Sermon Reading by Elder Dennis Dawal (Prepared by Rev. Nollie Malabuyo)
Dear Congregation of Christ: The kingdom of God is a common, well-known doctrine of many churches. But it is used not only by true churches, but by many cults. In the Philippines, there is a cult with millions of followers called Kingdom of Jesus Christ, whose leader calls himself “The Appointed Son of God” and “The Owner of the Universe.” But what about this statement from another cult:
“What vital thing has now been added to the good news of the kingdom of God that Jesus Christ and his zealous apostles used to preach nineteen hundred years ago? This, namely, the birth of God’s Messianic kingdom in the heavens at the end of the Gentile Times in 1914.”
This statement is from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They and they alone have recovered the true gospel preached by Jesus and the Apostles. All others in between, and all those who are not members of their cult, are not true believers. How did they come up with the year 1914? They made all kinds of calculations and assertions about Biblical texts, so that “the appointed times of the nations” ended in 1914 when Jesus was installed as the King of heaven. Therefore, according to them, Jesus did not inaugurate his kingdom until 1914.
The Bible says nothing about their teachings. Our text this morning begins with Jesus starting his threefold earthly ministry by preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” So our theme this morning is, “The Kingdom of God is at Hand” under three main points; first, Kingdom Preaching; second, Kingdom Discipleship; and third, Kingdom Healing.
Jesus preached the gospel whenever he went, but he began in his home region of Galilee. What is the content of his preaching?
First, he says, “the time is fulfilled.” Jesus goes back to the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. God promised Adam and Eve that the Seed of the woman will crush Satan’s head (Gen 3:15). To Abraham, God promised a Seed who would bless all the nations (Gen 18:18). To Moses, he promised a Prophet who would come from the Jews who would speak all of God’s words (Deu 18:18). To David, there will be a Son who will be given an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam 7:13, 16). To Isaiah, a Child would be born “the Prince of Peace” of an eternal kingdom (Isa 9:6-7).
Therefore, Mark and the other New Testament writers recall these Old Testament texts about the coming King of a coming kingdom. They taught that when Jesus came, the “fullness of time” had come. So Paul wrote, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:4). God had planned his arrival from eternity, “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10). He will be King over the whole universe. Therefore, when Jesus started preaching, God’s perfect timing is fulfilled.
Second, Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is at hand,” the kingdom is near. The kingdom is near not in the sense of time, but that he is the fulfillment of the kingdom. He himself is the kingdom of God. This is why Jesus told the Pharisees that “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). He is in the world, and among his people. Do not look anywhere else or any other king. Before he ascended into heaven, his disciples asked Jesus when he will restore Israel’s kingdom. Jesus rebuked them gently, saying that they should not look for Israel’s restoration, but they should preach the gospel to all the nations (Acts 1:6-8).
Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God when he first came. But why then do we petition God in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come”? If the kingdom is already here because Jesus established it 2,000 years ago, why do we ask for its coming? According to Question 123, we pray this prayer so that we will submit to Christ’s rule more and more; that the church will be preserved; and that the works of the devil and his wicked people will be destroyed. And we pray that Christ will come a second time to fully manifest his eternal, heavenly kingdom. But Christ is King of his kingdom at this very moment and through eternity. He has been given by his Father all authority in heaven and on earth since he first came (Matt 18:18). The kingdom of God is already here. However, his kingdom will not be fully revealed until “every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:10). This full manifestation of his kingdom will only happen when he returns from heaven to destroy all his enemies and establish his eternal rule over all things.
Therefore, the kingdom of God is not a geographical place or nation. It is the rule of God’s appointed Messiah, Jesus Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords, over his people, the Church, through his Word and Spirit.
Third, Jesus came proclaiming or preaching the gospel. We learned last Sunday that the gospel is the good news of the perfect righteousness of Christ, his sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead to save his people from their sins. Later, he told his disciples that the reason he came was to preach the gospel everywhere he went (38). The Scripture teaches that preaching is the chief means by which a person will be saved. In Romans 10:17, Paul teaches, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Therefore, a person is not saved by testimonies, or by emotional singing, or by entertainment, or by good works. He is saved by faith which comes from hearing the Word of Christ. And Jesus teaches us that faith belonging to the kingdom of heaven comes only through the work of God the Holy Spirit (John 3:5).
Fourth and last, Jesus calls on everyone, “repent and believe in the gospel.” He calls on us to repent of our sins, not once, not a thousand times, but every time we sin, which is a constant occurrence in all our lives. To repent also means not just turning away from sin but turning to God who commands us to be holy and perfect as he is holy and perfect. It is a radical transformation of our whole being from the darkness of sin to the light of Christ’s righteousness.
Repentance is accompanied by faith or belief in Christ alone as Savior. Faith, as we read in Question 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism, consists of three elements together: (1) a sure knowledge of the gospel in God’s Word; (2) assent or agreement that all of God’s Word is true; and (3) a “wholehearted trust” in “God’s forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness, and salvation.” All of these are purely of grace through the work of Christ to save us from our sins. There is nothing else to add to this faith, not even good works, for our salvation.
Although Jesus is almighty God and could have accomplished the salvation of all his people by himself, he used others to preach the gospel to the whole world. So, in verses 16-20, he calls his first disciples, namely, the brothers Simon (later named Peter) and Andrew, and the brothers James and John, all fishermen. Mark is concise in his narrative of this first calling. Jesus called them, “and immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Amazing, no questions asked, no hesitation! Also, very much Mark in his use of “immediately.”
We usually call these men “disciples” of Jesus, although we do not find this word in this passage. Mark started calling them “disciples” in Chapter 2. The word used for “disciples” means “students.” Jesus’ disciples were ordinary men like us, among them, fishermen, a tax collector (Matthew), and a political activist (Simon the zealot). They were probably not highly educated.
What did Jesus tell them? “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” The disciples had no idea what Jesus meant, but they left their nets—and their boats for sure—to follow Jesus. No doubt that the Holy Spirit worked in their minds and hearts to see Jesus as their Master at first sight. It was “love at first sight” and more. Jesus was everything to them, nothing else in their lives mattered. The psalmist sings of God in Psalm 73:25–26, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Unless we see Jesus as infinitely more valuable than our possessions, careers or ambitions, we cannot follow him. He calls everyone to “come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). He even tells us that he and his gospel have priority over our families, possessions and homes (Mark 10:29–30). To follow Jesus is to believe in him, to learn of him, and to be his servant who obeys all his commandments.
Jesus called them to change their professions, but not because their professions were of no value. God has called each of us to a different vocation, to work as if we work for the Lord, and to use our vocation for his glory (Eph 6:7). But he is calling them to a transformed life, to become “fishers of men,” to become his disciples, to become his followers. A life of sanctification is a life of becoming like our Lord, being predestined to be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29).
To become “fishers of men” recalls a passage from Ezekiel 47. The prophet describes water that flows from God’s temple (1). At first, the stream is narrow and shallow, but as it goes farther from the temple, it becomes wider and deeper. And everywhere it flows, it gives life, till even the Dead Sea is teeming of fish. Fishermen on both sides of the sea haul in a big catch (7-12). This is a picture of the gospel being preached to all the nations, bringing life to dead, lost people. The Spirit brings the gifts of repentance and faith to save them from their sins. This is the mission that Jesus assigned to his disciples. This is the same mission that Jesus assigns to us and to our church. Preach the true gospel of Christ to all who are willing to hear!
Recall also Jesus’ parable of the net (Matt 13:47-50). He says that the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea that catches a big haul of fish of every kind, good and bad. The good are kept and the bad are thrown away. At the end of the age, Jesus will return and sort out the bad from the good. His disciples throughout this age are catching a great harvest of good fish ready for his Second Coming. And that includes you and me in our appointed task to preach the gospel so we may harvest a great haul of fish.
Jesus began his ministry by preaching the gospel of repentance and faith in him. Then he called his disciples as his means to spread the gospel. The third element of the inauguration of the kingdom of God is his healing of many people. There are three different kinds of healings he performed in this chapter.
First, he healed the demon-possessed (21-28). Our battles in this world are against Satan’s spiritual forces of evil (Eph 6:12). We do not go to war with guns, planes and ships, but with the spiritual armor of God. Since we have God’s armor, we do not fear the forces of darkness. Even the demons know him as the almighty God, and fear him, asking, “Did you come to destroy us?” Even the demons obey him. Then, he healed many others (29-34). He healed Peter’s mother-in-law who had a fever. This was a complete healing, because after she was healed, she served Jesus and his disciples. He healed all who were brought to him with all kinds of sickness and those were oppressed by demons. Third, Jesus healed the leper, on whom he had compassion.
Why did Jesus heal the sick and cast out demons? There are several reasons. First, he healed to demonstrate that he is God, because only God can heal completely and instantly. Only God can command evil spirits. Second, his preaching was accompanied by his works; they complete each other. He is both a preacher and a doer. Third, through his miracles, many truly believed in him. His disciple John summarizes his works, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples… so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:30–31). Fourth, his healings showed that he is not only the almighty God, but also the compassionate God, which he showed to the leper and to the hungry crowds (Mark 8:2). Fifth, by healing lepers and other outcasts, Jesus demonstrated that rebels and outcasts who repent of their sins also belong to his kingdom.
But Jesus’ healing ministry is also a picture of spiritual healing. The Bible often speaks of the unsaved as leprous, sick and demon-possessed. Lepers are unclean, a picture of unsaved sinners. When Isaiah 53:6 says, “With his wounds, we are healed,” he speaks of spiritual healing from sins. Peter quotes this verse when he says that Christ bore our sins on the cross because we were straying from the Shepherd of our souls like lost sheep (1 Pet 2:24-25). Like a leper who was made clean by Jesus, we are also cleansed from all our sins when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9). Likewise, the demon-possessed man is a picture of all unrepentant sinners. Jesus tells us that they are Satan’s slaves and children, doing his bidding (John 8:44). In Mark 5, Jesus healed another demon-possessed man, and after he was healed, the man went back to his family and friends and told them how much Jesus had done for him (20). Therefore, healing is a picture of forgiveness of sins.
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, this passage in Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Mark encapsulates Jesus’ threefold earthly ministry. He would preach the gospel, disciple his followers, and heal the sick and demon-oppressed. Are you a part of his kingdom ministry? Do you invite your neighbor to become citizens of the kingdom of our Lord by persuading them to repent and believe in the true gospel? Do you tell others who are in the darkness of sin of the light of the gospel of Christ? Do you teach others the teachings of our Lord? Do you invite them to our worship services and Bible studies to learn Christ? Are you being healed of your sins, sorrows, bitterness and anger? Are you bringing healing to others? Pray that all these things may be true for us and for our church.
Rev. Nollie Malabuyo is currently pastor of Big Springs Community Church (URCNA) in Montague, California. He is the founding pastor of Zion Cornerstone Reformed Churches in Pasig (Metro Mania) and Imus, Cavite.