Lent 1b

Preached: February 26, 2012

The Kingdom of God: It’s All about the Gospel
Mark 1:12-15

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The words given by the Holy Spirit through which Jesus himself speaks to us are recorded in Mark 1.

The Spirit urged {Jesus} into the desert at once. He was in the desert for forty days being tempted by Satan, and he was with the wild animals. Angels then attended him.

After John was handed over, Jesus went into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God. He said, “The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the Good News.” (Mark 1:12-15).

This is the word of our Lord.

“The kingdom of God is near.” What do people think of when they hear those words? Do they imagine that God about to lash out against the corruption of this world putting the wicked in their place so that the righteous can inherit the earth? Do they think of that day when Jesus will return in power and destroy this world consuming the elements with fire? Do they think of the glory of heaven with angels bowing before the rainbow-encircled throne?

We often associate power and glory with a kingdom. And don’t get me wrong, All power belongs to Jesus, and he certainly reigns in glory. His kingdom is certainly powerful and glorious, but in a way hidden from human estimation. Especially during Lent we see that Jesus is a very different kind of king. Picture him standing before Pontius Pilate -- arrested, humiliated, bleeding, about to be crucified -- and he says that yes he is a king but his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36, 37). Such a different King has a radically different kind of kingdom. His kingdom, dear friends, is all about the Gospel. That’s the theme today. May the Holy Spirit through the word of God open our minds so that our hearts cherish the precious Gospel that has brought us into the magnificent kingdom of our Lord and keeps us with him.

The kingdom of God: It’s all about the Gospel. Even as I say that, I’m not denying it’s power and glory. But that power and glory are centered around the Gospel. So it’s a power that the world considers weakness. It’s a glory hidden from sin-blinded minds which ridicule the true Gospel as foolishness. But through that Gospel, the one and only Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, his kingdom penetrates our hearts (part one) and protects our souls (part two).

A. Penetrating our hearts

The short summary of Jesus’ preaching that the text gives clearly shows that his kingdom is all about the Gospel, the Good News. Remember that the Greek word (εὐαγγέλιον), which the Holy Spirit gave Mark to write, can be translated “Gospel” or “Good News.” They mean the same thing. The text summarizes Jesus preaching as “the good news of God” (Mark 1:14 NIV1984). And what did this Good News, this Gospel, proclaim? “The kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15 NIV1984). The kingdom is all about the Gospel, the Good News. Do see the connection, dear friends? The Gospel is what penetrates our hearts to bring Jesus to reign there as our King. Repent and believe the Good News.

“The time has come” (Mark 1:15 NIV1984), Jesus preached, or a better translation: “The time has been fulfilled.” Do you see what that word “fulfilled” brings out? This was not just an arbitrary date circled on the calendar. This was the time the Lord had been preparing for since before the creation of the world. This was the time the prophecies pointed to, the prophecies that Jesus was beginning to fulfill. Recall what the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 4: “{W}hen the time had fully come, God sent his Son …” (Galatians 4:4 NIV1984). The kingdom of God was near because the gospel promises of old were being fulfilled in Jesus. The Lord God was putting his plan of salvation into action. What Good News, dear friends, what great Good News! The kingdom of God is all about the Gospel. So his kingdom is near, penetrating our hearts, as the Gospel is proclaimed and the Scriptures fulfilled. That’s also what we’re praying for when we say, “Thy kingdom come”: Let your gospel keep on penetrating our hearts and the hearts of others so that your Son rules in us as our King.

What were those Gospel promises recorded by the prophets, the promises fulfilled by Jesus, the promises that penetrate our hearts so that his kingdom comes near to us? Recall just two of them, fellow Christians, both from the prophet Isaiah. “’Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ’Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool’” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV1984). And the second is from Isaiah 53: “{H}e was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Repent and believe this Good News, dear friends.

But how can this Good News penetrate our hearts? Do you see how it presupposes that we’ve messed up, and messed up rather badly? Sins like scarlet, as red as crimson -- that’s bad. Transgressions and iniquities deserving the most horrid punishment. “Hey, I’m not perfect, but let’s be reasonable here. I do my best. If I mess up, I try to make up for it. I say I’m sorry. If you want to talk about deserving punishment, they’re a lot of other people out there who are proud of being bad. Don’t get on my case.”

Do you see what kind of barriers our natural hearts erect against the Gospel? We wall ourselves in behind excuses. We build up our defenses of self-esteem and pride claiming some sort of personal worthiness before God. We diminish our sinfulness: “It’s not really as red as crimson; it’s only a white lie.” How can the Gospel penetrates such hearts?

Before the Gospel can enthrone Jesus in hearts, God’s Law must first break down those barriers, crush our pride, lay bear our sinfulness, and expose the evil that lurks in each of us which no excuse can hide. Do you think you’re not all that bad? Don’t compare yourself to this world. You know the standard set by God himself, the holy perfection demanded by his Law. “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (Galatians 3:10 NIV1984), the Scriptures declare. And don’t think you can hide anything from God. He knows not only your actions. He knows the dirty, dark corners of your heart that you hide from everyone else -- those twinges of selfishness, conceit, anger, lust, greed, worry, as well as spiritual laziness, slowness, lukewarmness, and indifference. Don’t ignore your conscience. Don’t bury those guilty feelings. You are a sinner, a law-breaker. God’s Law has only one verdict for you: Damned. Hell, endless hell. The news could not be any worse.

But now Jesus proclaims to you, dear sinner -- he proclaims his Good News. “I have come as long foretold. I came to ransom you, to give myself in your place, to suffer the punishment your sins have earned. Yes, dear sinner, I have come to save you. For I, even I, was pierced for your transgressions. I was crushed for your iniquities. The punishment that brings you peace was upon me. And by my wounds, you are healed.” Repent and believe this Good News. Jesus’ blood washes you whiter than snow. The Gospel’s verdict for you is: Forgiven for Jesus’ sake. Repent and believe this Good News.

Now with Jesus reigning in your heart, live as his people knowing that this same Good News, the Gospel, protects your soul.

B. Protecting your soul

Through faith in the Gospel you, dear Christian, are a member of the greatest kingdom of all, the eternal kingdom, the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. But in this world we will appear helpless. We will feel weak. Earthly life will often seem like anything but a kingdom. And take it from me, how tempting it is to put faith on hold for a little bit so that I can indulge in that fancy for a moment, or fit in with this crowd, or get even with that person. Can’t I put faith on hold for a little while and get back to the Gospel later?

But fellow Christians, although we might feel so weak in the face of temptation and giving in a little now seems like a good way to recuperate some strength for the next battle, in doing so we’re leaving behind the One who alone protects us. For our strength against temptation is not in our character or will power, but in Jesus and his Gospel.

Look at how Jesus defeated Satan and his temptations. Mark does not go into the details that Matthew and Luke share. But he gives us this brief summary: “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him” (Mark 1:12, 13 NIV1984).

The arch-enemy, the old, evil foe, Satan himself, could not defeat your King. Our King stood victorious, even after those forty days in the desert, isolated, devoid of human help, with only the wild animals around him. He stood victorious as the coming of the angels to attend to him after those forty days proves. And Jesus did that for you, dear friend. “But for us fights the valiant one, Whom God himself elected” ( “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 200:2). He did it for you. That’s what the Gospel promises.

And when Satan would launch his ultimate attacks against our King, using the Jewish council and Roman governor to crucify him, Jesus remained faithful. Even when forsaken by the Father because of our sins, Jesus continued to trust in God. He did not waver. Even on that cursed cross, Jesus did not give in to Satan’s temptation to doubt God’s love or to doubt God’s power. He holds the field forever, our risen Lord and King.

Do you imagine that the temptations you face are too great for Jesus? Of course not. He is your King, who protects your soul. But that doesn’t mean facing temptation will be easy for you or for me. It wasn’t easy for Jesus. Why would we think it would be easy for us. It wasn’t easy for Jesus during those forty days in the desert or while he hung on the cross. Remember how he prayed in Gethsemane longing for some other way yet completely willing to drink the cup?

So dear Christians, don’t put Jesus on hold when you face temptation. Yes, giving in is easier, especially in the short term. But then you are leaving behind the your King, the only One who can protect your soul. Rather hide yourself in Jesus when temptation attacks. Take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Keep the belt of God’s truth buckled around your waist. Wear the breastplate of righteousness that only the Gospel brings to you. Then no matter what fiery arrows of temptation Satan aims at you, the shield of faith protects you -- faith that trusts in Jesus Christ, faith that holds on to the Gospel with all firmness and confidence.

Yes, dear Christian, the Good News of the Gospel protects your soul as you cling to it in faith. For the Gospel says to you: Jesus is your King. He has defeated your enemies. He overcame Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. He broke death’s chains at his resurrection. Look how he even paraded through hell itself as the Champion. He has won the victory for you. For you see, he died for you while you were still his enemy lost in sin. Now that you are his redeemed people, members of his kingdom, won’t he be guarding and keeping you safe? Rely on his strength. Repent and believe his Good News, the Good News that has penetrated your heart and now protects your soul -- the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen King. For his kingdom is all about the Gospel. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313