The next two months we will be reading through the Gospel of Mark. “Why study Mark? What is here for us?” This is a question asked and then answered by Kim Riddlebarger in a sermon on Mark 1:1-8, our passage for today:
First and foremost, the Gospel of Mark is vital for us to study because in this gospel we are summoned to believe that Jesus is the Christ and to submit to his Lordship. We must make the same confession about Jesus that both Peter and the centurion made. We must believe and confess that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. That alone is a sufficient reason to study Mark.
But there is more that we can say. Certainly one important reason to study this gospel is that Mark serves an important apologetic or evangelistic purpose–you cannot communicate to people what you don’t know or, are afraid might not be true. In Mark’s Gospel we come as close as we can to Jesus of Nazareth. In this gospel we learn some of the most important things that Jesus said and did. We meet the Jesus who really lived and who spoke the words recorded here. Far too often we assume that Christians know and understand the basic facts of Christianity. But many of us do not know the events surrounding the life and death of Jesus well enough to recount them to our non-Christian friends and neighbors–and this is what true evangelism entails. Familiarity with the Gospel of Mark is a great place to begin overcoming this fear and lack of confidence in telling others about Jesus. There are many Christians who counsel new converts or non-Christians to start with Mark’s Gospel–I wholeheartedly agree. So my homework assignment to you is that you read this Gospel through at least once, in its entirety. Perhaps you might even want to read Mark for your devotions or include it in your family bible reading and catechesis.
As for its redemptive historical significance, we must recall the Exodus–those forty years the people of God wandered in the wilderness. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus calls his people out from the nations in what amounts to a new Exodus. Just as Israel was called out of bondage and slavery in Egypt, so too, Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, summons Israel to once again cross through the sea in his baptism of repentance. Having been baptized by John, Jesus immediately begins his Messianic mission. Mark repeatedly speaks of Jesus being in the wilderness, which calls to mind the fact that Jesus is the true Israel, and who, unlike the Israelites we saw in the Books of Exodus and Numbers and who frequently grumbled and complained and doubted God’s promise, faithfully obeyed his father’s will. And his father’s will inevitably takes Jesus to the cross, where he suffers and dies for the guilt of our sins.
The new Exodus brought about by Jesus is tied to coming of the kingdom of God (which is the rule or reign of God). Jesus is revealed to be both the Son of God and yet at the same time the servant of all. Not only did the prophet Isaiah foretell of this New Exodus and dawn of the kingdom of God at the dawn of the Messianic age, so did the prophet Malachi. As we see in our Old Testament lesson, Malachi foretold of an age about which the LORD declares, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” That, of course, is a reference to John the Baptist. But as soon as the messenger comes, he is followed by another–the Messiah himself. “`Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.’” With the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, Mark can now proclaim the good news that what God had promised Isaiah and Malachi, he has now brought to pass in Jesus of Nazareth.
Therefore, when we read in the opening words of Mark’s Gospel, “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,’” we know that what both Isaiah and Malachi had predicted is a reality–the kingdom of God is at hand. A new exodus is about to begin. The messianic age has dawned. And through this wonderful proclamation of the “good news” about Jesus, the Gospel of Mark, we too will be summoned to believe and confess that Jesus is the Son of God. We will be called to repent of our sins. And we will hear the voice of our Savior–who came to serve, not to be served and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Amen.