The Kingdom Comes Near: Mark 1:1-15
Type “Good News” into Google and you will find 75,300,000 web pages that want to tell you the good news. There is www.thegoodnews.org for a selection of information and resources sponsored by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. There is www.Goodnewsmag.org of the United Methodist Church. Some websites are secular dedicated to spreading ‘good-news’ stories. Some are more esoteric and you have to dig to find their beliefs. The most popular Good News website is apparently www.goodnewsnetwork.org
They tell us, for example that in 1990 there were 500 million people living in poverty in East Asia and the Pacific region. That number is now under 200 million, and the World Bank projects that in four years it will be under 20 million — a reduction of 95 percent. That is good news. European emissions of acid rain-causing sulphur dioxide have declined by 65 percent since 1990, achieving a 2010 target to cut pollution from coal-burning power plants and heavy industry, years ahead of schedule. That is good news. According to statistics just released by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development aid from industrialised nations to the world’s poorest rose by 8.8 percent in 2005, the fifth consecutive annual increase, and has more than doubled since 2001. That is good news.
How about this one – Have you ever had a problem telling one Giant Panda from another? They all look the same don’t they? Well, a new method of counting Giant Pandas in the wild using DNA has revealed there was more than double the estimated number living in one reserve and, based on the finding, as many as 3,000 of the elusive and endangered animals in the mountains of China, rather than the 1,590 previously thought. That is good news. And Tanzania has become the first country in the world to ban plastic bags… They have banned the manufacturing, importing, buying and using of thin plastic bags! They are blamed for harming livestock, blocking drains and reducing soil fertility. Now that is progress. If Tanzania can do it, so can Tesco. How does that make you feel? Good? And so it should. Good news has that effect doesn’t it? And if you feel you need a regular dose of good news you can even sign up for a weekly e-newsletter and read the Top 10 Good News Stories of the Week. But what is the greatest ‘good-news’ story in all the world? Of all time?
Mark begins his biography of Jesus with these profound if understated words… "The beginning of the good news about Jesus, the Son of God." (Mark 1:1). Some translations use the word ‘gospel’. This is derived from the old English word ‘godspel’ meaning ‘good story’ or ‘good news.’ We are going to be learning all about this godspel on Sunday evenings through the Summer.
There are three great
themes in Mark’s gospel. They can be expressed in the three most important
questions ever asked in the history of the world.
The first great theme has to do with the identity of Jesus. Mark asks the question, “Who is Jesus?” The second great theme has to do with the Mission of Jesus. The question Mark asks is “Why did Jesus come?” The third great theme of Mark is the Call of Jesus. And the question Mark asks is “What does Jesus demand of us?”
It is really
quite amazing when you read Mark’s biography of Jesus carefully - you discover
that every single story, every quote, every incident has something to say about
one of these three great themes. About Jesus’ identity. About his mission. Or about
his call. And we shall see that the first half of Mark, everything up to
chapter 8:29 is taken up with the first of these three: With Jesus’ identity. It
reaches its climax with the question put to the disciples "And who do you
say that I am?" (Mark 8:29). "The Christ, the Son of God". From
then on from chapters 9-16 Mark answers the second question that immediately
follows, "If Jesus is truly the Son of God, why did He have to die?"
The answers to these two questions are the most important you will ever face
and they lead to the third. Having answered the first two we are left with the
question, “What does Jesus demand of us?”
understand why Jesus the King came, we begin to realise his claims over us, and
our need to surrender our lives to Him. Lets look at the first verse again. “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1).
So right here at the
very start of Mark’s account, we are told about Jesus’ identity: He is not just
a man, he is God. It’s like Agatha Christie saying on the fist page, “The
butler did it.” And you might think that would spoil things a bit for the
But the great drama for us as we read the first half of Mark is that we shall see Jesus’ own disciples don’t get his identity right. They don’t see who Jesus is. They are given layer upon layer of evidence that Jesus is the Son of God, the Jewish Messiah, or Saviour – even his name ‘Jesus’ or ‘Joshua’ means that – God saves or God’s Saviour. True, like every other Jew living under brutal Roman occupation, the disciples are desperately hoping and praying for the Messiah to come.
But when he is standing right in front of them, what do they think? Throughout the first half of Mark, like many people today who have never read the Bible, they think he is just a man. They are totally blind to Jesus’ true identity. If that is where you are tonight – not sure how you would answer those three questions – Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus come? And What does Jesus demand of those who want to follow him? Then this series is for you. In fact Thursday nights are for you too. We are hosting Christianity Explored on Thursday nights. It is not too late to join this Thursday, 7:30pm for supper and 8:00pm start. Talk to me, Tim or Paul if you wish to join. CE is designed to answer these three questions through a short Bible study and some amazing video presentations by Rico Tice. If you have never done Christianity Explored, I encourage you to come this Thursday and try it out.
Often when we are working through Mark’s gospel during Christianity Explored, a non-Christian will say “I can’t believe how stupid the disciples are.” When we ask “Why, why do you think they are stupid?” they will often say something like, “Well, they’ve been shown all the evidence and they still can’t see who Jesus is.” That is Mark’s point – to help us discover that we too are blind. Sooner or later, we realise that we are on the same journey of discovery as the disciples. That is why Mark is such a fantastic book to read if you are searching for life’s answers. So - who is Jesus? As we have already seen, in chapter 1, verse 1, Mark gives us the answer before asking the question. “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1). Now in the rest of Mark 1:1-15, Mark introduces us to three character witnesses – John the Baptist (1:2-8); God the Father (1:9-11); and Satan the Tempter (1:12-13).
1. Jesus is Announced by John the Baptiser
“as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” — 3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” 4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, 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 baptized 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 comes the one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:2-8)
Mark quotes from Isaiah and Malachi to show that Jesus did not appear out of nowhere. Even his messenger, the one who would announce his arrival was predicted by the Hebrew prophets. When John the Baptist was asked if he was the Messiah, he replied “I am a voice of one calling in the wilderness.” (John 1:23). Isaiah is referring to the coming of the Lord. In the 1960’s Marshall Macluen coined the phrase, "The Medium is the Message". There's a lot of confusion today about the medium of the Good News. How does John describe his role? Read 1:7. An unworthy messenger - unworthy even to untie Jesus shoes. I think sometimes we can become over familiar with Jesus. Do you ever identify with John? If John felt unworthy, do you? Was John unworthy? Of course he was.
If John was, so am I, so are you. Yet, Jesus wants us to be his messengers. He is willing to entrust his godspel, his good news to you and I. Isn’t that amazing? Jesus is announced by John the Baptist.
2. Jesus is Affirmed by God the Father
“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just 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.” (Mark 1:9-11)
In his very helpful commentary on Mark, David McKenna observes, “Dare I say that all we need to know about our relationships with God and with each other is summed up in this declaration? God affirms his Son by saying, “I claim you, I love you, I am proud of you.” How simple! How basic! To belong, to be loved, to be praised! Nothing more is needed in our relationship with God, our families and with one another.
God says to Jesus, You are my Son” Each one of us has a desperate need to belong to someone. If that need is met, we have the strength of self-identity. We know who we are and no one can take that identity from us… God sends a similar message to His Son and to the world at the time of Jesus’ baptism. To Jesus, He gives the assurance, “You are my Son. I claim you. You belong to me.” To the world, God gives this warning. “This is my Son. Never forget it.” Biblical scholars tell us that the adoptive principle is at work in these words… When God claims His Son by choice as well as by nature, He sets the stage for our adoption. By nature, we are not the sons and daughters of God. Sin so separates us from God that, by law, we are unclaimed orphans and unmanned rejects. And that is what redemption is all about. In Galatians 4:4-7, we read,
“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer slaves, but God’s children; and since you are his children, he has made you also heirs.” (Galatians 4:4-7).
We are to whom we belong. “You are my son”, “you are my daughter” is God’s affirmation to us that we belong to Him. With Jesus, we have an identity which no one can take from us. To Belong.
To Be loved.
God also says to Jesus and to the world, “whom I love”. Closely linked to the need to belong is the need to be loved. Tragedy stalks any relationship where belonging is without love. Marriages that hang together on legal grounds without love are hells on earth for the partners and the children… There is no greater control over our lives than the control of love. When God tells his Son, “I love you” He puts his self-sacrificing, unchangeable, inseparable and controlling love on the line. Jesus has the security of a love that is willing to take a risk as well as a family identity that cannot be broken.
To Be Affirmed
Now we come to the most fulfilling moment in the father-son relationship. God must have glowed when he commends Jesus “in whom I am well pleased.” In speaking these words, God completes the triad of belonging, love and praise. Scripture and psychology reinforce the importance of praise… When God says to His Son, “I am proud of you, He commends his character, honours his achievements, and encourages him for the future. We can learn the same truth. Our family, our friends and our colleagues grow faster in the direction of our praise than in the path of our criticism. If we could learn to be more generous with “thank you” we would release in others the confidence that God releases in His own Son. Our lesson is simple. God not only anoints Jesus for service, but gives is Son the strengths of identity, security and confidence when he says “I claim you, I love you, I am proud of you.
Jesus’ credentials now include the announcement of John the Baptist and the affirmation of God the Father.
3. Jesus is Acknowledged by Satan the Tempter
“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” (Mark 1:12-13)
Here in the temptation, Satan is indirectly acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God….
Announced by John the
Affirmed by God the Father.
Acknowledged by Satan the
The Kingdom comes near (Mark 1:1-13) – because the King is now here (Mark 1:14-15).
“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 has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)
Here are the first recorded words of Jesus in Marks gospel. Isaiah had predicted that the King was coming, and Jesus is now announcing that the King had come. That is the Good News. The rule of God and the ruin of Satan is the good news. The rule of God was becoming a visible reality on earth by the very presence of the King himself. The King of the Universe has come, and He can be known. Immediately after this announcement Jesus begins to call people to follow him, to enter God’s kingdom, to submit to God’s kingdom rule. The Gospel then is first and foremost about the rule of God. God’s rule now extends over rebellious, lawless earth.
The good news is things
are not out of control.
God has returned to claim what is His. Imagine what our world would be like without the salt and light of Christians in society, without the compassion of Christian educational, medical and relief agencies especially in the developing world.
Four things we can say about the good news.
3.1 The Good News is Timely
“The time has come” said Jesus. Eternity echoes through His words as He reaches back into God’s original purpose for His creation. Time speeds on, through Biblical history as we hear the prophets announce the appearance of the coming Messiah.
Urgency is built into this phrase. The time has come. If the appearance of Jesus echoes the timelessness of eternity, vibrates with the continuity of history, and peaks with the soon to come finality of judgement, then no one can afford to dally. The time has come. The time has come. A question for you that brings this home. If you were to die tonight, on what basis should God let you into heaven? Today, if anything, we presume upon God’s time and patience by acting as if the timing for salvation belongs to us and the urgency relegated to the past and to outdated hellfire preachers. Not so. The timing is God’s and the urgency is biblical. “The days of man are but as grass” says the psalmist. Our life and God’s patience are short when it comes to the decision about his Son. The Good News is not only timely,
3.2 The Good News is Available
awesome and urgent impact of His announcement, “The time has come” Jesus now
brings the distant Kingdom of God close and tempers the judgmental power of God
with the mediation of the Son. “The kingdom of God is near”. Another way of
putting this is to say “The kingdom of God is within your reach.” God’s love
is within your reach. It is that close. The time is now, the kingdom is here.
The Good News is timely, the Good News is available.
3.3 The Good News is Decisive - Repent
As King, Jesus comes to rule. In the Gospel, Jesus gives a command, he issues an ultimatum. Repent and believe the good news. To ignore it or refuse it is the same thing. Rebellion. C.S. Lewis put it like this - “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.“ Repentance is not the same thing as being sorry because we were found out, caught doing something wrong. The kind of sorrow Jesus is describing here is the sorrow for the evil we have thought and. Long ago Michel de Montaigne wrote in his autobiography "Children should be taught to hate vice for its own texture, so that they will not only avoid it in action, but abominate it in their hearts - that the very thought of it may disgust them, what ever form it takes." Jesus speaks of repentance, calling for the recognition of guilt and the hatred of sin because it is a precondition to experiencing forgiveness. The good news is timely, available, decisive.
3.4 The Good News is Assuring
To believe simply means to take Jesus at his word, to believe that God is the kind of God Jesus has shown us, to believe that He so loves the world that he sent his son to die in our place. To believe in the good news that we can be forgiven and accepted. To believe that what sounds too good to be true is really true. The Good News of God’s love is timely, it is available, it is decisive and it is reassuring. Lets pray.
 I am very grateful to David McKenna and his commentary on Mark in the Word Communicator’s Commentary Series for these ideas on the significance of the Father’s affirmation of Jesus.