December 7, 2014

The Beginning of the Good News

Passage: Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-18
Service Type:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

“If I’d known then what I know now …” Have you found yourself opining in a similar way from time to time? I can easily imagine that there were people in the first century church who met Jesus somewhere in the course of their life but only came to believe later as the Apostles began to travel proclaiming Jesus risen from the dead. If I had only known then …

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark’s gospel was written to be heard. It is a fast paced story. Things happen “immediately”—a favourite word of Mark’s account. It is a well-told story that makes good use of literary device to help us pay attention to what he wants to tell us. Its design was likely to be heard all at once as the story moves the hearer inexorably to the climax. Like a book that you just can’t put down the hearer is drawn in to want to know what happens to this man who did so much good for so many people.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This brief sentence—thirteen English words which translate only seven Greek words—tells us everything we need to know, in a manner of speaking. It is a sentence that tells us what the story will disclose to us—if we will listen. In a way, Mark tells us what many people in the story wish they had known earlier. He tells us so we will know. He takes us behind the scene, so to speak, to show us something of the theological dimensions of the story which is to follow; “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

1. As Mark’s gospel unfolds it brings us to a poignant moment when Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29) Mark has already told us. “Jesus Christ,” meaning Messiah, the long promised anointed one; “the Son of God”—make no mistake that in the Jewish mind to say “son of” meant “of the same nature as”. Jesus’ question—who do you say I am—posed today garners a lot of different answers. Consider some popular answers (adapted from Rev. Kevin DeYoung)

There's Political Jesus—who supports the efforts of your favourite party.
There's Therapist Jesus—who helps us cope with life's problems, and tells us how valuable we are and not to be so hard on ourselves.
There's Starbucks Jesus—who drinks fair trade coffee and loves spiritual conversations.
There's Open-minded Jesus—who loves everyone all the time no matter what (except for people who are not as open-minded as you).
There's Touchdown Jesus—who helps athletes run faster and jump higher.
There's Gentle Jesus—who was meek and mild, with high cheek bones, flowing hair, and walks around barefoot, wearing a sash.
There's Hippie Jesus—who teaches everyone to give peace a chance and imagines a world without religion.
There's Successful Jesus—who encourages us to reach our full potential and live life without limits.
There's Spirituality Jesus—who hates religion, churches, pastors, priests, and doctrine, and would rather have people out in nature.
There's Platitude Jesus—good for greeting cards and inspiring people to believe in themselves.
There's Revolutionary Jesus—who teaches us to rebel against the status quo, and blame things on "the system."
There's Guru Jesus—a wise, inspirational teacher who believes in you and helps you find your center.
There's Good Example Jesus—who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you.

And then there's Jesus of the gospels. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Not just another prophet. Not just another Rabbi. Not just another wonder-worker. He was the one they had been waiting for: the Son of David and Abraham's chosen seed; the one to deliver us from captivity; the goal of the Mosaic law; God in the flesh; the one to establish God's reign and rule; the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim Good News to the poor; the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

This Jesus was the Creator come to earth and the beginning of a New Creation. He embodied the covenant, fulfilled the commandments, and reversed the curse. This Jesus is the Christ of God spoken of by the prophets; promised to Abraham; guaranteed to Moses; promised to King David revealed to Isaiah as a Suffering Servant; the One prepared for through John the Baptist.

This Jesus is not a reflection of the current mood or the projection of our own desires. He is our Lord and God. He is the Father's Son, Savior of the world, and substitute for our sins—more loving, more holy, and more wonderfully powerful than we ever thought possible. It is a loaded sentence—this opening line from Mark. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

2. When one of my grandsons was two years old he came to our home for a sleep-over (along with his sister). Some children’s movies had been sent with them by their parents and he wanted to watch one. Bedtime was fast approaching so when he wasn’t looking Valerie would fast forward the movie. He must have had this movie memorized because when he came back to paying attention to the movie he knew something was amiss. He couldn’t describe what was wrong so he simply scolded Valerie with the word, “Hey!”

When you read the beginning of Mark’s account of Jesus do you ever feel like yelling, “Hey?” Something got fast-forwarded. Where is the hay? Stable hay, that is. Advent is a season of preparing for Christmas. In the cycle of Lectionary readings this is the year we follow Jesus’ life through Mark’s gospel. He skips right over the birth stories. No donkey ride, no mention of Bethlehem, shepherds, angels, wise men. Fast-forwards straight to John the Baptist.

If we were we able to say “Hey!” to Mark, he’s likely be nonplussed. Everything in Mark happens immediately, right now, fast. There is no time for narrative niceties and no time to lose. The greatest story ever told needs to be told and tell it Mark will.

Mark knows that we must begin in the wilderness. We must begin with John. We must begin with getting baptized because if you’re not willing to meet the Savior with repentance in hand, then we may not find any motivation to meet and greet the Savior at all. Mark knows that Jesus came for but one reason: to liberate the cosmos from its bondage to sin and decay. If we have no interest in seeing our own complicity in all that, then we’ll have no more use for Jesus showing up in our life than we would for a plumber who showed up at our front door on a day when—to the best of our knowledge—we did not have a plumbing problem in the world. In such a situation there’s really nothing to do other than to tell the kindly plumber to toddle off.

Mark is convinced that you can tell the story of Jesus without the detail of Bethlehem’s stall. If Mark were the only gospel we possessed in the church, a great deal of what fills up our imaginations in the month of December would disappear but the one thing that would not disappear would be the gospel, the core of which is recognizing Jesus as the One sent from God to save us from our sins.

Of course, in God’s good providence, Mark is not our only gospel. We have three other wonderfully composed portraits of Jesus that round out the picture of our Lord, and that’s a profoundly good thing. And since two of those other gospels—and one in particular—tell us a lot about the birth of Jesus, it’s fitting and fine to note that and celebrate it.

But let us not forget what Mark taught us, to always keep before us the real core “of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

3. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” What “beginning” was Mark referring to? Is he referring to the prophet Isaiah whom he quotes immediately after this sentence? Does he mean to say that John the Baptist signals the beginning? Does the beginning include the event of Jesus own baptism? Theologians have varying opinion.

Some have proposed that Mark refers to the whole story he will tell of Jesus as “the beginning of the good news.” That Mark means to say that the “good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” is a continuing story in the life of the church and it all began here with the events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. While these are indeed events that occurred in a point in time the story is far from over. Not only is it continuing but in light of the promise of eternal life in him it’s just getting started. C.S. Lewis once compared this life we live here but the flyleaf of all the chapters of our life yet to be written in the world to come.

Many think that Mark’s gospel was written with the Christians in Rome in mind who are suffering under Nero’s deprivations. Christians who have witnessed the crucifixions of Paul and Peter; people now hiding in catacombs to stay out of Nero’s reach. Mark wants to say that the good news is far from over. It is continuing in them. Jesus Christ risen from the dead guarantees and includes them in the great resurrection day. Don’t give up.

We may wonder how such a gospel is helpful in a day of trouble. Wasn’t it their allegiance to Jesus the very reason for their trouble? Wouldn’t hanging in with Jesus mean remaining in trouble?

Mark’s gospel relentlessly points them and us to the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The noun “good news” or “gospel” is found in the genitive case. This could mean with the good news proclaimed by Jesus or the good news that Jesus is in himself. Both are true. He is the good news he announces. In the day of difficulty in which these first century Christians found themselves, would it have been better if Mark pointed people to look somewhere else; say to the declaration of a political leader, a corporate giant, an entertainer, or a philosopher? I think it best to hear of and from Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

4. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This good news isn’t merely events of history. Mark believes that the story begun in Jesus Christ continues. Mark knows that for every believer there is a point when the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God began in them. He also tells this story so that the good news can begin in others. Permit me a question, when did the story of Jesus Christ begin to be good news for you?

Faith begins by trusting as much of yourself as you know of yourself to as much of God as you know of him. We often begin with knowing very little and grow as we learn more of his love for our lives. The point of the gospel is that we begin. And if you haven’t begun make this the day of “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” in you.