Gateway to the Classics: St. Mark by J. Paterson Smyth
St. Mark by  J. Paterson Smyth

Lesson II

The Kingdom of God

St. Mark I. 13-29.

"The Kingdom of God is at hand."

T HE object of the teacher in this Lesson should be to leave a clear, definite Impression as to the meaning of "the Kingdom of God." It is most important to get true views about this—to get rid of the selfish thought that Christ lived and died only that I, and certain who believe as I do. should go to Heaven when we die. Teach them of Christ's beautiful ideal—try to rouse their enthusiasm for it—to send them out with an impression of what Christ intended the Church to be. Probably the Lesson here is too long. But with deep, prayerful study of the subject, the teacher who is in earnest can leave the desired impression with fewer words. It might be well to question the children briefly on St. Mark's seven pictures in the Lesson.

§ 1. The Kingdom of God

I want to start with a question which will need all your thinking to answer. What was the favourite, the constant, subject of our Lord's preaching? Almost all teachers who are capable of excitement and enthusiasm about their work, have some special pet subject—Temperance or Missions, or Housing of Poor, etc., about which they get most enthusiastic, always wanting to talk about it, always wanting to rouse us about it; every conversation, every sermon, of theirs will somehow lead up to it. People say—Well, that man has Temperance, Missions, etc. on the brain. He can't talk of anything else!

We may reverently say our Lord, too, had one pet subject, one pet enthusiasm, the centre of all His teaching. Every sermon, every parable, referred to it. His whole life has the picture, the model, the revelation of it. It was the vision that filled up all His hopes, all His outlook into the future. What was it? Think. Try again. His very first sermon in this chapter was about it? (v.  15). What was it? Yes. THE KINGDOM OF GOD. In Concordance you find it nearly 100 times mentioned: e.g.,Mark i. 15;Luke iv. 43;  viii., ix. 1 etc., etc.

Again, see parables—kingdom of God like leaven—hid treasure—seed sown in a field, etc., etc. Main thought in them is the Kingdom of God. (Take trouble to learn and to impress on class that the Divine Reformer, like all the greatest of human reformers, was pre-eminently possessed with one great idea, and that idea was the Kingdom of God.)

§ 2. What Did He Mean by It?

You say He meant Heaven—a happy land to go to when we die? No, He did not. Most certainly He did not. At least, going to Heaven was only a part—the far-off part—of His plan. Whatever He meant, it was clearly something that first of all concerned this earth, that had to begin, and grow, and spread for a blessing on earth. Remember parables about it. What was it like? Little mustard seed growing to a great tree—little bit of leaven spreading through a lot of flour—a little corn of wheat springing up, first the blade, then the ear, etc. Would that mean Heaven? No. It was a little something that He was planting in the world that should spread and grow till it grew to be a great thing—till it leavened all around it. Can you not yet guess what He meant?

Well, let me try to picture what I think was the vision rising in His mind when He thought with glad hope and enthusiasm about the success of His plan. I can imagine that I see it before me. Try and make the picture in your minds as I go on. He sees before Him a sweet, fair vision—a band of boys and girls, and men and women, of true, noble, generous, Christ-like hearts; the sort of people that you can't help loving and admiring; the sort of people that make life so happy and lovely for all around them. Do you know any person like that? It is a small band at first—small, like a grain of mustard seed—only about twenty or thirty, but growing, growing, as the ages go on, till it overspreads the face of the earth. He sees in the vision how everything bad and miserable vanishes before them—all greediness, and lying, and bullying, and spite, and drunkenness, and impurity—all selfishness and cruelty—all poverty, and misery, and pain. They are such brave, generous boys, such tender, unselfish girls—such noble, self-sacrificing men and women, in some degree like the Lord Himself. They care for nothing but what is good and true. They fear nothing but grieving their Lord. Their chief thought is the service of the Kingdom—making all life around them happy, and holy, and beautiful. Would not it be lovely to see a great growing hand like that, increasing every day? Would not they make this a happy, holy, beautiful world? Would not they watch over the sick? help the drunkard? and comfort the sorrowful? Do you think the mean, sneaking sort of boys would dare to be mean and sneaking? Would not the spiteful and untruthful, and selfish girls be utterly ashamed of themselves? Would not many people want to join the ranks of this Kingdom of God, if they saw it so grand, so beautiful, spreading over the earth? Well, that is, I think, the vision of our Lord. That is what He meant by the Kingdom of God. Which should begin where? On earth. And go on whither? To Heaven.

§ 3. How Should People Enter the Kingdom? (v. 15)

Repent: believe in the good news. Which comes first? Would it do to merely tell a lot of careless people that the way to enter this Kingdom was to believe in God's goodness and forgiveness? No. First repent—be sorry. Then  believe in the love and forgiveness of Christ. Then come forward and be baptized (like soldier receiving the shilling), and thus join the ranks of the Kingdom of God.

§ 4. Recruits for the Kingdom

You remember what was said last day about St. Mark's set of pictures in first chapter. How many? Seven in to-day's Lesson. First is Jesus preaching the Kingdom of God. Six still remain.

The first of them (vv.  16-21) tells of His going out to enlist recruits for the Kingdom of God (like recruiting sergeant looking for soldiers). Picture—Lake side. Show map. Two fishing-boats. One near. Two rough sailors casting a net into the sea. Names? Could you tell what sort of men they were, whether they were fit for the Kingdom? Could not see their hearts. How did the Lord know? He could see their hearts. Perhaps men with many faults, but sorry for them. At any rate, He knew, and He called them. They knew Him already, and had been attracted by His goodness (if time, refer to John i. 40). What post in the little band of the Kingdom should they have? Fishers of men; what did He mean? Yes. As they caught fish out of the deep, so they should catch sinful, sorrowing men out of the wicked world, and draw them into the Kingdom—into the Church—into the band of noble hearts who should follow Christ. What a grand office, to help men to be good and happy and love Christ. That work given to us all, not only to clergy. On a little farther. Another boat. How many fishers? How many called? Whom? Perhaps He called Zebedee afterwards, or perhaps Zebedee loved Him already. At any rate, he was probably too old to be an officer in the band, to go fishing everywhere for men like his sons. So you see the Kingdom of God beginning with five or six men; small like a grain of mustard seed.

§ 5. The Work of the Kingdom

What is the work of the Kingdom? Doing beautiful deeds. Helping and blessing and comforting people everywhere. See the beautiful deeds beginning. St. Mark's sixth, seventh, eighth, and tenth pictures; what are they about? Casting out devil (vv.  21-28). Peter's wife's mother (vv.  29-32). Healing the crowd of sick (vv.  32-35). Cleansing the leper (vv.  40-45). Question briefly, and picture the scenes very rapidly.

How sad all this misery and sickness of the world must have made our Lord. What a delightful work was His to cure the evils and comfort the sufferers. Should you like to be engaged in it? Cannot do all the work that He could. Can you do anything of the work of the Kingdom? Comfort people; help them to be good; make life bright and happy for them. Pray for them that they may love Christ and be members of His Kingdom of God. Has the Kingdom grown much now? Yes, a great band, the great Church of God. Are all the members earnest about it? No. That is what spoils it and disappoints our Lord. That is what brings shame upon His Church. The Kingdom of God is the Church. But all its members are not in earnest now, as they were then. Can't you fancy how disappointed the Lord is as He looks upon the careless boys and girls and men and women, who don't care at all to do the blessed work of His Kingdom. What a pain to His heart. He has let you in through Baptism. He wants you to have all the gladness and blessing of working in His Kingdom, and making Him pleased, and making His poor children on earth happy and good. You are members of the Kingdom of God. Story—Frederick the Great examining school on the three great Kingdoms of Nature—Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral. "Now, what Kingdom does this belong to?" (holding up watch). "The Mineral Kingdom."  "And this flower?"  "The Vegetable Kingdom."  "And now, what Kingdom do I belong to?" he asked. Expected answer, "The Animal Kingdom." But the children were puzzled. At last a little girl timidly held up her hand. "Well, my little maid?"  "The Kingdom of God, your Majesty." And, amid solemn silence, the great King bowed his head. "Pray God that I may be worthy," said he.

§ 6. The Strength for the Kingdom

How can you be worthy? How can you escape disappointing our Lord? Get the strength for the Kingdom's work. See the Lord's example, v.  35. You never can do His work faithfully without that. Try hard not to neglect it; not to get up late and run down to breakfast without prayer. Pray to the Lord, whom so many are disappointing. "Lord! I want not to disappoint Thee. I want to be a faithful member of the Kingdom of God."

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