When Mark introduced this book, he said simply in vs1, that it was the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Gospel means good news, and was from the Greek word euangellion which was in use throughout the Roman Empire to announce festivals associated with emperor worship. When a new ruler took power, there was a herald that went through the kingdom announcing his coming, proclaiming the good news and calling the people to get ready for his appearing. So in like manner, Mark uses this word to describe the coming of the Kingdom of God. Mark said John the Baptist was the herald of Christ, calling people to a baptism of repentance, that their hearts might be ready to receive Him when He appeared.
So in this first chapter we see that Jesus did appear, and He was baptized in the Jordan. Not because He needed to repent of His sins, but so that He might identify with sinful man, and show that He had come to take away their sins. So as John declared “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” the Holy Spirit after His baptism drove Jesus out in to the wilderness, much like the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement bearing the sins of Israel was driven into the wilderness, as an illustration that Jesus would bear away the sins of the world. The scapegoat was an illustration of the essential doctrine of the gospel, that the innocent would die for the guilty. So as He was 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus emerges sinless. He overcomes all temptations of the devil.
Now when we get to vs14, we find that Mark skips about a year in the chronology of Jesus’s ministry, and picks it back up with John the Baptist having been delivered over to Herod, where he was put to death. And at that time, Mark says that Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the same gospel message that John had been preaching. Jesus was preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
So in this passage we are looking at today, we are going to see two characteristics of this gospel of Jesus Christ. First we are going to look at the message of the gospel, and then the ministry of the gospel. Let’s examine first the message of the gospel.
I don’t want to gloss over the mention Mark makes that John the Baptist had been delivered up. I think this is an important principle. John had said concerning Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” And so, in this briefest of Mark’s mentions, John gives up his life in service to the Kingdom of God. That fact, that martyrdom, establishes at the outset the priority of the gospel’s message. It is a message that is worth dying for. And one way or another, the gospel demands that we all surrender our lives for the sake of the Kingdom of God. If we are to receive the life of Christ, we must be willing to give up our lives so that we might have new life. Jesus said later in Mark 8:35 “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” To receive the life of Christ, one must be willing to lose his life. And John the Baptist illustrated that principle when he gave his life for the sake of the gospel.
Next, we see that Jesus came preaching the gospel of God; saying, Notice first that Jesus came preaching. Preaching has fallen out of favor today. It’s unfashionable. Now that we are more sophisticated we can think of a lot better ways to present Christianity than by preaching. But Jesus came preaching. Preaching has been God’s preferred method of presenting the gospel since the days preceding the flood. Peter said Noah was a preacher of righteousness. As Paul said in 1Cor. 1:21, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Preaching may be foolishness to the world, but it is the wisdom of God by which men might believe.
So what did Jesus preach exactly? He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Let’s consider the phrase “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand…” Greek scholars tell us that the word used here for time is not speaking of chronology so much as it refers to opportunity. The way we might understand this is He is saying, the opportunity has presented itself, the Kingdom of God is near, it’s at hand, it’s right now. Now is the acceptable day of salvation. Let me give you a warning, ladies and gentlemen. The longer you resist the gospel, the less likely you are to receive it. When you resist the urging of the Holy Spirit, then you quench the Spirit, and you harden your heart until one day, you no longer can hear the Spirit of God’s call. Do not harden your heart. The golden opportunity is now, the kingdom of God is at hand.
Now let’s consider that phrase “kingdom of God.” Matthew uses a similar phrase, “kingdom of Heaven.” They basically mean the same thing. Jesus Christ came to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. It refers to a spiritual kingdom, in which God rules the hearts and minds of His people. The Jews were looking for a physical kingdom. They were looking for Jesus to be a military conqueror, like David had been, and for the Messiah to take back his throne. But during the period between the first and second coming of Christ, the kingdom of God is spiritual. Christ rules in the hearts of His people. Jesus said in Luke 17:20. “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” So for now it’s a spiritual kingdom, then at His second coming, the heavens and earth will be remade, and we will rule and reign in the new heaven and earth with Christ as HIs bride.
So for now it is spiritual, but there is a physical component of the Kingdom of God; and that is it is His church. We that are saved are the physical manifestation of the spiritual kingdom. We are the hands and feet of Christ. We are His body, His people, His community, even His sons and daughters. And so we represent the Kingdom to the world. Col. 1:13 says, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” The whole world is captive to the prince of darkness, and ensnared in the web of this world to do his will. But through Christ, we who have believed have been transferred to the Kingdom of God, and now we live for Him, and live through Him as aliens in this present world until that day when He comes back to claim His own.
Then notice next that there are two pillars of the gospel which Jesus is preaching. I mentioned these last Sunday, but it bears going over again. For the gospel is based on these two essential pillars. And when you remove one or the other, the whole gospel cannot stand. The two pillars are repentance and faith. Jesus said, ““The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” We can imagine that the gospel could be reduced to one word, truth. The truth about God, about Christ, and how we might know God. So if the truth is the gospel canopy, the pillars which hold it aloft are repentance and faith.
Last time we talked a while about repentance, particularly the aspect of confession and how it is necessary for repentance. But today I wish to bring out another aspect of repentance. The word is translated repent in some of your Bible translations is “be converted.” And that phrase graphically describes the nature of repentance. Repentance is not merely feeling sorry. But it is being converted. Being changed. Turning completely around and going in the opposite direction. It means a change of heart. And at it’s root is the realization that all that you believed and lived by until Christ is a lie and is condemning you to death. It’s an appeal to God to be remade, to be transformed, to be made anew. Repentance means to be converted, to be changed. Listen, when you go to another country, the first thing you need to do is convert your currency to the currency of the country you are in. You cannot spend your money there. You need their money. And when you come to the Kingdom of God, you cannot spend the money from the dominion of darkness there. You must convert your currency. And your currency is your very life. It must be converted by the grace of God.
And that conversion requires faith, the other pillar of the gospel. The Bible tells us that “Abraham believed God, and He counted it to Him as righteousness.” That is the new currency of the new life in the Kingdom of God; righteousness. And God gives us righteousness in exchange for our sins. That’s pretty crazy isn’t it? We give God our sins, and He gives us in exchange righteousness. Our sins are transferred to Jesus, and His righteousness is transferred to us. 2Cor.5:21 says, “God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to become sin for us, that we might be made righteous in Him.” That is the gospel. That is how we are transferred to the Kingdom of God. Not by works, not by baptism, not even by confession, but by faith in what Jesus did on the cross for us. He was the innocent Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who took upon Himself our sins on the cross so that we who believe on Him would be granted His righteousness. Now that is the message of the gospel that Jesus was preaching.
Next, let’s look at the ministry of the gospel. Ministry means work or service. Jesus after His resurrection left those of us in HIs church with a work to do. It is a ministry of service that all of us are supposed to be doing until He comes. Do you remember what this work is? It’s found in Matt. 28:18-20 “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
So the key word there is disciples; the ministry of the gospel is to make disciples. We that have been taught, are to teach others. We that have been brought to Christ, are to bring others. And Jesus illustrates this very thing Himself. He has already met these four fishermen several months before. Mark does not elaborate on that, but John’s gospel tells us how these men initially met the Lord. But now Christ comes to them and calls them to follow Him. He says to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
This principle of becoming followers of Christ is so important. Peter talks about following Jesus’s example. 1Peter 2:21 “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” Being a disciple is not a position you rest upon, but a person you imitate. To be a disciple is to be a follower of Christ, or a follower of another exemplary Christian. Paul said, “be imitators of me.” Folks, if we could say that to our children, if we could say that to our families, if we could say that to our neighbors, then the church would be a radically different place.
Well, Jesus called these men to be His disciples; to walk where He walked, to say what He said, to do as He did. In other words, it means being conformed to the image of Christ. Romans 8:29-30 “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” We have been called to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. We are to look like Him, talk like Him, act like Him. That is how the spiritual Kingdom of God is manifested to the world.
Now how does this work itself out in the real world? Let’s look at Peter, Andrew, James and John and find out. I want you to notice though first of all, that these are just working class guys. Jesus could have called high ranking government officials to be His followers. He could have recruited a few movie stars or maybe a rock and roll band or two. He could have gone to a few major league ball teams and got some famous players to help Him spread the gospel. That’s how we would probably do it, wouldn’t we? Those kind of people would attract a crowd. But instead, He goes to Galilee and picks four regular guys, uneducated, a little rough around the edges. They might even have had a particular fishy odor about them. But that was who Jesus chose to be His closest companions and ambassadors to the world. And I believe He did so that we might know that He came to seek and to save those that were lost. Jesus said in Luke 5:32 “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
And that is because there is none righteous, no not one. That is why repentance is necessary for conversion. But also Christ chose the worthless things of the world so that salvation may be of God and not of man. 1Cor. 1:26-29 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”
So Christ calls these men, these common, everyday, working class guys, to leave everything and follow Him, and in return He will make them fishers of men. Now that’s a test of our value system isn’t it? Which do you think is more valuable? Your career, your business? Or being a fisherman for the Kingdom of God?
Well, Peter and Andrew, his brother, were using a casting net to catch fish when Jesus came by. And when He called them, they left their nets and followed Him. There is nothing inherently sinful about fishing, of course. That’s not why they left their nets. But there was something a lot better. Jesus said on another occasion in Matt. 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Peter and Andrew decided it was better to serve God rather than the world, to lay up eternal treasure in heaven than to store up temporal treasure on earth.
James and John were working down the beach, mending nets. And when Jesus came by them, He called them to follow Him as well. And immediately, Mark said, they left their nets, they left their father with the boat and hired hands and followed Jesus. Jesus said at another occasion in Matt. 10:37-39 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” James and John were willing to leave everything, even family, for the sake of knowing Jesus. Being a disciple then means that he who loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it.
Now it’s interesting that Mark records two aspects of fishing as illustrated by these four disciples. And perhaps we might learn something from this in regards to being fishers of men. First note that Peter and Andrew were using a casting net, which they would cast out in a large circle, and the weights around the outer edge would then drop down and capture the fish.
Jesus at another time gave a parable about using a net like that in relation to the Kingdom of God. He said in Matt.13:47-50, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
Now that’s a picture of the preaching of the gospel. It is cast into the world, and many types of people are caught up in it. Many come under the sound of the gospel, they hear the truth. But some repent and believe and are saved into the Kingdom of God, and some reject it, and are lost. And at the judgment, those that have rejected the truth of the gospel will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. But those who are found written in the book of life, will reign forever with the Lord.
Then notice that James and John are mending their nets when Jesus passes by. This picture illustrates the other aspect of ministry. Mark’s term for mending their nets means to put in order, or to make ready, and so includes cleansing, mending and preparing the nets for the next day’s fishing. Interestingly enough, a derivative of this same word is used in Ephesians 4:12 in which Paul describes the work of the pastor as equipping the saints. Strong’s Bible dictionary says that to equip means to complete thoroughly, to repair or adjust, to fit, to mend, to make perfect, to perfectly join together, to prepare, or restore.
So there is the other aspect of ministry; to prepare others, to equip others, to restore others, to complete others in the church. In other words, to disciple other disciples. That’s the two fold ministry of the gospel. One to preach the gospel, casting a wide net over the world to all who will hear. We are responsible to cast forth the word, and God will give the increase or the harvest. We just preach or proclaim the good news to all who will listen. The second aspect of ministry is to disciple those who believe in the gospel. To help them, correct them, complete in them what is necessary so that they may be furnished for every good work. That they might be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. And when we are faithfully preaching the message of the gospel, and doing the ministry of the gospel, then we are truly disciples; following Jesus’s example, and we too are being confirmed to the image of Christ. May we be about the business of the Kingdom of God, until Christ comes back to take us home with Him. May we be found faithful when He comes.
If you have not yet become a disciple of Jesus Christ, then today I urge you to make the most of this opportunity. Today is the acceptable day of salvation. It is the opportune time. Please don’t harden your heart against the Holy Spirit. Repent and believe the gospel that you might be saved. When you confess your sins to God, He will exchange your sins for Christ’s righteousness and give you life in Him. Take advantage of this offer today. Come to Jesus today.