Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday, we began a new sermon series in the Gospel according to Mark. If you weren’t present – or would like to review the sermon – the audio recording is available on the church website here: https://hillcountrypca.org/all-sermons/.
As I mentioned on Sunday, we’re going to spend probably 4-5 sermons in the first 15 verses of this book. We’ll cover larger portions of Scripture in the future, but at the beginning I think it will be helpful for us to take some time in our introduction to this book. You see, in these first 15 verses, Mark lays out for us some of the major themes of his Gospel account. So, the general plan for our first five sermons is:
Mark 1:1 – The Gospel of Jesus
Mark 1:2-8 – The Forerunner of Jesus
Mark 1:9-11 – The Identification of Jesus
Mark 1:12-13 – The Wilderness Experience of Jesus
Mark 1:14-15 – The Preaching of Jesus
The proclamation of the gospel as creative act
In our introductory sermon this past Sunday, one of the things that I sought to emphasize was that the proclamation of the gospel is not just a conveying of information from one person to another. It is also, and primarily, a creative act. Like speaking the words, “Open Sesame” in that Bugs Bunny cartoon effects change, so too, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus is a creative act. To distill this idea, in the sermon on Sunday, I quoted from William Lane’s commentary, “…to proclaim salvation on God’s authority is itself a creative act; in a sense it inaugurates the reality of which it speaks.” (Lane, William L. 1974. The Gospel according to Mark: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 43).
Because it’s such an important concept, I’d like to elaborate a little bit on this idea of “proclamation as creative act.”
“Gospel” in the Roman culture
Mark’s Gospel account is the earliest written (oldest) of the four Gospels in the New Testament. As such, Mark created the literary genre of the ‘gospel-form,’ but the word “gospel” was not coined by Mark. In the Roman culture, the word meant “joyful tidings.” It was usually associated with the cult-like worship of the Roman Emperor. In fact, there is a calendar inscription from 9 BC which speaks of the emperor Octavian Augustus and the celebration of his birthday. It read: ‘the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of joyful tidings (or gospel) which have been proclaimed on his account.’
There’s a key difference, however, between the Roman concept of ‘gospel’ and the Biblical concept. Again, quoting Lane, “For the Roman an evangel was retrospective, a reflection of the joyous event which has already taken place. In the prophetic word there is a distinctively forward-looking eschatological perspective. The messenger of joy will announce the beginning of the time of salvation and thereby introduce it (cf. Isa. 52:7-10).” (Lane 1974, 43-44). In other words, the ‘gospel’ in the Roman cult was simply an announcement of a celebration of an event – usually the birthday of an emperor. Among the Old Testament prophets, the ‘gospel’ was an announcement of an event that would effect the salvation and future blessing of God’s people – an act of God.
“Gospel” in Scripture
It would be impossible to attempt to do an all-encompassing study of ‘gospel’ in the Scriptures in this setting; however, if we simply take our cue from Scripture that Lane references in the quote above, it will set us on the right trajectory. Isaiah 52:7-10 reads:
“How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news [GOSPEL], Who announces peace And brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, They shout joyfully together; For they will see with their own eyes When the LORD restores Zion. Break forth, shout joyfully together, You waste places of Jerusalem; For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God.” (Isaiah 52:7-10)
Speaking of the future restoration of Zion through the victory of God, Isaiah paints an interesting picture. The picture is that of watchmen on the wall of the city who are scanning the horizon for messengers who will bring news back to the city concerning the success or failure of a battle. By the way in which the messengers are running – by looking at their feet – the watchmen on the wall can tell that it’s good news: The LORD has been victorious; your God reigns!
This is the very same passage that the Apostle Paul references in Romans 10 as he makes the case for the necessity for the church to raise up and send out preachers. His argument is as follows. The word or message of faith is this: “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:8). For whoever – Jew or Gentile – will call upon the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-13). However, in order to call upon the Lord, one must believe; and, in order to believe, one must first hear the good news (the gospel of Jesus); and, in order to hear, there has to be a preacher; and, preachers have to be sent out by the church (Romans 10:14-15a).
And then Paul brings in Isaiah 52:7, “Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things’” (Romans 10:15b). Since the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus is itself a creative act, it’s no wonder that Paul would later give such a strong admonition to Timothy: “…give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching…Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:13, 16).
From the opening verse, Mark gives us the title and outline of his book – “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). He is setting out to give us an historical account of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus (what Jesus did and what He taught); however, he is doing much more than that. He is preaching and proclaiming the ‘good news’ of the victory of God through Jesus the Christ and Son of God.
This proclamation is itself a creative act. And, it is my hope and prayer that in this sermon series in the Gospel according to Mark, God will do just that: create or renew in us new hearts that rejoice in the victory of God!
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch