Now we take up our study again at verse 14, and we will be looking only at verses 14 and 15 in our seventh study, which I have entitled 'The Servant's Task Begins'. Verse 14: "Now after that John", that is John the Baptist, "was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God", or, "preaching the gospel of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel".
Let us pray: O teach me Lord, that I may teach the precious things Thou dost impart, and wing my words that they may reach the hidden depths of many heart, for Christ's sake, Amen.
As you will know, if you were with us, as I said, in recent weeks, the victory has been won in the Servant's test - the Servant's test being the temptation of our Lord Jesus that Mark deals with very briefly, but of course we know that there was a reason for that. The Lord Jesus was being tested as God's Servant, and He won. Now we find in verses 14 and following, indeed right throughout the whole of this Gospel record, the Servant's task begins. The test has been passed, and the task starts. Now we noted, I think in our second message on this study, that Mark appears to be keen, dare we say even impatient, to get to the beginning of the ministry of our Lord Jesus in verse 14. We saw how quickly he skips through various very important things in the life of the Lord that other gospel writers deal with in more detail: the ministry of John the Baptist, the baptism of the Lord, and the temptation. Of course there is a reason for that, and even in the ministry of the Lord Jesus he skips over the record of the Judaean ministry of our Lord that John deals with in John chapter 1 through to chapter 4. It comprised of a year or so of the life and ministry of the Saviour, yet he skips over it and goes straight to the Lord's great Galilean ministry. Then, after he deals in some detail with His Galilean ministry, he makes a beeline to the last week of Jesus' life that led to Calvary, the cross.
So Mark is skipping over a whole lot of biographical detail of the Lord Jesus that other gospel writers deal with - only John, though, dealt with the Judaean ministry - and we've got to say that there has to be a reason for that. We found in recent weeks that there have been reasons, and the reason is that Mark has a specific message that he wants to preach to us. Because of that he is selective in the material that he uses to that end, and it is the message that Christ, though He is the King, the Messiah of the Jews, He is coming to build His kingdom as the Suffering Servant.
So we have seen the preparation for the task: He is baptised, His inauguration in the task - the heavens open, the Father pronounces that He is His well beloved Son. He has taken on Himself the task at baptism by voluntarily going through the waters to say: 'I'm going to be the Suffering Servant, I'm going to travel the road to the cross and die for men's sins and the glory of God'. On the Mount of temptation He has proved Himself worthy of the task, overcoming the devil. So the beginning of the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been accomplished. Nothing remains for this Suffering Servant, but to begin His task. From here on, verse 14, we have an account of the ministry of the Lord Jesus: His ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, casting out demons - all leading up to His great accomplishment, the triumph of the cross and three days later rising from the dead.
Now here is, I believe, Mark's point in the two verses that we have to consider this morning. His point is this: the Servant has a work to do - the Servant has a work to do! All the preparation for the work has been done, and the affirmation in the work has been achieved, the temptation of the devil to cause Him to avoid completing the work has been avoided itself. Testing has been endured to show that He is good for the work, but all of that has been leading up to one thing, one aim and one purpose, one goal, and that is that Christ may accomplish the work which the Father sent Him to do - the divinely appointed task that would bring glory to God.
Of course we know this because the Lord Jesus said, did He not, in John 9: 'I must do the works of him who sent me while it is day: night is coming, when no one can work'. John 17 verse 1: 'I glorified you on the earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do'. The Servant had a work to do, the Servant must serve. Now we have seen how this gospel of the Suffering Servant has great application to us, because we are all servants of God - different from Christ in many regards, and yet we are His servants and also servants of the Living God. The New Testament echoes this same principle for us: that we are God's servants, and our task on this earth is to serve as well. Second Timothy 2:21: 'If a man therefore purge himself from these', that is, things that are dishonourable, 'he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work'. Ephesians 2:10 reads: 'For we are his', God's, 'workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them'. As the hymn writer puts it:
'There's a work for Jesus ready at your hand,
'Tis a task the Master, just for you, has planned'.
So we're going to find out this morning from these two verses many lessons, the first is: regarding the servant's task, there is a work to do. The second is what the work is: what is this work that we are to engage in as servants of God? The third thing is how to carry out that work, and the fourth thing is what to expect when we're faithful in that task. Now we'll not consider those things in that order, but hopefully by the end of this morning we'll have answered them all.
Let's consider first of all, as we look at verse 14, the time when and the place where His task began - the time when and the place where His task began. Look at it, verse 14: 'Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee'. So the arrest of John the Baptist for Mark indicates a time when Jesus had to act. For Jesus, this was the sign that His earthly ministry had to begin. Literally the word for 'arrest' there is the word 'delivered up', or in the Authorised it is the word 'put in prison', it's literally a Greek word which means 'delivered up', 'paradidomi' (sp?). Mark uses this word in many verses, in Mark chapter 9 verse 31 we read: 'For he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, 'The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise''. 'He will be delivered into the hands of men', 'paradidomi'. He uses it in chapter 10, chapter 15, three occasions in that chapter alone. So remember that, this word that is used for John being put in prison is the word 'delivered up'. Now that's significant, I believe. It is used by Mark of how Christ, the Suffering Servant Himself, would be delivered up.
Now it's also used of God delivering up His own Son. In Romans 8:32, you know the verse well: 'He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?'. It's also used of Christ delivering Himself up in a voluntary act, by Paul in Galatians 2:20: 'I am crucified with Christ: neverthless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave', that is the word, 'paradidomi', 'delivered himself up for me', for my sake. Paul uses it again in Ephesians of Christ delivering Himself up: 'Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us', that is, delivered Himself, 'an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour'. Later on, at the end of chapter 5, he says: 'Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave', 'paradidomi', 'delivered himself up for his church'.
So John the Baptist was delivered up, as Christ would be delivered up, as God delivered Christ up, as Christ delivered Himself up - and one of the reasons why Christ delivered Himself up, and was delivered by men and God, and suffered, was, as Hebrews says, that He might purge us from an evil conscience, from dead works - why? That we might serve the Living God. This is what I want you to note: as John was removed from the scene, Jesus' ministry was to begin. Now here's the application for us today, I believe: now that Christ has been removed from our scene in a physical sense, that is the sign that we are now to serve Him.
Is that not what John says in John 14 verse 12, the words of Christ he records: 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father'. The sign for Jesus to begin His ministry was the delivering up of John the Baptist into prison, and the sign for us to begin working and serving for the Lord as the servants of God is that Christ has been delivered up for us to purge us from dead works, that we might serve the Living God. In other words, the sign for you to start a work for God, if you're waiting on one, has been given. Any sign for us that we should be serving happened 2000 years ago on a rugged cross - the question is: are we?
Now we see that Jesus moved from Judaea to Galilee, that's what verse 14 says, after John the Baptist's arrest He moves to Galilee, into the district of Herod. This is highly significant, because Herod is the man that made sure John would get into prison and get his head cut off. What I want you to note is that the Lord Jesus, as He moves from Judaea to Galilee, He's not escaping from danger, He's moving into danger, the danger zone. He's not withdrawing Himself from peril because John was arrested, but He is actually going into the very region over which the man who had arrested John was ruling. Now there are many lessons we can get from this verse alone, and here's the first I believe: the suffering of the Lord Jesus brought our salvation, that is how He served God - but what you must see clearly is that His serving brought Him suffering, and He chose the road of suffering because it was the only road whereby He could shed His blood and save us - but here's the lesson for us: we, at times, to be obedient to God and to serve God, must endure suffering.
I think, and I've highlighted this, and been convicted by it in my own life, particularly when we went through the temptation of the Lord: we often choose the easiest route, even in serving God - the quick, and the fast, and the instant method. So often when we begin to suffer for Christ through obedience or through serving Him, what's the first reaction? I know what mine is: it is to quit! 'I can't handle this! I can't endure this! I can't go on!' - but what we're seeing here in the life of John the Baptist and the life of Christ is: John was delivered up because he was an obedient servant, Jesus now moves from Judaea to Galilee to the danger zone because His ministry was to be the Suffering Servant, being delivered up for God and for men, and He chooses to suffer. The Servant's task is to suffer, and ultimately to die - for except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone.
Now here's a second lesson that is encouraging - what's encouraging about dying? Very little, but there is something that is encouraging, as Campbell Morgan put it: 'Men may silence the voice of a prophet, but they cannot hinder the word of God'. Matthew Henry: 'Note the silencing of Christ's ministers shall not be the suppressing of Christ's gospel. If some be laid aside, others shall be raised up, perhaps mightier than they, to carry on the same work'. So let's sum up what we're saying here from verse 14: there is a work to do. Christ, like John, would be delivered up, but Christ would be raised up, and Christ would ascend up, and then He would send down to us His Spirit as an indication that now is the time to act - and, if we are serving, we will expect suffering; and if we serve, though we suffer, we should be emboldened to serve because even though the enemy might kill us like John the Baptist, even though wicked men might deliver us up like happened to the Lord Jesus Himself, they cannot kill the word of God, they cannot thwart the will of God. Is that not an encouragement? I must say...you look very encouraged!
It's not encouraging, I know, to think about suffering, and think about dying - and I think that shows something about my heart, and the affluent age and materialistic spirit that is about, the love of pleasure and comfort. The need of the hour, I believe, is for sacrificial servants like Luther. The whole of Europe is against him, and Papal Rome, and yet he on the authority of God's Word has to stand firm and say: 'Here I stand, I can do no other'. Boy did he suffer, yet he could write in his immortal hymn:
'And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us'.
Now can you say this? Can I say this?
'Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God's truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever'.
I'm not sure if I can say that. We need to be able to say that. There's a great lesson in the time and the place where His task began, but then I want you to note secondly: the nature of the task He began. The end of verse 14 tells us He 'went preaching the gospel of God', or 'proclaiming the gospel of God'. Now the word for 'preach' or 'proclaim' there is the Greek word 'caruso', which means 'making a public proclamation' as a herald, like a town crier - announcing something that is news that is of the utmost importance. So what was the work, the task of this Suffering Servant? Put very plainly, so that you can understand: His work was to preach. That was His task. Now preaching is in disrepute today even in the church, and there are many reasons for this - not least that some preaching leaves a lot to be desired. I don't claim to be something special, but I know that in certain quarters preaching is ill thought of just because preaching is disinteresting at times, and people are just bored! It has caused them to reject preaching altogether, and there is a responsibility on me and preachers and the church to be real and relevant, just as the word of God is. But I think today the most disturbing rejection of preaching is based on the premise that there are better methods than preaching: 'You can reach the lost more effectively in other ways, and by other means'.
Now we have to realise what we're saying if we ever start to think that way: we are contemplating the thought that there might be better methods than Jesus used as His task when He came into the world preaching the gospel of God. That's the implication. I received recently information of an up and coming visit to Ireland of - I'll just call him Steve - and he writes this: 'I'm a full-time gospel illusionist. I use tricks and illusions to present a gospel message. Just to let you know that I have an hour long show, which I am taking to Ireland from 2nd-20th March 2007. The show is evangelism based and is ideal for a church family service, mission week, youth event, social event or Alpha supper'. To this message there was attached some reviews from churches in England and Scotland that he had been round, and this is what one said - very telling, I felt: 'It was great to see people leaving church with a big smile on their faces, clearly having enjoyed their time while also having heard a clear gospel message'.
Now I don't doubt that these people are sincere in their heart, and they could be doing more than we are doing to reach lost people - but there is this insinuation that when we just preach and sing and pray, that people go out of the church with big long faces on - but it's great to see them smiling because really they have been entertained! Now let me say: I admit that there must be ways to supplement preaching, and we don't just do preaching, we do other things, and I think we need to explore some of the things that we do need to do - but we must never supplant preaching. We must never substitute it, because the word of God is clear: 'For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through', the Authorised says, 'the foolishness of preaching', or, 'the folly of what we preach to save those that believe'. This was the work of the Servant of the Lord, He was engaged in it - and indeed all the servants of the Lord down through the ages were, and are, and so must we.
Now you might say: 'Well, this is a very interesting message for preachers'. Well, I know that not everybody is a public herald, like Christ who 'carusoed' the message out, but there is a broad type of preaching that is found in the New Testament Scriptures. It's mentioned in Acts 11:19, where we read: 'Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching', or, 'speaking the word to none but unto the Jews'. Now the word used for 'preaching' there is the Greek word 'laleo' (sp?), which means 'to speak' - some people have called it 'gossiping the gospel'. Now these believers weren't all preachers, heralds, public people - but as they were spread through the persecution that came from the martyrdom of Stephen, wherever they went, in the marketplace, in the neighbourhood, in the town, they were gossiping the gospel.
Now you mightn't be a preacher in the technical sense, but do you do that? That's our task as servants of God, but Mark also gives us the theme of Christ's preaching - and I want you to note that, I believe, it is similar to the message that John the Baptist preached at the beginning of the chapter. If you want to look into that a bit more, get the second message in this series: 'John the Baptist, and The Beginning of the Gospel' - we've no time to deal in too much depth with what Jesus preached here, but it's important to note the subject matter of His preaching - for all the servants of the Lord in this place who go about preaching, and for all of us who 'laleo', who gossip the gospel. I have a great fear at times that if you sat the average Christian down and asked them: 'Give me in three short points the tenets of the Gospel that makes it different than any other false gospel, what is it?', that they couldn't give you them. I wonder could you do that? What would you say? 'Ask Jesus into your heart' - that's nice, and sentimental, but that doesn't help anybody. What do we preach that makes the Gospel the Gospel?
The first thing we see in the words of the Lord Jesus is, I believe, if I could say it, it was evangelical. Before He even opens His mouth, Mark says in verse 14 of Him: 'He went preaching the gospel'. Gospel preaching, evangelical preaching is very rare today. In the Reformed camp that we are in as part of the church of Jesus Christ, there is often an emphasis, correctly so, in expositing the word of God, preaching the word of God verse by verse - and that is something that is to be welcomed, and revival often comes when preachers do that. But there has also infiltrated through the back door of that good practice this idea that you don't need to preach a directly evangelistic gospel message. As long as you touch the gospel when you touch it through the verses as you go through a passage, that's enough. Let me say that when Christ came on the scene, His task was to preach the Gospel, Mark says. The word is 'euangelion', which is what we get 'evangelism', 'evangelistic', 'evangelical' from, and it simply means 'good news'.
Now listen: He did not come preaching accusation, He did not come with judgemental denunciation, He came with a proclamation of good news. Now that is highly instructive, I believe. He came telling of the forgiveness of sins through Christ when we repent and believe. So to preach Christ is to preach good news. Let me say that I believe, like many, I'm sure many of you, that judgement, the subject of judgement, God's wrath and hell could be preached more today than it is - but it is erroneous to say of a gospel preacher, as one lady did recently to me - not about me, I hasten to add! - 'I didn't like him, that preacher, he never mentioned hell'. Hell is not the Gospel! Now I admit that the Gospel means little if we do not understand that there is judgement and there is hell, but we've got to understand that if we do not impart good news when we preach the Gospel, we have not preached the Gospel! There must be good news, there must be hope, there must be the note of victory, whatever else you mention.
It was evangelical, here's the second thing: it was God-centred. He preached the Gospel of God. Now 'of God' is the genitive which means it's a Gospel that came from God, it derived from God, it comes from God to men to bring men to God. So we've got to always remember when we're delivering the Gospel that, though it is for the benefit of man, it ought to be God-centred when we deliver it to men. It's for man's benefit, but it must be God-centred rather than man-centred because it is God's work from start to finish. You could go in, at times, to churches - and I'm not being critical here, I just want you to have a discernment about you - and you could hear a whole message about needs and felt desires, and where you are, and what you're doing, and where you need to be, and you never hear God mentioned! This is the Gospel of God! If we preach something but don't mention God, and give God glory, and tell how this is God's plan, we haven't preached the Gospel!
God-centred, evangelical, thirdly: it's based on scripture. Here we come to the words of Christ in verse 15: 'The time is fulfilled'. What the Lord was saying here is: 'I am acting now, doing the Father's will, to bring to fulfilment all God's promises that have ever been given'. Now the only difference between Jesus preaching here and John the Baptist a little earlier, is that John was pointing forward whereas Jesus has a note of fulfilment. John saying: 'He's coming', and what Jesus is saying is, 'It is here'. All the moments that God has pointed forward to, the prophets, the patriarchs, all the types and the analogies all pointing forward - 'Now the day has come when, in this awesome moment, I have fulfilled it'. As Paul said in Galatians 4:4: 'When the fullness of time was come, God sent His Son'.
Now what lesson can we get out of that in our preaching and in our witnessing? Well, it's simply this: we must preach the scriptures. That's what the Lord was saying, He was linking what He was about to say with all the scriptures that had already been given. We must speak on the scriptures. Here's the other thing: we must have a confidence in the scriptures, because He was able to be confident to say 'I am He', that is in effect what He's saying, 'the fulfilment of everything before is now here'. No matter what doubt anyone casts today on the word of God, we must preach scripture with confidence, just as Christ. If we are preaching the Scriptures, we will be preaching Christ, because He sets Himself up here as the fulfilment of all of the word.
It was evangelical, God-centred, based on the scriptures, and fourthly and finally: it challenged urgent decision - it challenged earnest and urgent decision. You see by Him saying: 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand', He was simply saying that the time is now! The time it all has been pointing to, the time that our people have been waiting on, the time of times that never shall be again - it's now! You see that word for 'time'? It's a different Greek word than is used for the time that you're worried about just now...! It's a word that means 'opportunity', the opportunity is here! That word for 'proclamation' that we looked at, 'caruso', it also literally means 'to herald loudly'. So get the picture here: Christ is heralding out in a loud voice: 'It's here, your urgent opportunity, the time is fulfilled, the kingdom is at hand!'.
Now no one has a definition of the kingdom of God in the New Testament specifically, but it means 'God is active now'. God, in His authority, is invading human history to redeem mankind. God's great countdown in history is now over, as if the time for blast-off has come, the rule of God is about to begin on the earth! Now I know that there is a future aspect to that that is yet to be, but what Christ was saying here is: 'God's kingdom has come near you!'. Where had it come? Was there a new throne that Christ was sitting on in Jerusalem? No. Did He restore everything that is promised in the Old Testament Scriptures? No. What is He talking about? He's saying: 'God's kingdom has come near in me, Christ!'. We must preach Christ!
But this, if I can tie all that we have said together this morning together, the servant of the Lord not only is to be crucified himself - speaking of ourselves - but he and she is to preach Christ and Him crucified by bringing a message of repentance that is not new, it is the same one the prophets preached, and the apostles, and the evangelists, and we should be preaching: 'Repent!' - that means 'change your mind', the word is here, about your sin. Start thinking differently, see how it's harming you, see how it's going to damn you one day, it's robbing you of all the good that God would give you. Repent and believe, have faith, embrace Christ - it's necessary to trust and rely on Him alone for salvation. Turn from your sin, turn to Him by faith, that is conversion! Can I ask you today: have you repented? Truly repented with a sorrow that causes you to hate your sin, and turn from your sin, and flee to Christ? Do you urgently urge others to do it?
That's the servant's task, it is our task. There is something for you to do - first: die to yourself, even if it means to obey the Lord, to be persecuted, and to suffer for your service, do it and then preach a Suffering Saviour! Our task is to spread the good news, to challenge men and women, boys and girls to repent and believe the Gospel! As I thought about that, I couldn't help think of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who said: 'The world is my parish'. On horseback and whatever else he could get, he went across the whole of the British Isles, and right over to America, preaching the word of God. One of his most famous sayings was: 'Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can'. During his ministry he travelled over 4000 miles a year - before cars and trains and planes! He preached, in his lifetime, approximately 40,000 messages - and that's why his brother could say when he wrote that hymn, and I think he must have thought of brother John:
'O, that with my latest breath
I may but gasp His name,
Preach Him to all, and cry in death:
'Behold, behold the Lamb!''.
That's your task, and it's mine - the question is: are we doing it?
Father, we thank You that, as we sang at the very beginning of our worship, that God ruleth on high, almighty to save, and still He is nigh, His presence we have. Lord, we thank You that we have been redeemed and saved in a day of opportunity. We thank You that still Christ is near by His Spirit, and because of that we can be endued with power to serve and to reach others with this same message of Christ, the good news, and sins forgiven. Lord, help the limp hands that hang down, the feeble knees that bend and tremble, and give us the spirit of the Suffering Servant - whatever opposition we face - to preach Him to all, and cry and death: 'Behold, behold the Lamb!'. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the seventh recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Servant's Task Begins" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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