Probably all of us can look back at events that significantly changed our lives.
For me, maybe the biggest was the day I realized I would marry Jeff. Now, you should know that this was far too early on in the relationship, but that’s a story for another day. I started dating Jeff after 7 years of not dating. And not by choice. I longed for love. I prayed for love. Those were seven tough, lonely years. They were also seven years of the Lord doing amazing and hard work in my life.
And then Jeff finally came along. We were sitting on Mt Tabor and I just knew that this was the real deal. From that moment on, everything was different. On the one hand, I had to be careful not to scare him off by being over invested! But on the other hand, I was excited to reimagine life with a face to put on that imaginary husband of mine. And though it took further dating and then engagement, this began the shift in thinking from “me” to “we.” Jeff coming into my life changed everything, and definitely for the better.
This morning we look at a different, even better story that changed everything and for all time. I believe that it is extremely important that, when we jump into any of the gospel narratives, we do so with the Old Testament in mind. For all of Scripture has been leading up to this moment in time. If we try to begin the story with the gospel of Mark, we will miss out on so much of the significance. So let’s go on a whirlwind tour of Old Testament events.
The Story Thus Far
First, God created everything. Of course, he created people – Adam and Eve. They lived in the Garden fellowshipping with God. And we know the familiar story of how, when the serpent tempted them, they ate of the fruit and sinned against God, resulting in the Curse. They were removed from the garden, experienced pain and toil and ultimately death. But in the middle of the judgment of God, there is a tiny bit of hope – God promises that a descendant of Eve would one day bruise the serpent’s head.
In other words, a human would one day defeat this tempter, who we understand to be Satan. From this point on, we should read our Bibles looking for this man who would make things right again, after things have gone so horribly wrong.
But as we keep reading, instead of things getting better, they keep getting worse. Adam and Eve have children. But rather than defeating Satan, one son follows his parent’s example, giving in to the temptation of sin and killing his brother. But wait – there is another son, Seth. And, we read that people began to call upon the name of the Lord.
But no, we keep reading and we find that things keep going downhill. Wickedness increases and humanity thinks only of evil.
So God sends a flood, but rescues Noah and his family. And we, as readers, should feel a sense of hope. Will it be Noah? The answer, of course, is no. The flood recedes and God makes a covenant with Noah to never again flood the earth. But, Noah sins and we read another genealogy and the account of the tower of Babel, and realize that still there is no descendent who will defeat Satan and overturn the curse.
And then Abraham. And this looks promising. He’s promised offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky, though he remains childless well until old age. Finally he has a son, but this man, too, seems to be plagued with problems rather than being a mighty victor.
The story continues through Jacob and his twelve sons and Joseph but it seems that we get further from a solution rather than closer.
So we move on to Exodus and Moses. Moses certainly ends up being a deliverer of God’s people but the problem of sin and death remains. God makes for himself a people, Israel, and establishes covenants and laws for them. But they constantly disobey and wander far from him. The sin problem grows bigger. Though God draws ever nearer to his people, they cannot be faithful to him. Though he tells them what is required of them, they cannot fulfill these requirements. And as readers, we discover that this whole thing is even bigger than we first realized.
We read on to the time of the Judges, with disappointment after disappointment. While all along, God is faithful to his people. Finally, the Israelites demand a king, rejecting God as their king. They get what they ask for, and Saul is certainly no savior for his people.
But then David…
David seems to be it. He is a man after God’s own heart. He loves God, loves His Word and his life definitely helps us to understand more about what to expect of the Messiah who is to come. But he, too, falls short. And still there is no solution to the problem.
As we continue reading through the Old Testament, we get a dark picture of God’s people. They will not follow him. They cannot follow him. They instead follow everything but him. We read of the pain and anger this causes God. And we hear more of his plan for redemption.
There will be a savior, a Messiah. He will bring justice and righteousness. He will make for himself a people who love God and follow him. He will reign forever. He will defeat the enemy. He will usher in peace and freedom from oppression. And yet, we still do not know who this man will be.
And then, if we were to read Mark as the first gospel, we would turn a page in this already astonishing book and we read these words:
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
And if we are paying attention, if we are reading this book looking for the great solution, these words should give us pause.
First, “the beginning.” What are the first words of the Old Testament? “In the beginning…” And if we are good readers, we should ask (remember the questions Adrienne prompted us with last week?) – What is this new beginning? Why? What does it mean? How does it fit with what we’ve already read? And the idea of a new beginning should create a sense of hope and anticipation. Perhaps we finally get to see God’s plan to save his people! Perhaps this new beginning will not come with disappointment.
And the next word, “gospel.” Gospel means good news. It also refers to something that is absolutely true. We might say that something is “gospel truth.” And in fact, the Old Testament uses the word gospel to mean “the saving intervention of God to help his people.” So we should take notice of this word here. Mark wants us to read this narrative as absolutely true good news. Again, this should cause us to eagerly anticipate what is to come!
And the next words, “Jesus Christ.” Christ means “Messiah.” So we can read this “Jesus the Messiah.” The Messiah is the long-awaited, long-prophesied deliverer of God’s people. Mark wants his readers to know immediately who they are reading about. This is The deliverer. This is the offspring, the rescuer. The one who would bruise Satan’s head. The days of waiting are over. The King has come.
And then “Son of God.” Not only is Jesus the promised king, but he is divine. He is the Son of God.
This first verse ushers us into the life of Jesus, and the good news of the gospel.
What is this gospel? It is the amazing truth that though all of humanity has rebelled against God, who is good and righteous and just, he would not abandon us. Instead, he sent his son Jesus to live as a man, perfect and holy and die a sinner’s death, taking on the sin that we committed and experiencing the punishment that we deserved – he died.
But he rose again, conquering death and sin! And if we will follow him, we belong to him and are adopted into his family, being set free from the eternal consequences of our sin and being made alive with him.
That’s what this story is all about, and that’s why we are studying Mark’s gospel this year.
Jesus, the Son of God
Now that we have sort of set the stage to read and appreciate this book in the way that it is intended, let’s continue in Mark’s introduction of Jesus. We’ll briefly look the three ways that Mark legitimizes Jesus as the Son of God.
1. Jesus was prophesied
2. Jesus was baptized
3. Jesus was tempted
Jesus was Prophesied: Mark 1:1-8
In these verses we learn that Jesus was prophesied on the Old Testament. The first part of the quote comes from Exodus 23:20, which means that it comes from the Law section of the Old Testament. The second portion comes from Isaiah 40:3, which means it comes from the Prophets section of the Old Testament. Maybe you have heard of the Old Testament described as the “law and the prophets”. We read in Romans that the law and the prophets bear witness to Jesus. And indeed, this is the point that Mark is making. This is the man! All of Scripture has been pointing toward Jesus Christ. It has all been waiting for him. And now here he is.
The verses quoted were understood to be about Elijah bringing forth a new covenant with God’s people. And next we read “John appeared…he was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.” As we read on in Mark, we will learn more about John’s connection with Elijah, but we are certainly meant to start to recognize it here. This moment has been prophesied, and now it is here. John is the Elijah sent to prepare the way of the Lord.
And what is he doing to prepare the way? He is calling people to repent and be baptized. And they are responding. Now, I tend to wonder why they were flocking to the weirdo who ate locusts. Honestly, if I saw John on certain streets in Portland I might not be that surprised. But I probably wouldn’t stop to listen to him. What was the draw? Well, we should keep in mind that John fit the bill of some of Israel’s prophets. And Israel hasn’t had a prophet sent by God in over three hundred years. They haven’t given up hope that such a prophet would arrive on the scene. So when John shows up, they are ready to listen. They are eager for a word from the Lord.
John’s call to repentance would have been expected. Any good prophet spoke of the need to turn away from sin and follow God. What was unusual was John’s exhortation to be baptized in the Jordan River. This action of baptism was unique. And that’s why he got the title “John the Baptist”
Now, we should notice that a major theme in this passage is the wilderness. John is hanging out in the wilderness, preaching the need for repentance and baptism. He’s baptizing people in the Jordan River, in the middle of the wilderness. His point is to remind the Israelites to return to the beginning of God’s history with his people, which began with Moses in the wilderness. It was here that the Lord first led his people. In essence, John is preparing the way for a second exodus, to come out of disobedience and rebellion and begin once again as God’s people.
And John is careful to clarify that he is the forerunner, not the Messiah. He further prophesies about Jesus –
“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.”
So John was sent to prepare the people for Jesus. He was sent to remind them of God’s promises and their need for him to deliver on these promises. In the same way, as we begin this study of the good news of Jesus Christ, we should prepare ourselves also. Our homework this week asked us to consider this preparation, and I want to do that this morning also. Do you believe Jesus to be the Messiah, long-promised in Scripture? Do you recognize your need of him, that without him you are a slave to sin? Are you ready to encounter him as we study the book of Mark this year? I hope that you will continue to spend time meditating on these questions this week.
Jesus was Baptized: Mark 1:9-11
As John is doing his work in the wilderness, Jesus arrives on the scene. Other gospels give us more detail about this event, but Mark keeps it short and sweet. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan. His super simple account serves to highlight what comes next. Jesus comes up out of the water and the heavens are torn open and the Spirit descends on him like a dove. And then the voice comes from heaven.
Now, Jesus’ baptism raises so many questions for me. But maybe the most important is – why? Why did Jesus get baptized? John was preaching a baptism for the repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And if we know the rest of the gospel, we know that Jesus was without sin. So why would he ask John to baptize him?
The reason is beautiful. In being baptized, Jesus identifies with the sins of his people. He is acknowledging their disobedience and rebellion, that such must be judged. His first public act foreshadows what is to come. Jesus shows that he is willing to take the judgment of God’s people upon himself, though he is perfectly innocent.
And in response to his humble act of obedience, immediately the Spirit descends as a dove and a voice from heaven confirms Jesus’ identity. This is the first of many times Mark will use the word immediately, and when he does, we should pay attention. He uses it to convey a sense of urgency. And he uses it to describe surprising events. This indeed is a surprising event. The Holy Spirit descends upon him, confirming that he is the Messiah and promising to empower him for his work. And the heavenly Father confirms that Jesus truly is His Son, sent by God to his people.
This moment is incredible evidence of God’s being, the Trinity. That God exists as three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and that each person is fully God, and there is one God. Here we see the love, care and unity of God displayed. Jesus’ first public experience is astonishing! It makes us wonder how there could have been anyone there who didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. And I think that is Mark’s point. How could we believe any differently? And what will we do with this evidence? How will we respond?
Jesus was Tempted: Mark 1:12-13
Now, if I were directing this script, I would probably want to capitalize on Jesus’ big moment at his baptism. PR firms would want to make sure to keep his name out there, build up his fame. But God’s plan is entirely different. Instead, the Holy Spirit immediately (there’s that word again) drives him out into the wilderness (and there’s that word again.)
Again, Mark gives us the world’s shortest account of these events. Which leaves us to ask what it is that he wants us to see about Jesus’ temptation.
To understand this, we need to look again at the concept of wilderness. Wilderness is equated with dependence on God, and relationship with him. Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness, which should cause us to think of Moses on Mt Sinai and Elijah on Mt Horeb, each for forty days.
And in the wilderness comes temptation. As Jesus faithfully shows his obedience and dependence on his Father, Satan makes every attempt to destroy his mission.
But what about the wild animals? We already see that Mark doesn’t waste words. What he writes is there intentionally. The wild animals are there to help us feel the terrible place Jesus was in. He had no safety or security, either physically or spiritually, except that found in his relationship with God.
The angels minister to Jesus, which confirms his obedience to God. Through it all, we know that Jesus did not give in to Satan. He was without sin, and totally faithful to his Father. Even in the darkest of circumstances, he never failed. This, too, confirms his identity as the Messiah, the Son of God.
Now, notice what Mark does not say. He does not say that Jesus prevailed over Satan and that Satan gave up and left him alone. He is not done being tempted. And Satan will continue to oppose him. The rest of this gospel will tell the story of Jesus’ battle, and ultimate victory over Satan. For now, what we need to see is that Jesus is wholly different from anything that has come before. This is what Israel has been waiting for.
And this is true for us today. Jesus is what we’ve been waiting for. He is the Messiah, the Savior, and we need to know him. We need to be ready to respond to him as we study this book.
Because his life demands a response.
And this leads us into our last two verses. Having established Jesus’ identity, now Mark recounts what Jesus did. Jesus begins his public ministry by proclaiming the gospel, the good news. The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe.
And we get to spend the rest of this year examining Jesus’ life and discovering this good news, maybe for the first time and maybe all over again.