast Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and all earthly powers had come, and he proceeded to call fishermen to leave their nets and join him in building it.

What we see through this is that “the reign of God was not to be a cataclysmic external triumph in the here and now, . . . but a peaceful rule over the hearts of those who responded to the message.”[1] We see that Jesus, God’s king, refused “to assert his authority by an impressive show of divine pomp and pageantry” and that “the kingdom of God comes not with fanfare but through the gradual gathering of a group of socially insignificant people in an unnoticed corner of provincial Galilee.”[2]

We also see through this that God’s kingdom wasn’t coming all at once but gradually and in different ways. In one sense the kingdom came fully in Jesus. Jesus fulfilled God’s will perfectly and shepherded his people with righteousness and justice. He exercised his authority over seas, winds, demons, diseases, and even death. In another sense, God’s kingdom is “gradually coming in lives surrendered to God.”[3] God’s kingdom comes gradually as more and more people repent and believe the good news, receive the Holy Spirit, begin to live according to Jesus’ commands and bring peace and order to this chaotic, fallen world.

In still another sense, God’s kingdom will come when Jesus returns again, judges the living and the dead, and his people inherit a transformed world free from suffering and death. The kingdom had come in Jesus, but it came in a way that this world did not expect. However, what I want us to see is that the unexpected nature of the coming of God’s kingdom is wonderful and glorious.

When Jesus first came, he dealt with our greatest problem of all, our slavery to sin and death. He came as the reigning king but also as a suffering servant who died for the sins and transgressions of his people. He identified with us in our sorrows and suffered and died in our place. That Jesus came as a suffering servant rather than a conquering emperor dressed in gold and mounted on a warhorse means that we can be forgiven and included in the children of God. The message of a crucified Messiah then is wonderful and glorious news for sinners.

Also, wonderful and glorious for us is the fact that God’s kingdom is coming on this earth through the changed hearts and lives of individuals rather than through the wisdom of this world’s greatest minds. This means that we can be included in the furtherance of God’s kingdom on this earth. My friends, if the kingdom of God were built through the wisdom of men, the fact is that he probably wouldn’t have come to us and invited us to follow him. Again, he would’ve go to the equivalent of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. He would’ve gone to the equivalent of New York City, Los Angeles, Paris, Berlin, and Hong Kong, to the world’s greatest cities where the world’s greatest innovators and artists gather to advance this world’s great kingdoms and pursuits.

But, Christ isn’t building his kingdom through the wisdom of this age, with war horses or chariots, or through human learning and philosophies. Rather, he is building his kingdom through the foolishness of preachers, who still encourage others to hope in a poor carpenter from the hills of Galilee. He is building his kingdom through the foolishness of every day working Dads and Moms, who still pray and sing “Jesus Loves Me” to their children when they tuck them in to bed. He is building his kingdom through the foolishness of day laborers who work as unto the Lord and who put others first. He is building his kingdom through retired men and women, who pray daily for their families to hope in and follow the Lord. He is building his kingdom through the foolishness of those in the community who help their down and out neighbors with steadfast love and faithfulness even though they will get nothing in return. His kingdom comes as broken and bruised individuals entrust themselves to the king and refuse to respond to violence and insults with more violence and insults but instead with forgiveness and peace.

That Christ’s kingdom comes through surrendered hearts, the foolishness of self-giving love, and the message of the cross means that we can be included too if we would respond with repentance toward God and faith in Christ. Whether we are Harvard educated or barely finished middle school, whether we are rich or poor, whether we are movers and shakers in this world’s cultural centers or on the forgotten fringe, we can be included and play a vital part in the greatest and most significant movement in world history through repentance and faith in Jesus the King.

Through surrendering our lives to Jesus and living according to his word, through showing steadfast love and faithfulness toward God and toward our neighbors, through sharing and living the message of cross, we can be included in the one kingdom that will never be shaken. So let us hope in and follow the King!

Chris Cooper 

If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.

[1]R. Alan Cole, Mark in TNTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1989), 112.

[2]R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark in NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, (2002), 94.

[3]Cole, 112.

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