“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1 ESV).
Recently I decided to do an in-depth study of the Gospel of Mark. I’ve got a few commentaries and plan to work through the book several times verse by verse with the different commentaries. As I began to dig in, it occurred to me that you could preach an entire sermon (or write a whole blog) just from the first verse, quoted above! Here are some thoughts on the very first verse of this incredible book.
“The beginning of the gospel…” Most scholars believe Mark’s gospel was the first of the four gospels to be written. As such, it truly is the beginning of the gospel. Mark was writing to a readership who had, up until this point, only hear the stories about Jesus. Mark wanted to preserve the facts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in print, so that they would endure through generations – and they have!
“The beginning of the gospel…” The book of Mark is called a gospel. There are four “gospels” which make up the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. All four of these books focus exclusively on the stories of Jesus. But the word “gospel,” is a much larger word than these four books. The gospel is the heart of the Christian message, and it literally means “good news.” The gospel is the world-changing news of actual historical events that detail how God has reached down into humanity and come alongside us to rescue us.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus…” Jesus was a common Jewish name until shortly after Jesus Christ lived and died and rose again. Then the Jews stopped using the name because they wanted to distance themselves from the Jesus Christians worshiped as God. As a name, Jesus literally means, “Yahweh is salvation.” Yahweh is the name of God revealed to Moses in the Old Testament. So Jesus’ own name has prophetic meaning, as clearly pointed out by another gospel writer, Matthew. “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 ESV).
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…” Although today we generally use “Christ” as a name, it is actually a title – Jesus the Christ. The Jews looked for a Christ, or a Messiah, the Son of God, to come rescue them from Roman oppression and establish a political kingdom on the earth. This Christ would be the king of Israel, and the Jews would rule the world with him. By giving Jesus the title of Christ, early Christians, who were mostly Jewish converts, acknowledged that the long-awaited prophecies of a coming Messiah had been fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus did, in fact, fulfill the prophecies, but in a radically different way than the Jews expected. And when He comes to fully establish His Kingdom, it will have a radically further reach than they could have ever imagined.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is perhaps the most audacious statement in the entire Bible. Jesus clearly identifies Himself throughout all four gospels as the Son of God. He is the most famous person to have ever lived. He has had the greatest impact the world has ever known. Yet, He was born to a poor family, lived for a while homeless, never traveled more than a few hundred miles, and was executed by the Roman government. There are only four major world religions founded by individual people, not just ideas. Three of those founders, Muhammed, Buddha, and Abraham, are dead. You can visit their graves today and see the elaborate temples and houses of worship built over their tombs. To my knowledge, not one of those men claimed to be God. Only Christianity has a founder whose grave is unknown, who appeared after His death to upwards of 500 people at a time, who predicted His death and His resurrection, and who claimed to be God.
My question for you is the same question Mark forces his readers to make as they read through the gospel. “And [Jesus] asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” (Mark 8:29 ESV). How you answer that question has eternal significance.