The beginning of the good news...
Week 2, Day 1
Mark 1. 1-11
The text for this week covers the first 11 verses of the Gospel of Mark, with a focus on the baptism of Jesus. The entire passage is below, but for this Day 1 post we will focus on just the first 3 verses.
The two words “good news” in verse 1 are a translation of a single Greek word: “euangelion” (often translated as “gospel”). We get the English word “evangelical” from euangelion. Just as Christians are people who follow Christ, evangelicals are people who live by the evangel—“good news” or the gospel of Jesus.
But the word “euangelion” was also used for political announcements. The Roman government routinely issued euangellions—“gospels” of Caesar, using the same word Mark used. These were proclamations announcing Caesar’s past, present or soon to be seen accomplishments, from which the people hearing the news would benefit (according to Caesar, anyway).
Mark, and the other gospel writers after him, are clearly playing off the official Roman use of this term. They are offering an alternative gospel—the gospel of Jesus that stands in contrast, or even in opposition to, the gospel of Caesar. You can imagine this didn’t set too well with the Roman authorities, as the story that ends in Jesus’ crucifixion and death will demonstrate.
Mark sets his gospel in the tradition of the Hebrew scriptures—“As it is written in the prophet Isaiah”, he writes (vs. 2). Actually, he is quoting from Exodus, Malachi and Isaiah, but here’s his point: the heart of the Old Testament—the Hebrew scriptures, is the persistent promise given at different times and circumstances, that the world is about to turn and God is about to act.
The Exodus passage promised God’s angel to guide and guard the Israelites on their wilderness journey after they left Egypt. Isaiah’s “voice in the wilderness” calls the Jews home to Jerusalem from Babylon. Malachi’s “messenger” announces the soon return of God to the temple and the revival of the people’s hope and faith.
Mark borrows all this imagery from the Hebrew scriptures and re-purposes it to say, in essence, “you ain’t seen nothing yet!” In “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, Mark is saying, we have another, and a better, fulfillment of all the promises that have come before. The world is about to turn again—from upside down to right side up. This good news builds on Isaiah’s vision, but brings it forward to Jesus’ day, and by extension, to our day as well.
The “good news of Jesus” trumps the gospel of Caesar, Mark will say throughout his book. And today this same “good news of Jesus” exposes our modern political and economic empires for the frauds and failures they are.
Just as important, this gospel calls us to consider where our allegiance lies. Our contemporary Caesars are still making promises and demanding our loyalty. The gospel of Jesus invites us to consider an alternative way of being and believing in and about our world. The choices we make—the allegiances we offer, will have consequences. How could they not?
This is the challenge Mark lays before us as we begin a new class topic this week. Listen carefully. Read closely. Choose wisely.
Prayer: Give us careful ears, Loving God, and match them with willing hearts so that we will listen and receive and be transformed by “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. Amen.
Mark 1. 1-11
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’