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TEXT: Mark 1:14-2:17
SUBJECT: Mark #3: Previews of the Kingdom
Millions of dollars are spent every year to get you into a movie theatre. Some of the money goes to newspaper and magazine advertisements, some to radio spots, some to internet banners, and the biggest part, I suppose, to television commercials.
The money is wasted on me. I hardly ever look at the movie section of the paper, I don't watch TV, don't read magazines, and a pop-up ad on the net is more likely to rouse my anger than my interest.
Only one thing pulls me into a movie, and that's a good preview. A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I saw five trailers, to which I responded (to myself, of course). 'No. No. No. No, and Yes!'
A three-minute preview made me want to see this movie, and more than 'want to see it', it made me eager to see it, eager enough to stand in line with the crazies for a midnight showing.
A trailer is different than other kinds of advertising because, they don't tell me what the movie is about, they show me.
This brings me to the opening scenes of our Lord's public career. After His baptism in the Jordan River, and forty days of fasting in the Wilderness, He went back to Galilee, where people knew Him as a carpenter, to make an incredible announcement-
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
For many years God's People had begged Him to come down from Heaven and set things right in the wold, and they knew He would some day, because He had said He would. But the day was long in coming, generations lived in the hope, died in the hope, and now, the hope itself was nearly dead. Till Jesus revived it!
If this was Good News, what He went on to say was even better. The Kingdom is not an aristocracy, open only to the best kind of people; it is a democracy, open to anyone and everyone who trusts God and is sorry for his sins.
The young people who heard these gracious words must have been staggered by their good fortune. What a privilege! The Kingdom their fathers had prayed for but didn't live to see, they would see with their own two eyes. The Kingdom was coming and its gates were wide open!
If you can forgive the young people for their enthusiasm, you cannot blame their parents for being a bit more guarded. You see, the older people in Israel had heard it all before. Men named Judas and Theudas had made the same promises but failed to carry them out. They were not alone. Israel was lousy with fake Messiahs promising phony kingdoms.
Why should they believe Jesus any more than the others? Mark has an answer for that: They ought to believe in the Real Messiah instead of the bogus ones because all they did was talk about the Kingdom, and He brought it.
What is the Kingdom of God? It is the Rule of God on earth, a rule marked by justice and mercy. Glimpses of it came in the past; in the days of David and Solomon, for example, some of its glory could be seen, but only some of it and not for long, for these kings were flawed men and as mortal as the rest of us.
Only Messiah could bring the Rule of Heaven to Earth, and only He could maintain it, for only He is the Perfect King and only His reign has no end.
When Jesus said-
The time is fulfilled and
The Kingdom of God is at hand,
The skeptics in Israel had every right to say, 'Prove it'. This is what He does, all through the Gospel of Mark, but especially in 1:14-2:17.
FISHERS OF MEN
What is the Kingdom of God about? For one thing, it is about the dignity of man. Under the Law of Moses, All men are created equal, but in practice, Some men are more equal than others. Except for idolatry, the prophets denounced no sin more than oppression. From day one the rich and powerful in Israel had lived off the labors of the poor and weak--and they were still doing it. The Pharisees, for example, were comfortable men for the most part who prayed long prayers in the Temple, while at the same time, their lawyers and accountants were cheating helpless old ladies out of their property.
God had promised to hear the cries of the oppressed, but He never seemed to do anything about it. Till now, for the first thing Jesus does after announcing the Kingdom is what?
He calls fishermen, poor men, to follow Him and become the first citizens of God's New Order. They would not only enjoy this privilege for themselves, but, throwing out the Gospel net, they would catch all kinds of people for the Kingdom, including people at the bottom rung of society-and below it.
John Ball, the Lollard preacher back in the 1300's was on to something with his little rhyme-
When Adam delved and Eve spanned,
Who was then the gentleman?
No one was the master and no one was the slave, for God made every person in His own Likeness and Image, and wants everyone treated with respect. Though words like 'respect' and 'dignity' are prized everywhere in the world, almost nowhere are they practiced. Because loving your neighbor as yourself is only doable for people living in the Kingdom and sharing in the Life of God through Christ.
The Kingdom has come-Mark says-because the common man has regained his dignity; Israel is becoming what it was always supposed to be-not an plutocracy (where money rules), but a Kingdom of Priests, where everyone is on the same footing with everyone else because they're all loved by God.
After calling the four men to join Him in the Kingdom, Jesus paid a visit to their synagogue in Capernaum. Invited to teach that day, the Lord opened the Scripture as no man ever had, but He wasn't allowed to finish, because somebody shouted Him down-
What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-the Holy One of God.
Who is this man? We don't know his name, but we know why he disrupted the service: he was possessed by an unclean spirit, a demon had got into him somehow, and while he had no problem listening politely to the rabbis, he couldn't take this kind of teaching!
The synagogue is not big enough for Jesus and the devil, for the Word of Heaven and the cries of Hell-
Be silent and come out of him!
The spirit has no power to resist Him; struck dumb, he runs from the synagogue like a whipped dog. The coming of the Kingdom means the devil is cast out. From the beginning Satan had coveted the throne of God, and in Israel, he had sat in it for a good long time. But no more; the Pretender is out because the King has come.
When the synagogue service was over, our Lord went to lunch with His good friend, Peter. There wasn't much to be had that day, however, because Peter's mother-in-law was in bed sick with a fever, and presumably his wife was waiting anxiously at her side.
They didn't need to worry, however, because as soon as He heard of her illness, He took her by the hand, lifted her out of bed, and the fever left her. She then got up, and being the good hostess she was, made lunch for everybody.
As far as we know, the lady's sickness was not caused by any particular sin. In other words, she wasn't running a fever because she forgot to pray last week or because she yelled at Peter when he tromped mud all over the rug.
If most sicknesses are not tied to particular sins, all sickness is the result of sin. This means, if there is no place in the Kingdom of God for sin, there is also no place for sickness. As the Bringer of God's Kingdom, therefore, Jesus Christ brings healing.
The Israelites knew the joys of the kingdom would not be lessened by disease or weakness of the body, by birth defects, and the other things that make life under the sun what it is. It's a world of health and vigor and life!
When the pale invalid rose from her bed with color in her face and a bounce in her step, she and everyone who saw her knew the Kingdom had come because-in the words of Tolkien-
The hands of the king are healing hands.
The great mercy God had for four men in a boat, a woman in bed, and a man in the synagogue, was not limited to a select few. As the sun sank on Peter's house, every bad off person in town came to our Lord, and not one of them went home disappointed. Every disease was healed and every demon was evicted.
The Kingdom is not a Wilderness with a hermit in one corner, a family of nomads in another, and stragglers coming by every week or two. No, the Kingdom is a City with a population no man can number, though John guessed-
Ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands.
When people, formerly apart, come together, it's because the Kingdom has Come.
Healing the sick has a way of making a man popular, and though the Lord was eager to help people in this way, He had a higher calling to follow and He must not neglect it. Instead of becoming the doctor of Capernaum, He slips off before sunrise to pray and brace Himself for the work of preaching the Gospel from town to town.
This is what the King would do, the prophets said, and they anticipated it with great eagerness. He would-
Bring good news to the poor,
Proclaim liberty to the captives,
Proclaim the year of God's favor,
And, by that Word, He would,
Bind up the broken hearted,
Comfort all who mourn,
Give beauty for ashes,
The oil of gladness for mourning,
And the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Too long had the people been under the preaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees, men who loaded heavy burdens on the backs of people who cried for relief. But no more of that! The Law that condemned God's People and the Traditions that wore them out would be swept aside and replaced with the Gospel, the Good News that, for Christ's sake, our sins are forgiven, our lives are renewed, and our hope of glory is sure,
Before our Lord can start His preaching tour, He is cut off by a man full of leprosy. The man knows the Lord can heal him if He wants to, and the Lord assures him He does want to, reaches out and touches him, and the leprosy is gone.
Leprosy was the most feared disease in Israel, and not only because it killed you. Many diseases do that, but leprosy was scarier than the others, and do you know why?
It cut you off from the People of God and from God Himself, for the leper was not welcome in the Temple or the Synagogue. By healing this man, and sending him back to the priest to be pronounced 'clean', our Lord was bringing God's People back to God and each other.
This was just what you'd expect of Him. For Messiah would come after the Exile, after the Lord's People had been carried away into captivity and sown to the four winds. Only the King could re-gather His people, and this is what Jesus did because it is who He is.
Next we have the healing of the paralytic, or to put a finer point on it, his pardoning. The Lord is teaching in a house in Capernaum; the place is packed and nobody is willing to let a sick man by. His friends, not easily discouraged, climb up on the roof, tear off the tiles, and let the man down on a bed with four ropes tied to it. When Jesus sees their faith, He heals the man, but rather than saying, 'Be healed', He says-
Son, your sins are forgiven.
This creates quite a scandal, but the Lord doesn't care what the Pharisees think of Him; He wants the people to know He can forgive sins against God because He is God's Representative in the world, and more than that, He is God Himself-no less Divine than His Father in Heaven.
The Kingdom is a world without guilt, not because we haven't done plenty of bad things, but because our guilt has been removed through the passion and victory of Christ. What Jesus said to this one man, He says to all His people-
Your sins are forgiven.
To God, 'forgiven' means 'forgotten'-never to be brought up against us again. Never; they are buried, put behind God's back, cast into the sea, blotted out, remembered no more.
Our last story is maybe the greatest one of all. Levi (who's better known as Matthew) is a tax collector, which is to say, a crook and a traitor. Sitting at his customs table, robbing the people blind, he is invited to walk away from the dishonest life he has always lived and live God's way. He responds to the call, and throws a party for his friends-all of whom are crooks and traitors too.
When the Pharisees see Jesus eating with this mob, they condemn Him for His bad choice of friends. 'Friends? They're patients'. If a doctor spends all his time with sick people, the Savior spends all His time with people who need to be saved, in other words, with sinners, whom He loves and to whom He offers His fellowship-
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
This, above everything else, tells us who He is and what He has come to do. From the start, God wanted man's friendship, and for a time, He had it with no barriers. But when man fell into sin, he lost his friendship with God, and had the Lord come to Him in all His glory, He would have killed him. So, He came to us indirectly, in fiery pillars, in clouds, in burning bushes and in tabernacles, temples, and angels.
But, if the barriers protected us from Him, it also kept us from Him. If we were ever going to know Him and love Him from the heart, they had to come down, and only God knew how they would come down.
They came down when God joined a human nature to His Divine nature, and became the friend of sinners, a Man who would eat and drink with the likes of Levi and Zacchaeus, Mary Magalene, the woman who was a sinner, you and me.
PREVIEWS OF THE KINGDOM
When Judas, Theudas, Barabbas, and other Messiahs promised a kingdom, all they could deliver were lies, crimes, disappointment, and death. Had they come to the throne, their kingdoms would have been shot-through with sin, as all others are.
But when Jesus said the Kingdom has come, He showed us what Kingdom He meant and who its King is. His Kingdom has not come in all its fullness, though it will someday. But, from the mighty acts of our Lord, we have an inkling of what it will be, and I for one, want to be in on it.
Do you? If you do, you can be, on the same terms He offered back in the day-
Repent and believe the Gospel.
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