Review and Reflect on Mark 15:40-16:8 – Jesus died and rose again.

Mark 15:40-16:2 is the story of Jesus’ death on the cross. Compared to the other Gospels, Mark presents a brief account. In this passage, he mentions several people by name. One of the first questions I have when I read this is, Where did these people come from? They are not mentioned anywhere before in the book, and now here they are. Most of the named characters in the story leading up to this, besides Jesus, are the disciples. Jesus did have other followers though. And when Jesus was arrested, the disciples all left him. Jesus has been killed and his disciples are nowhere to be found. So, some of his other followers, have come to take care of his burial. Another reason Mark mentions these names is because his original audience would have known some of these people. In effect he is saying, you can go and ask these people and they will confirm what I have told you. At the time Mark wrote this Gospel account, most, if not all, of the disciples were still living, and he says these other people will tell you the same thing as well. Jesus’ death is confirmed by several women who knew him, by Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, by a Roman centurion who was an expert in capital punishment, and by Pilate the governing authority. Jesus was dead, lots of people saw him die and when the first churches were reading this letter, they could go and ask these people and hear that their stories agreed with Mark’s story.

Joseph of Arimathea is referred to as a disciple in Matthew’s Gospel. He’s described as wealthy, and he must have been in order to have a prepared tomb available in which he could lay Jesus. Verse 43 says he “took courage” to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. The fact that he was able to obtain an audience with Pilate also suggests that he was quite influential. It took courage for him to ask, because Roman law forbade a crucified criminal to be taken down and buried. Local rulers were allowed to make exceptions though, and on this particular day, Pilate obliged and made the exception probably because of Joseph’s influence in the community. 

In Chapters 8, 9, and 10 Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to die, and then rise on the third day. On Friday, Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus in a tomb wrapped in a cloth. They were forbidden to prepare the body for burial on the Sabbath, so on Sunday, three days later, two of the Mary’s and a lady named Salome go to the tomb with burial spices to prepare Jesus’ body. Although Jesus had told his followers on several occasions that he would rise, they never understood what he was talking about. And really, how could they? Resurrection doesn’t exactly happen every day. So, they did what they normally did when someone died; lay him in a tomb and treat the body with embalming spices. They had no idea what was about to happen in Mark 16:3-8.

The three women approach the Tomb and find the stone rolled away. They enter the tomb and there is a man sitting there, and they were “alarmed”. So he says, “don’t be alarmed”. Jesus was crucified and has risen. Then the angel tells them to go tell the disciples and Peter to meet Jesus in Galilee. What is their response? Trembling, astonishment, and fear. Verse 7 refers to the disciples and Peter. There is special attention given to Peter throughout the Gospel of Mark, but the last time we saw Peter, he denied Jesus 3 times complete with curses and oaths. So the angel says, make sure you tell Peter too. Verse 8 describes their reaction in spite of being told not to be alarmed. They run out of the tomb terrified. They don’t say anything to anyone.

Many textual scholars say this is where the text of Mark’s Gospel ends. We have early manuscripts that point to this and some of the early church fathers talk about a longer reading of Mark’s Gospel, but they say the best manuscripts end at verse 8. This ending does seem a bit abrupt and unpolished. In Mark 1:1 he writes that this is the “beginning” of the Gospel. He ends in 16:8 with the resurrection confirming that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and true King and leaves it to the church to determine what this now means. Verses 9-20 give us a good glimpse at how the church at an early stage came to understand the implications of Jesus’ resurrection. The other Gospels apply the resurrection in the context of the early church differently than Mark does. So, since the best manuscripts end with verse 8, the nature of the text seems to be complete here, and the other Gospel writers give instruction where Mark does not. I think it’s ok to say the book ends here. Matthew leaves us with the Great Commission – Go and make disciples in all nations baptizing and teaching them. Mark leaves it hanging out there for us. “Now what?” is the question. Now that Jesus has fulfilled the promised time and the Kingdom of God has begun to come, the same response to Jesus remains: repent and believe and follow me.

Throughout history there have been many that have tried to undermine the historical fact of the resurrection. But the eyewitness accounts and the existence of the church are primary arguments for the resurrection. Why would Mark point to several women as eyewitnesses if he were trying to provide evidence for something that didn’t actually happen? Largely women were not regarded as credible witnesses, so if Mark was making up the story, he most certainly would have made it up with male witnesses. But, he casts the 12 closest follower of Jesus in a very negative light. The witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were initially women, and Mark records it accurately. If it didn’t happen, how does one explain the radical following of disciples? All but one of them stood before their murderers and proclaimed Jesus as the risen Messiah when denying it would have saved their lives. How does one explain the rapid expansion of the church?  Within a generation of Jesus’ resurrection, there were Christians all over the known world. The Jesus-religion didn’t spread through killing either, but under oppression and persecution. If the resurrection isn’t well enough documented, how do you believe anything happened in history? Documents, movements, and eyewitnesses are enough for anyone to believe something happened in history, so why would it not be enough to give evidence of the resurrection?

Now, did you see Jesus rise? No, but you can read about lots of people who did. You can see the church thrive from the moment of the resurrection until even today. There is enough evidence for those who will believe. Also, there is new language for what happens to Jesus. The Resurrection was spoken of much differently before this time. Many or even most didn’t believe in it. Those who did believed in a general resurrection at the end of time. Jesus redefines resurrection making it personal and individual as well. The early Christians invent new language to describe what happened to Jesus. They see Jesus alive again but in a transformed way. There are substantial reasons to believe the resurrection of Jesus actually and truly happened the way the Gospels tell us it did. If you haven’t come to terms with believing the resurrection, don’t blame on a way of thinking that says it couldn’t have happened.

The Apostle Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 that for Christianity to have any truth in it, the Resurrection must be true. If it did happen, then Jesus isn’t just a good moral teacher, he isn’t just an historical figure or a religious prophet. He is the fulfillment of the story of Israel and in the resurrection he shows that he has begun to tell a new story. This new story begins with God fulfilling his promises to Israel, but it will end with him finally establishing his Kingdom and renewing and transforming all of creation. This renewal and transformation begins with those who have come to his Kingdom, those who have believed and repented and are following Jesus. This transformation causes us to live differently. Our conduct should point to Jesus. Our manner of living should be changing so that it’s being transformed into a way of living that resembles how we will live in eternity forever. Jesus lays before us the command to love God and people. He says we are to deny ourselves and take up the cross, we are to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel.  Love and humility and sacrifice are not just a moral code for us to live by, they are qualities of living that endure from this life into the next life. We can begin to learn how to live this way now by following Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus changes the way we live today and in the final years of our lives we will still be being changed, and when we die he’ll raise us up to complete the work in us. This type of life causes us to treat people around us differently, not because we are supposed to, but because we are being changed to look like Jesus. This type of life causes us to work to establish peace, justice, and prosperity in our lives and the lives of those around us because this is what the Kingdom of the Risen Jesus is like.

Sources and Acknowledgments

Review and Reflect on Mark 14:66-72 – Peter denies Jesus.

As the soldiers brutalize and mock Jesus, they tell him to prophesy. Jesus had already told Peter he would deny him and Peter fulfills Jesus’ prophecy. So in their mocking, again, the soldiers don’t realize the truth of their statements. Jesus tells Peter he is going to reject him not once, but three times, and this is exactly what happens in Mark 14:66-72. Peter is a long way from when he responded to Jesus’ question saying, “You are the Christ”. This passage presents a contrast between Jesus and Peter under interrogation. Jesus is faithful, Peter is not. Jesus is faithful, and the man who is to become one of the most important people in church history is a miserable failure.

Peter first denies Jesus with a small denial, then a large denial, and then a great denial complete with curses and oaths. Sin starts out small, but then grows to something unmanageable. In Psalm 1, verse 1 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers”. There is a threefold progression in the verse. This is something that can be found in several places in Scripture. First we walk with sin, then we stand for it, then we sit in it. Peter’s rejection reflects this. He is minding his own business when someone recognizes him as one of Jesus’ followers. He denies it to the girl and walks away. Then, this same girl, remarks to those standing with her, saying “That guy is one of them”. Peter denies it to the group of people. Then a group of people begins to recognize him. And he calls down curses and swears to them that he doesn’t know Jesus. Verse 72 says, “Immediately the rooster crowed a second time.”  Peter heard it, and he remembers what Jesus said, and he breaks down and cries.

We have all failed God in small ways. Most of us have failed in great ways. Most of us have seen how sin progresses in our lives when we accept it and then get used to it and then justify it. But it’s that destructive pattern of sin that runs its course in our hearts that Jesus died to break us free from. Don’t buy into the lie that we can live comfortably with sinful habits or thought patterns. We will eventually and inevitably reap what we sow. But, as we will see, Peter was restored. Jesus doesn’t condemn us in our sin; he was condemned in our place, for us. His desire is to restore us to proper relationship with God and others so that we love God and others properly. Sin hinders that love, it contradicts and opposes that love. So part of the restoration is removing the sin and sinful patterns from our lives. This can take time, this takes regular repentance on our part, and this takes God’s grace. God’s desire is to forgive our sin and restore us. So don’t run away from him, run to him. Go to him in confession and repentance and let his grace work forgiveness in your heart and life. Whether you need to do that for the first time today, or for the hundredth time, let God work his grace in your life and forgive your sin and restore you today.

God takes the man who publicly denied Jesus three times and uses him to point 3000 people to Jesus in his first sermon. Don’t you think he can use people like me and you?

Sources and Acknowledgments

Review and Reflect on Mark 9:2-13

Let’s read Mark 9:2-13.

There is great significance to Jesus going to a mountain. This is part of what it means when he says the Time is fulfilled and God’s Kingdom has come. In Exodus 33 God meets with Moses on Mount Sinai. Moses asks to see his face, but he refuses because it would have killed Moses. Instead, God speaks to him out of a cloud. He allowed his glory to pass by Moses while he hid him and even though Moses only saw the remnant of God’s glory, his face shined brilliantly so the people were amazed by it.

In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is hidden in a cave on the same mountain Moses stood on and God passes by him. There was wind, then an earthquake, then fire, but the Lord was not in any of those. Then, there was a quiet whisper, and this was the voice of the Lord. Elijah was the prophet that was taken up into heaven in whirlwind with Chariots of Fire later in 2 Kings 2.

Mark paints this picture for us centuries later: there’s a mountain, a voice out of the cloud, and Moses and Elijah are even there. If you take the time to read those stories you will see that both Moses and Elijah were hidden so that they wouldn’t see God’s face. Moses was hidden in the cleft of a rock, and Elijah was hidden in a cave. But when Jesus takes his disciples up on the Mountain, he doesn’t hide. Instead, he is transfigured. There’s a metamorphosis. A transformation. Verse 3 describes this other-worldliness about Jesus’ clothes because they are so bright white. And Elijah and Moses are with him and they are talking to each other. The presence of Elijah and Moses in verse 4 points the disciples and those who read this story to the Messianic age where God dwells with his people. Both Moses and Elijah met with God on Mount Sinai and now Jesus meets with them on a Mountain.

This scene is meant to portray the place of Jesus in the plan of God, fulfilling a dual role of Moses and Elijah as the long-awaited Messiah. This story unites two expectations which were alive in 1st century Judaism: the coming of the end-time prophet which is like Moses and the appearing of Elijah at the dawning of the end-times. Malachi 4:4-5 says that Elijah would return before the Day of the Lord, when God will appear and make everything right and he includes Moses in the context of this prophecy. It was passages like this that fueled the Messianic expectations of the Jewish people in the time surrounding when Jesus lived on earth. They expected a great teacher like Moses and a great prophet like Elijah in the form of a military leader like David. The disciples see Jesus standing there with Elijah and Moses and they realize that their assessment of Jesus as the Messiah was correct. But, rather than teaching about the role that Elijah and Moses would play in God’s judgment on the nations, God’s deliverance and restoration of Israel, and God’s ruling over his people himself, this is a picture of the roles of Moses and Elijah being fulfilled in Jesus.

Some of the literature that is found from the in-between period of the Old Testament and New Testament fueled these Messianic expectations, but they never foresaw anyone like Jesus coming. God wasn’t going to send Moses or Elijah, he was going to send someone with a much higher authority. He was going to send his Son.

This is another way of displaying that in Jesus, the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. HE is like Moses and Elijah but greater, he is God’s son. This is the point of this passage. All of the prophetic and cultural expectations of the Messiah, and the roles of Moses and Elijah in God’s final act in history are summed up in Jesus. This scene is another way that Jesus depicts the Time being fulfilled and God’s Kingdom coming.

In verses 5-6, Peter is so scared he starts talking and suggests that places of worship be built to honor Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter is so terrified, he has to do something so he suggests constructing some tent or building for worship. Verse 7 seems to interrupt Peter’s babbling. A cloud envelopes the mountain just like in the times of Moses and Elijah and a voice booms from it. “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” The disciples can stop waiting for a Messiah like Moses and Elijah, because the Son has come. This is an echo back to his baptism and a mark of the change in Jesus’ ministry. The Father speaks about his son when Jesus begins his ministry and now the Father speaks about his son as he goes to the end of his ministry. Verse 8 says this whole experience ended abruptly. Then just like that, everything went back to normal.

You can imagine the questions going through the three disciples’ heads: What was that all about?! But before they can ask him, and before he explains it, Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until the son of man rises from the dead”. Just as Jesus has told them to be quiet about saying he is the Christ, he tells them to be quiet here. If they told even the remaining 9 disciples or anyone else, it would no doubt fuel the misdirected misunderstanding of Messiah that were popular in their day. Remember that Jesus had said in verse 1 that some would see the Kingdom of God come in power, well, before the resurrection, James, John, and Peter have had a glimpse of it. But Jesus says, not to say anything about it until everyone gets a chance to see it when he is resurrected.

It’s Jesus’ death and resurrection that will calibrate the disciples understanding of Messiah, and Jesus tells them to wait until then. He refers to himself as “Son of Man” in 8:31 and also here in 9:1. This was a title from Daniel 7 which speaks to God’s vindication of his people through a coming ruler. Jesus had referred to himself in this manner before, but now the disciples have a new understanding of who the Son of Man is. After Jesus tells them to be quiet about what they have seen until he rises from the dead, in verse 10 the three disciples begin to ask one another questions about what Jesus might have meant when he referred to rising from the dead. The disciples still haven’t realized all that was going to take place.

They do know that they have just seen Elijah though, and that meant that Malachi’s words were coming true before their eyes. They were about to witness the “Great and awesome day of the Lord”. They were having trouble putting all of these pieces together, so they ask Jesus about Elijah’s coming in verse 11. Jesus’ explanation is not what they would have expected in verses 12-13. He says Elijah has come and the Elijah that was on the mountain is not the one to which he is referring. John the Baptist has already come fulfilling the Role of Elijah. He worked to restore all things through preaching a message of repentance calling the people of Israel to rightly align their lives. But the puppet king, Herod, had him arrested and later on killed. Jesus says, that this “Elijah” preceded him in ministry and in death, preparing the way. Elijah was the herald of not only the Lord’s coming, but his execution. Jesus again is teaching his disciples that the Kingdom coming has nothing to do with rebellion or military action. But it has everything to do with suffering and dying, and then finally rising. And Jesus will accomplish exactly that. He will be rejected, he will suffer, he will die, and then he will rise. This is how the Kingdom of God will come in power. But it is going to take some time before the disciples can understand this.

We are not so different from the first disciples. They were significantly influenced by their cultural understanding of God and the nature of the Messiah. We are naïve if we think we are not. So it requires vigilance and devotion to the word of God to guard against being led astray by false beliefs. If you remember previously in Mark, some thought that Jesus was a reincarnation of John the Baptist or Elijah or another prophet. On the mountain as Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah, the scene would have spoken vividly to the disciples that he was not a reincarnation, but a new and distinct person from them and possessed a greater authority than they ever did or would. Our culture is going to tell us things like all religions are essentially the same. It will tell us that one idea about God is as good as any other. But Jesus spends much of his ministry explaining through teaching and action the difference between the culture’s understanding of God and the truth. His chief lessons are depicted in the cross and in the empty tomb. And he says following him will cause our lives to look very similar in their death to ourselves and our promised resurrection. We all need the Lord to calibrate our theologies. We all need the Holy Spirit to lead us into true and give us grace to understand how his word integrates into our lives.

Jesus shows his disciples a glimpse of the glory he is withholding and it terrifies them. The time will come when they will see him suffer and die and they will again be terrified. But when they see Jesus risen, they are no longer terrified, instead they worship and they understand. Our understanding of who Jesus is and what difference it makes in our lives grows when we worship. When we read, pray, sing, and listen the Holy Spirit works to bring transformation to our hearts and minds. This happens individually and when we meet together, neither to the exclusion of the other. It takes time and we will grow in our understanding of who God is from now into eternity as we pursue the Lord forever. But understanding who God is, begins with believing that what he says is true, and aligning our lives accordingly. Understanding and even worship begins with belief and repentance.

Review and Reflect on Mark 8:31-33

Mark 8:31-33.

Jesus begins to tell his disciples what kind of Messiah he is, because their conception of “Messiah” did not match reality. As Messiah, he would not wage war or embrace rebellion, he would suffer, and be rejected. Jesus was not some would-be rebel who couldn’t find a way to gain power militarily so he sought another way; this was his intention all along. He says, in verse 31, there are four things that had to happen to him. There are four things that are not options for him as the Messiah. The word “must” governs the verse and should be read throughout in order to more fully grasp what is being said. Remember he had been saying the Time is fulfilled; this is how he would fulfill the Time.

It says he must suffer. He must be rejected. He must be killed. These are the first three. He had been saying the Kingdom of God was present. Verse 31 ends by saying after 3 days, he must rise again, the fourth thing that must happen. The way the Time would be fulfilled and God’s Kingdom would come would be through the cross and the resurrection. This is how the Kingdom was present, through death and resurrection. Verse 32 says he spoke “plainly”. In other words, he was careful to make sure his disciples knew this wasn’t a parable. He was careful to avoid confusion. And then Peter, who had represented the disciples in a great way for one brief and shining moment, takes Jesus aside in verse 32 and rebukes him. Peter understood Jesus to be the Messiah, but his confusion lied in what that meant. He had a conception of who Jesus should be and when Jesus didn’t live up to that, Peter was angry. Rebuking is much stronger than disagreeing. This is how Jesus treated the demons when he cast them out. So Peter is confronting Jesus in just about the strongest possible manner.

People often get angry with God because he didn’t live up to their expectations. God let someone they loved pass away, or they have suffered too much. So they are resigned to simply being mad at God and rebuking him. Maybe it is you who has been angry with God because of something he did or didn’t do, or something he did or didn’t give you. Jesus says, I’m going to endure all of that – the suffering, the rejection, the death –  so when it happens to you, you can’t say God doesn’t know what you’re going through or God doesn’t care. He cares immensely. He cares enough to leave the perfection of heaven and step into this mess, suffer and die in this mess and rise out of it, so that one day he can set everything right. God may have not done what you expected, but he was rejected, he suffered, he was killed, and then he rose again to prove he cares. Whatever our expectations of God’s intervention in our lives, his suffering on the cross is the greatest demonstration of his love for us.

Jesus sees the other disciples and recognizes again that Peter represents their feelings so he returns fire. He calls Peter satanic because he is more concerned with the temporal things of this world than the plan of God. Peter is opposing the plan of God, and Jesus mixes no words to let him know as much. The disciples expected positions of prominence and importance in this new Kingdom that Jesus was going to establish, and Jesus going to a cross wouldn’t allow for that. Jesus is leading the disciples to re-learn the concept of Messiah in light of what he is going to do through suffering, crucifixion, and then resurrection. This was difficult for the disciples, but Jesus confronts their desire to use him for personal gain. In rebuking Peter and the disciples, he tells them that using the things of God for personal gain is demonic, satanic.

We all probably have a disgust for certain TV preachers who manipulate the people of God and the things of God for their own egos and prosperity. And as tempted as we are to look at those types of people, the application here is to look to our own hearts. The politics of church life in America are driven by this and it’s causing masses of people to avoid the church and despise Christians in general. It’s not “those people” that we need to be concerned with.  We need to examine our own hearts and make sure our motivation is not Satanic like Peter’s was on this day.

In the next passage, Jesus offers us a way to evaluate our hearts and lives so that we can guard against this type of demonic motivation.

Review and Reflect on Mark 8:27-30

The disciples are cast in the light of continually misunderstanding and misinterpreting what Jesus has been doing and teaching. But Jesus continues with them, not abandoning them, rather he teaches them and leads them. At this point in Mark’s Gospel, they have travelled to the Northern Region of Israel to proclaim the Gospel there.

Read Mark 8:27-30.

As they walked along the road, Jesus raises a question for his disciples. Several times so far in the book of Mark, we have heard the question “who is this?” asked. Having heard Jesus teach, or seeing him perform a miracle, people ask one another “who is this?” Who is Jesus? Finally, he comes out with it and asks his disciples about what people say. Wherever Jesus goes, his reputation has precedes him. Nearly everyone in Palestine has heard of him at this point. The disciples respond by saying that people believe he is someone like John the Baptist or Elijah. Others equate him with the great prophets. He is not just a prophet, but one of the prophets. People recognize Jesus is different from the other religious teachers and prophets that they have heard about because he has greater authority to perform miracles, to heal, and to cast out demons. Jesus brings the question close to home though, and asks his disciples, “who do you say I am?”

In verse 29, Peter speaks up, presumably as the representative of them all, and says, “You are the Christ”, “You are the Messiah”. They finally recognize that when Jesus has said the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come, that he was referring to his own identity as the one who would fulfill promise and demonstrate God’s authority on earth as King. As Jesus has healed people and cast out demons we have heard him tell them over and over to be quiet and not say anything. He even does it here with his disciples. They finally have a moment of clarity where they understand who Jesus is, and he says, be quiet about it.

Why does he do this?

Well, just because they understand Jesus to be the Messiah doesn’t mean they understand who the Messiah is. Just because you understand who Jesus is, doesn’t mean you know him. People have all kids of beliefs about God, but that doesn’t mean they know him, that doesn’t mean they walk with him or worship him. As I have mentioned before, there were lots of messianic notions and would-be Messiahs in the generations surrounding the time of Jesus (A great read on this is N.T. Wright’s book, “Simply Jesus“). However, there is nothing in the historical record, outside of the Bible, where anyone interprets who the Messiah would be the way Jesus does. Most conceptions of the Messiah involved political and military influence. Many if not most people thought the Messiah would be the King who would come like David, and overthrow the oppressive regime through military might.

Our day is no different. People have all kinds of beliefs about who Jesus is. These beliefs are affected by desires, politics, economics, suffering, oppression, health, and many other factors. We cannot control how our circumstances force our minds and hearts to interpret things. But, we can seek to align our beliefs with what Jesus says about himself, and what his earliest followers say about him. Beliefs we form about Jesus outside of the Scriptures have only our minds and circumstances as a foundation. Yet, with the Bible as a foundation for forming our beliefs, we have a fixed point of truth whereby our belief systems, though they vary greatly, may grow in their proper response to Jesus.

Jesus tells his disciples to be quiet about him being the Messiah because he had no intention of rousing a rebellion or raising an army. But, he certainly could have. Remember he had fed huge crowds of people – 5000 at one point and 4000 at another. Jesus could have raised an army of several thousand people had that been his intention. But it was not. So the disciples finally grasp who Jesus is, but they still only grasp it in part.

It will take time before they fully understand who Jesus is, but as they follow him they will grow in understanding. All of our theologies will be corrected in eternity, but as we follow Jesus, we will grow in our understanding of who he is. Our belief will be clarified and developed. But the disciples understood some basics. Jesus is the Messiah. How it affects our particular circumstances may change, but that fact remains. This is where belief and repentance join together properly. As we follow Jesus it will bring us to points of time where repentance is required. As we believe more adequately and our understanding of Jesus grows, so will our practice of repentance align our lives closer to him as we follow him. This in turn affects our hearts and our actions, our mind and our relationships. This is the road to restoration that will find it’s destination at the resurrection.

Knowing who Jesus is and knowing Jesus are two different things. The former requires historical and biblical knowledge, the latter requires belief and repentance. Knowing Jesus means following him.

Review and Reflect – Mark 1:14-20 – What is Mark’s Gospel?

Mark 1:14-20

In verses 14 and 15 Jesus summarizes the nature of his mission, the content of his mission, and the response demanded by his mission.

He comes announcing the Gospel of God, or God’s Good News.

What is this good news? What is meant by “Gospel”? It is not a word that is typically used in modern conversation, so it is crucial to define the term, otherwise we may impose a definition on “Gospel” that is not adequate/intended in this context of Scripture.

In the Gospel of Mark, the “Gospel” is Jesus fulfilling promises and expectations related to Israel and bringing God’s Kingship not only to Israel, but through Israel to the whole world, whereby those who respond in belief and repentance may be reconciled to God. This is Good News!

Perhaps further explanation is necessary:

First, Jesus refers to the “Time” being fulfilled and secondly, “The Kingdom of God” being “at hand.” Jesus announces to all who hear, that all of the promises and expectations of the Old Testament have been pointing to this “Time”. Jesus comes fulfilling God’s promises to Israel to bring justice and salvation, but he doesn’t do this quite like they expected, as we will see. He doesn’t establish a Kingdom of God that overthrows Roman rule. However, he does say that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It might be better to understand this phrase as “God’s Kingship has come near”. In other words, Jesus brings God’s authority not a physical, political kingdom. Because of Jesus, God can be seen, touched, experienced and because this happens, everything is now different. Since this happens, since Jesus fulfills God’s promises, and since Jesus brings God’s Kingly authority close, a response is demanded.

There is a difference between the Gospel and the response Jesus requires. (The response is not the Gospel, rather the response to the Gospel. I have found Scot McKnight’s book “The King Jesus Gospel” helpful regarding this matter.)

This response is only appropriate if it is characterized by repentance and faith. Once a person truthfully understands the Gospel – who Jesus is and what he does – there is a call to repent. This means that we stop pursuing our things in our ways, and that we recognize our sin for what it is: offensive to God as rebellion against his Kingship (I know it sounds harsh, but it’s really not, it’s really quite freeing.). There is also a call to believe in God’s Good News, that Jesus has fulfilled his promises and that he does bring God’s rule to earth. This repentance and belief brings radical change in one’s life in conduct, motivation, and pursuits.

This repentance and belief is exemplified in the first four men that join with Jesus in his ministry: Simon, Andrew, James, and John. They leave successful family business to follow Jesus. They don’t even ask, “Where are we going?” Jesus calls them to himself. They turn away from everything they have ever known to follow Jesus and there is no indication that they had much understanding of what that meant. They responded to God’s Kingly authority calling them to follow.

God may not call us to leave family and career to follow him (but he might!), but his call to us still demands the proper response of repentance and belief. We don’t have to understand it all, but we do have to turn from doing our things in our ways and give our full devotion to him.

What one step do you need to take to follow Jesus today? What is he calling you from? He is certainly calling you to himself, and often that requires no change of venue, simply a repentant heart.