Mark 1:14–20. Kingdom Calling

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
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Mark 1:14–15. The Kingdom of God

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In Mark 1:15, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God. “The kingdom of God has come near.” The kingdom of God coming near is, in fact, the good news that Jesus is proclaiming (Mark 1:14–15). The entire gospel is the story of the kingdom of God coming from heaven into every square inch of the universe. The good news is not a story of God abandoning the universe and retreating to heaven with a few special people.

When Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God, he means all of God’s creation, but as it will be when God transforms it into what God originally meant it to be, rather than what it is now. For example, shortly after speaking about the kingdom of God, Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21–28). The man is a creature of God and therefore a part of the kingdom of God. But being tormented by an unclean spirit is NOT part of the kingdom of God. When Jesus banishes the unclean spirit, the man is restored to what God originally intended him to be. Thus, the kingdom of God has become real, or “come near,” for this man at this time and place. The kingdom of God is in God’s created world, even though the power of God that makes the kingdom of God become real comes from beyond the created world.

Jesus’ picture of the kingdom of God follows from the Bible’s picture of the creation of the world. God created the world and called everything in it good (Genesis 1:1–31). But God did not keep all the fun for himself. God gave people the job of bringing his good creation into its full potential (Genesis 1:28–30, Genesis 2:15). But people rebelled against God and chose to learn how to cultivate evil alongside God’s good creation (Genesis 3:5). Ever since then the world and its people have existed in a state of good entangled with evil, life with death, productivity with poverty, love with contempt, freedom with bondage, justice with oppression. When Jesus says that the kingdom of God is near, he is talking about the restoration of people to God’s good graces and the transformation of the world into what God intended it to be from the beginning.

The kingdom of God transforms the world. It does not obliterate the world. Every bit of the world can become the kingdom of God by returning to proper relation with God. Wherever and whenever people turn to Christ and live and die according to his teaching and example, his death and resurrection, the kingdom of God is coming to reality then and there. The kingdom of God has come near, as Jesus put it. For example, the kingdom of God comes near in something as small as when a manager gives a junior staff member the opportunity to make a presentation instead of claiming it themself. Doing so emulates Jesus’ example of empowering his disciples to do the work he himself is doing (Mark 3:14–15, for example).

The kingdom is near in every moment like these, but it is not completely fulfilled until Christ returns and all creation is transformed entirely and permanently (Revelation 21:1–5). We live in between the time of Jesus bringing the kingdom near to those who experienced him in person and the time of him bringing the kingdom to fulfillment everywhere and for all time when he returns in person. Our work here and now can help bring the kingdom near, or more accurately, when we allow the kingdom to come near through us, we can help do God’s work in the world (John 12:14). But we must do our work in the midst of all the ills of the world and the ills within ourselves. So to live under God’s reign and to work under his kingdom has serious challenges. It may bring social disrepute, conflict, and suffering because it often challenges sinful structures such as corrupt governments, criminal overlords, or exploitative companies, and evil powers such as racism, terrorism, and demagoguery. If you confront structures and powers like these, you can expect them to fight back. And if you yourself benefit from those structures, you will have to give up the ill-gotten benefits yourself. To serve the gospel and to honor God will not necessarily bring what people commonly consider success in this life. But, by the power of God’s Spirit, Christians can serve their neighbors and help to overcome the world’s ills, as the healings of Jesus will later demonstrate (Mark 1:23–34, 40–45). Working for the kingdom of God may bring gain as well, of course, for the kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Hopefully each of us finds gain from justice, peace, and joy in the presence of God!

Mark 1:16–20. Fishing for People

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Where's Your Name?

“When you go to work, if your name is on the building, you’re rich. If your name is on your desk, you’re middle-class. If your name is on your shirt, you’re poor.” (Attributed to comedian Rich Hall.)

From the Frontlines: Multiple Callings

In my work as a gear-maker, I left the family business for a time as Jesus called me away. But I never stopped being a machinist, and eventually God called me back to the family business for kingdom work. (David Hataj)

My father started his working life as a chemist for a large company. When he became a pastor, because he had training and expertise in management, he tried to use his managerial skills to improve the way the church organized its ministry. His whole life exercised a continuity for the kingdom. I see the same in my own work, as I use my training in library and information science to be a more effective pastor. (Jennifer Woodruff Tait)

See also Jesus calling the disciples in Matthew 4:18–21 and Luke 5:1–11.

The first people Jesus calls to follow him are fishermen (Mark 1:16). As Jesus walks along the seashore, he calls these fishermen specifically to fish “for people” (Mark 1:17). As Suzanne Watts Henderson notes, “not just nets are left behind, but a named father, a boat and indeed an entire enterprise.”[1] These fishermen were leaving what appears to be a successful family business. For these disciples to follow Jesus, they have to allow their identity, status, and worth to be determined in relation to Jesus rather than to their occupation and possessions.

Fishing was a major industry in Galilee, with a connected subindustry of fish salting.[2] At a time of social turbulence in Galilee, these two related industries supported each other and remained stable. The willingness of the disciples to forsake such stability is remarkable.

There is another side to the story, however. Even when Jesus calls these disciples to fish for people (Mark 1:17), he affirms their occupation as an image of the new role to which he is calling them. And in fact, Jesus uses their fishing and boating skills continually: to help him get around (i.e., Mark 4:35–41, Matthew 8:23–27), as a platform for speaking to crowds (i.e., Luke 5:1–11), and as a means of feeding Jesus’ followers (also seen in Luke 5:1–11). The fact that they still had access to boats while they followed Jesus may imply they had not completely abandoned their businesses. Peter will even go fishing after the Resurrection (John 21:3).

Although most Christians are not called to leave their jobs, and many are called to stay in them (Luke 3:7–14), they are called to ground their identity in Christ and his kingdom (see “Calling & Vocation (Overview)”). Whether Christians leave their jobs or not, our most important identity becomes “follower of Jesus.” Being open to Christ’s call to follow him as the supreme authority of our lives and work rather than some other political or economic authority is paramount.