Mark:  Why the Gospel is good news

Week 1:  Incarnation & Invitation.  Mark 1:1-20

Sermon:  Sun 10th January 2016
The gospel of Mark is the earliest gospel, written between AD60-70 (just 30 years after Christ and around the time of the deaths of Paul and Peter due to persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero) by John Mark. John Mark was not a “famous” figure in the church at the time. But significantly, he had been a young co-worker with Paul, Barnabus (his relative: see Colossians 4:10) and Peter.
As the church was growing and as some people were trying to dilute and stop Christianity, John Mark wrote this gospel to formally write down the essential truths of the Christian faith.  To do so, John Mark drew on his personal experience and relationships, especially with Peter (see 1 Peter 5:13; 2 Peter 1:15), to write this compelling book.  This perhaps explains the sense of urgency in the text, the brevity of the gospel and it’s unusual literary style for the period.  It’s helpful to remember that Mark wrote the first gospel and in so doing created this new literary genre.
Commentators suggest that John Mark had the following purposes in mind when he wrote this wonderful gospel:

  1. To make the good news of Christ (the gospel) available to non-Jews (the Gentiles)
  2. To encourage those Christians who were being persecuted
  3. To defend the faith against attack
  4. To explain the significance of the cross
Building on from what we learnt about the birth of Christ in our Christmas teaching series, this series is designed to help us to grow in our understanding of the Christian faith and live as disciples today, as we focus on the person, work and mission of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  We’ll do this over the coming weeks that will lead into Easter.
Give some examples of good news?  What is it that makes this news good and worth sharing?
Study: (see Helpful Hints)
  1. Mark begins by establishing the identity of Jesus.  Reading verses 1-11, how does Mark do this?
  2. a) Why do you think Jesus is immediately subjected to temptation by Satan in the wilderness
  3. b) How does Satan try to tempt Jesus?  In what similar ways, does Satan continue to try to tempt us, the followers of Jesus today?  How are we to respond?
  4. What is the “good news”? (verse 14-15)   Why is it good news?  What is the “kingdom of God
  5. (verses 14-20) Put yourself in the shoes of Simon, Andrew, James and John?  Why do you think they responded as they did? How would you have responded?   What does this episode tell us about Jesus and His call upon our lives?
  6. From what you have considered, how has your understanding of the identity of Jesus, the good news and our response to being members of the kingdom of God been affected?
Conclude with a time of sharing and prayer.
Helpful Hints
1.         a)         By intentionally breaking with the convention of time of beginning the description of someone by establishing their lineage and providing biographical information, Mark wants to make it clear that Jesus is the Messiah by immediately describing him as “the good news” (gospel).   At the time, his readers would have understood this reference as boldly hijacking it usage by the occupying Romans.
For example, in 9BC, the following inscription about the Emperor Octavian was written and then displayed prominently throughout the Roman Empire:
Because providence has ordered our life in a divine way... and since the Emperor through his epiphany has exceeded the hopes of former good news, surpassing not only the benefactors who came before him, but also leaving no hope that anyone in the future will surpass him, and since the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of his good news...’
The word translated here as ‘good news’ is the Greek “euangellion”This word was originally used to describe the reward given to someone bearing good news, and then came to refer to the good news itself. There are various examples of times when the word was used to refer to celebrations such as the Emperor’s birthday, the anniversary of his coming to power or even a royal visit. But immediately at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, we find the word used in a different way - to make bold claims about the story he will tell: ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’
Mark is announcing the fact that this is not just a story about a great teacher, guru or leader. This story is about the work of God, and those familiar with the propaganda of the Empire would have understood that the story was meant to be understood as one which was in direct competition to the claims of Rome.

b)         This gospel in set a moment in history when living under Roman occupation, the Jews were in a state of despair.  It had been more than 400 years since they heard from God through a prophet (Malachi) and so they were fearful that God had left them. Not so, Mark declares.  This is why in Mark 1: 2-3 we read a quote which Mark has knitted together from two different Old Testament sources. He refers to Isaiah 40:3, the promise of a homecoming road prepared in the wilderness, offering comfort to those who have found themselves in exile. And he also quotes from Malachi 3:1, a reference to a messenger figure who will speak for God. This is Mark’s way of saying that the story he is about to tell is the direct continuation of the one Malachi spoke of - and that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah that Isaiah and others had prophesied.

c)         The gospel begins not in Jerusalem but in the desert. This is significant. Theologian Dick France has written that the desert was seen by Israel as “a place of hope, of new beginnings.” Following their release from slavery in Egypt, The people of God were taken into the desert.  This was where God made them his people as they journeyed to the Promised Land.
In a later period of moral decline, the prophet Hosea (Hosea 2:14,15) spoke of the wilderness as a place where for the people of Israel to rediscover their love for God.

d)         John the Baptist resembles an Old Testament prophet (e.g. his leather girdle evokes memories of Elijah see 2 Kings 1:8) and also exercises a similar ministry in the desert.  He warns of God’s judgement and significantly calls all people, not just the Jews, back into a living relationship with the living covenant God.  What’s more, his ministry also alerts people and points them to “…one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie…(who) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

e)         To demonstrate that Jesus is “..the stronger one…” (the Messiah), Mark has Jesus enter immediately after John has prophesied.  By being baptized by John, Jesus involves himself in the movement of renewing the people of God in preparation for the final judgement of God.  He is the one who will cleanse and heal.  He is the living water. He identifies himself as the Messiah.
Arising from the water, Jesus has an extraordinary experience (verses 1011).  In first century Judaism, the opening of the heavens signified the revelation of heavenly secrets (see Isaiah 64:1).   Jesus is given a personal revelation of God and (verse 11) a voice from heaven declares “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” This recalls Psalm 2:7, a psalm that depicts God anointing kings in the line of David.  Commentators therefore suggest that God is anointing his son, Jesus, for his ministry on earth.  The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus as a dove from heaven confirms this.
  1. a)   The testing of Jesus was part of God’s plan.   It relates back to Deuteronomy 8:1-5, from which Jesus also quotes in His first reply to the Devil (see Matthew 4: 1-11).  We are meant to see this and take note.
In Deuteronomy 8: 1-5, Moses recalls how the Lord led the people of God in the desert for 40 years “to humble you and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Here at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus is subjected to a similar test. Through his obedience to God and resistance to Satan’s temptation, Jesus demonstrates that he is the true Israelite, the true follower of God.  And unlike Adam who gave into temptation and plunged the world into sin (Genesis 3), Jesus (the new Adam) was faithful and thus demonstrated his qualification to become the Saviour of all who would receive Him.  Also by resisting Satan’s temptations, Jesus again shows that he is the “powerful one”.
What’s more, it was important that Jesus was tested as we are, so that He becomes our “merciful and faithful High Priest” (Hebrews 2:7) and therefore be “able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:15; 4:15-16) i.e. us.
Finally, through His witness, Jesus becomes the model for all believers as and when they are tempted.   We are and can overcome Satan’s temptations by focusing on God.
  1. In verses14-15, Jesus begins his ministry with an announcement of the in breaking of the “kingdom of God.” Again, this key phrase is one with roots in the Old Testament - the longed for time when God would intervene in human history and reign with justice in His complete way (see Zechariah 14:6-9).   The kingdom of God is wherever God is and where He reigns.

The theologian, N.T. Wright, helpfully adds, “For Jesus, the kingdom was coming not in a single move, but in stages, of which his own public ministry was one, his death and resurrection another and His glorious second coming and judgement the final stage.  Then, the kingdom of God, his new salvation order, would be complete.

Richard Jones, 30/11/2015