In the last devotional, we learned the arrival of Jesus (and the exit of John the Baptist) meant the transition of one age to the next. The former age of the law became the present age of grace, also called the kingdom of God. Today, we’re going to learn more about the kingdom of God from Mark 1:14-15. We’ll examine the kingdom of God through the five W’s (and one H), Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. We can’t wait for you to learn more with us about the kingdom of God! We hope you will be blown away by what you discover within you!
Who gets to be in the kingdom of God? Is the kingdom of God reserved only for angels, spirits, fat cherubs, and the Almighty? Or do only pastors and priests get to be in the kingdom of God? Absolutely not! The kingdom of God is for greasy swindlers and the unwashed rabble. It’s for the misfits and malcontents.
When Jesus spoke these words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15), he was speaking to those who only had one thing to offer, their sins. He was speaking to those who responded to the call of John the Baptist to confess their sins and repent. These were not holy people, not even close. They were self-declared sinners.
Most are too embarrassed of the implications of this truth, for they know it means the kingdom of God is for pimps, pedofiles, prostitutes, and prisoners. This is truly amazing! If you were a king, and could have any kingdom you wanted, which citizens would you choose to be in it? Would you choose you?
One more thing, it’s not just that the kingdom of God is for sinners, but it is also that sinners are the kingdom of God! Revelation 1:6 says that God made us sinners into a kingdom. “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom…” The kingdom of God is a ruined and redeemed people, who contribute their sins and collect his grace.
What is the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is not something made up of bricks and mortar. Fundamentally, the kingdom of God is a relationship between an individual and God. The kingdom of God is a sinner’s submission to Jesus Christ as his or her King. It’s the relationship of Creator and creature. However, the kingdom of God is not the relationship itself, but, more accurately, it is the relating.
What do we mean by this? It helps to think of the kingdom of God not as a noun, but as a verb. It’s the relating of the relationship between you and God. It’s the sparks, the fire. You see, it’s not stagnant, like a noun, but it’s living and active. It’s growing and expanding, getting higher, wider, longer, and deeper.
Just think of some of the parables Jesus told about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is like a farmer who went out to sow; the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that a man planted in a field; it’s like yeast a woman took and mixed in her dough; it’s like a treasure hidden in a field that a man found; it’s like a net that was let down in the water to catch fish; and it’s like a merchant in search of fine pearls.
Can you see the pattern? The kingdom of God is action, a verb! The kingdom of God is not the stuffy, old home you inherit from your granddaddy that reeks of cat urine and mildew. It’s not a thing, but a movement. Again, it’s not just the relationship between you and God, but it’s the relating. Why is this so important? Because the kingdom of God within you is dynamic, it can grow and shrink. In other words, it’s not something you inherit from your parents, culture, or church, but it’s a relationship you must pursue and fan. It’s not a relationship to settle for.
The formula is simple, God pursues you and you pursue God, like two wild lovers, like the ones we read about in the erotic book of the Bible called Song of Solomon. Even the Lord’s prayer demonstrates the verbal action of the kingdom of God, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Do you see? When you pray for God’s kingdom, you pray for it to come, advance, and threaten your so-called sovereignty at every moment. The kingdom of God is the reality of the relationship between you and God that forcibly seeks to express itself through you (yes, sinful you!), into the world, every day of your life, especially the lousy ones. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).
When does the kingdom of God happen? By now, you’ve probably realized the kingdom of God, which is also called the kingdom of heaven, does not happen just in the future, but it is happening now. Actually, as we learned in our last devotional, the kingdom of God began with the arrival of Jesus Christ in this world. Remember, Jesus clearly said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Put another way, the kingdom of God is right at your fingertips. The past age of the law has given way to the present age of grace. One day in the future, this present age of grace will give way to the new heaven on earth, which we commonly think of simply as “heaven.”
Again, the implications of this reality are colossal. If the kingdom of God is happening right now, then there’s no time to lose. You must take responsibility for your life today, because you don’t know what the next moment will bring. You must stop being the pawn of others, pushed around or silenced. You must let the kingdom of God within you erupt around you. If you’re waiting for a time when “more of God” will show up, then you are deceived. You have all the God you need right now. You have enough kingdom of God within you right now to deal with sin, impact your community, fight the devil, and strengthen your relationships.
The writer Mark chose his words very carefully when he recorded, “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand’” (Mark 1:14-15). When Jesus proclaimed the gospel, the kingdom of God arrived. And this formula is not just true of Jesus, but of all citizens of the kingdom of God. Whenever you proclaim the gospel, the kingdom of God shows up. The more good news of Jesus you share, the more life the kingdom of God will take over. The more you show and share the love of Christ, the sooner the kingdom of God will come in full.
Yes, it’s happening right now! God looks into your searching eyes and tells you to forget the mistakes of the past and stop fearing the future, for the kingdom of God is yours to live in and enjoy right now.
Where is the kingdom of God? Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” which not only shows the timing, but also the location. The kingdom of God is near both in time and space. Where is it? It’s wherever you are. Jesus boldly said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21, NKJV). Allow those words to settle in your soul for a moment. The religious leaders of Jesus’s day wanted to know where the kingdom of God was, probably so they could manipulate it, but Jesus refuses to give them something they could twist for their own purposes. Instead, Jesus tells them the kingdom of God is within each believer.
Again, the kingdom is not a noun (person, place, or thing) with an address, but it’s an action with an actor, which is you! Have you ever felt as if you were living too small a life? Have you ever felt something stirring within you, which you couldn’t quite label, but you knew it wanted out? Most people walk around in shoes that are too small for them, if you know what I mean. Most don’t realize the enormous capacity of their souls, big enough to enclose the kingdom of God! Yet, we continue to feed our souls the breadcrumbs of the kingdoms of this world, when they were meant for the feast at the table of the kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God within you demanding of you right now? It is only as large in you as the decisions you entrust to it.
Why the kingdom of God? Why does the kingdom of God exist how it is today? Why is it here? Why is it now? Why is it in our tired, broken world, rather than in some other kind of shiny, fixed one? To put it simply, it’s because of you. You are the “Why.” To see what we mean, read these two short stories (parables) Jesus told about the kingdom of God in Matthew 14:44-46:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Most likely, when you read those parables, you put yourself as the subject of the action. Most of the time, this is how these two parables are taught to us. We’re told something like, “The kingdom of God is worth so much, so you better be willing to sell everything you’ve got in order to get it…Do whatever it takes to make it yours!” However, there’s another, much better, way to understand Jesus’s two parables. After all, as we learned above, if the kingdom of God is within you and if you are the “who” of the kingdom of God, then why would you need to go searching for you? That makes no logical sense! Instead, the “man” in these parables is Jesus, not you. And, guess what he’s searching for? He’s searching for you. Here are the parables again, but with some clarifications added:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure [YOU!] hidden in a field, which a man [JESUS] found and covered up. Then in his joy [HEBREWS 12:2] he goes and sells all that he has [ON THE CROSS] and buys that field [IN REDEMPTION]. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant [JESUS] in search of fine pearls [FALLEN HUMANS], who on finding one pearl of great value [YOU!], went and sold all that he had [ON THE CROSS] and bought it [WITH HIS LIFE].”
Amazing, isn’t it! Can you see? You are the treasure; and you are the pearl of great price. Jesus is the man who sold everything he had to purchase you. Jesus is the merchant who sold all he had to buy a pearl such as you. Why? For the joy of finding you! You are the reason for the kingdom of God. “Worthy are you…for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
Finally, how does the kingdom of God begin in your life? If the kingdom of God is to be understood as a verb, the action of God relating to you and you relating to God, then Jesus gives us two verbs, perhaps the greatest two verbs in the Bible, repent and believe, with which we are to make it ours. Jesus said in Mark 1:15, “repent and believe in the gospel.” So what do we need to repent of? And what do we need to believe?
You need to repent of your self-righteousness. According to Wikipedia, “Self-righteousness is a feeling or display of moral superiority derived from a sense that one’s beliefs, actions, or affiliations are of greater virtue than those of the average person. Self-righteous individuals are often intolerant of the opinions and behaviors of others.” This may surprise you, but, in a manner of speaking, it’s not really your sins that condemn you, but it’s your self-righteousness. Do you know how you can tell if you’re self-righteous? You won’t embrace your flaws, or those of others. You won’t be kind to your faults. You won’t accept your failure. You always play it safe. You can’t let go of your missed opportunities. For some reason, you act more like a god than a normal human being. Normal humans fail, but you refuse to accept that reality. Jesus calls us to repent of our self-righteousness, so that we might depend on his righteousness, which he freely gives to us by faith. The proof you’ve accepted Christ’s righteousness is that you’ve repented of your self-righteousness and accepted your sinful humanity, warts and all. Remember, your sins don’t prohibit the kingdom of God from growing in you, but your self-righteousness does.
What do we need to believe? Of all the doctrines of the faith, there’s one that’s most important for you to believe in. When Jesus called us to repent and believe, he called us to believe in the love of God. You must believe God loves you. The gospel is Christ’s righteousness and love given freely to you. God is our heavenly Father, whose heart breaks when his children believe he does not love them. The first thing you must know about the kingdom of God is that it’s a world of his love for you. His love is behind every stone and in every gust of air in the kingdom of God. You’ll never be able to repent until you believe in God’s love for you. You’ll never be able to change, accept yourself, move forward, have hope, or find joy, apart from the love of God. Sin entered this world, not because Adam and Eve did something wrong, but because they doubted God’s love for them. Think about it. If you have trouble seeing the love of God in your life, then look at the cross of Jesus Christ. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
There’s a connection between repenting of self-righteousness and believing in God’s love, and it is this. As you acknowledge and accept your shortcomings and sins, your knowledge of God’s love for you will increase; however, if you hold onto your self-righteousness, then the knowledge of God’s love for you will diminish. Those who truly realize the greatness of God’s love for them are those who do not depend on their self-righteousness.
The kingdom of God is the doing of the relationship between Creator and creature in the present world that begins within every person who repents of self-righteousness and believes in the love of God in Christ for him or her.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” —Mark 1:14-15
- When you think of the kingdom of God as a verb, rather than a noun, how is your relationship with God affected?
- Who is it hardest for you to accept? Why?
- In what areas of your life do you need to take more responsibility? Why is it a struggle? Are there fears? What is the kingdom of God within you asking of you?
- Spend two minutes thinking of the ways God has loved you into being (include all the people, events, opportunities, obstacles, and gifts he has put in your life).