Gallery Owner: I have some good news and some bad news.
Artist: What's the good news?
Gallery Owner: The good news is that a man came in here today asking if the price of your paintings would go up after you die. When I told him they would he bought every one of your paintings.
Artist: That's great! What's the bad news?
Gallery Owner: The bad news is that man was your doctor!
I recently noticed that in the new section which comes with the Saturday Free Press they have a column in which they declare, “It’s been a Good Week for… and It’s been a Bad Week for…” Although life has its times of good news and bad news, we much prefer good news. Is the Bible good news or bad news?
This week I would like to begin a series of messages on the gospel of Mark. The main commentary that I will be using is written by Timothy Geddert who is Donna’s brother.
As we begin this series today, we notice that one of the first words in the book is “gospel” or “good news.” Although not all of the message of Mark is good news, yet the overall message of the book is not a bad news story, but a good news story. In fact, “good news” is a word that appears often in Mark and so forms a significant theme of the book. Geddert says, “On the surface, things may look dark; but we are asked to look deeper.”
The text we will look at today is Mark 1:1-15 and it is the word “good news” which provides a bracket for this section. The second word in the first verse is “good news” and the last word in verse 15 is “good news.” We like good news stories and this is certainly one of the greatest. There are two ways in which I would like to invite you to look at this text today.
Verse 1 talks about “the beginning of the good news.” How did the good news which has come, start? The first thing we will do is to see what this section says about the beginning of the story of Jesus.
The second way in which we will look at the text is to think about the meaning of Jesus’ coming. Verse 1 also tells us that the good news is about Jesus. What are some of the things we are to know about this good news? On this day, so soon after Christmas, it is a good thing to look at Jesus.
I. The Story of Jesus’ Coming
What is the beginning of the good news? How did it all start? Each gospel tells a slightly different story and emphasizes different aspects of the story. What does Mark’s gospel tell us about the beginning of the gospel? Although each of the other gospels has a birth narrative, Mark does not. Yet that does not mean that he does not talk about the beginning of the coming of Jesus.
A. Rooted in Prophecy
The good news about Jesus is rooted in prophecy. Why does Mark start his gospel with the prophecy about the messenger who will prepare the way for Jesus’ coming? In doing so, he roots the beginning of the good news in all that God has spoken before about His coming one. The message about Jesus is not a message which was concocted on a whim at the last moment. The coming of Jesus is a part of a great plan which God has had from the beginning of time. That adds importance to the good news and the place Jesus had in bringing that good news.
B. John the Baptist Prepared the Way
The prophecy is about John the Baptist, who was the cousin of Jesus, but more importantly was the one God had chosen to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus.
John stands in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets. It says in the text that John “wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist.” In Zechariah13:4 it refers to prophets and speaks of “a prophet’s garment of hair.” In II Kings 1:8 it is even more specific as Elijah is described as “a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.” Mark is intending for us to see this strong connection not only to the Old Testament prophetic tradition, but specifically to Elijah. John was the one whom Malachi 4:5 prophesied about when it says, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
The good news about Jesus begins with a time of preparation. The preparatory work of John the Baptist was a work of calling people to repent for their sins. Upon repentance, he also baptized them. Many have speculated on the meaning of this baptism. There were religious groups in Israel at the time, particularly in the area of Qumran, who practiced baptism as a rite of initiation. If you wanted to go into the temple area, it was required to go first of all go into a mikveh, or ritual bath in order to wash and be clean before going into God’s presence. John’s baptism may have been related to these two types of baptism, but was more likely something unique to John as a symbol of the cleansing of the heart which repentance implied.
People came from all over Judea and Jerusalem, so we understand that what John did was no small event in some remote corner of the nation. It was an important event and recognized as such. Geddert says, “The very fact of John’s appearance was an eschatological event of the first magnitude.” He prepared the people to have hearts and ears that were open to the message of the one who was coming.
C. Jesus’ Baptism Introduced Him
As John was thus engaged, Jesus also came to be baptized. John had been preaching repentance, but he had also been pointing beyond himself to the one who would come. Now he came but in Mark it is not John who points to Jesus and says, “Here he is!” In the gospel of Mark Jesus came to be baptized and there are no comment recorded about John’s comment or response as there is in Matthew 3:15. He is simply baptized Him like he had done for the many others who came, even though we know that Jesus had no sins to repent of.
The introduction of Jesus at this point, the beginning of the gospel of Jesus happened when God Himself introduced Jesus. God says, in Mark 1:11, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” From this point on the story is about Jesus. The story has always been about Jesus, and even the prophecies and the preparatory work of John, all focus on Jesus. With God’s words, we are introduced to Jesus and the story about Jesus actually begins.
D. Jesus’ Temptation Prepared Him
Following this powerful experience of introduction and affirmation, Jesus was sent out into the wilderness. There are some important things to think about as Jesus goes out to be tempted.
Why did Jesus go into the wilderness? Moses fled to the wilderness and spent time there before he was prepared to be the deliverer of Israel. For Moses it was a time of preparation. The Israelites came out of the wilderness to inherit the Promised Land. They also had to be prepared in the wilderness. As I Kings 19:8, 15 tells us, Elijah also spent time in the wilderness. In a similar way, Jesus had to go to the wilderness and begin there in the place of nothingness and emptiness in order to go out in the strength of God.
In the wilderness, Jesus experienced the tempting work of Satan. It is in this experience of temptation in the wilderness that Jesus experienced the depths of what it means to be human. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that he was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” It was in the beginning that Jesus had to thus fully experience humanity and also thus prove Himself.
The mention of wild beasts is interesting. Cole says, “The desert was to the Hebrew, a gloomy place of terror, the abode of devils and unclean beasts.” Lane says, “Jesus confronts the horror, the loneliness and the danger with which the wilderness is fraught when he meets the wild beasts.” As he did so, He also experienced the comfort of God’s presence through the angels who attended Him.
Wilderness, temptation and danger are the places where Jesus is prepared for the work to which God had called him. He experienced the power of temptation, the power of loss, the power of unknown danger and He experienced the strength of God’s presence with Him and care for Him.
E. Jesus Ministry Began
The final scene in the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the actual beginning of his ministry. The ministry of Jesus did not begin until John the Baptist was out of the way. This note by Mark seems quite deliberate. It was a matter of proper timing. John did his work. As soon as it was done and Jesus was ready, he was moved out of the way and Jesus began His work.
Jesus returned to Galilee and it was there, in his home area where his work actually began. The ministry of Jesus included proclaiming the good news. This good news included the message that “the time had come.” It announced that God’s kingdom was near. As we continue in our study of Mark, we will learn more about this kingdom of God and what it means.
The message which Jesus preached was a message of repentance, which continues in the vein of John the Baptist, but a new message has been added that the time of God’s coming kingdom is near and so there is also a call for faith in the good news when it says that he invited them “to believe the good news.”
As I mentioned earlier, “good news” is the bracket in which this first section is held. The message of Mark begins with the good news about Jesus Christ. The good news is introduced and the introduction concludes when we are told that this good news is being proclaimed.
II. The Meaning of Jesus’ Coming
We have indicated that the beginning of the good news is about Jesus. Sometimes we talk about a Sunday School answer. What is the Sunday School answer? “Jesus!” Today, that is the right answer. The good news which God has brought us is the good news about Jesus.
This passage not only introduces the beginning of His coming, but also presents some important information about the meaning of His coming. Let us go back over the passage once more and look at what we learn about Jesus. Once more, just as we did on Christmas day, we have the privilege and blessing of talking about Jesus.
A. One More Powerful
The first explicit statement, about who Jesus is, comes in verse 7 where John the Baptist makes the statement “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” A few moments ago I suggested that John stood solidly in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets. This puts him in pretty significant company – right up there with Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel – who are highly respected people in Israel’s history. With all the people who came to him, it is clear that he spoke with the authority of God and with a word from God. Yet this highly honored messenger of God acknowledges that there is someone who is even greater than he is, and by implication greater than any of the prophets.
Lane suggests that removing sandals was the most menial of tasks “from which even the Hebrew slave was released.” Only foreign slaves were considered low enough to do this task. So when John, who stands in the company of all the great prophets, indicates that he was not even low enough to untie Jesus sandals, it is a wonderful picture language which helps us understand just how great Jesus is. John alerts us to this truth about the greatness of Jesus. This message is a great part of the Christmas story we have just heard, that Jesus is God who came down to earth. The meaning of Jesus coming is that God Himself, the greatest one of all, the one who has no equal, who alone reigns for all eternity has come into this world. That is the good news of Jesus Christ – the greatest of all, God Himself has come.
B. One Who Will Baptize With the Spirit
John’s further statement is that the meaning of this good news of Jesus has to do with a radical change in the way things would be. Although John had a significant role as the one who prepared the way for Jesus, all John could do was call people to repent and symbolize that repentance with baptism. John indicated that the coming one, Jesus, would do something completely different. He would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
All that John’s baptism could do was to symbolize an outward cleansing based on confession. What the Spirit baptism would do was to bring about a complete change of heart. The presence of the Holy Spirit would symbolize the coming of God to not only forgive sins and cleanse past sins, but to establish a new people who were empowered to walk with God by His constant presence in the person of the Holy Spirit.
Previously God’s presence was in the temple. When the tent of meeting was established during the wilderness wanderings, God came into the tent and was present with the people. They could go to the tent to meet with God, but he was not with them individually. When the temple which Solomon built was dedicated, God came into the temple and indwelt it. The people could meet with God in the temple, but not anywhere else. They all had to travel to Jerusalem in order to have a meeting with God. At Jesus baptism he was not only filled with the Holy Spirit, but Mark indicates that He would fill others with the Holy Spirit. Now God became available and could be met, not only in the temple, but each person would be able to meet with God in their own hearts. The good news of Jesus is that God not only came, but also that He continues to live with us by His Spirit.
C. The Heavens Torn Open
As Jesus was baptized, we read that “he saw heaven being torn open.” What does that mean?
In Isaiah 64:1 the prophet expresses a wish, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…” In the midst of the devastation of Israel’s exile, Isaiah looked to God and wished for God to make an appearance in history. We share that wish. The God often seem so distant that we wonder where He is. It is out of such a deep longing for God to appear and to do something that this cry of Isaiah arises. He asks that God would tear open the veil and allow us to see Him and have communication with him.
Well, the good news of Jesus is that God did tear open the heavens. The word of God to Jesus and the wording Mark uses here is intended to help us understand that the good news of Jesus Christ is the message that God has opened heaven and Jesus has come down and, as John 1 says, “we have seen His glory.”
Perhaps this is as close as Mark comes to repeating the good news of the Christmas story that in Jesus, God has come to earth.
D. God’s Beloved Son
God’s affirmation of Jesus as His beloved Son also tells us a lot about who Jesus is. There are a lot of images in the Old Testament that arise as we hear this word spoken.
Psalm 2:7 says, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father…” Geddert calls this statement which is reminiscent of Psalm 2 God’s “ringing personal affirmation.” How powerful, how wonderful to have God’s total support for the difficult task on which he was about to embark.
We are also reminded of what God told Abraham when he said to him, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love…” When we hear this very human story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son whom he loves, it tears at our hearts. What was going through Abraham’s mind as he walked the many miles to Mount Moriah? How could a father even contemplate such a thing? When God says to Jesus “my Son, whom I love” why wouldn’t all those same feelings come up because we know that this Son is being sacrificed and is being sacrificed for us?
The good news of Jesus is that God has given us His one and only Son in order to give us life.
E. Proclaiming the Good News
The last thing we learn about the meaning of the good news about Jesus is that it is a message which must be received and proclaimed.
The proclamation of good news which Jesus preached invited a response of repentance and faith. John had called for repentance, but Jesus didn’t stop there. He continued to call for repentance, but also called for faith. Geddert says, “Repenting and believing are …the means by which God’s kingdom becomes a present experience.”
The ministry of Jesus was a ministry of proclaimation. As he proclaimed the good news, he also taught his disciples to proclaim the good news. After he left, the task of proclamation was given to them and they continued both to teach the good news and to teach others to proclaim the good news. And so the good news has both come to us and has been entrusted to us.
I received a Christmas greeting from someone this week. One of the lines was, “And may it be that by the time this New Year ends - you will know Jesus better than you ever have before!”
We have just celebrated Christmas and as we did we looked at Jesus and worshipped Him. Today we have begun a series on the gospel of Mark and once again we looked at Jesus and worshipped Him. My prayer is that over the coming year we will build on what we have begun today. I pray that we will come to know and love Jesus more than ever before. Will you join me on the journey?