Bethel Baptist Church
Worship Service @ Home
28 March 2021
Service available on Youtube, or as text (below), or for audio see the Podcasts page.
“Last Monday (22 March) I was in the Church praying and suddenly I felt a strong impression to go to the piano and play some songs. I haven’t had this desire to play the piano for a year, during all of lockdown! After about half an hour or so of worshipping and practising songs, (my fingers were rusty!), I went back to my office and on the way checked my emails on my phone only to see one that had just come through from Premier with the heading: ‘Church singing set for Easter return’ – “There are reports the government is considering relaxing rules around congregational singing as lockdown measures start to ease in England and Wales … they may allow small singing groups indoors and congregational singing outdoors from 29 March although the final date is subject to confirmation.”
Let’s keep praying! Harry.
Reading: Mark 1:1-15
“The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”Mark 1:15
This phrase: “The kingdom of God” or as in Matthew’s Gospel, “The kingdom of heaven”, was a vitally important term in the teaching of Jesus. It appears some 75 times in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke); but is infrequent in the Gospel of John 3:3, 5; 18:36-37, which:
“constitute over three quarters of the occurrences of the phrase in the whole New Testament”
R. T. France
If we were to ask a roomful of people what the term meant, we would probably get as many answers as there are people present. However, the question that needs answering is, “What did Jesus mean by the phrase?”
(1) The Good News of Jesus
Mark begins his Gospel:
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of GodMark 1:1
and this is a heading to the whole book – it’s all about the Good News concerning Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. In our text that Good News is defined as ‘The kingdom of God’:
“The time has come,’ He said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”Mark 1:15
So the whole of Mark is about the Good News of Jesus and His mission, which is concerning the Kingdom of God the main focus, the central theme! God is very thorough in His plans and purposes, and prepares the way in all situations e.g.
See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.Exodus 23:20
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.Malachi 3:1
A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”Isaiah 40:3
Such Old Testament texts prepared the Jewish people to expect “a day of the Lord” when the Deliverer would come, even Immanuel, God with us, the Messianic King. Mark makes it clear by using such texts that John the Baptist is the herald of the Messiah’s coming, of the One more powerful than he:
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”.Mark 1:7
Mark also makes it clear that the One who is to come, is Jesus of Nazareth:
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan.Mark 1:9
Jesus didn’t come in great splendour with an earthly king’s entrance, but in lowliness and meekness. Such is the paradox that underlies the Good News of the Kingdom, the secrets of which are revealed not to the wise and learned but to little children (cf. Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21). Such ‘secrets’ are visible only to those with eyes of faith. John’s baptism was an outward ‘washing with water’ symbolic of repentance. But Jesus’ much more thorough and powerful baptism was one of an inner rebirth, by which a man, woman, or child, may enter the kingdom of heaven, signifying the coming also of the Holy Spirit. This baptism in the Holy Spirit was also the good news of the kingdom of God. For sure God does things to test people, to ‘hide’ things from people to find out what is in a person’s heart and to make sure those whose hearts are not right won’t see it:
He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”Mark 4:11-12
(2) The lowly Jesus, the Son of God, the Kingdom of God.
Well do we remember the words of Nathanael, the Israelite in whom there was no guile, upon being informed that the Messiah (God’s chosen King) was among them and from Nazareth:
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”John 1:46
To us, Jesus is a very special name, the name of the One we worship as King of Kings, but in the first century it was a very common name.
“Jesus’ human credentials were nil”
R T France
And He was very relaxed in this unknown, unrecognised, and uncelebrated status. However, at the right time, His Father in heaven, who exalts the humble and humbles the proud (cf. Matt. 23:11-12), begins to exalt His Son before the people:
Immediately, coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”.Mark 1:10-11
Whether or not they knew it or not, and most of them didn’t, here standing before them was the One they had been waiting for. We, with hindsight, see another clear indication that He is The One, as He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness:
Immediately, the Spirit sent Him out into the wilderness.Mark 1:12
Is there a more barren place than the wilderness? And yet many of the wonderful beginnings of God start right there in the barren places, the wildernesses, e.g. the nation of Israel itself:
In a desert land He found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; He guarded him as the apple of His eye.Deuteronomy 32:10
And Israel’s new beginnings after their exile:
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.Isaiah 43:18-19
The ministry of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus and the Kingdom of God:
“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God”Isaiah 40:3; see Mark 1:2-4
And now Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days, mirroring the 40 years Israel spent in the wilderness during its conception. Such are the beginnings of the Kingdom of God, the smallest of all seeds, that become the largest of all garden plants (cf. Mark 4:30-34). And here in the wilderness we see the start of the cosmic war between Jesus and the Kingdom of God in conflict with Satan and the kingdom of darkness. Let the battle commence! And such warfare continues with His church (see e.g. Eph. 6:10-20; 2 Cor. 10:3-4).
(3) What is the kingdom of God?
This might seem an easy question to answer, just look up the word kingdom in a dictionary:
“a country ruled by a king or queen”
Cambridge English Dictionary
“a country, state, or territory ruled by a king or queen”
Oxford English Dictionary
“a politically organised community or major territorial unit having a monarchical government headed by a king or queen”
However, the more we look into the question what is the Kingdom of God and what did Jesus mean by it, we start to realise that the emphasis first and foremost must be on the word “God” and not the word “kingdom”. R. T. France makes the point that:
“… whereas ‘kingdom’ in English is today primarily a ‘concrete’ noun, with a clearly identifiable ‘thing’ to which it refers (whether a place or a community), the biblical nouns are abstract, and refer to the act of ruling … ‘The kingdom of God’ is God in saving action, God taking control in His world … ‘divine government’”
R. T. France, in his book “Divine Government”
It is for this reason that various scholars have substituted the term with ‘reign’, ‘rule’, ‘kingship’, ‘sovereignty’; “the coming of God” (Beasley-Murray) to which might be added “and control of God” (France).
“As with most biblical writers, Mark conceives of God’s kingdom as God’s “active reigning” rather than as some kind of literal kingdom (with boundaries of time and space). God’s active reigning cannot be consigned to heaven, or to the future, or to the human heart, or to any other narrowly defined sphere.”
God reigns and is active in creation and throughout history, fulfilling His divine purposes. cf. the Lord’s prayer: ”Your kingdom come, Your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.”
So for example in our text Mark is talking about God’s government, His rule:
- drawing near (Mark 1:15)
- growing without human help (Mark 4:26-29)
- coming with power (Mark 9:1).
And people must:
- purify themselves and sacrifice to submit to it (Mark 9:47; 10:23-25);
- welcome it like children (Mark 10:13-16);
- wait eagerly for it and act boldly in the light of it (Mark 15:43).
There are secrets concerning God’s reign and rule that many can’t see, hear, or perceive,
He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘“they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!“’Mark 4:11-12
A classic example of the way people don’t perceive the kingdom is the way they see for example the cross as the greatest defeat, the failure of Christ’s kingdom mission, rather than the greatest victory, His kingdom mission here on earth completed … through a crucified King. Think of the two criminals crucified next to him, one saw it the other didn’t:
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong’. Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’.Luke 23:39-43
Maybe the heading above Jesus helped:
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, ‘Do not write “The King of the Jews”, but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written’.John 19:19-22
Questions for Discussion
- A Christian student when asked: “What is the Kingdom of God?” answered: “We are!” Was he right?
- A King is ruling in his kingdom and a group of people are rebelling. Is it still his kingdom? What about God’s Kingdom?
- Has your understanding of God’s Kingdom changed?
- The Kingdom of God was the central focus of Jesus’ teaching, so why didn’t Paul mention it much?
- Why do you think people stumbled regarding Jesus being King in the Kingdom of God?
- Share a verse that is special to you regarding the Kingdom of God?
- You are in a helicopter on a beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies? You can you see the outline of the UK; What about the outline of the Kingdom of God?
Quote for the Week
“The kingdom is where the King reigns. If He is reigning in my heart, then the Kingdom of Heaven has come to me”.
Verse of the week
“The Lord is King for ever and ever … The Lord reigns”Psalms 10:16; 93:1
Father God, You are the King forever, the One who rules and reigns. We worship You and Jesus Christ Your Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords. We worship You Holy Spirit who has given us understanding of the things of the Kingdom of heaven.
May we all seek You first, and Your kingdom and Your righteousness. Lord, hasten the day when every knee shall bow before You and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, for Your glory, praise and honour, in and through Jesus Christ, Amen.