The Beginning of the Gospel
In Jack London’s novel, The Sea Wolf, we meet a man who is completely materialistic, a hedonist and without morals. He is Captain Wolf Larson; the captain of a sailing ship that hunts seals and takes them for their furs. The crew lives in terror of the captain because as his name suggests, he is a beast. He is intelligent, crafty and extremely strong.
He has read Darwin and believes that all life rose up out of a primordial soup. He compares life to a yeast that grows and moves and struggles to survive. Life to Wolf is cheap. The law of supply and demand says that there is an abundant supply of life so it is of little value. It one sailor dies there is another to take his place. According to Wolf, animals and men alike eat each other to survive.
The Sea Wolf is not a Christmas story.
Through the mouth of Wolf Larson, the author raises up many arguments against the existence of God. He strikes hard at hope, purpose and anything that could be called a reason for living.
Most of us do not live with a Wolf Larson that violently assaults our lives every day. However, we do live in a world where hardship, struggles, sickness and injury are inescapable. These experiences can and do assault our hope and sometimes even our reason for living.
Today, we will see from the book of Mark that we have reason for hope, a reason for living and great purpose in life. Today’s story is true, not made up like Wolf Larson. It is the story of Christmas.
Mark 1:1 says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[i] (ESV)
Mark says, “The beginning of the gospel.” “Gospel” means “good news.” Mark, who wrote in Greek, used the word “euangelion” which means “good news.”
Speaking of the ministry of Jesus, Matthew in his account quotes Isaiah saying, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.”[ii] (Matthew 4:16, NLT)
The story of Christmas, the story of Jesus, is good news.
The whole world remains in the grip of darkness wherever this story is not known. The shadow of death hangs over every place where this good news is lacking. The light that dispels the darkness is the “good news.”
The “good news” is about, concerning and belongs to Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. To understand the nature of this connection, let’s unpack what and who we are talking about.
Jesus is His given name.
It is the English name derived from changing the Greek alphabet letters into English letters. Jesus was a Jew. His name was given in Hebrew. It is the same name as the hero of the conquest of Canaan, Joshua. Pronounced something like “yeshua,” the Greeks transliterated it as “iesous.” In Spanish it becomes “Jesus,” in Japanese “iesu” and in English “Jesus.” The meaning of the name is “God saves.”
Christ is not His name.
He is Jesus the Christ. Christ is again taken from the Greek. The Hebrews, or Jews, call him the Messiah or “Mašíaḥ.” The Greeks translated this as “Xristos.”
The meaning of the word is “the anointed one.” For example, when God chose David to be king of Israel he sent the prophet Samuel to “anoint” David. Oil was poured on David’s head symbolizing God’s choice of this one to be King. When we say, “Jesus Christ,” we are saying that Jesus is the one chosen by God to be both Savior and King.
Mark says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus Christ is made known to us a little more by the phrase, “the Son of God.”
He is the Son of God.
This makes an assumption. The Bible assumes that God is. The Bible claims for itself that it is God’s revelation of Himself to us. (2 Timothy 3:16) As God speaks to us, He assumes that He exists.
When I speak to a person, I generally will try to get their attention first, but that is as far as I go in defending my existence. I assume that the other person knows I exist; although, this assumption has proven wrong at times.
God does not neglect the subject of His existence entirely. He says, “They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.” (Romans 1:19, NLT) God does try to get our attention, a star, angels singing to shepherds and that sort of stuff.
The questions Jack London raises through his portrayal of Wolf Larsen arise out of the darkness that comes from not knowing the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Purpose, meaning and hope come first from knowing the God who made us.
Before Jesus Christ, the world was in darkness. Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (ESV) It is Jesus who has made God known to us. This is a significant part of the meaning of him being called “the Son of God.”
Mark 1 is telling us about the beginning of Jesus making God known to us. First, the way had to be prepared before Him. Mark 1:2 says, “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way.” (NLT)
I understand that in ancient days in some places, when a king traveled, he would send a messenger ahead to prepare the way. Even in the present day, before the president or pope visit a city there are many preparations that generally take place. Many of the preparations are for security and safety. Preparations are made for transportation, accommodations, meals, communication and staff.
Nothing is left to chance.
Mark tells us that John the Baptist was the messenger sent ahead to prepare the way. God’s anointed one, His own Son was coming.
There were two elements to the preparation that John was sent to do.
First, he preached a baptism of repentance. Mark 1:4 says, “He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.” (NLT)
Repentance is the translation of a Greek word “μετάνοια.” The historian Josephus defined the word as speaking of “the change of mind of those who have begun to abhor their errors and misdeeds.”[iii]
Repentance is important in preparing the way for Jesus Christ, because one must first realize that there is a God, and that He has been offended.
The strange thing about the human psyche is that although we might struggle with a guilty conscience, we still have trouble seeing ourselves as sinners, bad or evil. Evil and bad people exist, but externally. The evil is never me, myself or I. There is evil in the world, but never in me.
In order to be prepared for the good news of Jesus Christ, it is necessary for me to recognize that the problem between God and me is me. I have to change my mind about the darkness in the world, and realize that I need a Savior because the darkness is in me.
After this repentance has taken place, we are ready for the second part of the preparation. John the Baptist proclaimed the Good News.
Mark 1:7-8 says:
7John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!” (NLT)
We have already spoken of the greatness of Jesus.
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3, NLT) And, as we humble ourselves before Him in repentance we find that, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”
This is a remarkable part of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is preparation, but it requires nothing on our part. Once the repentance and calling of God is done, He takes over.
Jesus told us, “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11, NLT) According to Jesus, the greatest man who ever lived said of himself, “I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals.” (Mark 1:7, NLT)
Jesus takes us just as we are and transforms us. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that if any person is in Christ he is a new creature. This happens as a result of this baptizing by the Holy Spirit to which John the Baptist points. We cannot add even one little bit. If John the Baptist was not worthy to even untie the Son of God’s sandals, neither are we.
But here is the wonderful thing, when we are baptized with the Holy Spirit; we are made children of God. We become heirs with Jesus. He is the first born among many. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (NLT)
We are all sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus.
This baptizing by the Holy Spirit that Jesus does opens us to the light. 1 Corinthians 2:16 tells us that we have the mind of Christ. The whole world lies in darkness, without hope, without purpose, without a reason for living, but the Holy Spirit brings hope, purpose and a reason for living. We have, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, the Son of God living within us.
When we face hardship, struggles, sickness and injury we can face them with hope because of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is why believers the world over are now preparing their hearts and homes to celebrate the Advent of the Son of God into our world.
This is the ONE of whom the Apostle John said, “10He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:10-12, NLT)
[i] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Copyright 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.