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The Beginning of the Gospel

Date: Apr. 28, 2019

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Mark 1:1-15

Key Verse: Mark 1:1

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,

Today we are beginning our study of the Gospel of Mark. After spending more than a year in the book of Genesis, we are now back in the New Testament. We’re back in the gospel, talking about Jesus’ time on earth. The last time we were in a gospel was about two years ago, when we finished up Matthew’s Gospel. This will actually be the second time that we have studied Mark’s Gospel since we’ve started having worship service here in the Godbox. The first time was in 2007, but this time we are tackling Mark with a little bit more wisdom…hopefully. This time around we have a theme of Man of Action. Mark is the shortest of the gospels and the way it is set up, it moves quickly from one scene to the next. In other gospels, certain passages have a lot of detail, but in Mark, they may only get a couple of sentences. Although it has some of Jesus’ teachings, the main focus is on the actions of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel really shows that Jesus was not merely a man of words, but also a man of action.

Although the text does not denote an author, even in the early church, it was widely known to be written by a man named John Mark. Now, John Mark is mentioned in the Bible starting in Acts 12:12. In that passage, the disciples were all gathered and praying in Mark’s mother’s house. At that time Peter was arrested, but an angel freed him, and he made his way to John Mark’s house. He is mentioned again as helping Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but part of the way through, he abandoned them to return to Jerusalem. Paul was pretty upset at Mark abandoning them, that he refused to have him come along on the second journey. Barnabas, who was Mark’s cousin, was adamant about bringing him. Paul and Barnabas butted heads and their partnership dissolved. Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus, while Paul went on his second missionary journey as noted in Acts. Eventually, Paul and Mark reconcile, since he is mentioned in some of Paul’s letters in a favorable light. In Paul’s last letter, he calls Mark helpful and wishes him to be with him in Rome.

Mark was also known to be very close to Peter. Tradition says that Mark was with Peter when he was arrested in Rome under the emperor Nero. Mark’s Gospel is assumed to be written in the mid-50’s to late-60’s AD, which means that it could have been written when Mark was with Peter in Rome. It is known that the gospel was written in Rome for the Roman believers, since Mark explains Jewish customs and translates words from Aramaic. Although Mark may have written the gospel, it was probably an account of Peter’s teachings about Jesus. Mark focuses on the cross, discipleship, Jesus’s teaching, the Messianic secret, and that Jesus was the Son of God. Mark does this by emphasizing what Jesus did more than what he said, moving quickly from one part of Jesus’ life to another. And you can see this even in our first passage.

Our passage begins, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (1) Just before the Easter retreat, we finished up our study on the book of Genesis in a series called The Beginning. I find it fitting that our first passage from Mark starts out with the very words that start out Genesis, “the beginning”. In Genesis, the words literally referred to the beginning of everything. Here in Mark, they refer to the beginning of the good news, as the passage says. In the translation that we use, it uses the words “good news”, but in other translations, the word “gospel” is used. Now, “gospel” is derived from an Old English word that means good news. So “gospel” means “good news”. So, this is literally the beginning of the gospel. Now, many of the gospels begin with Jesus’ birth. They see that as the beginning, but Mark doesn’t start there, but he does claim at the very beginning that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Mark doesn’t beat around the bush; he is very clear in his thought and intention.

The passage continues, “as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’—'a voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’” (2-3) Mark starts off by talking about someone coming in front of Jesus, someone who will prepare the way. Mark mentions that the words he quotes are from Isaiah the prophet, but the first part is from Malachi chapter 3 verse 1, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.” Isaiah was a more prominent prophet, so he got top billing in the reference. At any rate, Mark is showing that before Jesus came there would be one person who would come who would prepare the way. In the culture, when an important person, like a king would travel to a region, he would send ahead a messenger to prepare the way. One of the things that the messenger would do was to travel the road that the king would take and make sure the road is level. He would smooth out any bumps and fill in any divots to make the road a smooth as possible for the king. Mark, through Malachi and Isaiah, is showing that before the Son of God arrived, there would be someone who would come to prepare the way.

The predecessor that Mark was talking about was different than the messengers of old in that the predecessor wouldn’t be smoothing out roads for a king but preparing people’s hearts for the coming of God’s own Son. Our passage says, “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (4) There was this one man named John, who showed up in the wilderness. John was an interesting fellow. He wore clothes made of camel’s hair with a leather belt. His attire was reminiscent of that of some of the prophets of old like Elijah. John wasn’t some sort of mainstream teacher; he was a fringe fellow with a message of repentance. His attire and diet show that John wasn’t identified with the people of Jerusalem. The idea of repentance and being baptized was not something that was new to the Jews, but their practice was reserved for people converting to Judaism. Natural-born Jews never needed to be baptized or to repent, but here was John preaching to the Jews about a baptism of repentance. The thing was that the people responded very well. “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” (5) The people flocked to John. You would think that a message of repentance would not be popular, but it was very popular. The Jews had been thirsting for the word of God. Until John came, there hadn’t been a word from God for around 400 years. The last prophet of the Old Testament was Malachi, one of the very prophets that Mark quotes at the beginning of this passage. When John showed up, he was very much like the prophets of old, so people trusted that he was from God, and many accepted his words as words from God.

John’s message of repentance wasn’t an end itself. John was preparing the way for the king. He was reminding the people where they were lacking before God, so their hearts could accept the coming of the chosen one, God’s Messiah. He was filling in where people fall short of God, like the messenger leveling the road for the king before his arrival. John’s message also made sure that he always pointed forward to the coming king. “And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” (7-8) Jesus was coming, and to John, this coming Messiah was far greater person than he. He was the king and John thought that he was unworthy to even be the servant of such a great king. Untying sandals was the lowliest job, but John didn’t even think himself even worthy of that. God, the great and mighty king, the creator of Heaven and earth was coming. Who could ever compare to that? John makes it a point to mention that his baptism was merely symbolic. His was a water baptism that signified a desire of a changed life, but the baptism coming from the Messiah was with the Holy Spirit. The baptism from the Messiah wouldn’t be a symbol, it would change us fundamentally. We would be enrobed by God’s own spirit and it would penetrate us even down to bone and marrow.

This baptism with the Holy Spirit would be part of the firm demarcation between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Sometimes we like to think that God was different in the Old Testament than in the New. The rule of law is strong in the Old Testament, and that could make it seem like God was heavy on the judgement side of things, but in the New Testament, there is more of an emphasis on grace and redemption. However, when you look deeper, you see that God is the same in the Old and New, but in the Old Testament, God was willing to show us the ways that do not work. Man disobeyed God from even the beginning as shown in Genesis when Adam and Eve ate the fruit God told them not to. They had their own ideas, but it didn’t work out like they thought, and that thought fills the entire Old Testament. For example, as Israel became a nation, they wanted a king, like all the other nations. God warned them about what a human king would do. A human king would seek to benefit himself more than the people. A human king would take more than he gave, and even the best king that Israel had was an adulterer, a murderer, and his family was completely messed up. In the Old Testament, God allowed people to do things the way they wanted. He gave them the law to show where they fall short of God, but the people used it as a measuring stick to see who was more righteous. None of those ideas worked. Whatever people tried; they could never get closer to God. Our humanity, our sinful humanity, always prevents us from coming to God. We can never do it on our own.

The New Testament shows us that only God’s way works. He had been promising it since the fall of man, since the first sin and the New Testament shows us how it works and that is why it is good news. Instead of us trying to find a way to God, God would come down to us. The repentance that John preached is a recognition that we have been trying and failing to come to God. It is a recognition that we are not enough, and we need God to come to us, and he did. The people of Jerusalem came in droves because they knew that they fell short of the glory of God and could never reach him on their own. The Pharisees told them that on a daily basis. They came seeking God and John said he was coming soon.

One day, while baptizing in the Jordan River, the answer arrived. “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (9) Jesus arrived from Galilee to be baptized. Nazareth was a tiny little town that had no prominence in history, up until this point, but it was where Jesus came from humanly. He came to be baptized, but Jesus was sinless. He had nothing to confess, nothing to repent of. There was no need for Jesus to be baptized in the traditional sense, but through his baptism, Jesus identified himself with our sins. It showed God coming down to our level and his willingness to take our sins. Jesus’ baptism was different in even more ways. When most people were baptized, they just got wet, but with Jesus, there was more to it. “Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (10-11) When Jesus was baptized, heaven was torn open and God’s spirit came to rest on Jesus like a dove. Then a voice came that declared that Jesus was the voice’s Son. God had spoken and called Jesus his Son. Jesus was the one John had been looking forward to.

Immediately after the baptism Jesus was led away. “At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” (12-13) These two verses are a shortened version of what shows up in Matthew’s Gospel. Mark mentions that the Spirit sent Jesus out into the wilderness. He was sent like a servant to face temptation. The wilderness mentioned here was a harsh place that was considered the dominion of devils and wild beasts. It wasn’t some glamping trip. Matthew mentions that Jesus was tempted by the devil, while Mark says Satan. Devil means accuser and Satan means adversary. By using the name Satan, Mark was showing that Satan would be an adversary throughout his ministry. The wild animals mentioned here don’t refer to fluffy little bunnies, squirrels and robins, but wild beasts like wolves, bears and lions. Beasts that posed a real danger to people. Jesus wasn’t meant to be a man of words, but a man who could take action, even against ferocious animals in fierce conditions. Mark mentions that angels attended him. Angels watched over Jesus in the wilderness and the terminology used never refers to those angels leaving Jesus. It alludes to the thought that the angels never left him, his entire time on earth from this point. Jesus even mentions that he could call upon legions of angels to defend him, if he really wanted to. Here, we see the power and authority of the Son of God. Adam had failed in his temptation, where Jesus was victorious. Wild animals were under his dominion and angels attended him. The ways of man were ending. The ways of God were coming to fruition.

From there Mark moves on, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (14-15) Mark makes it sound like Jesus started his ministry at the same time John’s had to end because he was imprisoned. In Mark’s narrative, moving from one to the other is all that mattered, but chronologically, John and Jesus had overlapping ministries for about a year or two. But what really matters, here, is the proclamation of Jesus’ message. “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” It was now time for the salvation of humanity. After thousands of years of preparation, it was finally time. After thousands of years of showing humanity how it is not done, it was finally time to show people how to come to God. We could never make our way to God. It would be easier to travel to the other side of the universe than to get to God. So, God’s kingdom came to us. God’s own Son came to us. We just need to repent of trying to find our own way and believe the good news. As we heard last week, believing is very powerful. We have to believe the whole gospel, all of the good news.

Heaven came down to us. God never imposes his will upon us. For thousands of years, God showed people how to live, but let people do their own things, all to show that any way that people make up to live will never pan out. They are all futile efforts. It is inevitable. But God came down and all we have to do is believe that his way is the only way to find life everlasting. That is good news.

It is a common thought in this world that either God does not exist or that he is so far above us that he doesn’t care about us and we can never get to him. The best we can do is show us striving to get to him. We have to try to be the best version of ourselves. We have to follow the rules the best we can and the best of us will finally earn God’s recognition, but this isn’t American Idolor The Voice. We don’t need to perform to move to the next stage. The kingdom of God has come near. Heaven came down to earth to bring us life. We can get caught up in merits, but the fact is that none of us is worthy. We’ve all sinned and fall short of God’s glory. Who here can compare themselves to God’s perfection? Certainly not me. I am woefully inadequate to even stand up here. I have faults as big as the Grand Canyon. But Jesus came down to fill even that in. He met me where I am; I just needed to recognize how far away I am from God. There is no shadow in my life that he won’t light up or mountain that he will not climb up to come after me. There is nothing that will keep Jesus from us. No sin is too deep, no obstacle too high for the great and mighty God. Who can truly be an adversary of God? He created everything. There is no one greater than he.

Jesus the Son of God, the Messiah, God’s chosen one to bring about the salvation of the whole world has entered the stage. All of the life that existed before is nothing compared to the life that he brings…life everlasting. We don’t have to go to God. We don’t have to bend over backwards, killing ourselves to overcome our worst natures. All hope is not lost, but a living hope has come. Heaven came down to us. God came down to us. To meet us where we live. He does not despise our existence. He does not play games with our lives. He wants for us to recognize how much we need him. Even in our worst of states, Jesus came down and is holding out his hand to us. He doesn’t judge us, if we accept that we need him. It is so much good news, so much hope, but it is just the beginning of the gospel.

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