The Good News
Today we begin a new sermon series: “Christianity Explored.” This series is really named after a course that began in England in 2001. Over the next 7 weeks we are going to explore what Christianity is all about by looking at excerpts from the Gospel of Mark.
Before we look at our scripture passage for today, how about we do something different and be a little interactive. In five words or less, what’s your answer to this question:
What are others saying Christianity is all about? …
With many things in life we get information second and third hand. Someone utters something here, someone else has an opinion about it there, and eventually we hear the scuttlebutt and an idea rolls around in the space between our ears. Rarely do or can we ever investigate the source documents for ourselves. But with Christianity we can, because the source documents are collected in the Bible, which is the top selling book in the world.
So, today we’re going look at Mark’s Gospel and see what he says Christianity is because he wrote his book precisely to explain Christianity to the Gentiles in the Roman Empire.
Mark 1:1–20, ESV
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
The Good News
This text is fantastic. It gives us the secret decoder ring we need to understand Christianity. It’s right there in the first verse: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
The UK’s second largest newspaper, The Daily Mail, listed the ten most significant people in all of world history. Some are famous, some are infamous. Here’s the list, starting at No. 10: Thomas Jefferson, Alexander the Great, Aristotle, Adolf Hitler, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Muhammad, William Shakespeare, Napoleon Bonaparte, and can you guess who was No. 1? It was Jesus.
Jesus is unmatched in world history. None of these other folks have had such influence, such global reach. None of them have changed cultures, or caused a set of values to be so embedded within a culture that folks didn’t know who it originated with. Take selflessness, for example… Before Jesus, the ancient world looked upon selflessness as weakness.
So, if Jesus makes a claim about himself and about our own life and death, then it’s probably worth exploring.
I get letters in the mail from companies wanting me to buy things—I throw them out without opening them. I also get recall notices from Ford Motor Company which I throw away too. But if I got a formal letter from the White House on official stationary inviting me on an all-expense-paid trip to the White House to have coffee with the President and First Lady, then I don’t care who was in office: Bush, Clinton, Obama, Trump, I am going to open the letter and investigate it. If the stakes are high, then you’d probably want to check it out too.
- What letter would you open and check out further? …
Did you know, and this is sad, folks typically put more effort and time into researching and selecting their next washing machine and dryer, then they do checking out the most significant person in history who says he’s got a claim on their lives. Appliances are more interesting than eternity—think about that.
But John Mark, who was traveling companion of the Apostle Peter, takes us to the heart of the matter with his very first words: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
We might think Christianity is about all sort of things that you have got to do and not to do. In other words, that Christianity is primarily about instruction, guidance, rules.
But Mark flips the idea that Christianity is all about do’s and dont’s, instructions, guidance, rules, and architecture on it’s head. He says, “It’s not about that stuff. It’s about ‘news.’”
The word “gospel” comes from the Old English word god meaning “good” and spel meaning “news,” and so gospel is “good news.” So, while there may be some instruction in Christianity, isn’t primarily about instruction. It’s about good news.
So, what’s the news about?
Let me pause here and ask you. In a single word, yes or no …
- Is news about rules, rites, rituals, and stained glass, good news?
- What do you think would be “good” news?
Well, Mark is telling us that the good news is new about a person: Jesus the Christ. By the way, “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “messiah.” It’s a title. It means “the anointed king.”
The Identify of Jesus
In the Bible, a king wasn’t a figure head like Queen Elizabeth II. A king shepherded the people. He protected the flock, beating back the wolves and bears. He provided for the flock, leading it to green fields and clear streams.
What do we know about Christianity thus far? Well, we know…
It’s something we need to hear about a person, rather than something we need to do.
That person is Jesus Christ. By the way, Jesus means “savior” and Christ means “king.”
Jesus is the savior-king, but he’s not like the leaders on the top 10 list. He’s not like Napoleon, Lincoln, or Washington. Why not? Because Mark says he is “the Son of God,” which means he’s God-stuff—divine.
This is what comes out in Jesus’ baptism: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:9–11).
The good new is that God sent his Son. We didn’t have to go to him. We didn’t have to do some ritualistic gyration. He came to us. That’s what the God of Christianity is like: He sends what we need before we know we need it.
That’s news worthy of being shouted on street corners. When the WWII ended, when the Germans surrendered and the Japanese surrendered, there were ticker-tap parades. There was joy and jubilation. There was good news! When the Cleveland Cavaliers won the playoffs there was good news! Shooting, excitement, a mess to clean up!
The Father has sent us the Son to be our shepherd-king.
The Mission of Jesus
So Jesus comes to provide and protect, to save. Save us from what?
What do you think…
- Why do we need a shepherd-king?
Notice what John the Baptist was doing…
“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mk 1:4–5).
He was baptizing folks for “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repentance means a “change of mind.” So think about this… John is preaching and baptizing folks, he’s saying: “Come, see yourself as you are, see your actions, see your thoughts. See that you need a change. And the biggest change needed is the realization that you need God’s forgiveness. Once you know your need for it, it will be yours. Because there is one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”
This is what Jesus’s mission was about. He was going to provide forgiveness, and through forgiveness connect us with the Father so we would experience his love and peace. That’s shepherding us to green fields and cool waters. Jesus shepherds us to the Father through the cross.
Because that’s what his mission was he was tempted in the wilderness by Satan (Mark 1:12–13). Jesus has come to do battle—protection, provision.
The Call of Jesus
Mark was writing his Gospel to folks in Rome; people who’d never heard the truth about Christianity. All the Romans knew was that there was this subversive group that was really nice, but who were troublesome for the government because they wouldn’t worship Caesar. And there was a curiosity about Christians, why when they got thrown into prison or were persecuted they remained cheerful and hopeful.
Mark is writing to them and saying, “If you want to understand what Christians are all about. Then realize that it’s not centrally about following a code of conduct and ceremony. It’s centrally about following a man, the Christ. Jesus has done something for us.”
Becoming a Christian is responding to this person, saying: “I need you, Jesus. I can’t save myself. I’m actually the problem, not the solution. So, be my savior-shepherd, Lord Jesus.”
Think about that… It’s not a wimpy, weak thing to say. It’s far harder to admit that I’m the last, least, lost, little, and dead without Jesus. To follow Jesus and to know him on along the journey of life, that’s what Christianity is all about. And it’s a far different path through life than to say, “Well, Jesus, you might have a good tip here or there. I’ll try to use it.”
No… When you come to that place like Simon Andrew, James, and John did (Mark 1:16–20), there is a reorienting of life, a new direction.
There’s an immediate leaving of your nets, whatever those are for you, to respond to Jesus’ call: “Follow me…” (Mark 1:17).
We’ve barely begun our exploration of Christianity and already before us is the identity of Jesus, the mission of Jesus, and the call of Jesus. Three truths that are foundational to what Christianity is.