Before people can know him, they must know about him and why he came. Jesus never expected people to trust him blindly in ignorance. That was Mark's purpose in writing this account of Jesus. Mark takes 16 chapters to carefully answer two fundamental questions about Jesus. Chapters 1-8 answer the question "Who is Jesus Christ?"
It reaches its climax with the question put to the disciples "And who do you say that I am?" "The Christ, the Son of God". Chapters 9-16 answer the second question that immediately follows, "If Jesus is truly the Son of God, why did He have to die?" The answers to these two questions are the most important you will ever face. As we understand why Jesus the King came, we begin to realise his claims over us, and our need to surrender our lives to Him. This evening we begin our Spring journey of exploration through Mark's Gospel and we come to the very first words of Jesus. They are very, very significant, for they introduce us to Jesus understanding of the Gospel. They tell us about the method he used to communicate the Gospel and thirdly they specify the mandate of the Gospel. Lets examine them one at a time.
1. THE MEANING OF THE GOSPEL 1:1-3
Isaiah is referring to the coming of the Lord. Later on in Isaiah 52:7 he predicts, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion "Your God reigns".
The gospel or good news to Isaiah was that "Our God reigns".
And what are the first recorded words of Jesus in Marks gospel?
"The time has come, the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news !" Isaiah had predicted that the King was coming, and Jesus is now announcing that the King had come. That is the Good News.
The rule of God and the ruin of Satan is the good news.
The rule of God was becoming a visible reality on earth by the very presence of the King himself. The King of the Universe has come, and He can be known. Immediately after this announcement Jesus begins to call people to follow him, to enter God's kingdom, to submit to God's kingdom rule. The Gospel then is first and foremost about the rule of God. God's rule now extends over rebellious, lawless earth.
The good news is things are not out of control.
God has returned to claim what is His. Imagine what our world would be like without the salt and light of Christians in society, without the compassion of Christian educational, medical and relief agencies especially in the developing world. Check out the Parish Magazine and list some of the reasons we should be thankful for American Christians.
The meaning of the Gospel - becoming right with God under the rule of God, revealed through Jesus Christ.
2. THE MEDIUM OF THE GOSPEL 1:4-13
In the 60's Marshall Macluen coined the
phrase "The Medium is the Message". There's a lot of confusion today
about the medium of the Gospel. How do we communicate the Gospel? Those who
read into Mark's Gospel the "Action Man Jesus", a cut down version
of Matthew or Luke for the busy Roman executive, are often more concerned with
actions than words. This approach has been called the "social gospel".
Others believe that by trying to perform miracles people will see God at work in power and so become Christians. This has been called the "signs and wonders gospel" or power evangelism. Still others hold that when we get our worship right whether through extended praise or elaborate ceremonies, people will sense the presence of God and believe. This approach might be described as a "Sacramental Gospel". God can use all means to bring people to Himself.
But how did Jesus communicate the Gospel? Read 1:14. What was Jesus priority ? Proclamation. Jesus came to teach the people about God and His purposes. Why? Because they were living in ignorance, deceived by Satan, the father of lies. The Bible shows that Jesus did not primarily come to heal the sick and cast out demons; He did not come to set up relief organisations or establish a partnership between Church and State, still less to encourage the proliferation of church denominations. These may indeed have been important aspects of the Church's ministry down through the centuries. They may have been inspired by the Gospel, they may be consequences of the Gospel, but in themselves they do not lead to salvation, they do not impart forgiveness of sin or eternal life. Therefore they were not Jesus priority.
The Scriptures do not present Jesus as a social activist but a preacher, Jesus was not essentially a healer but a teacher, he was not a worship celebrant but an evangelist. The most frequent term used to describe Jesus in Mark's Gospel is the word "Teacher". It appears 12x as a noun and 15x as a verb. In fact, when Jesus is questioned about his teaching he uses the analogy of a doctor and sick patient to describe this very fact. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17). Jesus came to call sinners back to God. And notice the medium God uses. How does John describe his role? Read 1:7. An unworthy messenger - unworthy even to untie Jesus shoes. I think sometimes we can become over familiar with Jesus.
Do you ever identify with John? If John felt unworthy, do you?
Was John unworthy? Of course he. If John was, so am I, so are you.
Yet, wonder or wonders, Jesus chooses to use you and I as his messenger boys. But we do so with reverence pointing people with awe and wonder to Jesus and not ourselves. We should never draw attention to ourselves but Jesus. The Meaning and the Medium of the Gospel.
3. THE MANDATE OF THE GOSPEL 1:14-15
At His baptism, Jesus Christ is given the endorsement by Almighty God to introduce the Good News of the eternal Kingdom of God to the entire world. God is well pleased with Jesus. Four things we can say about this mandate. This Good News is timely, available, decisive and assuring.
3.1 The Good News is Timely
"The time has come" said Jesus. Eternity echoes through His words as He reaches back into God's original purpose for His creation.
Time speeds on, through Biblical history as we hear the prophets announce the appearance of the coming Messiah.
Urgency is built into this phrase. The time has come. If the appearance of Jesus echoes the timelessness of eternity, vibrates with the continuity of history, and peaks with the soon to come finality of judgement, then no one can afford to dally. The time has come.
When I was a teenager, an evangelists petrified me with horror stories about people who had crossed the deadline when they did not respond to the Gospel. If they may be criticised for taking God's timing into their own hands, at least there was a sense of urgency that seems to have been lost today. Today, if anything, we presume upon God's time and patience by acting as if the timing for salvation belongs to us and the urgency relegated to the past and to outdated hellfire and brimstone preachers. Not so. The timing is God's and the urgency is biblical.
"The days of man are but as grass" says the psalmist. Or as we discovered at Christmas, "It all goes back in the box".
Our life and God's patience are short when it comes to the decision about his Son. The Good News is not only timely,
3.2 The Good News is Available
Counterbalancing the awesome and urgent impact of His announcement, "The time has come" Jesus now brings the distant Kingdom of God close and tempers the judgmental power of God with the mediation of the Son. "The kingdom of God is near". Another way of putting this is to say "The kingdom of God is within your reach." God's love is within your reach. Its that close. The time is now, the kingdom is here. The Good News is timely, the Good News is available.
3.3 The Good News is Decisive - Repent
Charles Colson, Dangerous Grace, p. 32.
As King, Jesus comes to rule. In the Gospel, Jesus gives a command, he issues an ultimatum. Repent and believe the good news.
To ignore it or refuse it is the same thing. Rebellion.
C.S. Lewis - "It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad."
Bernhard Langer once said, "Everyday we have to make decisions, but the most important decision we'll ever make is who we believe Jesus is. We either accept him or reject him. Jesus himself said, "You are either for or against me. There is no in between."
Repentance is not the same thing as being sorry because we were found out, caught doing something wrong. The kind of sorrow Jesus is describing is the sorrow for the evil we have thought and done in and of itself. Long ago Montaigne wrote in his autobiography "Children should be taught to hate vice for its own texture, so that they will not only avoid it in action, but abominate it in their hearts - that the very thought of it may disgust them, what ever form it takes."
Jesus preaches repentance, calling for the recognition of guilt and the hatred of sin because it is a precondition to experiencing forgiveness.
The good news is timely, available, decisive.
3.4 The Good News is Assuring
To believe simply means to take Jesus at his word, to believe that God is the kind of God Jesus has shown us, to believe that He so loves the world that he sent his son to die in our place.
To believe in the good news that we can be forgiven and accepted.
To believe that what sounds too good to be true is really true.
Story of Mary Ann Bird.... (Larson, Contemporary Illustrations p.90)
The Good News of God's love is timely, is available, is decisive and is reassuring. The story of the doctor who became his own patient is mild compared to the story of the God who became a human being.
But Jesus did. Concluding illustration of Dr Evan Kane.....