The Kingdom of God Is Near
Mark 1: 14 — 20
The Sundays labelled "ordinary Sundays" in the Year of Mark commence always with the passage Mark 1: 7 — 11 which records the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. In order to fill out our picture of Jesus, and to maintain a continuity of events, the Sunday Gospel reading may sometimes be selected from Matthew Luke, or more especially John. The second Sunday in "ordinary" time is John 1: 35 — 42. In this reading, John the Baptist is heard to call Jesus the "Lamb of God," while talking to two of his disciples. Hearing this, the two disciples of John followed Jesus to where he was living, and spent all day listening to him. One of these was Andrew, and the other, scholars tell us, was probably John, the writer of the Gospel. Both became disciples of Jesus, as we shall soon read in our Gospel texts.
The reading for this week is short and very well known to people who meditate on the Scriptures. It is so brief, not an awful lot seems to take place:
- Jesus starts proclaiming the kingdom of God.
- He calls Simon and Andrew to be his disciples.
- Then he calls James and John also.
However, as we shall see, these facts are presented in a very special style of writing, and offer us a feast of material to take in and ponder. There is no need for these notes to take the form of a sequential narrative. We have simply tabulated a collection (but only a section) of significant points for our consideration. They come from a variety of sources.
Some Notes On the Text
Verses 14 and 15
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come." He said. "The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news".
Those who consult commentaries on the Gospel will find much debate on the finer points of interpretation of these two verses. The verses are central to the whole book and we therefore need to know what John Mark intended when he presented them at this stage.
- First, C. Hedrick informs us, "Mark 1: 14 and 15 is a concise summary of the content of the preaching of Jesus the only one in the Gospel. Its position at the beginning of Jesus' ministry affects the reader's view of the entire narrative.
- Next we note that "Jesus does not enter upon his own distinctive ministry until after John has been arrested" (Lane)
- Jesus appears on the scene proclaiming the "God-news", the gospel proceeding from God: a message from God, about God.
- In verse 15 our Lord actually spells out the essential ingredients of this "god-spell", this "gospel".
- God's appointed time had arrived
- The Kingdom of God is about to begin. In fact, the proclamation by Jesus is a sign that it is already coming about.
- All who hear this are called upon to "repent" i.e. to realign their lives according to God's standards and goals, and thus undergo a change of heart, turning around or turning back to God.
- And they are to "believe the good news", or in language closer to our own, to put their trust in what is proclaimed.
This is a radical encounter with the need to make a choice either to listen to Jesus and follow, or reject his message in favour of following one's own agenda.
"In one sense the Kingdom has already come in the person of Jesus, who was fulfilling God's will perfectly. In another sense, it was gradually coming, in lives surrendered to God. In a third sense, God would introduce it universally at the 'last day'." (Cole)
Verses 16 — 18
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fisherman. "Come, follow me", Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men". At once they left their nets and followed him".
- All Christians know these verses very well. We list a few observations:
- "Discipleship always begins with Jesus' looking at a person and calling him" (Augustine Stock)
- "Those who are called have had no specific preparation, nor have they ever been among those who heard Jesus' preaching." (E Schweizer)
- Jesus does not encounter men in some special religious sphere, but in the midst of everyday life where they really live." (E Schweitzer)
- He commands as God commands…He makes of the fishermen something new, that which he wills." (Lohmeyer)
- There is therefore an urgency in Jesus' mission which is expressed in the sudden call and the immediate response of the fishermen who abandon their nets to follow Jesus. (Lane)
- The Greek text indicates, "I will make you to become fishers who catch men". This implies a course of preparation will first be necessary. (Grant)
Promptness of obedience is thus a key item demonstrated in this first calling.
Verses 19 and 20
When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
- In the second of our Lord's callings, the completeness of the renunciation by the disciples is highlighted in the giving up of family and home.
- Cole reminds us of the scholars who point out that in the ancient world "to follow" hardly meant to walk abreast, since there were few wide paths as we know them. Rather it meant to walk behind. Jesus therefore is calling disciples to enter into this very close relationship of rabbi — disciple. But as Augustine Stock points out, Jesus' concept of discipleship is very much his own creation. "Jesus summoned his disciples not to study the Jewish Law but to follow him and share in his work. The disciple will remain a disciple; he cannot aspire to become the Son of Man".
- In Christian discipleship, W Harrington tells us — "The decisive factor is the person of Jesus himself. In order to become a disciple of Jesus it is not necessary to be an exceptional person; what counts is not intellectual or moral aptitude but a call in which Jesus takes the initiative."
- In this reading from Mark, the call of Jesus, "is not just a call to follow, it is a call to follow
and become fishers of men". (E. Best)
Our seven verses are presented at the beginning of the active ministry of Jesus to set the scene and open with a very condensed summary of events. This is for a purpose we will reflect on as we work through the Gospel of Mark. At this stage we may well find ourselves a little uncomfortable about a formula such as "repent and believe". But that will gradually become clear as we work our way through the whole text. We may also be challenged by the account of our Lord calling his first disciples. He seems to appear on the scene, say a few words to them, and they instantly drop everything and follow him. We may well be left pondering, "How realistic is this?" More to the point, are we supposed to feel we would do the same at a moment's notice? In this case, no! But much more will be called for as the message unfolds. For now we are to let the event impact on us within, and allow the Holy Spirit to do the rest.
Further reading: A passage by J. C. Ryle.