Formations 01.13.2019: The Point

Mark 1:14-28

James Tissot, Jesus Sits by the Seashore and Preaches, 1886–94

My wonderful daughter isn’t on the autistic spectrum, but I bet she can see it from wherever she is. Over the past seventeen years, I have learned that there is often a very thin line between the traits of a gifted child and the traits of an autistic one. She is highly sensitive. She has an impressive eye and ear for detail. She is a daydreamer with a vivid imagination.

She’s brilliant, funny, and compassionate, but God love her, when she tells stories, she tends to ramble. I love hearing her tell me what happened at school—as long as there’s a time limit! Her stories tend to go in a hundred marvelous directions. Like many of us, she has a hard time seeing the forest for the trees.

This week’s lesson reminds me that there is often a virtue in simply getting to the point. For Mark, the theme of Jesus’ ministry can be condensed to a single sentence: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (v. 15). Is there more to Jesus than that? Of course there is! We have four Gospels and an entire New Testament to unpack what that simple message means. But we aren’t doing ourselves—or the gospel—any favors by getting lost in the weeds.

Is Jesus interested in calling people to personal repentance and salvation? Yes. Is he an advocate of social justice? Without question. Does he claim a unique relationship with God the Father? Absolutely. Deliverance from self-destructive behaviors; healing of body, mind, and spirit; welcome for those who live on the margins… all of those are part of Jesus’ work.

But let’s not get lost in the details. If someone asked you, “What is Jesus all about?” what would you tell them?

If we had to boil Jesus’ ministry down to a single thought, what would we say? I think Mark gives us an answer—perhaps the answer: Get ready, because God is extending God’s rule throughout the world, bringing transforming power to all of life. Jesus places himself at the center of this coming kingdom of God and says that it is already underway. Furthermore, he calls on us to repent, to adjust the trajectory of our lives to get in line with this amazing truth.

What else would we do with such good news?

Discussion

• How does Mark 1:15 help us understand the essence of Jesus’ mission?
• How do the disciples figure into Jesus’ ministry? How are they connected to the nearing kingdom of God?

Reference Shelf

A Royal Proclamation

According to Mark 1:14-15 the theme of the preaching of Jesus was the Kingdom of God. His message is summarized as: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” This appears to mean that the time of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise is over, and God is now initiating his royal saving work in the world. Luke does not reproduce this summary, but he provides a concrete example of it. His account of the ministry of Jesus commences with the visit to Nazareth. Jesus reads Isa 61 to the people; the passage uses the imagery of the year of Jubilee (Lev 25) as a picture of the emancipation of God’s people when he brings his Kingdom into the world. Jesus’ exposition of it is condensed into a single sentence: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21). G. B. Caird commented on that: “He is not merely read the scripture; as King’s messenger he has turned it into a royal proclamation of amnesty and release.”

G. R. Beasley-Murray, “Kingdom of God,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 487.

The Time Is Fulfilled

Mark 1:14 opens with a clause marking the passage of time and a new beginning: “Now after John was arrested.” Nothing more is said about John’s arrest until chapter 6, but this notation cleanly separates Jesus’ ministry from John’s. The Gospel of John (3:22) provides evidence of a period of parallel ministries, but Mark treats John the Baptist chronologically as well as functionally as Jesus’ forerunner. The sequence also sets up the parallel: John preaches, is arrested, and put to death; Jesus then comes preaching, and he too will be arrested and put to death; Jesus calls the disciples and then sends them to preach. What should these (and by implication later) disciples expect?

The place of Jesus’ ministry throughout the first half of the Gospel (with only brief forays into nearby regions) is Galilee. For the reader, Galilee takes on the symbolic role “the land of the gospel” in Mark. It is the place where Jesus preached and his miracles gave evidence of the power of the kingdom.
In Galilee Jesus proclaimed “the good news of God.” The genitive construction is usually taken as meaning “the good news about God,” but here it should probably be read as “God’s good news”—as in Isaiah 52:7 and 61:1. Jesus proclaimed God’s good news of the fulfillment of history and the coming of the kingdom. The “kingdom of God” has various nuances in the New Testament, but basically it means God’s triumph or God’s sovereign rule.
Verse 15 consists of two statements and two imperatives. In each part the second statement or imperative seems to repeat and clarify, sharpen, or extend the first. The first statement is “The time is fulfilled”—“the kairos” (season, significant era, or moment in time) has been fulfilled or completed. The second statement moves on: “the kingdom of God has come near.” The verb in this statement has been variously interpreted as “has come” (C. H. Dodd) or “is at hand” (J. Jeremias and W. G. Kümmel). Dodd emphasized the in-breaking of the kingdom in the person of Jesus, while Jeremias and Kümmel took the view that the kingdom is “already” but “not yet”—already here but not yet fully established. The “kingdom of God” is the most common theme of Jesus’ teachings, occurring some 118 times in the Synoptic Gospels. Two imperatives follow from these two declarations—the time is fulfilled: “repent”; the kingdom of God is at hand: “believe in the gospel.” Here “the gospel” refers to the oral proclamation of the good news about Jesus (cf. the discussion of “gospel” in v. 1).

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 51–53.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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