Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
January 7, 2018
If you are able would you stand with me and let me read for us our text for this morning from Mark 1:1-13.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’”
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when He came out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”
The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And He was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him.
Before we jump into Mark we’d like to grab some background information on Mark. And also point out that there are additional background materials about Mark’s Gospel which are available online. Follow the links on your Message Notes.
Quick Quiz. How much do you know about the Gospel of Mark?
1. Which list gives the correct order in which the Gospels were probably written?
A. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
B. Luke, Mark, Matthew, John
C. Mark, Matthew, Luke, John
D. John, Mark, Matthew, Luke
Answer = C. Mark was the first Gospel account written. Which is one reason why we’re looking at Mark and not Matthew. It comes next after the Old Testament. Mark was written possibly as early as the late 40’s. More probably in the 60’s.
2. Who was Mark’s target audience?
A. Gentiles / Romans
B. Jews living in Jerusalem
C. The Church in Ephesus
Answer = A. Mark was written for Gentiles like us. And in particular Romans. Which is why Mark is edited differently than the other Gospels. Mark reads very quick - to the point - brief.
A. The Apostle Peter
B. John Mark
C. The Apostle Paul
D. The Holy Spirit
Mark’s Gospel was written by… John Mark. John was his Hebrew name - meaning “God is gracious”. Mark - Marcus - was a Roman name meaning “large hammer.”
Mark was from Jerusalem. Probably from a wealthy family tied into the upper social structure of the city. His father isn’t mentioned - probably because he’s dead. His mother, Mary, owned a house that was used by the church for gatherings.
Mark - as a young man - probably hung around Jesus and the disciples maybe because of his family connections with all of them.
He was a cousin of Barnabas. So Mark went with Barnabas and Paul on their first missions trip but left early to go back to Jerusalem. Which led to a conflict between him and Paul. Which later was at the root of a conflict between Paul and Barnabas. But about 12 years later Paul refers to Mark as a fellow-servant.
Emphasis being that we see Mark growing from being a young man hanging out with the followers of Jesus to a man who’s growing spiritually and becoming a solid follower of Jesus himself.
Mark was a disciple of Peter that Peter refers to as his son. He traveled with Peter - wrote for Peter - translated for Peter. It was probably from Peter that Mark compiled most of his material for this Gospel.
Meaning that this Gospel account comes - not just from Mark’s perspective - but it comes to us with Peter’s apostolic eye-witness authority.
Church tradition has it that Mark ended up being the founder and first bishop of the church in Alexandria, Egypt, and that Mark died as a martyr under Nero.
Jumping into the Gospel of Mark - we’re going to break down these first 13 verses into 4 parts. Part one is “The Beginning of The Good News.” Which introduces us to “why” Mark is writing this Gospel.
Mark begins - verse 1: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Last January we began at the beginning of it all - in Genesis with Creation. With Adam - representing all of us - Adam disobeying God - sins - so that each of us is born into sin and confirms Adam’s choice by our own sin.
Meaning that each of us is totally corrupt in every part of our nature. There’s nothing within us that’s worthy of God’s approval. Just look at human history. Look at our own individual lives. Sin comes easy for us. Sin that hopelessly separates us from God.
We’ve been looking at what God is doing about that - our brokenness and sin. God - Who loves us - how God is dealing with what separates us from Him. Redeeming and restoring us.
Moving through the Old Testament - we’ve seen God at work - relentlessly - purposefully - intentionally - working through history. Working through promises and covenants and law and sacrifices and kingdoms and nations. Working through real people in real situations in real time - prophets and kings and queens and shepherds and ordinary people like us. God working to restore what our sin has removed us from - the relationship that God desires for us to have with Him.
All of which compels us to trust God. All of which points forward to Jesus Christ.
Which is God’s redemptive work that Mark invites us into with the words “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Malachi - the last prophet of the Old Testament - was the Christmas cliff hanger we ended with two Sundays ago. Since Malachi - after 400 years of political and religious and cultural and economic oppression and persecution and turmoil and uncertainty - years of God’s people waiting for God to move and do what God had said that God was going to do - in the brokenness of where God’s people were living - in the brokenness of where we live life - how welcome is good news?
“Gospel” meaning “good news” - same word in Greek just a different way of translating it. Mark’s Gospel opens with the beginning of God again visibly moving in history - the prophetic voice is again heard - announcing good news.
The good news is about Jesus. The good news is Jesus. The “Christ” - the Greek word for the long waited for Hebrew “Messiah”. The Son of God - meaning the eternal God - God the Son - second person of the Triune God.
Meaning that the good news isn’t some new philosophy to try to comprehend or some new religious insight to grab onto. The good news is the person - the long awaited Messiah - God in human flesh - whose name is Jesus.
Which is Mark’s theme. Why Mark writes Mark. Good news that’s crucial for all of us - even today. The good news of Who Jesus is and what it means to believe in Him.
In verse 2, Mark quotes Isaiah and Malachi: As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, - which isn’t Isaiah but is a quote from Malachi 3:1.
And then Mark quotes Isaiah 40:3: the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’”
Mark connecting Isaiah with the quote from Malachi is Mark helping us to get the full significance of what Isaiah is saying. Meaning that the voice crying out in the wilderness is actually the messenger of good news that Malachi predicted would come just before the One the people were waiting for - before the Lord - the Messiah - the Christ - the One that God had promised would come. Malachi - later in his prophecy - says that before the Lord comes God would send Elijah the prophet. (Malachi 4:5)
Today, when Jews celebrate the Passover - the Seder - commemorating God’s deliverance from Egypt and expressing hope for their future redemption with the coming Messiah that they’re still waiting for - after reciting the part of the Passover known as the “Grace After Meals” there’s a tradition to have a cup - called “Elijah’s Cup” - that they fill with wine and place on the table. And a chair is set there for Elijah. And there’s a door opened to the east. Because the Messiah is to come from the east. And children go to the door to look for Elijah.
All that is expressing the hope that Elijah himself will come to inform them of the Messiah’s coming. The time has come. God is fulfilling His promises to His people.
And that’s John’s connection with all this.
We know that the prophet Malachi speaks of is John the Baptist. When the angel Gabriel announced to John’s father Zechariah what John’s ministry would be like - Zechariah was told that John would come in “the spirit and power of Elijah.” John the Baptist himself refers to Malachi describing his ministry. Jesus identifies the ministry of Elijah with John the Baptist. (Luke 1:17; John 3:28; Matthew 11:10)
John dresses like a prophet with rough camel’s hair clothing held together with a crude leather belt. And John eats like a prophet - locust and wild honey. He’s out in the wilderness - out beyond the Jordan River - a dry - desolate - lonely spot - where the Jordan river was the only water for miles around. The kind of strange remote place one might find a prophet.
Everything about John is in the mold of Elijah. He stands out from his contemporaries like Elijah stood out from his contemporaries. His message is similar to Elijah’s. “You all are under judgment and only by turning from your sins and turning back to God are you going to be ready when God’s long awaited for Messiah comes.”
Let’s make sure we’re clear on John’s message.
Mark says - verse 4 - that: John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
After 400 plus years of waiting John is the renewal of the God speaking through His prophets. John who called God’s people to repentance - to change their hearts towards God. To be heart level prepared for what God is now doing in history - for what God will do through Jesus - the Christ.
And the people responded in droves. From Judea and Jerusalem they left everything and went out to the Jordan - to the wilderness– to hear John preach - to be baptized.
The message John spoke touched the deepest need of their lives. He spoke of the forgiveness of their sins - the restoring of our relationship with God. Which is our deepest need.
Isn’t that some of what brings us here this morning? With what we struggle with in our own lives. To hear God’s voice. To wonder if He’ll do something new in our lives?
Repentance means turning from our sin and turning to God.
Sometimes we have this idea that repentance is what we do when we get caught. Caught with our hands in the cookie jar of sin. We try to make up for things - to fix things - by trying to do all the right things.
True repentance begins when we come face-to-face with the horror of our depravity. Our hopelessness. Our sin. Sin that is always self-delusional. Meaning tempting us to rationalize it. Sin that is always self-destructive. There are always consequences for ourselves and others. What borders on hell on earth.
To repent means that we personally acknowledge the hopelessness and horror of our sin - the nauseating repulsiveness of our sin - and we choose at the heart level that we no longer want to go there - not even entertain ideas of what that sin might be like. But we turn to God - and keep turning to God - by faith trusting God to deal with our sin in whatever way He chooses to deal with it. Whatever that may mean.
Because the only hope of being freed from the bondage and consequences of our sin is God. When our only hope is in God then what we have really is hope.
We need to repent - to choose to turn from our own self-destructive sin - to stop living our lives the way we want - to stop excusing and justifying our behavior and attitudes that are damaging ourselves and others and our relationship with God - and to turn towards God to receive His forgiveness and healing - what He’s done for us in Jesus Christ - His work on the cross.
That’s why John preached repentance - because it’s the place where God meets us at the deepest need of our lives. Repentance is when we respond to God and know His forgiveness and reorientation of our lives.
Notice this also - John preached “a baptism” of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As people repented they were baptized in the Jordan river.
Let’s make sure we’re tracking together.
Baptism is a public declaration - something we do in front of others - that shows what’s already happened in our hearts. A declaration that we’ve turned our lives over to God.
In baptism - we’re immersed - put beneath the water - showing that we’ve repented. We’ve died to our old life of sin. We’re buried in the water - as Jesus was buried in the tomb.
Then we’re raised out of the water to new life - as Jesus was raised from the dead. Death to the old - raised to new life in Christ. We live by the hope that we have in Jesus. (Romans 6:3,4)
Let’s be careful. Repentance doesn’t mean just choosing to say, “Okay I sin. Okay, I choose God’s forgiveness.”
“Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin” means there’s death involved - our complete and permanent identifying with Jesus’ death - His crucifixion. Repentance costs us our lives. Everything is continually and totally surrendered.
John cried out calling for the way of the Lord to be prepared - to be made straight. Meaning to prepare ourselves - to get our lives straightened out - focused on what our lives need to be focused on - because when we hear the voice crying in the wilderness we know this is it. The Lord is coming.
Which isn’t about us working harder at straightening out our lives - which is hopeless futility. But about turning our lives over to God. Death to self. Life only because of Christ. God’s continual straightening out of our lives surrendered each day to Him.
The Apostle John - in the Gospel of John - describes John the Baptist. The Apostle John describing John the Baptist: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through Him.” (John 1:6,7)
John the Baptist was an ordinary man - like us - living in faithful obedience to God. He was sent from God. Called by God to testify of Jesus.
At the height of his ministry - these huge numbers of people coming out to hear John speak - the Apostle John records that people compared John the Baptist even to the Messiah. Ego twisting comparisons for anyone in ministry. People asked John, “Who are you?”
John answers, “I’m just the voice crying in the wilderness. I’m just the advance messenger - the forerunner of the one whose sandals I’m not worthy to stoop down and untie.” - meaning Jesus. (John 1:19-21,23,27)
Later John points to Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
When we - by faith - repent and trust God for what He has graciously done for us through Christ’s work on the cross - the Lamb of God - we really do have the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins - God really does make us right before Him.
Which is where John connects with the good news of Jesus Christ - pointing people to Jesus. The message of the prophet is about God and what God is doing and desires to do in our hearts.
Part three of Mark’s opening is The Baptism of Jesus.
Verse 9: In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when He came out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”
This is one of those really awkward moments. Like waving at someone you think you know but actually don’t. Or replying to someone you think is talking to you but actually they’re on their Bluetooth. Just saying.
Matthew records that John actually tried to refuse to baptize Jesus. John said that Jesus needed to baptize him - John. Awkward. Baptizing God.
Why did Jesus have to be baptized? What sins did He have to repent of? Who was He going to trust as His Savior?
There are at least two significant things happening here that we need to be aware of.
This is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry - the beginning - the inauguration of His ministry that will lead to the cross - His atoning sacrifice on our behalf. Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
All those people had come out into the wilderness - they’d come out bound up in their sins and responded to John’s message with repentance - and with their symbolic outward baptism identifying themselves with that inward devotion and submission to God.
Jesus being baptized in those waters identifies Himself and His ministry with the message of John - with God’s plan - where God has been going since Genesis - and gives new meaning to the symbol of baptism - connecting it with His own death and resurrection - Who Jesus is as the Christ.
What we’re seeing is Jesus’ public acknowledgement that He’s come to stand where we should stand to receive what we deserve and in return to give us life as a gift of God’s grace.
When Jesus comes up out of the waters of baptism - “immediately” - which in Greek means… “immediately” - meaning pretty quickly right afterwards - simultaneously - the sky opens up - God the Holy Spirit descends like a dove and God the Father speaks audibly from Heaven.
God the Father identifies Jesus: “My beloved Son” - Jesus, the Son of God - God incarnate - much loved by the Father - Jesus approved by the Father - His ministry approved by the Father.
It’s powerful for us to see that all three persons of the Trinity are present here. The Trinity is One God - three Persons. The “tri-unity” of God - Father, Son, and Spirit.
God the Holy Spirit descends like a dove. God the Father speaks from Heaven. God the Son - identifying with us in the river - sees the Spirit and hears the Father’s voice. Without ceasing to be fully God - the three distinct Persons interact with each other.
Meaning that God doesn’t come up out of the water as the Son - fly up to heaven and give this affirmation in the voice of the Father - and then fly down like a dove - and then suddenly become the Son in the river again. What we’re seeing here is three Persons and one God simultaneously.
And that is at one time incomprehensible and yet huge. In one “immediate” moment of time we are given a glimpse of the full humanity of Jesus - of the full divinity of Jesus - and of the complete sufficiency of the Son’s ministry on our behalf.
Jesus is the One we all have been so desperately waiting for.
Part Four is The Temptation of Jesus.
Verse 12: The Spirit immediately drove Him [Jesus] out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And He was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him.
The same Holy Spirit that just descended on Jesus now directs Jesus into the wilderness to face an onslaught of temptation. The number 40 - in the Bible - usually signifies a time of preparation and testing. Meaning that this isn’t random. God is working here. Even in allowing the temptation.
Matthew and Luke in their Gospel record of Jesus’ temptation - they take a lot of time focusing on the details of the temptation. Details which help us to understand that Jesus - in His humanity - was tempted as we are - and was victorious over those temptations.
But Mark is brief and to the point. Meaning that what Mark includes is carefully chosen - not random. But purposeful. Not to be passed by. Mark alone tells us that Jesus was with the wild animals. That Mark includes that detail is significant to what Mark is wanting us to understand here.
In one sense knowing that detail helps us to understand the magnitude of what Jesus was experiencing - confronted by Satan - in the loneliness of the desert - hungry - surrounded by wild beasts. Jesus being tempted as we are - yet in the extreme.
Mark’s detail also purposefully reflects the experience of Christians in Rome.
The Gospel of Mark was probably written in the… 60’s. To… Gentiles - Romans. Mark is writing to the church in Rome - in Rome - where about the time Mark is writing, Mark’s mentor Peter is martyred in Rome - crucified up-side down.
Beginning in AD 64 the nut-case - Christian hating - really evil Roman emperor Nero - among the many horrendous ways he tortured and martyred Christians - Nero began wrapping Christians in wild animal skins and having them devoured by dogs.
The cruel and insane ways that Nero had Christians martyred is the evil of Satan on display. What the church in Rome was experiencing. What Mark writes reflects the temptation placed before Christians in Rome to renounce Christ or face terrifying horrendous deaths under Nero.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ - Mark’s introduction - introducing us to Jesus - is about affirming Who Jesus is - His divinity and His divine authority - that He is what God is doing to redeem and restore mankind to Himself.
Mark’s description of Jesus’ temptation - coming as it does here in Mark’s introduction - is to remind the disciples preparing to face the cruel authority of their Roman persecutors - is to encourage them not to fear Rome but realize the presence of God in the midst of that persecution.
Processing all that for ourselves…
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus - God - enters our fallen - broken - sinful - disintegrating world - facing the same temptations and powers of darkness that we’re getting hammered with every day of our lives. He does that by choice - purposefully - in obedience to the will of the Father - for us.
The good news for us is that in our spiritual wilderness - where good people suffer and others prosper from evil - when our lives seem bleak and hopeless - when we wonder if God really does have it under control - when it seems like we’ve been waiting 400 years for God to do something - when the choice to remain faithful can begin to feel wrong - when it seems easier to capitulate to the temptation to trust ourselves - we need to latch on to that the good news is still the good news.
God - our creator hasn’t abandoned us. God hasn’t left us to the self-destruction of our sin.
God - our creator - became one with us. Took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ - to destroy evil - to forgive sins - to defeat Satan - to take our place and penalty - to redeem each of us and restore us in our relationship with God. He resisted. He endured. He understands. He is victorious. And in Him, so are we.
Don’t let Satan tempt you to think otherwise. That you’re not worth it to God. That God won’t keep His word to you. That you can’t trust God. That God won’t meet your deepest needs.
In a world corrupted by sin it is way too easy to forget that God is not the enemy. Satan is.
To know Jesus is to know God’s love and grace and mercy in our broken lives. To know God’s power and healing and forgiveness.
These days - in your own wilderness - how are you responding to the good news?
Is there a need for repentance? To make different choices and to turn from sin and to God?
Or maybe - in your own personal wilderness - maybe it’s time to once again review the astounding reality of the good news and claim it for yourself? To renew your trust in God.
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.