Some Really Great News (Mark 1:1-13)
Topic: Mark Passage: Mark 1:1–1:13
Some Really Great News
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
July 19, 2015
I. What Would Good News Sound Like?
In a world where there is so much bad news, what would good news sound like to you? If someone were to say to you, “Hey, there YOU are; I’ve got some good news for you”, what would you be hoping to hear, maybe given what is currently going on in your life?
Would it have something to do with your family? Would it maybe have something to do with your financial standing? Something to do with our country or maybe the value of your home? Maybe you would be hoping to hear something about your career, your health, or a romantic relationship? Maybe it would have something to do with a new kind of notoriety, acceptance, or success.
What would good news sound like to you?
This morning, an ancient writer wants to tells us about some good news, in fact, about some really great news. Turn with me to Mark 1. Tradition identifies this writer as Mark, a man who was a traveling companion of the Apostle Peter.
So how does Mark begin? Well let's look together at verse 1 of Mark 1. Notice that Mark has some “good news” to share with us. Mark writes...
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Now what’s important to understand here is that this word “gospel” is an English version of a Greek word that literally means “good news”; exactly what we were talking about a minute ago. The gospel is the Good News!
This was good news that Paul described in Romans 1:16 as the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Wow! That must be some really great news. But news about what? Well, Mark tells us here. It is good news “of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
And notice that Mark describes what he is about to write as the beginning of this Good News. Let’s keep this in mind as we move forward in this passage. I think our goal this morning needs to be to understand not only the content of this Good News, but also why this Good News is so very good; in fact, why it is better than any other good news you or I could ever hear or hope to hear.
II. The Passage: “The Beginning of the Gospel” (1:1-13)
Let's do that as we dig into the first thirteen verses of this chapter this morning.
1. Good News According to God’s Plan (1:2, 3)
Look at where Mark chooses to begin his description of the good news about Jesus Christ: Mark 1:2, 3. We read:
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
The first thing we learn from Mark about this good news is that it is good news according to God’s plan. What we find here is actually a quote from both the prophet Malachi and the prophet Isaiah.
It was common for the Jewish rabbis to combine similar or compatible prophetic quotes. And typically when this was done, the prophet considered more significant (in this case it would be Isaiah) would usually be the only one mentioned.
But what we learn from the prophet’s words, and how Mark uses the prophet’s words here, is that what we are about to read in this Gospel was foretold hundreds of years before. Isaiah spoke to the people of Judah 700 years before the time of Christ.
This “way” or “way of the Lord” mentioned by both prophets, was announced long before it ever came to pass. Another confirmation of the fact that we are watching something fulfilled is back in the very first verse where Jesus is identified as Jesus Christ. Christ, of course, was not Jesus’ last name. It was a title, a Greek word that translated the Hebrew meshiach or messiah.
The messiah was that Savior-King who was, according to the Israelite prophecies, coming to rescue his people from their enemies and reestablish God’s reign as King.
So as we read in Mark, we see that this was not an obscure word from a forgotten prophet that failed to ever materialize. This was good news that God was making a reality according to His perfect will.
So much of our good news today is old news the next day. One week scientists tell us this food is good for us. The next week, it’s bad for us. One week a politician makes great promises. The next week, he or she has let us down. One week we receive a promotion, the next week we find ourselves laid off.
When our good news is solely according to human plans, it will eventually fade away, or fail, or be forgotten. But when our good news is according to God’s plan, it will stand firm. The seven hundred years that elapsed between the time of Isaiah and the time of Jesus had absolutely no affect on the certainty that God’s plan would come to pass.
Can you imagine if something planned in 1315 AD was perfectly carried through to its fulfillment today in 2015? That would be amazing. This is what happened through the prophets. This is good news we can trust.
Mark wants us to see that this Good News is according to God’s plan, and not man’s.
2. Good News Demanding Radical Humility (1:4-8)
But as we move on and connect verses 2 and 3 with verses 4 through 8, we see more clearly the outlines of this prophetic message. Look at verses 4-6:
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.
Here the “messenger” from Malachi’s prophecy (quoted in Mark 1:2), here the “voice in the wilderness” that Isaiah spoke about is revealed. A man named John was in the middle of the desert, about 20 miles east of Jerusalem by the Jordan River, and he was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
John, or John the Baptist, or John the Baptizer, is identified by Mark as part of the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies he just quoted. But what does this man John really have to do with the Good News? Well, Mark teaches us through John that this gospel is a good news demanding radical humility. We see that in two ways:
First we see this radical humility in what John declared. The prophets told us that John would be preparing the way of the Lord. But what does this mean? Does it mean that he was out with a rake clearing off the road; that he organized a clean up crew to pick up trash on the side of the highway? Was he preparing hotel accommodations for the Messiah at the Jerusalem Hilton?
No, John’s preparations were focused on preparing the hearts of those who heard him. Using a little literary exaggeration, verse 5 tells us that practically everyone was coming to hear him. What were they hearing? This voice crying in the wilderness was announcing a radical call for redirection.
John was saying, “You are going the wrong direction in life. You need to turn around.” This is what repentance is. It is a changing of one’s mind about the direction of one’s life. It is remorsefully admitting you are going the wrong way. And we see that the people coming out were getting this message. We are told in verse 5 that they were confessing their sins.
The way John was ministering to these people was through a symbolic act of immersion or washing. That’s all baptism means. Just as the water cleansed their skin, John wanted them to see that this symbolic act of redirection signified a washing away of their sins.
We are not told that this forgiveness was a once-for-all kind of thing. But like the OT rites of sacrifice that had to be performed over and over, John’s baptism was simply getting people ready, getting them turned in the right direction for the way of the Lord that was going to be revealed.
Instead of continuing in rigid pride, God, through John was calling for a radical humility.
But John did more than just declare this radical humility; he also demonstrated it. Look at verses 7 and 8:
And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John was passionate about making sure that people didn’t get the wrong idea about his ministry. He was not the Messiah. His ministry was only transitional. He is, in these verses, emphasizing what the prophets foretold: he was only coming to prepare the way.
John not only proclaimed humility, he practiced it. The fact that so many were coming out to hear him did not puff up his head. His success did not cause him to lose his perspective.
There was One coming who was mightier than he was. This figure’s superiority to John is further confirmed by the fact that his baptism was even greater than John’s. While John performed a symbolic act of cleansing, the One who was coming would administer a spiritual cleansing through God’s own Spirit.
Even more so, this One who was coming was worthy of so much respect and reverence, that John was not even worthy enough to untie His sandals.
In ancient cultures, this untying of one’s sandal referred to the job of a slave serving his master. But in the Hebrew culture, even slaves were not called to stoop to this level. Master’s had to take off their own sandals. But John says, “I am not even worthy to do this for the One who is coming.” John considers himself even lower than a slave.
Again the point is radical humility. Does that sound like good news to you? To many this would be anything but good news; maybe offensive news, but not good news. How can being told you are way off track, that you are misguided, that you're wrong, how can that be good news? It can only be good if it's true. What do I mean? If a blind man is about to walk off a cliff, then such a call for redirection would be good news, wouldn’t it?
In which direction are you going this morning? Does your life demonstrate this kind of radical humility? Receiving this Good News requires first being prepared to receive it. And that means recognizing you're going the wrong direction. When you do that, then you will be hungry for the direction the gospel gives.
3. Good News Confirming God’s Hero (1:9-11)
Let’s keep going and see what else we learn about this good news. Look at verses 9-11:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Now the progression of events here should make it very clear that the One whom John was speaking about, this mightier One, is Jesus from Nazareth. This is clear, not simply from the fact that Jesus appears right after John’s speech about the one who was coming, but even more so from the fact that God himself confirms the identity of Jesus.
We see here that this is good news confirming God’s hero. The “way of the Lord” that the prophets spoke of was coming through God’s own Son, Jesus. He would be the agent of God’s deliverance, of complete forgiveness through a spiritual baptism, as we heard earlier.
And look here: we are given visual and audible confirmation of this fact. We are told in verse 10 that when Jesus came up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening and the Spirit of God resting on Him in the form of a dove. This was meant to be a tangible picture of a spiritual reality, that is, God’s anointing upon Jesus; God’s pleasure with His Son.
Even the picture of the heavens opening is an image from the Old Testament of God breaking in to our reality on behalf of His people.
Good news is often about a hero. Whether that hero is simply someone who can help us out at work or with our family, or a political figure or celebrity, or some kind of religious figure, all of us are looking to look to someone.
But there are so many voices out there, aren’t there? You have self-help gurus doling out answers. You have political figures try to win your confidence. There are religious teachers, each announcing some path to salvation. With all of these voices, which one should we listen to?
Well, the good news is that there is one voice that speaks in these verses, and it is not a voice from down here, but from above. God has identified His chosen servant. God has identified and confirmed that Jesus is His Son, and thus stands in a unique relationship with Him. To whom are you looking for good news? It's really good news that there is no need for confusion. God has made it clear that Jesus is the One we need.
Now we might ask, but why was Jesus baptized? Wasn’t this a baptism of repentance? Did Jesus have sin to repent of? Well, this wouldn’t correspond with what we’ve learned from John about the exalted nature of this One who was coming, or with God’s pleasure with Jesus.
Another later record of the good news recorded by Matthew actually has John asking why Jesus is coming for baptism. There Jesus responds, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” It seems that Jesus wanted to fully identify with humanity, even to the extent that he would enter the water to be baptized. But his identification with us doesn’t stop there.
4. Good News Signaling Evil’s Defeat (1:12, 13)
Look at where we go in 1:12, 13. We read:
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Not only does Jesus identify with us in the act of baptism, but he also faces temptation, just as we do everyday. And yet there is nothing random about these temptations.
We read that the Spirit of God compelled Jesus to leave the Jordan and wander into the desert. Why? For the express purpose of testing. How? Well even though he found himself in a barren wasteland, Jesus was not alone. Satan, the ancient enemy of God was there tempting him.
Now even Matthew and Luke's Gospels describe some of the temptations Jesus had to endure, Mark seems to emphasize the simple fact he was tempted. You see, any sin, any surrender to temptation, would represent Jesus the man going His own way, and not God’s way. And if this were to happen, Jesus would cease to be God’s perfect and exalted agent of deliverance. This was Satan’s goal; to derail Jesus.
Clearly this was an extremely difficult period of time—notice the mention of wild animals and ministering angels. But the sense here is that Jesus did not succumb to the enticements of His adversary. He was not willing to renounce God’s will, to substitute God’s plan for Satan’s plan or human ideas.
What Mark is relaying to us is that this gospel is good news signaling evil’s defeat. From the beginning, from the very first time the first human beings rejected God’s will, not one person born has ever been free from the stain of rebellion, the stain of sin.
All of us have been tempted, we have been tested, and we have failed. Not even one human being was free from our default tendency to live a me-centered life in this God-centered universe. That is, not until Jesus.
This is good news, isn't it? If just one man has broken this dreadful and depressing legacy of human failure and evil, then that means there is hope for all of us because of that one man.
III. Just “the Beginning”
In a world where there is so much bad news, what would good news sound like to you? What is the good news you need to hear today? Would it sound something like what we just read?
In light of our focus this morning, isn't it interesting that Mark's Gospel contains no Christmas story? Not even, as is the case with John's Gospel, a description of the preexistence of God the Son and how He “became flesh and dwelt among us.”
But why is this? The Christmas story is a wonderful prelude, but it is a prelude. I think Mark begins here at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry because what begins here will begin to tip the dominoes. You see, if this is the beginning, we have to ask, where does it go from here, and where does it end?
The good news that God has a plan, a plan that He is carrying out and which no one man or woman can frustrate, will find its fullness on Good Friday and Easter.
The good news that alerts us to the fact that we are going the wrong way will be driven home as nails are driven into the body of Jesus because of our waywardness and rebellion against God.
The good news that evil's grip on our world, that evil's grip on our hearts has been broken through the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ will find it's fullest realization as that spotless, perfect Lamb lays down His life for us, in our place.
The good news that clearly identifies for us the Man that God has appointed to bring us real forgiveness and real life will be powerfully confirmed when that Man comes back from the dead.
That is the end toward which the dominoes are falling. Without the rest of what Mark writes, without the rest of the NT, this beginning is simply confusing and disappointing.
But in light of that, we must also ask, if this is the beginning of the gospel, where does it go from here...for me? For many people, Jesus stays right here, or in someplace similar, that is, in an incomplete story. Oh sure, they may think very highly of Him; we might marvel at Him; we might even talk about His death and resurrection. But the fullness of this story never fills us. Where the story leads never leads us to God.
This morning, God wants this good news to be the good news you long to hear every day. Yes, you may long to hear good news from a doctor, or good news from a lover, or good news from an employer. But it is THE Good News, the gospel, that puts all other news in perspective; that helps us test and discern, to prove and prioritize.
For some of you here this morning, this is truly the beginning. You are truly beginning at the beginning of the gospel. If so, a right response can be found on the back of your bulletin.
For others of you, this is God's reminder to you of what you've already embraced, but maybe forgotten. It's so easy to take this Good News for granted; for the gospel to, in our eyes, lose its luster. Maybe that's where you are this morning. If it is, ask God to thrill your heart once more with the wonder of the Good News; that you would hear news of God's plan, and God's hero, and God's victory through Jesus and you would respond like you were hearing it for the very first time. Ask God for that this morning.
In a world where there is so much bad news, what would good news sound like to you? Let's ask God to open our ears, today and this week, to the best news of all.