The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – Mark 1:1-8
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark. It’s pretty easy to find. It’s the second book of the New Testament. Matthew, then Mark. If you can grab a Bible, we are going to spend our time together in Mark 1, this morning.
I realized that I haven’t preached through much of the life of Jesus. If anything, I’ve touched on bits and pieces, here and there. So, I thought that the Gospel according to Mark would be a good place for us to spend the next little while, so that we are able to dig down deep and gain this rich perspective on the life of Jesus Christ.
And I just want to give a shout out to Pastor Josh Shaw and Lighthouse Church for the sermon video and picture that you see up on the screen. I was looking around on the Internet and came across this picture. And I just felt like it encapsulated what I believe the Gospel according to Mark conveys, and that is, that Jesus is the Suffering Saviour and Conquering King.
The picture shows half a royal crown and half a crown of thorns, because what we will see, as we go through this sermon series on the Gospel according to Mark, is this rich picture of Jesus as the authoritative yet suffering Son of God.
What we’re going to do is we’re going to break this book down, passage by passage, and my hope is that this study in Mark will help us to know Jesus better. I’m not talking about knowing all of these cool facts about what Jesus did; I’m talking about knowing Jesus, following Jesus, and learning to obey Jesus as Saviour and King.
So, with that, let’s look at Mark 1, beginning in verse 1: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,”’ 4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 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. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 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. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’”
You will notice that Mark wastes no time diving into his account of the life of Jesus. Mark is a very fast-moving book, where everything happens rather quickly. Even as we just read the beginning of Mark, there is no genealogy of Jesus like what you find in Matthew and no telling of the birth of Jesus like what you find in Luke. Mark actually begins his account when Jesus is thirty years old.
And this is actually what turned people off from Mark for centuries. When compared to the other three Gospels, Mark doesn’t have the lofty theology of John, the narrative structure of Matthew, or the many parables and stories of Luke. Up until the 19th century, Mark received far less attention than any of the other three Gospels. And it has only been within the last few hundred years that scholars have discovered how much Mark has to offer to the portrait of Jesus.
You see, the Gospels act like four corners of an intersection when a car accident takes place. Each of the Gospel writers is giving their perspective on what they saw in the life of Christ. There might be some overlap, here and there, but we shouldn’t be surprised if they are focused on different things, because each of them is writing to a particular audience during a particular period of time.
For example, Mark is writing his account to persecuted Christians in Rome during the reign of the evil emperor, Nero. Nero hated Christians. The famous fire of Rome in 64 AD, which was supposedly started by Nero himself, was blamed on the Christians by Nero, which resulted in widespread persecution of Christians.
And so, Mark is writing his account quickly, because he knows that suffering is near for many followers of Jesus in Rome. Therefore, he begins with the words: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Mark doesn’t hold anything back. He wants his audience to know who Jesus is. The word for “gospel” here, euangelion, literally means “good news.” In the Old Testament, the Hebrew form of this word was commonly used to refer to military and political victories. The messenger who would bring the favourable report from the battlefield was the deliverer of “good news.”
But in Isaiah 52:7, the phrase “good news” is used of something greater than simply military and political victory. Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’”
In this verse, the messenger is bringing “good news” of peace and release from oppression, where God will ultimately reign on the earth. Can you see how the recipients of Mark’s Gospel would have latched on to that? Freedom from Roman oppression and persecution? Yes please.
But notice that this is what Mark is saying Jesus came to accomplish. Mark writes, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…” The word “Christ” here is not Jesus’ last name. Mark is making a claim about Jesus’ identity. Jesus is the “Christ,” Christos, “the Anointed One.”
Mark is referring here to the Messiah. This declaration about Jesus would have meant something to the original readers of Mark’s day, because they were all waiting for the Messiah to come and save them from their enemies.
And here Mark is saying that the coming of Jesus is the beginning of the fulfillment of this good news. Victory has been won, Mark is saying, and the victor’s name is Jesus. He is the good news. He is the Messiah. He is the King.
The gospel, in the New Testament, is not this political or military victory. The gospel is the story of salvation in Jesus, where Jesus came to bring peace with God and release from the oppression of sin and to reign in the hearts of man.
And how all of this is possible, how this Jesus is the long-awaited “good news,” is because He is “the Son of God.” Jesus is not just the Messiah; He is God. He is deity. Very God of very God.
This claim, this statement, is the defining line of our faith. Scripture is clear that those of us who embrace this claim and entrust our lives to this claim will forever be with Jesus when we die. And Scripture is also clear that those of us who do not embrace this claim and do not entrust our lives to this claim, Jesus said, will spend eternity apart from God in hell.
The stakes are high. There is a lot riding on this statement right from the beginning. We need to feel the weight of this claim about Jesus. We need to realize that there is something called truth and this is it.
In an age of obscurity, where truth is relative, where you have your truth and I have my truth, we need to realize that there is such thing as absolute truth. Jesus Christ is the Son of God is true. And it’s what differentiates Christians from non-Christians. It’s a dividing line.
But we must also realize that this wouldn’t have resonated with the orthodox Jews of Mark’s day. You see, they were waiting for that earthly power and earthly kingdom that the Messiah was going to bring. They weren’t interested in this Jesus, because, according to them, He failed. He didn’t do what they expected Him to do. They were still under Roman oppression. What good did Jesus do?
That’s the kind of thing we’re going to be confronted with as we go through this book. We’re going to be confronted with the question: Do I believe that Jesus is the good news, or am I still holding out for something or someone greater? Everything in this book is going to bring us back to this question.
Mark continues with an Old Testament quote about the precursor of Jesus, the one who would come before Jesus. Verse 2. “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
What Mark is making clear here is that Jesus wasn’t plan B. It’s not like things got messed up in the Garden of Eden, and then God had to figure out how to make everything better, again. No, Jesus was always the plan from the beginning. This messenger was always going to be preparing the way for Jesus.
It’s all part of the promise of Genesis 3:15. After Adam and Eve sinned, God makes this promise to the serpent, that “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
One commentary notes that “it was a promise that was made to the patriarchs, and repeated by the prophets, that a Deliverer and Redeemer should one day come. His birth, His character, His life, His death, His resurrection, His forerunner, were all prophesied of, long before He came. Redemption was worked out and accomplished in every step, just as it was written.”
The time from when the prophets first spoke about this messenger to when this messenger comes on to the scene is over 500 years, and it happens, just as it was written. It happens, because it was always part of the plan of God.
You see, God is not slow in keeping His promises. We might think He’s slow when we’re wanting something to happen right away, and it doesn’t happen. But it might just be according to God’s timing and not our timing. It might take some time, but if it’s the plan of God from the beginning, it will happen.
Those of you who know my son, know that he loves hockey. He loves watching hockey. He loves playing floor hockey. He knows probably just as many hockey players and their jersey numbers as I do. He just loves hockey.
And so, the other day, we were eating lunch and he blurts out, “I want dad to play hockey with me.” So, I say to him, “Yeah, for sure. We can play hockey after supper, because I have to go back to work after lunch.” And he became very dejected, as though I had just told him that I would never play with him again.
Once he asked me to play floor hockey with him, I made it part of my plan for the day. But in his mind, not playing right now was the same as not playing ever.
And I thought about that, and I realized that this is where I am at with God, sometimes. I realized that I am often working on a different timeline than God is. And where God is saying, “Yeah, for sure. You can have that later.” My response is often, “I wanted that now, and because I am not getting that now, I won't get it ever.” And it simply shows that I’m not content to wait for God’s timing.
Here is this messenger, who was spoken of hundreds of years before, preparing the way for Jesus. But who is this messenger and what is he doing? Verse 4: “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
1. First, Mark tells us that the messenger is John the Baptist.
Now, Mark doesn’t include what Luke includes in his Gospel about the miraculous birth of John, how his mother who was barren gave birth to him in her old age, and how his mother and the mother of Jesus were together one time and how John leaped in his mother’s womb because he was near Jesus who was in the womb of His mother.
Mark doesn’t include all of that. Instead, what Mark does tell us about John is found in verse 6. It says, “Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.”
Now, this description of John makes John out to be a bit weird, right? John is a strange character. I feel like if I started wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey, someone would maybe say something like, “Hey, you’re doing your thing, and that’s awesome, but you're kind of scaring away visitors.” John just doesn’t seem like he would attract a lot of people to his church.
But notice verse 5: “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.”
And do you know what that means? It means that people were attracted, not to John’s appearance, but to John’s message. They were attracted to John’s message. And that’s a good thing to be attracted to. If you’re here this morning, I hope it’s because you’re attracted to the message of the gospel and not to me.
2 Timothy 4:3 says that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”
People will find teachers who will teach them what they want to hear. If someone doesn’t want to hear the preacher talk about sin, then they will go somewhere where that is not being taught. But my hope is that we will be drawn to the message, not the messenger.
That’s the whole purpose of John. He’s the messenger preparing the way for the message, that is, Jesus, the Word became flesh. The passage is not about John. Even though John is the one being described here, Mark is showing us that Jesus was always going to be the point.
It’s why John says, in verse 7, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”
Can you imagine if people were coming out to John and he was telling them that he was it? That he was the one they were coming out to see? They would have mocked him. They would have thought he was crazy, or at least more crazy than he already was.
But no, he recognizes who he is in relation to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He didn’t even consider himself worthy to stoop down and untie the straps of the sandals of this Jesus.
Part of what it means to be the messenger is to make sure you are keenly aware of who you are in relation to whom the message is about. I think, as preachers, we often tend to lose our awe of preaching. I definitely need to watch that I don’t try to make myself look good up here. Should I do a good job of communicating the message? Yes. Should I think highly of my communication skills? No.
We must see the humility it takes to be the messenger, always making the message of Jesus the point.
2. So, first, Mark tells us that the messenger is John the Baptist. Secondly, what is John doing? Mark tells us that John the Baptist is proclaiming a message.
Verse 4. “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
When the original readers would have read this word, “wilderness,” it would have conjured up all kinds of imagery for them. In the history of Israel, the wilderness represented deliverance.
For example, when God brings the Israelites out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt, where does He brings them? He brings them to the wilderness. And there God meets with the people of Israel and gives them a covenant that they would be His people and He would be their God.
So, for John the Baptist to be baptizing and proclaiming His message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, in the wilderness, was to bring their minds back to their need for God.
That’s why verse 5 says that “all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan….”
They wanted what John was preaching about, because it meant deliverance for them. But what they needed to realize and what we need to realize is that baptism doesn’t have the power in and of itself to wash away sin. Baptism simply symbolizes that your sins have been washed away. No, we need something more than baptism, and that is, repentance.
Repentance is defined as “changing one’s mind.” The message that John was conveying is that we need to turn away from our sin. We need to realize that we are poor and needy sinners. We need to be shaken and convicted of the depravity of our sin compared to the surpassing holiness of God.
One pastor tells this story: When I was in South Africa, a fine, handsome Dutchman came into my service, and God laid His hand on him and convicted him of sin. The next morning he went to the beautiful home of another Dutchman and said to him, "Do you recognize this old watch?"
"Why, yes," answered the other. "Those are my initials; that is my watch. I lost it eight years ago. How did you get it, and how long have you had it?"
"I stole it," was the reply.
"What made you bring it back now?"
"I was converted last night," was the answer, "and I have brought it back first thing this morning.”
We all have fallen short of God’s standard. We all are in need of forgiveness for our crimes against holy God. We all are being ushered to the wilderness, where God is ready to meet us. We all need repentance.
John was preparing the way for Jesus, because he knew that he couldn’t provide what the people needed, but he could prepare them for what they needed. It’s why, in verse 8, John says, “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Today is Pentecost Sunday. I don’t know if you knew that, but as I was doing my sermon preparation this week, I discovered that it was Pentecost Sunday, today, and I couldn’t believe how timely this passage was.
What is Pentecost Sunday? Turn over to Acts 2. Jesus has just ascended to the right hand of God the Father Almighty and the disciples were all together in one place, and verse 2 says that “suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
This is such a crazy scene. Out of nowhere, you have all of these strange things happening. There’s this sound of wind, and then these divided tongues of fire start resting on people, which probably would have freaked everyone out. And then, you have the Holy Spirit causing people to start speaking in these other languages and foreigners are hearing the gospel in their own language.
And all of this causes people to start wondering if these guys are drunk, and they’re not, because Peter says that it’s only nine in the morning. It’s wild. It’s a crazy passage of Scripture.
But then, Peter begins to preach from the prophet Joel, in verse 17, saying, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
And then, look down in verse 33. Peter explains how all of this is possible in Jesus, saying that Jesus, “being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
Peter says that what they're all seeing and hearing is the work of Jesus, who was exalted at the right hand of God and who has poured out the Holy Spirit on them. It’s exactly what John the Baptist promised would happen, in Mark 1:8: “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
And people start asking Peter, “What shall we do?” And Peter’s response, in verse 38, which is similar to what we read in Mark, is, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
This is the message of John the Baptist in Mark. John is saying that Jesus came to be the Suffering Saviour and Conquering King, who would accomplish what we needed Him to accomplish, so that we could have what we needed the most.
What the original readers needed the most and what we need the most is a Saviour from our sins. It’s what John was preparing the way for. And Jesus would come and would live the perfect, sinless life that we were unable to live, and He would die the satisfactory death for the penalty of sin as our substitute, and He would conquer our greatest enemies of sin and death—greater enemies than Rome, if you can imagine.
But praise be to God, we don’t worship a dead Saviour. Amen? We worship a risen Saviour. And when we put our faith in this Saviour, we receive the promised Holy Spirit, who convicts us of our sin, and who is shaping us into the image of Jesus, and who is keeping us until we die and go to be with Jesus, forever. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Do you believe it?
Is this Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, King over your heart? Is the Holy Spirit at work in you, convicting you of sin in your life?
Life or death depend on our answers to these questions. If you have never made the decision to put your faith in this Jesus, then you can talk with myself or one of the elders who would be more than willing to walk you through making that decision, today.
Maybe you have put your faith in Jesus, but maybe you feel like you are in the wilderness, struggling to see the plan of God for your life. And I just want to encourage you that God is wanting to meet with you, today. He is before you, drawing you to Himself. He is wooing you to Himself.
Oh, that we would grab hold of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and that we would be eager to proclaim it. Oh, that we would decrease, so that Jesus would increase. Oh, that we would feel our need of Jesus, if we don’t already.
Church, the question really is: Do I believe that Jesus is the good news, or am I still holding out for something or someone greater? Let’s pray…