The Beginning Of The Gospel
Key Verse: 1:1
“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Today we begin the study of the Book of Mark. Mark also known as John Mark, was not one of Jesus’ 12 disciples. Rather at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, he just a boy. He grew up in a “Christian” family, and came to know the Gospel from a young age from his mother Mary. (Acts 12:12) Therefore, this particular Gospel story was not an eye witness account of the life and works of Jesus. It was influenced mostly by Peter as well as others who were telling Jesus’ story in word and in deed. This Gospel was not written in Mark’s early life as a Christian, but in his old age, after years of living the gospel. His Gospel account reflects Mark’s spiritual maturity and the change he had undergone in his life by the power of the gospel. He started out with weak faith (Acts 15:37,38) having been overly sheltered and protected. But in the end he emerges as a man of great faith and an indispensible kingdom worker. He changed. The Gospel changed him. His Gospel account is short, action packed and power-charged. It reveals Jesus and what the Gospel does to those who embrace it.
The first words of this Gospel set the stage for the entire Gospel of Mark. His first words tell us what is on his heart and mind as he writes down the events surrounding Jesus’ life. He says: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” He tells us that the Gospel is about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There are many ways to define or describe the Gospel, because the Gospel is as vast and inexhaustible as the universe. But Mark tells us simply that the Gospel is about Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. Simply then, the Gospel is about Jesus. Its his life. It’s his story. It’s Who he had come to Be, and what He had come to do. And here is how the Gospel story began. It’s a beginning that is as relevant to us today at it was on the day Mark relayed it to the world.
First, the gospel Begins with Prophesy. In other words the Gospel did not begin with man nor is its origins of man but it came from God. Read verses 1-3. “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’— ‘a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” “It is written”! What was written was the prophesy regarding the coming of the Savior to the world. The Gospel began with God in eternity when God decided to rescue the human race from the ravages of sin. A long time ago, even before the fall of man (Titus 1:2) God foresaw that men would be overcome by sin and decided to solve the sin problem. He would do so by sending a Savior, his beloved Son, who would come to be the sacrifice of atonement for sin. God loved us even in our most wretched condition, even before we were born and he promised us a Savior. A very long time ago, God thought about each of us individually— carried each of us in his heart— and with a Father’s broken heart vowed to rescue us from condemnation. It was a promise made in love, and carried out in earnest love. A very long time ago, God chose to tell us that a Savior is coming. That we ought to wait for him. That we ought to embrace him when he came. And that is exactly what happened. He came! What was promised, what was written happened. If you have not believed this promise for you, you miss out on the greatest promise of all time. The Gospel is not a human fabrication. It is a promise that began a long time ago with God.
Second, the gospel begins with those who accept their God-given mission. Read verses 2-4a. “It is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’ — ‘a voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The prophesy was that the Savior would come. The prophesy stated that the Savior’s coming would be announced by a prophet who would come to prepare the way. Another later prophesy said that John the son of Zachariah and Elizabeth would be the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. We have come to know him as John the Baptist. But even if a prophesy is given, who could force a man like John to embrace his mission as the forerunner of the Messiah! Accepting our God-given mission is a choice every person has to himself or herself make before God. And thus John spent years in the desert meditating and contemplating his God-given mission. He studied the Bible, and came to accept his mission very personally. The words in verses 2-4 tell us that John not only found his calling in the word of God, but he also embraced his mission from God to be the forerunner of Jesus. It was the beginning of the Gospel, when a man like John embraced his own calling from God. There are people all over the world in difficult places serving the Gospel. They face hardship and tragedy. Who forced them to do what they do? No one! But the Gospel began its powerful work in and through them as they embraced their God-given mission.
Third, the gospel begins with those who speak the truth of God without compromise. Read verse 4. “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John had to prepare the way for Jesus. But the way wasn’t going to be easy. God wanted him to preach a message of repentance to the people. And that is never easy to do. After years of silence from God, and years awaiting the coming of the Savior, God would begin his Gospel work with a message of repentance. To a people weary of goodness, and laden with endless struggles, and spiritual deadness. Shouldn’t John preach a message of love and of promise instead! But its not what God wanted him to preach. God would have him tell the truth to his people. The truth that sin cannot be resolved in their lives unless they humbly acknowledge it and repent of it. The message of repentance is in fact the most precious of messages and it is surely the beginning of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus will not bless a man or woman unless they see the truth of things, and bow their heads before God, acknowledging their sin and plead for forgiveness. John knew how hard it is to preach repentance. But he humbly did. And it was this message of repentance that stands him as an uncompromising messenger of the word of God and forerunner to the Messiah. Thus the gospel began working in the hearts of men and women when John taught without compromise.
And the result was as it should be. Verse 5 tells us that “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” John preached the hard truth that men ought to prepare their hearts for the Savior to come in, by repenting their sins. And people responded. They were a broken people, tired of their sins, and weary of the emptiness of life which assailed their hearts every day. The Roman conquerors were not really their true enemy. The social injustice was not really their true enemy. People who oppressed them were not really their true enemy. When they opened their hearts to John’s message, God gifted them with insight to see that their true enemy was sin, and that the way to get rid of sin was through confession and repentance. And so they came in droves and waited their turn to receive John’s baptism. It was an outward symbol of their washing their sins away. But their hearts were ready for the inner washing when they finally meet the Savior who was to come. Thus the Gospel began working its wonders in their hearts.
Fourth, the gospel begins with those who are humble. Read verse 6. “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Yes he was a prophet. But not necessarily an unusual prophet. This world centers around looks and possessions, prestige and position, glamour and popularity. But for John to bring his message to the people, he need not dress up in fancy clothes nor associate with the high and mighty. John was a humble man who knew the very essence of Gospel work and life. As his Lord would one day do, John was humble enough to live a simple life. Simple life free from the clutter of material things. Not everyone need wear a simple garment and eat bugs all their lives in order to reflect the simple life. They only need be humble enough to know that living an exemplary life blesses people more than anything else. And to live an exemplary life in Christ, means to live a simple life in all the humility of Christ within us. The Gospel began right there when John chose not to stand on a high pedestal as he brought his message, but when he chose to embrace the poor and simple life. That in itself drew people to believe that what he is teaching is truth, for this man isn’t living a double life, nor is he entangled in material possessions. He guarded his heart against the material temptation which keeps nagging at the human heart: “It won’t hurt anyone if you raised your standard of living even a little. Why, you could even help others if you had a little extra.” But God never intended for John to have a little extra. He intended for John to devote his life to the service of God and to serve his mission humbly and simply. The gospel had to begin somewhere. But it could not begin with a hypocrite, nor with a double minded man. It begins with those who a man or woman who are humble enough to live what they believe and what they preach.
Look at what John preached in verses 7,8. “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” John’s life was almost immaculate. He was a man of integrity and of truth, of charisma and grace. He was exceedingly popular, and beloved by most people. But he never once tried to steal the glory from Jesus. And that’s so easy to do, when Christians become too concerned with image and position. John kept heart pure. In other words, he always remembered that its never about him, but about Christ Jesus. There is one much greater than John, someone who would do for others what John could never do. Jesus would die for them. He would wash their sins away. He would baptize them with a baptism that cuts deep to the heart, that can cleanse their hearts and purify them until they could stand redeemed before God. We must remember that it is Christ we are preaching, that it is Christ we are living for, that it is Christ we are upholding, that it is Christ who alone can baptize the heart with the Holy Spirit and change men’s lives. Only He is worthy, and none other. The Gospel begins with this faith, that whatever I am and whatever I have is from Christ, and given to honor and to glorify Christ, and not myself.
Fifth, the gospel begins with God’s ordination. Read verses 9-11. “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” This is a remarkable story. What do we see here! We see Jesus ordained by God being blessed by John. Jesus never needed a public anointing in order to be recognized as the Savior. But that is how God has always worked and still works in history. Passing on the mantle from one servant of God to another, and ordained by God. It was necessary then that Jesus receive the baptism of John and the anointing of God to confirm that this is the will of God. John was a humble man. But our Lord Jesus was by far more humble than John. Jesus did not need to repent and receive baptism, for there was no sin in him. But it was necessary for him to do so because it was the will of God. It was also necessary for him to do so in submission to God’s flow of history. God’s history isn’t random. It does not just happen. God directs it. If Jesus were to ignore John’s ministry just because it was preparatory or unimportant as Jesus’ own ministry, it would go against God’s way of working. Every Gospel ministry is crucial and from God. Its where the Gospel usually begins. It began in a manger. It began in John’s obedience. It began in passing the flame from John to Jesus. It began when God ordained Jesus in the view of all people. It began when the Holy Spirit rested upon Jesus in order to empower him to begin the Gospel work. The gospel cannot begin where there is pride in the heart. It begins when a man or woman humbly bow to God’s will and are willing to be blessed by other servants, even servants of seemingly lesser worth. In this Our Lord Jesus is the most humble of all.
Sixth, the gospel begins with those who make a decision to accept God’s discipline. Read verses 12,13. “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” Jesus the Son of God, who was just ordained by God, did not proceed to his throne in heaven right away. He needed to go to the desert. He later needed to go to the cross. But in going to the desert, we learn that the Gospel also began with Jesus making a decision of faith to fight against the devil’s temptation. In the desert the devil tempted him to follow the easy way rather than the way of hardship and suffering God had prepared for him to follow. There was a fierce battle, but in the end Jesus defeated the devil when he stood on the word of God. He needed to go through this spiritual discipline in order to fulfill his mission as the Savior. When men or women are called, God also gives discipline. Discipline to fight temptation and to stand on the word of God strengthens God’s people and equips them to serve the Gospel well. We should not resent the deserts of our Christian lives. Rather use them as opportunities to hold to the word of God rather than fall into temptation. The Gospel begins there as well. It begins when we accept the Lord’s discipline and stand on the word of God as Jesus did. Then there is great Gospel work in and through us as there was through our Lord.
Seventh, the gospel begins with the good news of God. Read verses 14,15. “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’” In this world there is hardly any good news. At the time of John the Baptist’s imprisonment it was hardly good news. Some would think it was extremely bad news. But our Lord thought otherwise. Jesus came to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God was no longer shut from our hearts and lives. Now it would be open for everyone who repents and believes the good news. Indeed it is good news because God has chosen to bring us back home to heaven to be with him even now. That is what Jesus proclaimed. His coming ushered the age of good news. It ushered the beginning of God’s salvation work in this world and in our own lives. Sometimes life is hard and full of troubles. But the fact that we have the good news must never escape our hearts. The Gospel begins with the message of the good news of the kingdom of God coming into our hearts, and from our hearts spreading to everyone else.
Eighth, the gospel begins with calling of disciples. Read verses 16-20. “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” One of the first things Jesus also did was to call ordinary men to follow him. He did not call them to only listen to his teaching, but to imitate his life as well. Jesus called them to a life of following Jesus and living with Jesus. He also called them to be fishers of men, to bring in men and women into the kingdom of God through the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The gospel begins when a man or woman accept their calling to a life disciple and disciple making.
“The beginning of the Gospel” as Mark relays it. And as it began there, it continues to begin in our hearts and lives, and in the hearts and lives of those who hear it, embrace it, and spread it wherever they are. May the gospel begin or begin again in you heart and life today and spread out to all people of all nations. Amen.