The Beginning of the Story

September 10, 2017

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Gospel of Mark

14th Sunday after Pentecost

The Beginning of the Story

Mark 1:1-11

          Today we begin a series of messages from the Gospel of Mark. As we move through this gospel over the next few months, we will be taking some time out in November for Stewardship and in December for Advent, and then resume our study of Mark in January.

The Book of Mark was the first gospel to be written, dating back to around 65-67 A.D. and emphasizes Jesus’ works rather than His teachings. It was a Greco-Roman biography of Jesus affirming that Jesus was uniquely the Son of God in a way no one else had ever been or will be. This book explores how Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom of God through service.

This book was written to show that to follow Jesus, one must suffer as Jesus suffered. Because of that, it is a somewhat dark gospel compared to the other three, Matthew, Luke, and John.

As you begin reading this gospel, you will notice how fast Mark moves through the life of Jesus. There is an immediacy about this gospel. If fact, Mark uses the word “immediately” almost forty times as he rushes on in a kind of breathless attempt to make the story as vivid to others as it is to himself.

In Acts 12:12, we learn that John Mark was the son of a well-to-do lady of Jerusalem whose name was Mary, and whose house was a rallying-point and meeting place of the early church. Mark was raised in the very center of the Christian fellowship. He was also the nephew of Barnabas, and set out with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey to be their secretary and attendant. Later in Paul’s life, Mark served him as an attendant while Paul was imprisoned in Rome.

In the intervening years, John Mark traveled with Peter, who called him “my son,” and Mark served as Peter’s interpreter, writing down all that he recollected of what Christ had said or done. Basically, we have from Mark, a record of what Peter preached and taught about Jesus, a record that was only about thirty years removed from Jesus’ life on this earth. That is why this gospel is so important.

The Gospel of Mark also served as a manuscript for Matthew and Luke to write their gospels later. Matthew reproduces 51% of Mark’s gospel in his, and Luke copies 53% in his. Mark’s gospel is the nearest written story we will ever possess to an eyewitness account of the life of Jesus. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

Today, our scripture opens with these words: The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. These words call our attention to the opening verse in Genesis. Mark leaves little doubt to his readers that this book is about Jesus Christ, the ultimate source of our good news from the person who initiated the gospel, God.

Jesus, the Word, is God’s revelation to us in human form on this earth. And so that there is little doubt in our minds about the coming of Jesus to earth, Mark reminds us that the prophecy in the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, is being fulfilled.

Malachi 3:1 reads: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. And Isaiah 40:3 reads: A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.”

God sent his Son so that we may hear the Word. The author of the book, “The Reader’s Guide to the Gospel of Mark,” Dr. Van Bogard Dunn, writes: “The Word sets before us a new possibility: that we may leave our crooked ways, walk in the straight paths, and choose the way of the Lord.”

So without any genealogical history of Jesus, Mark abruptly sets us down in the wilderness, in the desert region of Palestine. We are once again reminded of the prophecies of the great prophets as John comes on the scene dressed much like the great prophet Elijah, wearing “clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” John dresses and eats simply. He comes armed with only two things, God’s Word and his service to that Word. Being subjects of the great Roman Empire, I’m sure the people of that time were physically and spiritually dejected. They, like many of us in times of hardship, are in their own personal wilderness.

At this time in Israel’s history, the Jews had become complacent and had lost sight of genuine worship and service to the Lord. They found themselves consumed in a form of dead religion that promoted particular rituals and adherence to the law, instead of a personal, fulfilling relationship with the Lord.

But John comes on the scene preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He confronts the people regarding their sinful lives. Repentance is the idea of “a reversal; a change in life that results in a change in action.” John declares that repentance would result in the remission of sins. Those who repented of sin would experience forgiveness and pardon from their sin.

This same message must be shared today. We need to preach repentance. The world is being led to believe they can live as they please without consequences. They have the idea they are accountable to no one. We see this on the news every day. You see, repentance, admitting and turning from sin, is essential for salvation!

John the Baptizer simply preached repentance and the remission of sins. And yet today, in this 21st Century, we often hear the following: people won’t come to church if we tell them they need to repent from their sins; we shouldn’t talk about how Jesus shed His blood and died on the cross for our sins; we should make people feel comfortable in church; we should be more relevant with social issues, we should be more understanding and empathetic with people’s permissive lifestyles. Brother and sisters in Christ, that way of thinking only leads us further away from our salvation and our redemption.

John preaches against dead, orthodox religion, proclaiming the coming of Christ! Our scripture says the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. John’s ministry was inclusive of anyone who wanted to repent of their idolatrous ways and receive the forgiveness of God. He was inclusive of anyone who wanted a personal, fulfilling relationship with God.

Unfortunately, there are many similarities within our modern society and the environment John faced. Many pastors and congregations are more concerned with humanism or long held legalism than preaching what is consistent with the Bible. We need people in our day, like John, who will proclaim the truths of God’s Word instead of the popular, accepted topics and trends of our day, like Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel or Creflo Dollar’s “name it and claim it gospel.” You see, John’s only credential was the Word of God. And he knew the Word of God.

And John, being the prophet that he was, let his message be known to all who would listen. After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I will baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. John is reminding us that the future is God’s time, a time when the one who God promised will come with power greater than John himself to fill us with the Holy Spirit.

Now please remember this, John did not preach that baptism resulted in the forgiveness of sin. Baptism was an outward sign that the person had repented and that forgiveness had been received. People’s immersion in the Jordan River was a public testimony of their changed lives. We continue to follow this practice, mandated by our Lord, as a public testimony of the inward change through salvation. Baptism serves as a testimony of a changed life in Christ, it is not a means of salvation.

Almost immediately after John talks about one coming greater than he, our writer of the gospel has Jesus appear in the scene and receive, himself, a baptism in the River Jordan.

When the story of Jesus’ baptism comes up, one of the first questions most people ask is this: “If Jesus was without sin, why would he need a baptism of repentance?” You see, with the baptism of Jesus, we now look at baptism in a new light. We see that the drama of Jesus’ baptism now defines repentance as death and resurrection. With our profession of salvation through Jesus, we die to all forms of self-sufficiency and rise to new life with God. It is the total reorientation of our lives under the that of God’s ruling.

So, for Jesus, his baptism shows us four things. First, it was the moment of decision. For thirty years, he had grown and worked in Nazareth. I am sure he was waiting for a sign from God that his purpose might be fulfilled. The emergence of John the Baptist was that sign that his ministry was to begin.

Second, it was the moment of identification. Jesus did not need to repent from sin; but here among the people was a movement back to God and Jesus wanted to identify himself with that movement. Jesus was identifying himself with that movement not for himself, but for the sake of others.

Third, it was the moment of approval. Jesus had decided on his course of action, and now he was looking for the seal of the approval of God. The voice from heaven said, You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased. It was not often that God spoke, but this voice came directly to Jesus. This was Jesus’ personal experience and not in any sense a demonstration to the crowd. Jesus was taking up his responsible citizenship in the Kingdom of God. At the baptism, Jesus submitted his decision to God and that decision was unmistakably approved.

Lastly, it was a moment of equipment. Jesus saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. William Barclay writes in his commentary on Mark: “The Spirit descended as a dove might descend. The simile is not chosen by accident. The dove is the symbol of gentleness…. John’s was a message of doom and not of good news. But from the very beginning the picture of the Spirit likened to a dove is a picture of gentleness. [Jesus] will conquer, but the conquest will be the conquest of love.”

With the baptism of Jesus, our scripture acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus, who is the Word of God, hears the Word, obeys the Word, and depends upon the Word unconditionally.

The story Mark tells in our scripture today is all about introducing Jesus the Christ. He is the one who saves us from our sins. He is the righteous One. He is our Redeemer. John the Baptist opens the road for Jesus to come. Jesus’ new ministry will continue that of John the Baptist. It is a ministry of repentance and new life.

God hasn’t changed his mind in over 2000 years. God still loves the sinner, but hates the sin, and sin is the wilderness in which we live. But God has given us a way out through his Son. Jesus is the only way through the wilderness.

We will discover much as we journey through Mark’s Gospel. However, the theme will be consistent: Jesus Christ is the servant of humankind and the Savior of the world. If you have been baptized and have received Christ in salvation, then I hope you are encouraged to proclaim Him to others. If you are yet unsaved, heed the call of John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ, and repent of your sin and believe in Jesus by faith for your salvation. With your new-found faith in Jesus, God will say of you, “You are my son or daughter, whom I love, with you I am well pleased!”

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