It’s always good to return to the gospels and to spend time reading about and thinking about the Lord Jesus Christ: and all he said and all he did for our salvation. Between the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2015 — with lots of breaks and interruptions — we studied the gospel of John together; and today we’re going to turn our attention to Mark’s gospel. But we’re not going to get very far, because we’re going to spend our time on just the first verse where Mark introduces the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The beginning, or the opening of the gospel, is found in verses 2 to 13, because there we read about John the Baptist, who was this voice, calling in the wilderness, summoning his contemporaries to prepare for the coming of the Lord. And then the Lord Jesus Christ appeared; and he’s baptised by John; and then he’s anointed by the Spirit; and then he’s sent out into the wilderness where the Devil confronts him, but angels ministered to him. So, that’s the beginning of the gospel; those verses set the scene for everything that follows; and we’ll come back to those verses the next time.
But today, we’re going to spend our time on that opening verse where Mark introduces us to the beginning of the gospel. And all I want to do today is to go through this verse word by word to see what it says about the Lord Jesus. So, there’s the word ‘gospel’; we’ll think about that. And there’s the name ‘Jesus’; we’ll think about that. There’s another name, which is really a title: ‘Christ’; and we’ll think about that. And then there’s ‘the Son of God’; we’ll think about that. So, there’s a lot packed into this one verse.
Firstly, we have the word ‘gospel’. And most of you will know that the word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’.
We all know what news is, don’t we? You sit down in front of the TV and watch the 6 o’clock news or the 10 o’clock news or you turn on the radio and listen to the news headlines and the newsreader reads out all the important things that have happened today in the world: the Prime Minister did this; the President said this; this happened in this country today; and this is what happened in another country. The newsreader is telling you, the viewer, or the listener, about all these things that happened to other people; the newsreader is telling you what other people did in the world today. And all you’re doing is listening. The news isn’t about you; it’s about other people. And that’s what the good news of the gospel is, first and foremost: it’s the news about what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for sinners like us. It’s not, first and foremost, about what we do. It’s about what he has done for us.
And it’s so important that we grasp this, because too often people think that Christianity is all about us and it’s about what we must do. Do you remember the rich, young man who came to the Lord Jesus? Mark will tell us about him in chapter 10. But do you remember what he asked? He said to the Lord Jesus:
What must I do to inherit eternal life?
What must I do? People think Christianity is all about the things that I must do: the things I must do to reach up to God and the things I must do to climb up to heaven. They think Christianity is good advice about how to live a good life; it’s about rules and instructions and laws about how to live a life that will please God and which will earn me eternal life. That’s what the rich young man thought; it’s what many people think today; most of your unbelieving friends think that’s what Christianity is about; it’s about trying to live a good life. But they forget that Christianity is first and foremost the news about what Jesus Christ has done for us.
And, of course, it’s not just news: it’s good news. And it’s good news, because Christianity is the news that Jesus Christ died for sinners to pay for their sins in full, so that all who believe in him are pardoned for all they have done wrong and receive the free gift of eternal life. Though you may have done everything wrong, God is prepared to treat you as if you’re done everything right for the sake of Christ who died on the cross as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice to take away the guilt of our sins and to reconcile God and sinners for ever. That’s what Christianity is about; it’s the good news about what Christ has done on behalf of sinners to bring them to God; and whoever hears and believes this good news is not condemned — and that’s what we deserve because of all that we have done wrong; we’re not condemned, but we’re pardoned by God.
In Isaiah 52 Isaiah the prophet says how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace and good tidings and salvation. We’re to imagine people who are downcast and depressed, because they’re held in captivity by their enemies; but then, they look up and see a runner coming, whose is coming with good news to proclaim: their enemies have been defeated and they’ll soon be set free. And the sound of that runner coming, and the sight of him just thrills the people and it fills their hearts with joy and their mouths with praise. Well, when we come to church, we’re sometimes loaded down by a sense of sin and shame; we think about the things we’ve done during the week which were wrong; and all the ways we’ve fallen short of doing God’s will; all the ways we’ve disobeyed him and dishonoured his name. We know we’re sinners who deserve to be condemned. But here comes the preacher; and the preacher has good news to proclaim; the news that Christ has died for me; and therefore I am not condemned, but am pardoned and accepted and have peace with God for ever. Christianity is good news: news about what Christ has done to reconcile God and sinners for ever.
Let’s move on because this good news is about Jesus. And many of you know that the name ‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of the name ‘Joshua’. And Joshua means ‘the Lord saves’. So, ‘Jesus’ means ‘Saviour’. Well, when God the Father sent his Son into the world, he also sent his angel to instruct Mary and Joseph to name him ‘Jesus’ because he wanted everyone who hears his name to know and to believe that this is the Saviour, the one who is able to save us from the condemnation we deserve for our sins.
You know, there are some things which frighten us. Someone sees a spider, and they begin to panic because they’re afraid of spiders. And perhaps they even break out in a sweat and become nervous at even the thought of a spider. Someone hears the buzz of a wasp and they get up and run away, because they’re afraid of being stung. Or perhaps there’s a person who frightens you; and whenever you see them, you panic. Or perhaps whenever you hear that person’s name, you get anxious. Some things and some people frighten us. But here’s a name which should have the opposite effect; here’s a name which, when we hear it, should soothe our troubled conscience and comfort our anxious soul and re-assure us of God’s love for us. Here’s a name which drives away our fears, because here’s a name which means ‘salvation’; and whenever we hear the name ‘Jesus’ we should remember the full salvation which he has won for us by his life and death and resurrection and which he gives to all who believe in his name.
Throughout the first part of Mark’s gospel, people are asking: ‘Who is this?’ They see the things the Lord was able to do, the mighty miracles. And they hear the things he taught and they’re struck by his authority. And they wonder:
Who is this?
This is Jesus, the Saviour, who came into the world to save us. And so, we ought to believe in his name; you ought to believe in his name; you ought to believe that he is the only Saviour and he’s able to save you, if only you will trust in him.
The next name is really a title, because Jesus is ‘the Christ’ which means he’s the anointed one; ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed’. Now, in the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah anointed Elisha with oil so that Elisha could serve God as his prophet. And in the Old Testament, priests were anointed with oil in order to set them apart for their special work in the temple. And in the Old Testament, we read how Samuel anointed David with oil to signify how God had chosen David to be the king of his people. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests and kings were anointed. And in the gospels, we read how the Lord Jesus was also anointed. But he wasn’t anointed with oil; he was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism when the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. And after his baptism, and after he was anointed in this way by the Holy Spirit, he was able to begin his public ministry and to serve his Father in heaven by being our Great Prophet, Priest and King.
So, he was anointed to be our Great Prophet. And as our Great Prophet, the Lord Jesus came to proclaim God’s word and to make known God’s willingness to save. And so, we read in the gospel of Mark how he went about, preaching. It’s there in verse 14 of chapter 1, where we read how he went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God:
The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.
It’s there in verse 21 of chapter 1, where we read how he went into the synagogue and began to teach; and the people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority. Well, he had authority, because he was sent from God the Father and he was anointed and equipped by the Spirit to declare God’s word and to be God’s Great Prophet. And it’s there in verse 38 of chapter 1 where we read how the people were coming to him in order to be healed; but he decided he and his disciples had to move on from there. Why? So that he would preach elsewhere, because ‘that is why I have come’. He had come into the world to preach God’s word. And so, in the rest of the gospel, we see how he taught the people in parables, and he taught his disciples privately and, wherever he went, he made known God’s word and proclaimed salvation for all who repent and believe.
And, of course, he’s still our Great Prophet today, and he teaches us through the preaching of his word and by the power of the Holy Spirit. And so, as we come to church each Sunday, we should be praying to God, asking that Jesus Christ our Great Prophet will speak to us by his word and Spirit, for the Spirit of God is able to make the preaching of his word effective in order to convince and convert sinners to faith and to build up believers in holiness and comfort. We ought to pray that Christ our Great Prophet will speak to us today.
But our Great Prophet is also our Great Priest; and not only did he come to teach us about salvation, but he came to save us and to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins and to take away our guilt.
In the first half of Mark’s gospel, everyone is wondering who he is: Who is this man who he can do these things? Who is the man who can teach like this? And then, at the end of chapter 8, the penny drops for Simon Peter and he’s able to confess and say:
You’re the Christ. That’s who you are: the Anointed One sent from God to save us.
And after that, there’s a change in emphasis, and the Lord begins to make clear that he has to suffer and to die for his people. So, he began to teach his disciples that he had to die. And then, of course, the time came, when he was arrested and tried by the Jews and Gentiles and sentenced by Pilate and taken away to bear our guilt on the cross and to pay for our sins by his death.
And, of course, there was that moment of great symbolism — wasn’t there? — when the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. You see, the curtain in the temple separated the Most Holy Place where God was said to dwell from the rest of the temple. And the curtain was designed to show how guilty sinners could not come into the presence of a holy God. Though the Lord dwelt among them, they couldn’t come near him because they were sinners. Only the High Priest could go through the curtain and enter the presence of the Lord; and he could only enter the Most Holy Place once a year; and only after offering a sacrifice for sins. But when Jesus Christ died on the cross as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice for sins, the curtain of the temple was torn in two to symbolise how our sins have been paid for in full and we’re now able to come into God’s holy presence, because Christ has paid for our sins and he’s taken our guilt away and he’s reconciled us to God. Our Great High Priest has offered the perfect sacrifice, so that all who believe in him may come before God in worship and one day, we’ll come before him in glory.
But that’s not all he does as our Great High Priest. There’s more. The Old Testament priests not only offered sacrifices on behalf of the people, but they also prayed for the people. And the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, was raised and he ascended to heaven, and he now lives to intercede for us. So, he reminds God the Father that our sins have been paid for by his death on the cross. Maybe sometimes you’re afraid because of something you have done; you’ve let God down and you’ve dishonoured his name. You’re afraid that he won’t love you any more; now he must hate you; now he must be angry with you; now he’ll make you pay for your sins. But no, because our Great High Priest is in heaven, where he represents his people before the Father — where he represents you before the Father if you trust in him — and every moment of every day he’s there to remind the Father continually and without interruption that all your sins have been paid for in full.
The Lord Jesus was anointed to be our Great Prophet and he was anointed to be our Great Priest. He was also anointed to be our Great King.
Look again at verses 14 and 15 of chapter 1 where we read how the Lord began to preach. And what was his message?
The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.
The kingdom of God was near, because the king had arrived; and as he went about preaching, he was calling out a people for himself, to belong to him, and to belong to his kingdom. He was setting sinners free from the tyranny of the Devil and he was bringing them into his own kingdom of grace. And every time he healed the sick, it was a foretaste of what he will do for all his people when he comes again in glory and power to deliver us from all our sin and misery and from all the sorrow and sadness of this fallen world. And every time he cast out evil spirits, it was a foretaste of what he will do when he comes again to destroy once and for all the Devil and all his demons and all who have sided with the Devil. And, of course, after he died, he was raised and he ascended to heaven where he was enthroned at the right hand of God the Father. And now he rules over all things for the sake of his people; and now he’s building his kingdom throughout the earth. And since his kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, and a heavenly one, it advances, not with guns and swords and bullets and bombs, and not by the wisdom of the world which is destined to perish, but it advances by spiritual means: by prayer and by preaching, which in the eyes of the world are foolish and weak, but which have, in fact, divine power to demolish strongholds and to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
And so, we needn’t be afraid: we needn’t be afraid of what the unbelieving world might do to us; we needn’t be afraid of what might happen tomorrow; we needn’t be afraid for the future of the church, because we know and we believe that Jesus Christ is our Great King and he rules over all the people of the world so that no one can hurt us without his permission; and he rules over all the circumstances of our lives so that nothing can happen to us without his permission; and he has promised to build his church throughout the world. And, in Mark’s gospel, we will see that though so many people doubted him and opposed him and joined together to crucify him, in the end the Lord Jesus rose triumphant over the grave. They could not defeat him then; and they cannot defeat him now, because our Great King is a mighty King.
Son of God
We’ve thought about the words ‘gospel’ and ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’. Verse 1 of Mark 1 ends with the words ‘Son of God’. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Well, God the Father testified to this after the Lord’s baptism, because Mark tells us that after the Lord came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove and a voice came from heaven — and this is the voice of God the Father — and said:
You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.
God the Father testified to it. But right at the end of the gospel, we find another person who testified that this is the Son of God. Mark tells us how the Lord Jesus, on the cross, let out a loud cry and then breathed his last. He died. And the Roman centurion, who stood in front of the Lord Jesus, and who heard his cry, and who saw how he died, said:
Surely this man was the Son of God.
At the beginning of his gospel and at the end of his gospel, Mark records for us a two-fold testimony to teach us that this man who lived and who died, and who was raised, is the Son of God. All through the Old Testament, God promised that he would save his people; and so, when the time was right, God the Son came into the world to do what he had promised and to save his people for ever.
And here’s the thing. If you believe in him, the Son of God who died for sinners, then you will be adopted into God’s family. He is the Eternal Son of God, but we become sons and daughters of God by faith and by being adopted into his family. And as sons and daughters of God, we’re able to go to our loving Heavenly Father to seek his help for all we must face each day. Just has God the Father did not abandon his one and only Son while he was on the earth, so he will not abandon his adopted children who trust in him and who look to him for help each day. Are you still trying to face life on your own? Are you still trying to cope on your own? Turn to your loving Heavenly Father for the help and strength you need.
And there’s more. Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is anointed with the same Holy Spirit who anointed him. And therefore, if you believe, you have the Spirit’s help to declare his praises and to make his name known. And if you believe in him, you have the Spirit’s help to offer yourself as a living sacrifice and to dedicate yourself to his glory. And if you believe you have the Spirit’s help to fight with all the strength he provides against every temptation of the Devil and all the desires of our sinful flesh and to stand firm against the world which wants us to conform to its evil ways. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you share with him the same Spirit and the same anointing to be prophets, priests and kings.
And if you believe in Jesus the Saviour, then you can rejoice, because Jesus the Saviour has saved you from the condemnation you deserve for your sins and you can look forward to the day when he comes again to bring us into the presence of God where we will join our voices together to give thanks to God for the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.