Matthew, the detailed Jewish accountant, began his gospel with a genealogy…a sort of first century resume .
John, the fisherman turned disciple of Jesus, was a deep thinker…he began his gospel with the eternally existing cosmos creating Christ.
Luke, the physician, gave the most famous historical accounting of the events surrounding the birth of Christ…his is the most quoted version around this time of year.
Most notably by Linus, from the Charlie Brown Christmas special.
But today we look at Mark…he was called John Mark by his friends.
He wasn’t an eyewitness of the life of Jesus, he was a second-generation believer…we first see in him in Acts 12.
He traveled for years with Paul, Barnabas, and spent a lot of time with Peter.
He wrote his gospel from data he collected about Jesus over the years, mostly it is thought, from his time with Peter.
Remember a gospel is a unique genre of literature…it is history & biography…but it’s aim is to transform not merely to inform.
This advent season we are looking at the four gospels, specifically their introductions, and how each of them speaks to the balance of the history and mystery of the incarnation.
History: What we see in the gospels is actual, factual truth.
Mystery: The incarnation, God became man remaining fully God, is something we cannot get our minds all the way round.
But now to John Mark’s gospel, I have to admit, I love how he writes…in hurry.
But, to give perspective on that…I sometimes watch movies in fast forward.
*In the past to my kid’s dismay, and now to my grandkids dismay…when I am done with a song, I go to the next one…even if the singer isn’t done singing the song.
I like Mark’s style of writing.
Matthew has 28 chapters, Luke 24, John 21, and Mark, well he gets it done in 16.
Now they didn’t have chapter numbers in their original gospels, they were added later…but even still, Mark had by far the fewest words…he was a concise kind of guy.
The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ”
The beginning of the good news about Jesus, the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God.
Then he quotes from the ancient prophet Isaiah.
This is to communicate to his readers that this is not some brand-new story, about some new guy named Jesus…this is the continuation of the story that is quite old…the oldest of all stories.
Isaiah spoke of the future coming of a messenger who would introduce the Messiah
Then, Mark introduces John the Baptist as that messenger.
And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 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. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
John’s method of preparing the way for the Messiah was to proclaim (preach) the truth of God…specifically the need for people to turn from their sins…to be ready to respond to the Savior.
You have to recognize your need to be saved, in order to recognize the Savior.
John, lived a rough kind of life…he was much like some of the OT prophets in this and he was also like them in that his purpose, like theirs, was to get people ready for the Messiah.
They spoke of the Messiah that would come in the then distant future; John was privileged to actually introduce him to the world.
John was an impressive guy, he wasn’t afraid of people, he certainly didn’t go out of his way to impress or please people…but he said, “Next to the Messiah…I’m nothing.”
Later when John’s followers were leaving him and following Jesus, one of his remaining followers ran up to him and said “Hey, that guy you baptized…everyone is following him now.”
John’s reply was, “Great, that is as it should be…now my joy is complete…he must become greater, I must become less.”
John knew his role was to point people to the Savior…he himself could not save anyone.
Let’s stop there for a minute…what if we were to consistently take that approach in our lives?
I mean take it literally…he must increase, I must decrease.
“My joy in life, my purpose in life…is to point others to Jesus. I am happy to decrease in order that he may increase.”
“Sounds good Terry…I’m in.”
Wait a minute…let’s think about this.
It won’t be long before John is thrown in prison, and then murdered…his head put on a platter at the request of a very sick young lady and her mom.
What if our becoming less in order that Christ would become more…means that we literally become less…less health, less stuff, less popularity, less applause.
What if Christ becoming more, and us less…means that he puts others in front of us…they get credit not us?
Let’s think about this carefully…because many of us, tend to be surprised and even dismayed…when we follow Christ and try to please him…and things go wrong, or don’t go as we want them to…or others fail to recognize our service and sacrifice.
He must increase, I must decrease…but we sometimes his goodness, or power, or existence…when sickness, or death, or loss comes into our lives.
We don’t like it when our service goes unnoticed…
We will come back to this in a minute…
Let’s go back to Mark chapter 1.
John’s baptism was a Jewish ceremonial rite of repentance, it was not Christian baptism.
In Acts 19, Paul re-baptizes some of John’s disciples because they were ignorant of the coming of the Spirit and had not been baptized in the name of Jesus.
Again, John knows his role, and is happy in it…he says “The one I’m paving the way for is the one who is truly great.”
So, here’s what Mark is telling us…
Isaiah points to John.
Here comes John.
John points to the Messiah.
He comes the Messiah…who is he?
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
There he is…the long awaited one…is Jesus.
A guy from around here…a normal guy, a guy who works with his hands.
How is he the Messiah? Exactly…how is he? Amazing.
History and Mystery…He’s from around here and definitely not from around here.
Jesus is the long awaited, long foretold Messiah.
In the rest of his gospel, Mark is going to give the facts of Jesus to prove that Jesus is the long awaited king.
As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Matthew and Luke start with baby Jesus.
John starts with Cosmos creating Jesus.
Mark, Jumps to full grown Jesus being baptized in a river.
And at his baptism, there is this amazing Trinitarian scene of “The Holy Spirit, the voice of God, and the Incarnate Son of God.” Father, Son, Spirit.
How do you think it happened…what did it look like?
Who can know, so who cares?
We should care…it was real history, with eternal importance…we should think about as a real thing.
It’s not so we can speculate or scrutinize the unscrutitable…its to we will train ourselves to think of the gospel as real.
The questions I get from Super Church and Next show the kids are thinking about the Bible as real history…history with mystery…but real stuff.
Recently I got this one:
-Why did Jesus choose 12 disciples instead of more or less?
-Good question, a question that you would wonder if you were thinking about a real event.
-If Jesus was just made up and his 12 were like Robin Hood’s merry men, you wouldn’t ask that question…the answer would be “Just because, it’s just a story”
But the little girl asked the question, “Why 12 and not 11 or 13…because she knows it’s history and mystery…not mythology.”
So, if you were there at the Lord’s baptism…what would you see?
You would see a thirty-something, first century Jewish man, dripping wet…standing in water and mud on the bank of a river.
You would feel sun, maybe a breeze, you would hear a splash.
It was a real event in human history.
But then, what does it look like for the heaven’s to be torn open?
The word used here could mean sky, but the Bible doesn’t present the place of God’s dwelling as “up there” in a physical sense…so what happened and what did it look like?
Supposedly when Russia’s Uri Gagarin became the first human in space in 1961, he quipped that he didn’t see God up there.
Turns out, historically, that Uri was a believer and he probably didn’t make that remark, it was probably from the Atheist Russian President…but it was widely quoted and got a lot laughs.
Stupid Christians…God’s not in space.
We never said he is…he made the cosmos, of course you won’t locate him in space.
CS Lewis responded to it back then in a published article.
Lewis said that if there is a God who created us, we would not discover him by going up into space.
God would not relate to human beings the way a man on the second floor relates to a man on the first floor.
It would be like the way Shakespeare relates to Hamlet.
Shakespeare is the creator of Hamlet’s world and of Hamlet himself.
Hamlet can know about Shakespeare only if the author reveals information about himself in the play.
So of course, we can’t go into space to “see” the cosmos creator.
But in the incarnation we have more than just information about God…In human history, Jesus, God incarnate, came into our world to save us.
Here at his baptism…God somehow ripped time/space for a moment…I wonder what that was like.
We should wonder about it…because it is history.
-wonder as “in questions of”
We should wonder at it…because it is mystery.
-Wonder as in “be amazed at.”
Then the Holy Spirit somehow either as or looking like a dove…descended on Jesus…
And then…some or all heard the voice of God.
I assume with their eardrums as God created vibrations in the air…though God doesn’t have physical vocal chords, but he can easily make sounds in the air…he made air.
Maybe he just went straight to their brains where they “heard” him with their minds.
Who knows…after all…our eardrums vibrate with sound waves…but our brains “hear words”
My point is that this historical event is full of mystery…it is history and mystery.
If you were standing there and seeing stuff happen and hearing things happen…you would still be confused or about what you are seeing and hearing…
You could see history and yet have only mystery…unless God’s speaks and reveals what is going on.
We need God to tell us the meaning of what is happening and what to do about it.
That’s what Jesus is going to do…that’s what Mark is doing in his gospel.
Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, he had no sins to repent of…In fact, in Matthew’s account…John protested against baptizing Jesus.
He said, “You need to be baptizing me, Jesus!”
But Jesus said it was the right thing for him to do…so John, of course, complied.
Next, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
There, John added, he was with the wild animals.
This shouldn’t evoke thoughts of…”Aww, Jesus went on a nature hike, he saw some wildlife.”
No, it was to indicate that it was a harsh, and dangerous experience…physically, spiritually, mentally…and socially.
He wasn’t feeding the deer, he was avoiding the snakes, and the lions, and the bears that roamed the Palestinian wilderness in the first century.
He wasn’t feeding the deer and he wasn’t eating them either…he fasted the entire time.
40 days is close to the upper limits of human ability to go without food.
And while he was at his physical worst…Satan came with temptations.
This was incredibly difficult in every way…Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, yet he did not sin.
The 40 days is no doubt contrasting the Lord’s success against temptation in the wilderness as opposed to Israel’s failure there during their 40 years of wandering.
The 40 had powerful symbolic meaning for these first century readers.
On a quick side note: God isn’t being cute or tricky in his use of numbers and symbols in Scripture, they serve his larger purposes.
But we must NOT look for signs in the details our lives…we can get weird very quickly.
“What does that red light mean right now, the timing of it is strange…is something bad going to happen…is it a sign?”
“It is a sign to stop.”
“What does this number mean, I’ve seen it three times today, its weird?”
“No, you are being weird…it means you have seen that number three times today.”
The signs and symbols in Scripture help us see God’s sovereign oversight of history and his hand in Scripture…don’t get weird by looking for them in your life.
Following Jesus is not some quest for signs…read his word and do what it says, pray for wisdom, get wise input…be faithful.
That’s what following Jesus should loook like.
Next, we find John’s reward for being faithful as the forerunner of Jesus…he was put in prison.
I’m being facetious…Of course this was not his reward nor was it his punishment…it was the outcome for his life of faithfulness.
It was part of God’s plan for his life.
Again, if you are dismayed when faithfulness doesn’t make problems go away. You must train yourself to think more biblically.
The reward for faithfulness is to be found faithful.
Let’s read on…
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Here we find a summary of Jesus’ core message:
The Kingdom of God is near or at hand…meaning “You are looking at it when you see me.”
Brief review of the Kingdom in Scripture.
First, the Kingdom is the reign or rule of the one true King, God.
A kingdom is where what the King wants done, is done.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
A good king has a good kingdom…his subjects thrive and experience his goodness there.
What we see next in Mark’s gospel is that Jesus starts inviting people to live in the kingdom of God by following him.
So, to thrive in the life God has for us, to live in his Kingdom, we must follow Jesus.
The stories that follow show Jesus demonstrating his royal authority…he casts out demons, he heals the sick, he calms storms.
These are kingly stories of dominion in his kingdom: He has power over spiritual beings, human ailments, and the material world.
Second, we see that this Kingdom is already, but not yet.
In one sense the kingdom had already come in the person of Jesus, who was fulfilling God’s will perfectly.
In another sense, it was gradually coming, in lives surrendered to God…as people one by one put their faith in Christ…the kingdom of God was coming.
In a third sense, the kingdom of God will come in fullness on the last day, at the end of this present age.
“Mark: Commentary” Alan Cole
So, the kingdom has three levels, so to speak, the coming of Christ, as people come to Christ and at the second coming of Christ.
Then there are three reactions to Jesus and his claims of authority as the true King in Mark’s gospel:
- Some followed him…bowed to his authority.
- Some were confused by him
- Some rejected him
Let’s look at the first of those who followed him, they would present a pattern for everyone who follows Christ.
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him
Simon and Andrew demonstrate what is true for everyone who follows Jesus.
At minimum to have relationship with Christ there is a “leaving and a following.”
This corresponds to Jesus’ call to “repent and believe.”
Repent is to turn away from the old life and believe is to turn towards God in faith.
Everyone who follows Jesus will respond to the same call in the same way…they will leave and follow.
Not everyone will leave their jobs or families (some still do)…but everyone must turn from a life of calling their own shots and following the King…living under his loving rule.
Of course, a king’s rule means that there are rules…but the rules are not the point of life in the kingdom…thriving under the King’s loving care is the point.
We want to do what he wants; because what he wants is good.
To follow the King and to thrive in his kingdom means we must leave our old/own way of life and follow him into his way of life.
Okay, we have John Mark’s precise and concise introduction of Jesus the Messiah.
It is real history and it is mind-blowing mystery…
Let’s make a couple of applications to conclude.
HISTORY AND MYSTERY
- Why didn’t Jesus heal everyone? Mark says he drove out many demons and healed many diseases, why not all?
And he even told one guy he healed to not tell anyone, why?
He didn’t want people coming to him just to get what they wanted…he wasn’t a Genie or Santa Claus.
He wanted them to come to get what they needed the most…the forgiveness of sins.
He told a guy that was paralyzed that his sins were forgiven.
This incensed some local religious teachers, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The thought.
So, Jesus responds, “It’s easy to SAY you are forgiven but so you can know I have the authority to forgive sins…watch closely…Get up and walk!”
The man got up and was healed.
He didn’t heal everyone and everyone he did heal he did so as a sign pointing to his larger purpose…his purpose was that humans would leave the domain of darkness and live in the kingdom of God.
Healing was then, and it now a sign…a sign points to something other and greater than itself.
Jesus’ did amazing things to confirm his authority to tell people the truth about God, life, eternity.
There are a lot of messages out there…lots of people making lots of truth claims.
Jesus made absolute truth claims, then backed up those claims with real authority, kingly power.
Mark began like this, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”
Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”
What is the good news exactly?
We can be forgiven of our sins.
We can have relationship with God.
We can live now, and forever in the good Kingdom of God.
“What about what I want?”
What do you want?
“I want healing of my disease.”
“I want my relationship with my family restored.”
“I don’t want my loved one to die.”
God may choose to heal. He may work in your loved one and in your heart to restore relationship. He may give a loved one more days or years.
This is not the gospel.
It would be good news of course…to be healed…but it is not The Good News.
When God heals one child and not another…was he good in one instance and not in another?
Did he love one child or mother more than another?
Let’s talk history and mystery.
History: Christ has come, he has died for your sins, he has risen from the dead.
-You can, if you will, “leave and follow” “repent and believe”
There is nothing and no one who can keep you from this…you can experience what Christ came to bring you.
Mystery: Why doesn’t God heal? Why do I suffer like this? Why is that person’s life like it is, and mine is like it is?
I don’t know.
Deut 29:29: The secret things belong to the Lord our God, the things revealed belong to us and to our children that we may obey him.
Here’s what we know…to thrive in the Kingdom of God…we must decrease and he must increase.
We are miserable when we make life about us.
We are moving into the realm of joy when we make life about him.
Making life about him means that faithfulness is our goal.
And the reward for faithfulness being found faithful.
Trust and Obey, there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.
This is an old song that tells an older truth…
Trust in the mystery.
Obey in the history.
Thrive in his good kingdom..