Sunday

10 December 2017

Mark 1:1-8

“John 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.’” (v. 7)

Psalm: Psalm 85


Background

Mark's opening words tell us that there is "good news" (v. 1) (Old English: 'gōd spel'hence 'gospel') about Jesus of Nazareth. Mark doesn't mention Jesus's birth, unlike the Gospel of Matthew's opening genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17) showing the Hebrew ancestors of Jesus, or the Gospel of Luke's infancy narratives (Luke 1-2) which are too like many such stories in the ancient near east. Mark begins with theology - but not the long sentences and profound thinking of John's Gospel. Other Gospels are like detective stories: it takes you a while to notice the clues as to who Jesus is. But Mark begins with the biggest plot spoiler of them all: this is "the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (v. 1).

We can read the first verse as the title of the story, and the next seven verses as a list of contents. The contents are three-fold: 

  • There is the anticipation of the arrival of the Son of God (verses 2-3). Mark sets out the Old Testament background: the longing for 'the anointed one' (Hebrew: 'masiah', Greek: 'christos') expressed by Isaiah and used by John the Baptist. There will be a herald announcing that the Messiah will soon arrive, and telling people to prepare the route. John dresses like Elijah the prophet to show he is that herald (verse 6; 2 Kings 1:8).
  • People need personally to be ready to welcome him: they need to 'repent' so that their thoughts and hearts are open to him (verses 4-5).
  • John speaks of the baptism in the Holy Spirit that will come for those who encounter Jesus, and reminds us that, as John does, we need to point people to Jesus, who will equip us for our task of sharing the good news (verses 7-8).

But if this is the beginning, what about the end of the story? The oldest ending of Mark's Gospel tells us that the women who went to the tomb "said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid" (Mark 16:8). Thank God that the story didn't actually end there. Thank God that the good news of the Son of God can still be proclaimed by those who overcome their fear. Thank God that we can still - every day - prepare for the coming of Jesus, both as he baptizes us afresh each day with the Holy Spirit, but also as we prepare for his coming again. To modernise John the Baptist's last sentence (verse 8) 'You think this is good? You ain't seen nothing yet!'


To Ponder

  • How different would it be if we live each day as if Jesus were coming tonight?
  • "To die will be an awfully big adventure" (J M Barrie inPeter Pan). Where do you think the 'good news' story really ends?
  • How easily do you find it to point people to Jesus? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.