December 28-29 sermon resource

Beginning of good news

  • Main text: Mark 1:1-20
  • Accompanying text: Psalm 91:9-12

Mark’s gospel account

With this week’s text in the lectionary we now begin to move through the gospel of Mark. Mark’s gospel account has a distinctive fast pace that draws you into the story and interestingly his focus is not just on Jesus’s words but also on his actions. The gospel of Mark is commonly understood to be the first of the four gospel accounts, and while the text itself does not identify an author, there is a lot of early Christian evidence to suggest it was written by an associate of the Apostle Peter called Mark. It is commonly believe that this is the same Mark that is referred to at various points in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 12:12, 25; Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; 1 Peter 5:13).

What this passage means to us

“The message of Mark 1:1-13 is that God brings his long-standing, redemptive work throughout the ages to a culmination by sending his eternal Son. The grace that he has been working out through the ages comes to a decisive climax with Christ. In this way God achieves what human beings cannot achieve by themselves: forgiveness of rebellious sin against God and restoration to a reconciled relationship with God.” [1]. Mark sums this up in his opening line where he summarises his account as “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). “The word ‘gospel’ has various meanings for us. It suggests a message proclaimed (as in ‘Did he preach the gospel?’), or a book of the Bible (we are studying the Gospel according to Mark). Originally, however, it meant neither. It represented ‘good news’ in the sense of announcing some significant event which made a change in world history, like the birth of the Roman Emperor Augustus.” [2]. So when Mark introduces his account as the gospel, he is informing his readers that something momentous has begun in Jesus that has changed the world forever. He immediately expands upon this by declaring that Jesus is both the ‘Christ’ – the promised Messiah and the Son of God (Hebrews 1:1, Col 1:18-20).

Mark is keen right from the start for his readers to realise that there is something different about Jesus. He makes it clear that while Jesus’ coming was prophesied, Jesus was not just another prophet who had come to Israel. John the baptist had come ahead of Jesus in that role – to “prepare the way of the Lord”. John was called to spiritually prepare the way for the coming of Jesus just as one prepares for the physical arrival of a king (this is the significance of the crowd throwing down palm branches before Jesus entered Jerusalem in John 12:13). Yet as John himself makes clear, Jesus is of an order of magnitude greater than John – “after me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit”.

This continues with the baptism of Jesus. We are told in 1:5 that a multitude were coming to John from Judea and Jerusalem and being baptised and “confessing their sins”. Yet Jesus’ baptism is not followed by a confession of sin. Instead the heavens are “torn open” with “the Spirit descending on [Jesus] like a dove”. Jesus is declared to be the beloved Son of God both by word and by power. In Hebrew ‘Messiah’ literally means ‘anointed one’ and here we see Christ anointed, not by human hands like his ancestor King David (1 Sam 16:13), but by the Father himself. After his baptism, “Jesus alone is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, not to observe the Torah or to perfect purity but to defeat Satan” [3] and in 1:13 it is clear that Christ has authority over nature (the wild beasts) and even the angels (who minister to him).

Jesus is no ordinary teacher or prophet. In his introduction, Mark wants his readers to know that with the coming of Jesus, the world has changed forever. “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus’ ministry heralds the reign of God and as we see in 1:16-20 his call to repent and believe is a call to discipleship. It is a call to leave our old way of life and follow him. “His divine power over natural and spiritual forces supports his unique authority to call his disciples to radical discipleship. In Christ God calls people to return to “walking with God”… This is the rhythm of grace. God does not respond to our wayward rebellion with disgust, throwing his hands up in the air. He pursues us in love. This is who he is” [4].

Storyline and context

The beginning of Mark’s gospel establishes a continuity with God’s covenant with Israel and the ministry of Jesus. His quotation in 1:2-3 is an amalgamation of three old testament texts (Mal 3:1, Ex 23:20 and Isa 40:3) and although he attributes his quote to Isaiah, “it is more probable that this was a collection of Old Testament quotations brought together because of their common theme, and attached for purposes of recognition to the best-known author” [5].

The theme of baptism would have been familiar to Jewish readers, yet not in this manner. For John, baptism was not something reserved to bring Gentiles into the faith, instead it was a “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4) and those he was baptising were Jews who were already under the covenant. For Jesus, his baptism was an anointing of the Spirit preparing him for ministry.

This text ends with Jesus calling his first disciples, with one of them being Simon (also known as Peter) from whom tradition suggests that Mark received his gospel account.

Scripture resources:

  • Matthew 3:13-4:22
  • Luke 3:1-22; 4:1-15
  • John 1:19-42

Other GCI resources:

Other resources

Footnotes and references

  1. Gospel Transformation Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019). Digital edition.
  2. Donald English, Bible Speaks Today: the Message of Mark, (Downers Grove, IL: 1996). Digital edition)
  3. Ben C. Blackwell et al, Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019). 45.
  4. Gospel Transformation Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019). Digital edition.
  5. Donald English, Bible Speaks Today: the Message of Mark, (Downers Grove, IL: 1996). Digital edition)

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