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01.09.11 On Your Mark, Get Set, Let’s Go, Mark 1:1-14 Sermon Summary

by on January 21, 2011

Summary points

  • Characteristics of and questions for Mark.
  • What is the “beginning” of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
  • How do we “begin” with the gospel?

Herewith we begin a series on the Gospel of Mark, with three primary goals in mind. First , to really know this gospel. Second, to learn what Mark can tell us about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. And third, to learn what it means to be the church, and more specifically, how to worship God.

Mark is the earliest gospel, written sometime in the 60’s. Mark is also the shortest of the four gospels. And most scholars believe Mark was a source for both Matthew and Luke, who follow Mark closely but make their own changes and additions. Mark actually coined the word “gospel” as a literary genre. Prior to that, “gospel” (which simply means “good news”) referred to such things as the birth of a new king. The evangelist Paul proclaimed the gospel of Christ, but he was referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Mark creates the “gospel” as a literary work including Jesus’ life and teachings.

We’ll generally proceed from beginning to end, but we’ll take side trips into Matthew and Luke when it is interesting or helpful. We’ll also go backwards at times to look at specific topics more carefully. You’ll get the most out of this series if you read the Gospel of Mark in its entirety, preferably every week.

Here are some questions to prompt our thinking, based on observations about Mark’s gospel.

  • Why is Mark in such a hurry? He uses the word “immediately” 41 times. Compare that to only five times in Matthew, once in Luke, and only four times in the rest of the New Testament.
  • Just what is Jesus, or Mark, trying to teach us? Mark uses “teacher” in reference to Jesus more than Matthew and Luke. But remember Mark is the shortest. He includes much less teaching content than the other gospels.
  • Why is Mark so secretive? Throughout the gospel, Jesus does remarkable things but doesn’t want anyone to talk about it.
  • What does it mean for Mark that Jesus is the “Son of God”? Mark contains no birth narratives, yet this confession of faith frames the gospel. Clearly Mark understands Jesus to be “God’s son,” but not because he was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.”

Mark begins abruptly with the words, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” What is the nature of this “beginning”? For one thing, the gospel of Jesus Christ has its origins in the promises of God and the hopes of God’s people as expressed in the Old Testament. (This is why I normally refer to the Older and Newer Testaments, because they are related through what is continuous between them, not what is “old” and “new.”)

Mark next refers to an Older Testament text from Isaiah, and applies it to John the Baptizer. For Mark, John represents the promises and hopes of the OT. He presents John as a Nazarite, someone who is dedicated to God. Nazarites didn’t cut their hair, dressed in strange clothes, and had peculiar diets. That describes John.

John is, for Mark, the link between the gospel of Jesus Christ and its “beginnings” in the OT. But Mark is very terse in his description. However, the connection is beautifully made in a piece of liturgy provided by the gospel of Luke 1:67-80. Here John’s father, the priest Zechariah, describes the relationship between John and Jesus. He rehearses the promises and hopes of the OT. He identifies John as Jesus’ forerunner who will proclaim salvation to God’s people by the forgiveness of their sins.

The close relationship between the OT and NT, between the “beginnings” and the gospel of Jesus are made even more explicit when Jesus actually begins preaching. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus comes to John, is baptized, is tested, and disappears until John is thrown into prison. Only then does Jesus take up John’s proclamation: “The time is at hand, the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the good news.”

As we begin a season of listening for God’s Word in the Gospel of Mark, this is clearly Mark’s first step: repentance. Mark invites us, through John and Jesus, to “begin” hearing the gospel with a decision, for the time is at hand and the kingdom is near. The decision we’re called to is to repent and believe. To turn our attention and our activities and our affections towards God and away from everything else. This is what it means to worship God, and what it means to be Jesus’ disciple. So on your Mark, get set, let’s go!

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