An Introduction to The Gospel according to Mark.

Mark 1 : 1 – 15

Over the Christmas period we were reminded of the unique way that God chose to introduce his Son Jesus into the world of humanity. How due to a census Joseph and Mary travelled from Nazareth in Galilee south to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. From there the family travelled to Egypt as refugees to escape from Herod. Fortunately God had provided considerable wealth through the Magi to tide them over until Herod’s death upon which they were able to return to Nazareth.

Now, in this new year of 2022 we commence a series based on the Gospel according to Mark.

There is nothing in the narrative itself to inform us who wrote this Gospel or indeed when or where it was written. Church tradition, based on second century writings, has it that John Mark, young friend of both Paul and Peter, wrote it based on stories told to him by Peter. If this is the case then it is reasonable to presume that it was written in or around Rome for the predominately gentile Churches of that city.

Dating the Gospel is also difficult although it is generally accepted that this is the earliest Gospel written between 60 AD to 66/67 AD. After this date Jerusalem became surrounded by the Roman army and then totally destroyed in 70AD. There is no hint of these events in the Gospel other than Jesus prophesying about the destruction of the Temple in Mark 13.

For a long time it was church tradition that Matthew’s Gospel was written first but research over the last century or so has established that Mark’s Gospel is the oldest and it is generally accepted that both Matthew and Luke used Mark’s Gospel as the chronological basis of their own Gospels adding  their own unique material together with that of another account of the life of Jesus named by scholars as “Q”.

Mark’s Gospel is the foundational document of our faith. It came out of the teaching of those churches founded by the Apostles. Although it was predated by some of Paul’s letters it was the first narrative to give a chronological account of the man Jesus who walked over the hills of Galilee teaching and healing, and who eventually died and rose again. Paul’s interest was in the impact on people’s lives of faith in the risen Christ, Saviour of the world, and the  indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life.

Mark writes in a punchy style and starts with,

1:  The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2:  It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— (Mal 3 : 1)

3:  “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'” (Isaiah 40 : 3)

Mark was also an innovator in that this was the first accepted account of the life of Jesus and the first time that it was referred to as a “Gospel” meaning “Good News.”

He goes on to place his gospel in the context of the prophets of the Old Testament citing Isaiah and Malachi. In other words the story of Jesus started when God promised, through the prophets, that the Messiah would come.

4:  And so John came, baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5:  The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River. 6:  John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.7:  And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

8:  I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”

In fulfilment of the prophesies John the Baptist appears preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Many came to him confessing their sins and he baptised them in the Jordan. John was a very well-known figure in his time, partly because of his clash with Herod Antipas over his incestuous relationship with Herodias, which led to John’s subsequent execution. There was a school of thought at the time that John might have been the Messiah and so all the Gospel writers make it clear that his role was that of a prophet announcing the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who would operate on a different dimension entirely, baptizing not with water but with the Holy Spirit.

9:  At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan.10:  As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.11:  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12:  At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert,

13:  and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14:  After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15:  “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Mark concludes his introduction by giving us a brief account of Jesus being baptised by John giving us a first glimpse of the three persons of the Godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

After that confirmation of Jesus’ true identity we are told that the Holy Spirit sent him into the desert to be tempted. We are not given the details of the temptations just that Jesus was accompanied by wild animals and attended by angels. We are told then that John is put into prison where upon Jesus commences his ministry announcing that the kingdom of God is near, and that people should repent and believe the good news!

These statements became the very essence of the rest of Mark’s narrative about the ministry of Jesus. However although in this introduction we, as readers, are left in no doubt who Jesus was, as we read on we find that the disciples, the people who gather around Jesus, and those who oppose him are very slow to understand who he was and what his message meant. Indeed Jesus asks those he heals to keep his identity a secret and Mark maintains this mystery right up until the crucifixion and resurrection.

Mark’s Gospel is a dynamic telling of the life of our Saviour Jesus Christ and as we examine it over the coming weeks I am sure that God will truly bless us.

Heavenly Father,

Help us by your Holy Spirit to open our hearts to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ as related by John Mark and so to live our lives serving and worshipping you in Spirit and truth. Amen

Category: Sermons , The Bridge

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