You Are a Kingdom

Mark 1:14-15

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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).

How?

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

The Breakdown

  1. When you think of the kingdom of God as a verb, rather than a noun, how is your relationship with God affected?  
  2. Who is it hardest for you to accept?  Why?
  3. 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?
  4. 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).

Act Your Age

Mark 1:14-15

People today are talking about the world coming to an end.  Yes, there’s a worldwide pandemic, but is it a sign of the end?  We’ve got news for you, in a manner of speaking, the world has already come to an end once.  That’s what our passage is about today: the transition of one age to the next, the previous world to the present.  We’ll end our devotional today by looking at some ways to determine which age you’re really living in. 

The End of the Old Age

“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…’” (Mark 1:14-15a).  There’s quite a bit going on here, so are you ready to dig in?  Let’s go for it!  First, remember what we learned in our last study of Mark 1:12-13, The Outsider.  We learned how Jesus rebuilt the human race by becoming the Second Adam.  Jesus went back to ground zero and reenacted the drama of the Garden of Eden, only this time he got it right.  Where Adam failed in paradise, Jesus prevailed in the wilderness.  Not only did Jesus defeat the devil, but also he became a fully righteous human being.  By doing this, Jesus ushered in a new age, the age of the faithful second Adam.  This means Jesus is the first person of the new age.  The age of Adam ends and Jesus brings in the age of the kingdom of God.  If this is the case, then John the Baptist is the last person of the first age of Adam.  That’s why Mark mentions John’s arrest.  John the Baptizer is about to be beheaded, bringing the first age of Adam to a bloody curtain call.  

Elsewhere, Jesus makes a stunning comment about John, which makes sense if John is the last person of the first age.  Jesus said of John, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.  Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11).  Note, although John is the greatest person in the first age, even the lowest person in the next age (called either the “kingdom of heaven” or its synonymous phrase “kingdom of God”), is greater than John.  

To summarize, there are two ages, the age of the first Adam and the age of the second Adam; John ends the first and Jesus begins the second.

The Two Barrels

Next, take note of the curious way Jesus speaks of time.  Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled” (14).  The Greek word behind “time,” kairos, can also mean “age.”  As for the word “fulfilled,” imagine an enormous oak barrel being filled up with water, drop by drop.  This barrel is the first age.  At last, the final drop falls into the barrel, filling it to the brim.  This last drop in the “First Adam” barrel was John the Baptist.  John’s arrest and death, “fulfilled” the first barrel, or age.  In turn, Jesus is the first drop in the second barrel, or age.  The second barrel, as mentioned, is called the kingdom of God.  Ever since Jesus, drop by drop, the kingdom of God barrel is being filled-full, or fulfilled.  What happens when the second barrel is filled (which is the one we are living in right now)?  Then there will be a new heaven on a new earth, where all people and creatures dwell immediately in the presence of God.  How do we get there?  This is what Jesus begins to do in Mark 1:14-15.  Here’s a chart to help you sort things out:

Barrel 1Barrel 2(Barrel 3)*
Age of first AdamAge of Second Adam (Jesus)
John the Baptist is last personJesus is the first person
Former ageKingdom of God or heaven (began with Jesus and continues to the present) (New Heaven and Earth)
John the Baptist is the greatest personThe lowest person is greater than John the Baptist
LawGospel*for a later discussion

Jesus Takes the Baton

John the Baptizer was the great disturber of his age, which is why he was put to death.  He hated hypocrites and called all people, high or low, to confess the truth about themselves, as we discovered.  So, put yourself in Jesus’s shoes, as the first person of the new age, what do you do now?  Your friend John was arrested and soon will be beheaded for his message.  Should you “take it easy” for a while?  Tweak your message?  Not Jesus.  Jesus takes the baton that John the Baptist handed him and picks up where John left off.  

“…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 the gospel.’” (14-15).  As we learned, John called people to confession and repentance.  Jesus takes his baton and runs further with it, calling people to repent and believe in the gospel.  Can you see?  In the old age, the age of the law, you can only be made aware of your sins and repent of them.  The gospel of God has not yet been revealed; and there is no eternal hope for you in the old age.  Jesus brings in the new age of the gospel good news.  The kingdom of God has begun! 

The Gospel in a Nutshell

We’re going to take a moment to give you a summary of the gospel message.  We won’t elaborate too much on it here, but we will in future devotionals.  Essentially, think of the gospel message through these three statements:

  1. Our problem,
  2. God’s solution,
  3. Our response.

Our problem is sin; every person is born without righteousness and with a sin nature.  Sin has thoroughly corrupted every part of life, the natural world included.  Second, God has a solution for us, and his name is Jesus Christ.  Jesus will make the world right again.  Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the grave, offering to us the free gift of salvation.  Third, the gospel demands a response from us.  In order for the gift to be applied to our lives, we must have faith.  The word faith can also mean “trust” or “belief.”  That’s why Jesus calls people to repent and “believe.”  Our problem; God’s solution; and our response.  That’s the gospel message in a nutshell.  This message is the greatest theme of our age.  

Practitioners of the First Age

There’s more for us to learn from these verses, which we will do in part two of this devotional.  However, let’s take a moment to apply today’s truths to our lives.  We learned today that Jesus ushers in a new age, leaving behind the old age of Adam.  However, even though this is the case, some of us are still living in the first barrel.  Although a new barrel is available to us, we’re still swimming in the old, putrid waters of the last age of Adam. 

How can you tell?  As mentioned, the age of Adam was the age of the law.  This meant that in order to be successful in the age of Adam, you have to keep the law as much as possible.  The more you keep the law, the “greater” you are.  Think of the law as any accomplishment that makes you look good in the eyes of God or the eyes of humans.  Those who live in the first barrel are worried more about looking good than being real, because their identity and salvation are at stake.  Those who continue to live by the rules of the first age seek to impress rather than serve, gain attention rather than give affection, and use God rather than love God.  They are all about glorifying themselves.  And if they are not recognized for their efforts, then their world comes crashing down.  If you take away their false god, life won’t be worth living for them.  They constantly seek to earn approval.  They are defined by ethnicity, nation, or gender.  They think God loves them less when they sin and more when they succeed.  They judge others harshly; they judge themselves even more harshly.  

Some Lies

Even more, they fall prey to the lies of the devil.  Some of these lies psychologists call “cognitive distortions.”  See if any of these sound familiar to you:

My needs don’t matter.

I have to be perfect.

Nobody cares for me.

I am all alone.

I can never be forgiven.

Everybody is against me.

I’m really not that bad.

I made a mistake…so I’m a stupid failure.

There’s nothing I can do…

I should…I ought…I must…

If I only would have (fill in the blank) things would have turned out better.

Life owes me…

These are some of the lies of the old age, still echoing into the new age.  Everybody tells themselves these lies, but you don’t have to listen!  You can learn to fight back with the truth of the new age, the second barrel.  

The Importance of Preaching

That’s why it’s so important to see that Jesus came preaching.  “Jesus came…proclaiming the gospel of God” (14).  Jesus preached the good news of the gospel age!  These days, we don’t like to say the word “preach,” because we think it sounds too preachy.  But, you know, sometimes you have to preach the lies out of your head.  When the old age tells you “Your needs don’t matter,” then you have to preach to yourself, “God made me with needs and they matter to him!”  When the old age tells you, “You have to be perfect,” then you have to preach to yourself, “I don’t have to be perfect, but I have to be whole, which includes both my strengths and weaknesses, my successes and failures.  I have to embrace my failures, not reject them.”  When the old age says to you, “You’re so much better than others and at least you’re not like that other person,” then you have to preach to yourself, “Don’t take myself too seriously, I’m replaceable and need to learn to laugh at myself; I’m thankful for whatever God has given me and I celebrate what God has given to others.”  Above all else, you have to preach to yourself the gospel: 

I am a sinner.

Christ died for my sins and rose from the grave.

I trust him for my salvation.

Act Your Age

Some of us say we’re Christians, but we live more in the old barrel than the new.  We’re practitioners of the old age, even though we say we’re Christian believers.  You say you believe Christ, but you believe your old lies more.  If this is you, then here’s one more incentive to take the plunge into the barrel of the new age.  Once upon a time, Jesus went to a wedding celebration (John 2:1-11).  When the host ran out of wine, Jesus found some barrels of water, which were being used for ceremonies of the law.  To the disciples’ great surprise, Jesus turned this water into wine.  This is how we’re to think of the new age: it is filled with the best wine you’ve ever tasted!  The old age of the law contains stagnant water for dead rituals of self-promotion, but the new age of grace bubbles up with wine for celebration and love.  

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

The Breakdown

  1. Can you explain the gospel message (according to the devotional)?  Put it in your own words.
  2. Which lies do you struggle with in particular?
  3. What would it look like to live in the new age of the kingdom of God?  How would your life change if you truly embraced the age of grace?  How would it stay the same?
  4. How does living in the age of grace free you up to be yourself?