A New Beginning
Mark 1:1-13 October 9, 1999
The opening of Mark’s Gospel (1:1) is as abrupt as its ending (16:8).
Mark 16:9-20 was added later as a conclusion someone else thought it needed.
But Mark intended it to end at 16:8.
His ending is related to his beginning because it too is the dawn of a new understanding.
The beginning of Mark’s Gospel is the dawn of Christ’s ministry on earth.
The ending of Mark’s Gospel is the dawn of Christ’s extended ministry on earth from his throne in heaven.
This ministry is in and through his disciples by the power of the H.S.
We see the effect of this extended ministry in the words of Peter in Acts 2:22-24 as he confirms the Gospel at the beginning of the Church Age.
In fact, Mark’s Gospel is his record of the preaching of Peter.
It was written in Rome, probably with a Gentile Roman audience in view.
And true to form as we understand Peter’s action oriented personality, Mark focuses more on what Jesus did than upon what he said.
The majority opinion is that, just as the opening line of Mark’s Gospel says, it is the beginning, or the first of the gospels.
It is the shortest gospel, but many of Mark’s accounts are longer than those same accounts that appear in Matthew or Luke.
However, some view Matthew as being written first.
But it seems obvious that both Matthew and Luke used Mark’s gospel as a reference.
At any rate, the opening line (1:1) is the title of the whole gospel and tells us what this work is all about. It is good news.
This is not a typical story and it is not about a typical person.
It is the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
It is a new beginning and it takes us up to the end of the story which is about another new beginning.
Mark’s abrupt ending in 16:8 causes us to exclaim that the story cannot end here, and it doesn’t.
The end of the story tells us that something else must have happened or else we wouldn’t be reading this Gospel.
The fearful silence of the women could certainly not have been the end of the matter.
By reading this Gospel, we can learn how their fear would be vanquished.
We can learn how their mouths would be opened.
We can learn how the good news of the resurrection would get out.
The Gospel can now be read with 20/20 hindsight.
The conclusion is only the beginning of the proclamation of the good news about Jesus which goes on to the end of time and to the ends of the earth.
Christianity is not a closed book because there is a new beginning every time someone believes the story and makes Jesus their Lord by faith in who he is and what he has done.
The good news of the Gospel is that one can begin again.
I. Title (v. 1)
The beginning of the Gospel.
The word for “gospel” would be understood by Mark’s Roman readers to herald the birth of an heir to the emperor’s throne, or his coming of age, or his accession to the throne.
But here it applies to Jesus Christ as the annointed one, the Son of God, who comes not with crushing military power, but with personal servanthood and sacrificial death to win the throne at the right hand of God as the Son of Man.
There is no succession of ruling emperors as in Rome.
There is only one King of Kings and Lord of Lords because there is only one gospel – it is the Gospel.
The benefits of his peace are universal.
Throughout Mark we see a theme of the Messianic Secret.
There are questions about Jesus’ identity, commands he gives to limit the knowledge of his identity, and statements people make about his identity.
Here in the prologue we are given inside information about who this gospel is really about.
What is revealed at the beginning is discovered even more fully at the end.
II. The Citation of Scripture (vv. 2-3)
Announcement from the prophetic past. The fulfillment of divine prophecy in the written Word of God.
Mark makes it clear that the gospel is bound fast to the promise of God in the OT.
It is God who initiates the action.
Jesus comes with a divine commission.
This is the continuing story of God’s saving activity.
Mark supports this by cross-referencing Scripture from Ex. 23:20 (Torah); Is. 40:3 (Major Prophets); and Mal. 3:1 (Minor Prophets); that all confirm the coming message.
He references it all to Isaiah not to identify a particular source but to reveal Isaiah as a major source of the theme that he speaks throughout his gospel.
There are three persons in view in each of these two verses.
In verse 2: God/John/Jesus or better: God/Jesus/us-disciples (prepare the way into our hearts).
We are to allow him access straight into our hearts.
As the gospel unfolds, Jesus leads the disciples on the way to Jerusalem and the victory of the cross.
Jesus has come to prepare the way for us to follow him.
In verse 3: the voice calling (John)/those who are to prepare (us)/for the Lord who comes.
The ‘way of the Lord’ in Isaiah refers to God’s victory march – a mighty demonstration of power in the triumphal way Jesus will lead his people.
III. The Introduction of John the Baptist (vv. 4-8)
Announcement from the prophetic present. The fulfillment of divine prophecy in the spoken word of the prophet.
Each of the following three scenes – the introduction of John Baptist, the baptism of Jesus Christ, and then his testing in the wilderness – take place in the same locality; the desert and the Jordan River.
But each of these three scenes in the prologue support the identity of Jesus given in the opening verses.
Considering the holiness of his identity and personage, we must be cleansed in preparation to meet him.
It is understood here that all are in need of this cleansing and preparation – all are defiled.
John’s baptism was a call to all Israel to acknowledge God’s judgment with the promise that a forgiven Israel would emerge.
The desert is the place of beginning – and beginning again. They backtrack to the place where Israel had so many beginnings.
Mark doesn’t dwell on where John comes from, only his appearance. John is definitely not your mainstream guy.
To go out to him is to break with the mainstream/culture/institutions. To go to him is not comfortable – you must want to.
He is a reminder of Elijah, the appearance of Elijah, and the times of Elijah which called for the imminent coming of God.
John’s call divides the open heart of repentance against the clenched fist of rebellion.
John’s message is merely to point the way to the One who has true power to cleanse from sin – the One who is powerful enough to do God’s will.
Here we see the first of three references to the Spirit in this passage. Here it is the Spirit who testifies.
IV. The Baptism of Jesus (vv. 9-11)
Announcement of the historical present. The fulfillment of divine destiny in the spoken word of God himself.
All the others whom John baptizes come from Jerusalem and Judea. Jesus is the only one to come from Galilee.
Many people go out, but only One knows what it all means.
And he comes out to us in the place of repentance. He meets us in the desert.
Jesus humbles himself by entering the ranks of sinners and taking his stand with them, just as later he would die for them.
John doesn’t even yet know who Jesus is as he is baptizing him.
Jesus himself doesn’t make a big thing of this identification with our sin, but God does.
When Jesus comes up out of the water, all heaven breaks loose. The heavens are ripped open.
What is opened may be closed again; what is ripped cannot easily return to its former state.
The barriers are torn apart and God is now revealed in our midst (Is. 64:1).
The way is now opening for God’s access to us. He comes whether we choose or not.
Now the same Spirit that once hovered over the primeval waters in the beginning of time (Gen. 1:2) descends on Jesus to liberate the earth from the stranglehold of chaos, and a voice unheard for age upon age sounds forth, announcing a decision made long ago in the eternal council.
This is a dovelike descent, not a dovelike Spirit. It is a Spirit of power and proclamation.
Here we see the second of three references to the Spirit in this passage. Here it is the Spirit who glorifies.
This beginning of the gospel is then also the beginning of a new creation.
But this time the Spirit hovers over a human being, not over a formless void.
This suggests that God intends to transform humanity.
Jesus is God’s announced choice for this eternal work. He has been chosen to rule over God’s people. He assumes that royal power at his baptism. He will ascend to his throne through the cross.
V. The Temptation of Jesus (vv. 12-13)
The beginning of future victory. The promise of a Savior who is victorious over Satan.
Jesus is immediately thrust further into the desert after his baptism.
The statement about the beasts press the idea of barren desolation and danger.
The beasts remind us of evil powers.
The desert reminds us of the uncultivated place of the curse, Paradise lost, the realm of Satan.
It will forthrightly be seen why God said he was pleased with him.
Mark portrays this as one big clash with Satan, the most dangerous beast of all.
But now Satan must contend with a new Adam who has the power of heaven and angels at his side.
This is the first round of many throughout Jesus’ ministry to follow in his struggle with evil. But this round puts him at the head of the game for the decisive confrontation to come at the cross.
Here we see the third of three references to the Spirit in this passage. Here it is the Spirit who protects what is His (he envies intensely, Jms. 4:5), even if He allows testing to prove what is His.
Does this mean that Jesus wasn’t tempted? Not at all. It means that he knew the power of God over sin. He could not yield to temptation.
It is this great gift that he would pass on to us – us who have the same manner of faith as his, made possible because of his. It is the power of the H.S.
When we face the tempting prospects of sin, we face a great teaching principle that God has allowed to remain with us.
The unsaved can only learn more enslavement to sin from their sin. The saved learn to detest and hate sin and learn to sin less.
Sin either teaches more sin or less sin depending of whether you have the H.S. It is the H.S. that makes the difference.
Mark has been introducing Jesus to us. It hasn’t been about John or baptism or meeting God or fighting off Satan.
It is that we might see the central figure of all that follows - the central figure of a new beginning for mankind. The beginning of the gospel, the good news.
Mark does not introduce a Jesus whose status derives from a family pedigree like Matthew or Luke. He introduces a Jesus whose status derives directly from God, and he sets about in these several scenes to prove it.
The long promised power of God breaks into the world to conquer the powers of evil that imprison, maim, and distort human life.
Are you in the desert? He will meet you there and show you the way to being liberated by faith to begin again.
He knows the way home out of the desert. All you have to do is follow. You can do it in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
When should we do this? The paper recently reported a Mexican immigrant woman was killed by glass falling from a skyscraper down on the Loop. She was holding the hand of her young daughter who was unhurt. Bystanders said she didn’t even know what hit her.
James 4:14 says, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
Quote from Focus on the Family Sept. 99 newsletter from Dr. Blackaby:
Now is the time for a new beginning!