Text: Mark 1:1-8
Date: Advent II + 12/07/08
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
When the very first word of St. Mark’s Gospel is “Archai” (as in the word archaic), “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he means for his readers to recall the very first words of the Old Testament scriptures, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). For what he here begins to write about is as cosmic and awesome an event as the very creation itself. For it is nothing less than the salvation and beginning of the re-creation of all things. And what Mark is here writing is as true and inspired of God as those ancient words penned by Moses in the Pentateuch.
This is the beginning of the “gospel,” the good news of God initiating the rescue and salvation of His creation enslaved as it is by sin, death and the devil. It is really good news, as Jesus said, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17), for God is love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8, 16).
This good news, this “gospel” is not a manual or method of rules or religious routines, not a spiritual self-help program on how to get right with God. For the “gospel” is never primarily about you or anything you “must,” “ought,” “have to” or “should” do in order to be saved. The “gospel” is about God, and what He has done, and specifically about “Jesus Christ.” It is “the gospel of,” about, concerning the historical person called Jesus Christ. He is “Jesus,” the flesh-and-blood son of Mary of Nazareth, whose very name means “savior.” He is called the “Christ,” the anointed one, the Messiah, the Savior promised throughout the Old Testament scriptures beginning already in Genesis 3:15 at the very first intrusion of sin into God’s world: this is the offspring of the woman come to bruise the head of Satan’s offspring. “Jesus” is the name of His human nature, born of the virgin Mary. “Christ” is his title as the Messiah of God. He is “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” “Son of God” is the name of His divine nature, the Second Person of the Holy Triune God Himself, “begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven….” St. Mark begins his gospel with a one-sentence creed as thorough as the Nicene Creed.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” happened, according to St. Mark, when John the Baptist came on the scene, in the wilderness when Jesus was about 30 years old. Now, this is not to contradict or ignore “the genesis” or birth of Jesus Christ, as St. Matthew reports it (Mt. 1:18), or the parallel account of the conception and birth of both John the Baptist and Jesus as St. Luke gives in his “orderly account” (Lk. 1:3). The incarnation of the Son of God into human flesh “at Christmas” and the resulting doctrine of the two natures of Christ is, of course, absolutely fundamental to understanding the gospel, understanding everything else from our Lord’s earthly ministry and his miracles, to his substitutionary death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, his ascension to and session at the right hand of God, His real presence with His human body and blood in the sacrament of the altar, and His visible return on the Last Day. The magnitude of this doctrine is emphasized with the beginning of the Church Year with the season of Advent-Christmas, as well as, of course, the very name of this congregation, The Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word; and there you have also the Apostle and Evangelist St. John included by referring to Jesus as the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Remember all this, says St. Mark, when you are presented with books like that of Rick Warren that claims to tell the real Purpose of Christmas.
That the gospel is according to God’s initiative, design and will is what Mark means to emphasize when he writes “the beginning of the gospel…as it is written in Isaiah the prophet.” In fact, the only way anyone can know for certain that this Jesus is the promised Savior is because He and He alone perfectly fulfills everything written about Him in the Old Testament scriptures; His genealogy traced back to the original promise to Abraham in Genesis 12; His royalty as the descendant “of the house and lineage” of the great King David; His conception and birth of a virgin, Isaiah 7:14; and then the amazing detail of His cruel death by crucifixion and even His resurrection in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.
So our Evangelist of the Year, Mark, means to bring all of this to its purpose, right off the bat, by beginning with the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins proclaimed by John the Baptist (the last prophet of the Old Testament as you can plainly see by his camel’s hair clothing, his leather belt and his rather exotic diet). When it comes to you, what you need to do is to repent and confess your sins and be baptized into the one mightier than John who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And he means to say that you need to repent and confess yours sins and believe the promise of your baptism not just once but daily and constantly; as long as you struggle against sin, this is your only remedy or defense: the forgiveness of sins won for you by Jesus Christ on His cross. By faith in His death for you, you have also His resurrection life, a new life daily arising to live before God forever in righteousness and purity.
Repenting of and confessing sins means not playing any games anymore of redefining sin or presuming on God’s grace. It means agreeing with God’s diagnosis and Word when the Ten Commandments peel away the pious veneer with which we cover ourselves.
No other gods? Do you expect only good from God in every situation, or do you worry, doubt, complain, or feel unfairly treated when things go wrong?
Misuse the name of God? How’s your daily speech and conduct? Are you diligent and sincere in your prayers, or have you been lazy, bored, or distracted?
Remember the Sabbath day? Have you despised God’s Word by paying little or no attention when it is read or preached? Is your attendance to the Church’s worship sporadic?
As far as your neighbor is concerned, is there any disrespect, harm, neglect of help, purity in thought and act and support of your neighbor’s person, reputation or possessions?
Are you sorry for all that and ask for grace, desiring to do better? Then let it be done for you as you believe. Receive absolution because we need to hear it.
This is “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” but it is only the beginning! For its proper ending is for us to be found “in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:11-12, 14), living and waiting by faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God. And may “He who began a good work in you bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).