The following is an excerpt from Michael Spencer’s upcoming book: Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. For the next number of Fridays, we will be giving you a “sneak peek” into this devotional commentary. Your thoughts and comments are welcome. (Note: There are some edits still to come, but if you do notice something particularly egregious, feel free to send me an email about it.) If you would like to be contacted when Michael Spencer’s book is available for purchase, drop us a note at email@example.com.
The Message of the Kingdom
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” – NIV
What is the gospel? What is the “good news”? I think it’s telling that the two most prolific evangelism programs in evangelicalism both approach their audience with questions that Jesus never used.
“Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?”
“If you were to die tonight, and God was to ask you, why should I let you into my heaven, what would be your answer?”
Jesus, on the other hand, did not approach his world with a question at all, but with a proclamation of the arrival of the reign of God. Evangelicalism is a religion of decisions and transactions, and although there are decisions to be made, reducing the Gospel to a decision to accept “God’s plan for my life” or giving the right answer to the question of how to go to heaven seems to have moved well past what Jesus was doing in his earthly ministry.
You see, when Jesus speaks of the gospel, he is proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God. At the heart of this are two things that are fairly challenging to all of us in the materialistic, prosperous west. The statements recorded here are the first statements that Jesus makes in the Gospel, and as such it sets the tone and direction for the entire book. You could even say that they summarize Jesus’ entire mission and message.
1. “The time has come – The kingdom of God has come near.”
2. “Repent and believe the good news!”
In this chapter we will look at the first of these two statements: The announcement that a climactic time has arrived, and the present age has come to its fulfillment point.
The good news is about God and what God is doing. It is not about me. It is not about some idea of success or happiness as the world might define it. You have probably noticed that in our culture God is judged by how much he fills out our shopping lists of needs and wants. This is not good news. This good news is an announcement that things are going to be different.
Check out what Jesus has to say in his first sermon, a further proclamation of the good news:
Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”…. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” – ESV
When you read the Gospels, Jesus is including the excluded, healing the hopeless, remaking Israel, reaching out to the pagan, overturning the religious professionals, redefining all the predictable terms, shocking those who know all the answers and, in general, making it unmistakably clear that the Kingdom isn’t just about forgiveness and “heaven,” but about the life we are living, and will live, both in the Kingdom here and now, as well as in the future. As Jesus walked through this world the Kingdom of God was like a big ship cutting through the waves. Every place he goes, the work and the fruit of the Kingdom flow out from him. Blind people see, hungry people are fed, deaf people hear, those with leprosy are cured, outcasts are included, people who are left out are brought in and beloved. The guilty are forgiven, the dead are raised. If you don’t know who Jesus is, you miss it.
If God is here now, and his Kingdom is present now, then your life is going to be deeply transformed. God himself is going to give your life an entirely different definition and direction. Big questions get asked and answered: What is your God like? Who is your neighbor? How does the Kingdom look when you live in it? Will you follow Jesus to the cross? Everything Jesus says and does is dominated by this Kingdom he is announcing, and his actions and words make it very clear what kinds of changes must take place. The disciples are blown away by it all, and that’s our cue to get our helmets on as well…