Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mk 1:14-34

(We began this sequence with Mark in the Jan 1, 2015 blog)

The extraordinary time-stamp of 1:14 for Jesus coming into Galilee needs to be more noticed.  Was there a reason Mark places this note, that John was taken into custody, here?

Certainly, John announced that "One is coming" (1:7) before he was taken into custody.  And now, Jesus "came into Galilee" (1:14).  The Lord was coming _from_ Nazareth in Galilee (1:9) when he was baptized by John.  Now, he comes into Galilee, from "the wilderness" (1:12).  We're prepared by Mark for dramatic activity, but we're not prepared for "the kingdom of God has come near" (lit. 1:15).  That fact is just as much a fact as "John the baptist appeared " in 1:4.  Mark is a gospel of action, many have said.  They all ought to say therefore that the Lord enters into Galilee deliberately and actively, and urgently.  So has the kingdom.   "The kingdom of God has come near" -- not cyclically, or as it always seem to wanna do, or giving you the option of getting close to it or not -- none of that stuff! -- But the kingdom of God has come near already!

But we skipped a phrase: "the time is fulfilled" (1:14).  Jesus, not Mark, saying this, takes the reader right back to 1:2, where John had talked about God's way being prepared; that is, God's way of entrance!  That's the time that is fulfilled.  It all ties together.  John exalting Jesus as baptizing with the Holy Spirit.  After Mark had introduced him as someone who said "make ready the way of the Lord," in Isaiah 40:3, "clear the way for [the Lord's name here] in the wilderness," and then John is now in custody, what's the next expected thing?  What John prepared for, to arrive.  When Jesus says "the kingdom of God has arrived" we conclude that John prepared the way of the Lord, had made His paths straight, and now Jesus says the kingdom of God has arrived.

So what we have is Mark, writing to his readers after the Resurrection of Jesus, about Jesus's arrival, saying in the very first thing he records to us that Jesus said, that the kingdom of God has arrived.  OK, we got that.  Is it information only!  FYI?  Far from it!  "Repent, and believe in the gospel."  Repent, and believe in the good news.

Just as was said Jan 1 about 1:4, not to read our own definitions into Mark's words, we should do the same with 1:14.  Not "cut that stuff out and believe the gospel" -- that's the way we moderns hear the word "repent" -- but, putting ourselves into the situation back then -- urgently go into a change-up of heart about everything concerning the arrival of the kingdom of God, indeed, of God Himself ... and ... (which we'll get to in a moment).

Get the cobwebs out of your heads and get to really hearing that God's kingdom has arrived, whatever that implies, most all of which you could not know!   AND, believe the gospel -- the good news!

The surprise is "believe the good news."  Jesus doesn't say "good news for some."  He's not saying "sleeper cells of the righteous, you know who you are, it's time to come forth" -- the Lord isn't saying "here's your expected news, sleepers, and your codes" -- but telling those who He is preaching to, indiscrminately, to "believe the good news," and it is good news that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has arrived.  He's not calling sleeper cells; the Good News is for everyone hearing Him.

So the follow-on from John's ministry and from the prophecy is unmistakable.  Let's go on.  Was it a preaching-only ministry?  No.  In the next section (1:16-20) Jesus sees two fishermen, and, as if He know everything about their future from the beginning, says "follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men" (1:17).    In our day, knowing the subsequent Christian movement, we read into this our own conception of entry into the movement, but to Andrew and Simon, they had "the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the gospel" and this personal invitation.  (By the way, in the spirit of clearing our own cobwebs, let's not turn the Lord's summons to Peter and Andrew into a popular 21st century "follow Me forever" category.  He didn't say that!  Besides, that would contradict what Jesus actually said: if they had to follow Him forever, in order to become fishers of men, then the condition would never be fulfilled in time.  It is to those days with them that Jesus refers.)

Two things would stick out to Andrew and Simon.  Jesus preaching the arrival of the kingdom of God, and the summons to follow ... God?  That's not how the Lord stated it, is it?  How is it that the one who announces that the kingdom of God has arrived and the time is fulfilled, is saying to individuals, "follow Me"?  That would be a very pronounced surprise.   The second, "and I will make you become fishers of men" is a promise.  It is a promise to two brothers.  It is a promise by Jesus.  It addresses not only what they would be doing in the future, but who they would be in the future.

Everything in the rest of our section points to the huge significance of the Lord's activity.  The story of the man with an "unclean spirit" turns out to be like something out of a movie, with the "unclean spirit" speaking to Jesus in the middle of the event.  The rest of the healings are unaccompanied by purpose-clauses.  The Lord healed, but not as a man amassing a name for Himself might do.  In fact, "who He was" was to be kept back, not because they said what was false about Him, but "because they knew who He was" (1:34).  This is a very famous central issue for Mark, and has been discussed by thousands of essays and periodicals and books.  Who Jesus was, became for many authors talking about Mark's appreach ... "the Messianic Secret."

The reaction of the crowds at the time is not just to Jesus' actions, because they reacted to His teaching as something very different, from what they were used to (1:22; 1:27).  Their reaction was not as full as that of the unclean spirit, who had fuller knowledge (1:24), but no right to speak!  That kind of evil has one response from Jesus: rebuke, and out!

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