Here Begins the Gospel

West Side Moravian Church
December 29, 2019

Mark 1: 1-11, 14-20

The beginning of the Good News

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. [Mark 1:1]

According to John, the Good News began with the proclamation of God's creating Word and the formation of the universe. According to Matthew, the Good News can be traced through the chosen People of God: from Abraham to David the king, from David to the Exile, from the Exile to the coming of Jesus. According to Luke the Good News begins with the announcement about the birth of John, the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah.

According to Mark, the Good News begins with that same John preaching in the desert along the Jordan River. This happened, Mark says, in the way which the prophets told us it would. In the time of Exile Isaiah sang God's promise. Isaiah said, A voice cries out, In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord; construct in the desert a road for our God. [Isaiah 40:3] So John appeared in the wilderness.

The prophet Malachi, in the very last words of the book of Malachi, which are the last words of all the books of the prophets as they have come to be written down, repeats the promise of God:

Remember the law of my servant Moses, to whom at Horeb I gave rules and regulations for all Israel to obey. Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives. He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment. [Malachi 4:4-6]

According to Mark, we only see where this story is going if we begin by looking back. The other gospels say the same in their own way. John has us look back as far as the creation of the cosmos to see God's continued care for the world. Matthew asks us to think over the care God has shown to God's people through generation after generation. Luke shows how John came as the fulfillment of the promise made many years before.

According to Mark, John stands in the tradition of the ancient prophets. Mark says, John wore a garment made of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. [Mark 1:6] So we, who know the scriptures, know who this is, for we remember the time when King Ahaziah was injured falling out a window. The king sent for advice from the Lord of the Flies, Baal Zebub, instead of asking for help from the Lord God, but the messengers quickly returned.

When the messengers returned to the king, he asked them, Why have you returned?

They replied, A man came up to meet us. He told us, Go back to the king who sent you and tell him, This is what the Lord says: You must think there is no God in Israel! That explains why you are sending for an oracle from Baal Zebub, the god of Ekron. …

The king asked them, Describe the appearance of this man who came up to meet you and told you these things.

They replied, He was a hairy man and had a leather belt tied around his waist. The king said, He is Elijah …. [1 Kings 1:6-8]

This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus. This is the prophet Elijah sent by God before the day of the Lord to encourage parents and their children to come back to God.

The Beginning of the Kingdom of God

What is the role of a prophet? The prophets' underlying role is to announce the Word of God. To those of us who know the scriptures, that is the same as saying the prophets' role is to announce Jesus Christ, for Jesus is the Word.

According to Mark, John stands at the beginning of the Good News but John himself is not the Good News. John looks forward to someone still to come. John says, I am not worthy to bend down and untie the strap of his sandals. [Mark 1:7] Who is this to be? We, who know the scriptures, know who this is even before Mark makes it plain. John's role was to announce Jesus Christ.

Now in those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River.

Elijah, Samuel, Nathan, and all the prophets had specific and immediate tasks in addition to foreshadowing the coming of Jesus. One of those was to annoint the next king. You remember how Samuel poured oil on the head of Saul, who was Israel's first king, and later on the boy David, who in his maturity would eventually succeed Saul as king. Elijah is perhaps less remembered for annointing kings, but that would be because there were so many other exciting events in his life. After Elijah talked with God at the cave on Mount Sinai, God sent him back to work with three tasks, all of them annointings.

The Lord said to him, "Go back the way you came and then head for the Desert of Damascus. Go and anoint Hazael king over Syria. You must anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to take your place as prophet." [1 Kings 19:15-16]

John stands in the line of Elijah and of all the prophets. They were the ones who spoke God's word for a specific moment in time, who poured holy olive oil as a sign of God's favor, who annointed kings to lead a nation in God's name. John stands in this tradition, but John is different. John's role was to announce Jesus Christ. John announces the Word not for his moment but for all time. John pours not oil but flowing water. John identifies the King not just for one nation and one generation but for ever.

Now in those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight. [Mark 1:9-11]

We, who know the scriptures, often focus on the phrase my one dear son and it is well that we should, because we know that Jesus is the only Son of God. But the voice from heaven is quoting Psalm 2 — the very psalm we read together today. Psalm 2 is not the song of a doting father to his baby boy. Psalm 2 is not a ritual of adoption. Psalm 2 is a coronation hymn: I myself have installed my king, God says to the world. It is the king himself who quotes God, He said to me: You are my son! This very day I have become your father! Psalm 2 is a coronation hymn; quoting Psalm 2 is a claim to royal authority.

Here begins the Kingdom of God.

The Beginning of the Church of God

According to Mark, John stands in the tradition of the prophets. And what happened to the prophets of God? We, who know the scriptures, remember the stories of the prophets and especially the summary of their fates in the Letter to the Hebrews.

[They] experienced mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed apart, murdered with the sword; they went about in sheepskins and goatskins; they were destitute, afflicted, ill-treated … they wandered in deserts and mountains and caves … [Hebrews 11:36-38]

It is no shock to us to read that John was arrested and thrown in prison. John's arrest is no surprise but what happens afterward is perpetually surprising. According to Mark, what happens next is that Jesus goes for a walk by the lake. As he went along … he saw Simon and Andrew … casting a net … (for they were fishermen). [Mark 1:16] Fisherfolk! Jesus might as well have been talking to truck drivers or small business owners or construction tradespeople. Or any of us.

After that, Jesus saw James … and John his brother … mending nets. Immediately he called them, and they … followed him. [Mark 1:19-20]

They followed him. This is the beginning of the Church of God.

Scripture from The NET Bible® copyright © 1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.