Jesus is the King. He is the God who became a man, to show us the way to everlasting life. If we are going to study anything in depth, it ought to be the life and teaching of Jesus. Timothy Keller offers a nine-session (non-video) study called Jesus the King. Enjoy session one and then visit store.faithgateway.com to purchase the rest of the series. ~ Fred Bittner, FaithGateway Bible Study
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“The gospel is not good advice; it’s a summons to follow a king.”
Called by the King
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:15 (ESV)
The first words Mark records from Jesus’ mouth, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand,” define the message and actions that will unfold in the rest of the book. Jesus bursts onto the scene not with a new code of ethics but with a news bulletin about a new reality.
That’s why Jesus calls His message “gospel,” which literally means “good news.” I Jesus’ day, this was not just any daily news but life-altering news. A “gospel” was so important it would hold the front pages of the news outlets for weeks. Whatever Jesus is declaring demands our full attention, and Mark reinforces this by putting it front and center: “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Mark builds the body of his whole story from this headline.
Every move Jesus makes, as recorded by Mark, illustrates for his readers that the kingdom of God — a new regime of perfect, healing leadership over the world — is near. Jesus’ healings, His exorcisms, His mercy, His miracles, His authority over nature, His sacrifice, and His defeat of death are all filling out the story of this kingdom Jesus is announcing.
The Gospel of Mark’s power lies in its simplicity and directness. It is a refreshing and powerful breaking news item to those of us who live in a sea of lifestyle guides. Think of the difference between news and advice.
Advice is counsel on how to improve your life. “You should try yoga” or “don’t go to the one on 21st Street” or “you shouldn’t vaccinate your kids” are all examples of advice.
News, however, is not there to improve your life; news is there to tell you what has happened and its significance for you now that you’ve heard it. Whether you choose to believe a news story is entirely your prerogative, but if it is true, then to ignore it will have practical repercussions.
For example, when the research linking sun exposure and skin cancer confronts the average beach vacationer, one can change his or her normal routine via sunscreens and umbrellas, or carry on as normal. Both reactions — changing the routine or keeping it — are decisions on how to deal with the news about the effects of sun exposure.
The bigger and more personally relevant the news, the more deeply it challenges us. Because this news is about God as the King of the world and His vision for our lives, to believe it will be to repent of (literally, to turn away from) some of the basic premises we’ve built our lives on. If this gospel — that the kingdom of God is at hand, that Jesus is its King, and that He has earned our way to God — is true, it changes everything for us. Jesus says that to believe it will change us so foundationally that our work, our families, our ambitions — everything! — will change as well. We cannot simply add this message to the collection of convenient wisdom guiding our lives. Instead we will lose our lives as we know them for something better than we could ever have imagined.
The Call to Follow the King
At once they left their nets and followed Him. — Mark 1:18
To believe Jesus’ news will be to believe He is your King. This grabs our attention, because most reading this have never lived under the rule of a king. The idea of one person having total rule over everything in society is difficult enough, but Jesus doesn’t stop there. He claims immediate authority over your life specifically. It may be difficult to put yourself into the scene with the disciples gripping their drenched, fishy-smelling nets. But remember that fishing has likely been their families’ livelihood for generations. Jesus is a stanger, walking into their workplace, telling them they need to leave their family business and follow him on the spot. Here you begin to experience the disruptive nature of Jesus’ kingship that Mark wants you to feel. “Follow me” is a big statement.
At this point, Mark is scant on the content of the message because he wants us to see the authority of the messenger. When the one calling me reveals himself to be not just any king but my King, I am left with little choice but to obey him then and there.
When I find out following Him will fulfill everything I’ve looked for in life, His once disruptive command is now my source of joy. I follow this King not only because I have to, but because following Him gives me true meaning and joy.
This King’s good news — that you do not need to earn your way to God — is so far-reaching that it is certain to disrupt your life. The good news—that out of His grace Jesus has made a way for you to come to God — frees you from the tyranny of having to build your own life résumé to impress God.
An important part of any learning process is self-assessment: to determine where you are in relationship to the material presented. The point of the Personal reflection section is not to feel good or bad about yourself but to help you visualize how the ideas in this session could affect your life. This assessment is situated prior to the Bible investigation section so you can be aware of your own thinking as you begin studying Scripture. On a scale of 1 – 5 (1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree), select the number that best represents your response to each of the following statements.
If surveyed in an anonymous poll about religion, I would identify myself as a Christian.
My Number _____
I feel comfortable when a conversation among friends shifts to religion and faith.
My Number _____
I believe I understand what it means to actively, willingly relinquish authority of my life to Jesus.
My Number _____
I am actively, willingly relinquishing authority of my entire life to Jesus.
My Number _____
The following questions are designed to help you understand what is going on in the selected Bible passage. Write down your best responses, and try to avoid reading what others have said about the passage until after you’ve completed this section on your own. (An occasional study help, “Go Deeper,” appears throughout the study guide.)
- Mark opens his account with a reference to an Old testament passage. Read Isaiah 40:3, and then compare it to Mark 1:1-4. What is mark claiming about the identity of Jesus?
- Mark introduces readers to several characters in 1:9-13. List these characters and give any brief description (a phrase or a couple of words) from the Bible you may know about them.
- What is the significance of Mark including these scenes (the baptism and the temptation of Jesus) with so many supernatural forces at play?
- Verses 14–15 include Mark’s first recorded words of Jesus, which set the trajectory for the rest of his book. What authority is Jesus claiming, and how does this claim inform the way you are to read the rest of the story? (Read Colossians 1:15-20 for more help.)
- Having announced that the kingdom is at hand, Jesus calls His hearers to repentance and belief. Repentance is different than simply saying, “I’m sorry” — it means to completely turn away from something. So what does Jesus mean by repentance here?
- Why does Jesus say to repent and believe instead of just believe?
- What do you think Mark wants us as his readers to believe about Jesus through the response of the fishermen to Jesus’ call?
After a time of welcome and opening prayer, spend a few minutes reviewing the Pre-Group study together (observations, questions, insights), and then jump into this session’s application questions and group exercise.
- In one sentence, how would you summarize Mark 1:1-20?
- Look over your notes from the Pre-Group study. What stood out to you as the key point?
- Which Bible investigation questions, if any, did you have difficulty with or want to discuss further?
These questions are designed to help you take the core ideas from the Pre-Group Study and introduce them into your own story.
1. Mark sets Jesus up as both God and King in the opening chapter. At this point in your story, do you believe this claim? (Don’t worry, this is only week one. The idea here is to honestly assess where you are spiritually right now, giving you something to look back to as you go through the study.)
2.The gospel news is the core of the Christian faith, and yet Christianity often ends up cast as a set of behaviors, opinions, and positions. How have you viewed what it means to be a Christian up to this point? What “Christian behaviors” are you most inclined to feel proud of yourself for?
3. Brainstorm together a short job description of a perfect king. Consider the king’s key roles and responsibilities and how he relates to those under his authority.
4. The disciples left their lifelong careers immediately to follow Jesus. To submit to Jesus as King is no small step for anyone. What do you perceive as the biggest obstacles to you personally submitting to Jesus as King and transferring authority of your life over to him? If you already have submitted to Jesus as King, where in your life are you most likely to rebel against His authority?
5. What would your life look and feel like if you fully surrendered to this perfect King? Your work life? Love life? Family life? Financial life? Social life?
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Come share some of your answers on our blog! We would love to hear your thoughts about Jesus the King!