Summer Series #1 – Beginning of Good News
Preacher: Kevin Kim / Bible Reading: Mark 1:1-20
From today we are starting a new series on the gospel of Mark, as the Narrative Lectionary travels through Mark’s gospel until the end of March, which is Easter Sunday. During the time of leading up to Advent and Christmas, we had more than ten weeks with Old Testament Narrative Lectionary series, and Phil and I hope it was a meaningful and helpful series for you. In a same way, we hope our new journey with Mark’s gospel in a new year will be spiritually an enriching experience for all of us.
One of the striking things about the four Gospels is that each of them seems to think of the “gospel-genre” a little bit differently.
In other words, each of the Gospels uses the word gospel – euangelion – differently, and that difference can be instructive in our reading and preaching of their respective texts.
First, John does not use the word at all. This does not mean, of course, that John’s Gospel is not interested in the good news; quite the contrary, John’s approach to the good news is just markedly different than those of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.
In Matthew, “gospel” is what Jesus comes preaching. “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (Matt 4:23). For Matthew the gospel, the good news, is at least part of the details of Jesus’ preaching and teaching.
In Luke, “gospel” is what the angel Gabriel brings, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” (Luke 1:19). For Luke, the gospel is first and foremost the announcement of the birth of the Messiah.
In Mark, “gospel” is a summary of the whole of the book. Mark begins with a summary statement, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1). For Mark, the gospel is the whole of Jesus’ story, the whole of what he does, says, is.
The opening chapter of Mark aims to clarify and validate how Jesus was the Son of God and Israel’s promised Messiah. Some questions that Mark seeks to answer include in chapter one:
What was John’s role in Jesus’ ministry?
What did Jesus’ baptism convey about his identity and function?
What was the “good news” that Jesus proclaimed?
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark relates no stories of Jesus’ birth or childhood but launches right into Jesus’ adult life and the beginning of his public ministry.
This story is good news for all who are awaiting God’s deliverance. Yet the way in which this Messiah delivers God’s people will be very different from all their expectations. He does not come as a warrior to overthrow the Roman occupiers. He does not appear in Jerusalem among the religious and political rulers, but in the wilderness among sinners coming to be washed in the Jordan. This tension between what is expected of the Messiah and who Jesus is will only intensify as the story progresses.
Our reading for this morning can be divided into four different sections –
The Messenger – Before Jesus appears on the scene, we are introduced to John the baptizer. Mark’s scriptural citation includes material from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. In Malachi 3 (verse) “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty., the Lord promises to send his messenger to prepare the way before the Lord, who will suddenly appear to purify God’s people. Isaiah 40:3 (verse) A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
, an oracle of salvation for God’s people in exile, speaks of a voice crying out to prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness.
The description of John’s clothing (1:6) recalls that of the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8), who was expected to return at the end of the age. Early Jewish interpreters understood the “messenger” of Malachi 3:1 to be Elijah, whose return is promised in Malachi 4:5-6, “before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”
John the baptizer appears “in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4). Ritual washing was important in Jewish practice, particularly for priests serving in the temple, but also for lay people and new converters (proselytes) to Judaism. S John’s baptism is distinctive as it is performed in the wilderness, far from the temple. Its focus is not on ritual purity, but on repentance and forgiveness in preparation for the more powerful one who is coming, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:8).
John the baptizer fulfills the words of the prophets, sounding both judgment and promise, calling God’s people to repentance in preparation for the coming of the Lord, and promising forgiveness, a new return from exile.
Heavens Torn Open / The Baptism of Jesus
John has spoken of the more powerful one who is coming, and Jesus appears and is baptized by John in the Jordan. As he is coming up out of the water, Jesus sees the heavens “torn apart” (schizώ) and the Spirit descending like a dove on him (1:10). The verb schizώ is also used to speak of the rending of the temple veil at the moment of Jesus’ death. When Jesus breathed his last, Mark says, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (15:38).
One day Jesus puts down his hammer, takes off his tool belt,
hangs a “Closed” sign on the door of the carpenter’s shop, and asks himself,
“What does God want me to do?”
Jesus then heads south and finds his cousin John standing in the muddy Jordan river.
Jesus gets in line and waits his turn. He wades out into the water right next to the ordinary people like you and me. As we read the story of Jesus’ baptism, we are reminded of our own baptism.
It was not as spectacular as Jesus’ baptism. I was baptized with six other Sunday school kids. It was rather a required step that I had to take.
What does your own baptism mean to you?
We are told that heaven opened up in verse 10. This image of the heaven opened up is used many times in the Old testament. Ezekiel begins his book saying, “The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. (Ezekiel 1:1)”
The prophet Malachi records God’s word that “I will open the windows of heaven and flood you with blessing after blessing. (Malachi 3:10).”
Perhaps one of the most well known references to the windows of heaven is in the early chapters of Genesis (7:11) at the time of the Flood: we are told that “the windows of heaven were thrown open.”
It seems that every time we have the picture of the windows of heaven, we get a glimpse of God and see something of God’s character.
When the windows of heaven open, there are no barriers between earth and heaven. There is a connection between the divine and the human.
However, at the time of Jesus people believed the windows of heaven had been closed.
There were no famous prophets, no new law givers, no singers of new psalms.
There was nothing new coming from God and they are deeply disappointed from the continued silence.
People gathered at the Jordan River, wondering if John was the one who would once again open the windows of heaven for his people.
S After Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist, immediately, the heavens were opened and the Spirit came down like a dove on him. Then a voice spoke from the heavens. This is exactly the people of Jesus’ time were waiting.
A voice comes from heaven declaring, S “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (1:11). Therefore, the voice confirms Mark’s introduction of Jesus as Christ and Son of God (1:1). The phrase “in you I am well pleased” echoes Isaiah 42:1 S (verse), spoken by God to the servant on whom God has poured out the Spirit.
There is a sense in which Jesus is “possessed” by the Spirit in Mark. Immediately after his baptism, the Spirit drives or “throws” (ekballώ) Jesus out into the wilderness, where he stays for forty days with the wild beasts, tempted by Satan, but also waited on by angels. Mark does not narrate any details of Jesus’ testing, as Matthew and Luke do, but his wilderness journey is similar with both Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), as well as Israel’s forty years of testing in the wilderness.
The Time is Fulfilled
Jesus returns to Galilee and begins his public ministry after John has been arrested (1:14). Mark summarizes Jesus’ proclamation of “the good news of God” with the words, S “The time (kairos) is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (1:15). Like John, Jesus speaks in eschatological language. The fullness of time has arrived, the decisive moment chosen by God for the in-breaking of God’s reign on earth. This proclamation is followed by the urgent imperative to “repent, and believe in the good news” (1:15).
Calling the first disciples
Mark follows this summary of Jesus’ preaching with the story of Jesus calling his first disciples, two sets of fishermen brothers. Jesus says to Peter and Andrew, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (1:17). Immediately they leave their nets and follow him (1:18). Similarly, Jesus calls James and John, and immediately they leave their boats and nets, and their father Zebedee too (1:19-20). Mark does not explain their willingness to drop everything and follow Jesus. Jesus seeks them out and claims them for his mission, and apparently that is enough. They demonstrate the appropriate response to the reign of God coming near in Jesus.
A sense of urgency pervades these opening episodes in Mark. The critical time has arrived; God’s reign is breaking in, and there is no time to waste.
There is no telling what God might do, or what God might ask of us. We might also be called to drop everything and follow Jesus on a risky mission as well.
There is no escaping the call. Yet this is good news. Through Jesus, God is on a mission to reclaim the world as God’s own, beginning with each of us.
Through our baptism into Christ, we too are declared God’s beloved children, “possessed” by the Holy Spirit, and included for God’s mission. God’s gracious claim on our lives defines us and gives us purpose and hope. Amen.