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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The First Gospel, the Only Gospel
Text:Mark 1:1-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 113:1,2                                                                                          

Ps 51:1,3                                                                                                        

Reading – Mark 1:1-15; Isaiah 40:1-11

Ps 107:1,2,3

Sermon – Mark 1:1-8

Hy 15:1,2,3

Hy 23:1,2,5,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord, the other day I saw a t-shirt with a message that caught my eye. The shirt announced, “Jesus is my Saviour, not my religion.” I can understand that. To a lot of people, “religion” means rules, a system, and man-made organization. Lots of people want nothing to do with that—instead, they want to connect with God, be united to the person who can save them, Jesus Christ.

And that is what we need! A Saviour. For Jesus was a person—He is a person. There was a time in history that He was physically walking on this earth, when He was teaching and healing, when He grieved and He rejoiced. He came here to do something that’s a matter of life or death: to give himself as a ransom for sinners.

This is the Saviour that Mark tells us about in his gospel. So what kind of book is it? Some have called it something like a biography of Jesus, his “life-story.” They say that Mark isn’t so different from the biographies that you can read today, like the one about Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple.

But if Mark is a biography, it’s a very strange one, because most of the story is about how Jesus died. There’s ten chapters about the first three years of his life, and then six chapters on his last week—fully one third of the gospel is all about Jesus dying and rising. A peculiar focus! In that sense, Mark (along with Matthew, John and Luke) are very much unlike any other books. The church has come to call these four books the “gospels.” That’s what Mark himself calls it in 1:1, “the gospel,” or an account of good news.

There are good reasons to think that this Gospel was the very first to be written, and that Mark wrote it soon after Jesus’ life on earth was done. I encourage you to read through the first bunch of chapters sometime today—just sit down, and get into the flow of his story. One thing you’ll notice is that he moves quickly. This Gospel has all the energy of a story that grabs you by the collar and demands your attention to Jesus. For Mark, that’s where the attention is: on Jesus as God’s Son, the One who came to earth as the Saviour for his people. Like that t-shirt said, this is the person we need to know. This is the Saviour we can trust with our life! I preach God’s Word from Mark 1:1-8,

Mark tells us the good news about Jesus Christ, the Saviour: 

  1. Mark’s beginning
  2. John’s ministry
  3. Jesus’ greatness


1. Mark’s beginning: If you go to the library and pick up a book, the first thing you probably do is check out the front cover. Who wrote it? Well, when we turn to Mark, “Mark” actually doesn’t tell us who he is. His name has been added by the church in the centuries after this book was written. The only thing that we have is an old tradition in church history, a tradition that says it was written by a fellow called “John Mark.” We know John Mark from the book of Acts as a missionary companion of Paul and Barnabas. He’s also mentioned in Peter’s first letter as one of his friends.

And the old story goes that Mark heard all about the life of Jesus from the apostle Peter. Peter was there of course, one of Jesus’ first disciples. He was with him from the start of his earthly ministry, to its finish, when He ascended into heaven. You can imagine that Peter would want to share some of his memories with Mark. And he does so, often in very detailed ways. As an example, there are several times when Mark tells us what Jesus said in Aramaic, the language of Palestine in that day. Like what Jesus said to the young girl to raise her from the dead, “Talitha cum”—that’s the kind of detail that only an eyewitness would remember.

This is who Mark wants to tell us about: Jesus the powerful, the compassionate, the Saviour. So read the first verse again: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). As we look at that opening line, we notice that it’s not a complete sentence. There’s no verb; there’s no object; it’s just a statement. Like on that front cover of the book you picked up at the library: “The Origins of the French Revolution.”

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ…” Yes, Mark begins his book with a title. And what an accurate title it is! For as we read through Mark, we’ll see two things: it’s all Christ, and it’s all gospel. You can’t read this book, and not come face-to-face with the Son of God. You hear what He’s done, and you hear how He calls you to come and follow Him.

What Mark says he’s beginning to give is “the gospel” (1:1). Another way to translate that is the “good news.” Back in Mark’s day, the Greek word for “gospel” was a special term. The Romans would use the word for any news of a victory on the battlefield. Say the Roman armies would be out on the frontier someplace, and Roman citizens back home would be waiting eagerly to hear the “gospel” of their latest triumph—kind of like a newsflash from abroad. It was always good news when the imperial armies had defeated the barbarians. It was gospel!

That’s the word Mark uses in his title. Which is interesting, because we have several clues in his book that he wrote it not for Jews, but for Gentiles. That was his audience: Romans who didn’t know anything about the true God, or the Saviour of the world. So Mark boldly begins his account of Jesus Christ: “Dear listeners, here is the real good news! I’m going to tell you about a real victory, the good news that Jesus has triumphed over the devil. And I’m going to tell you how you can share in it.”

“Mind you,” says Mark, “All these things I’m about to tell you about Jesus are just the beginning” (1:1). His book is a selective account, a partial story. Jesus had spent three busy years on earth—ministering and showing mercy and traveling and suffering—sixteen quick chapters is far from the whole story. Mark is just giving a sampler, a taste.

Even so, he tells us what we really need to know. Instead of starting with Day 1, he begins with Year 30. Did you notice that? Mark doesn’t say anything about Christmas. There’s no announcements from heavenly angels here in chapter 1. There’s no Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph. No Bethlehem, no shepherds, no wise men, and no escape to Egypt.

Instead, we dive right in with John the Baptist. We fast-forward to the one who ministers in those weeks and months leading up to Jesus getting his work underway. The story begins when expectation is at a breaking point: “Any day now, you’re going to hear the good news. Any day now, Jesus will arrive on the scene. Because look, here’s his messenger!” In these first verses we can feel Mark just itching to get to Christ, to tell about the Saviour.

That’s something to learn from, that we remember to put the focus of faith where the focus needs to be. We can get so caught up in ourselves, so centred on what we think is important, so consumed by our day and what fills it. But our life is nothing without Jesus Christ. Our faith is nothing without Christ. All we have, and all that we do, is because of the work of Jesus Christ. As we rise from our beds in the morning, it’s because of God’s grace in Christ. As we work and study and play, it’s for the Lord Jesus. When we are blessed in countless ways, it’s only for Jesus’ sake. As we pray, and as we worship, and enjoy fellowship together, it’s only through Christ. In Him, it all holds together.

So that’s where we always need to end up: at the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our point of reference should always be this: How close are we to Christ? Are we being enriched and strengthened daily by his gospel? Are we leading a life that’s worthy of Christ’s calling?


2. John’s ministry: After his title, the first thing that Mark does is link his story back to the Old Testament, “As it is written in the Prophets…” (1:2). He quotes from Malachi and Isaiah, which shows that God’s people have been waiting a long time for this—it’s about 400 years since the last of the minor prophets. So when is God going to take action?

And things start happening when the LORD sends his forerunner, just like Malachi said He would: “Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you” (1:2). Back in the ancient world, when a king went out to travel anywhere in his kingdom, a herald would go ahead of him. There’d be a messenger sent up the road to announce that the king is coming and to make sure that his people are ready to receive him: pick up the garbage, hang the banners, water the flowers. It still happens today when Queen Elizabeth visits towns and countries throughout her dominion—everyone know she’s coming, and they get ready for her. In Britain it’s a standard joke that wherever the Queen goes, she smells fresh paint!

In the same way, John the Baptist has a ministry of preparation. He has to make sure everyone knows who’s about to show up, so they act accordingly: “Prepare the way of the LORD; make his paths straight” (1:3). Those words are taken from Isaiah 40, where God announces glorious comfort for the people of Judah. Why did they need comfort? For an entire lifetime, they’d been in captivity in Babylon, a place of misery and tears. They’d been exiled by their own sin, separated from God because of their unholiness. But Isaiah says that there’s comfort coming—“her warfare is ended, her iniquity is pardoned.” God will lead them out of captivity, all the way back home.

This is a big moment, and no one should be left behind. So get everything ready for when God appears! The LORD commands that a road be built in the wilderness between Babylon and Palestine: “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (40:3). A road to hope—a freeway to freedom!

John the Baptist too, comes in the wilderness. But the desert he’s in is that empty region between Judea and the Dead Sea. This is a hot and barren place. John’s rugged clothing fits the rugged landscape: a long, flowing garment, woven from camel’s hair. And his food is as simple as his clothing: “locusts and wild honey” (1:6). Doesn’t sound appetizing, but this is whatever he can find in the wilderness: some protein, some sugar, and John could get to work. That’s his focus—not fancy clothes or gourmet meals, but preaching the Word.

And although he’s out in the desert, people go to him. There’s enthusiasm for this new prophet, an interest in what he’s saying. For he is “preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (1:4). Let’s look at his message more closely. When we hear “baptism,” we picture our nice baptismal font, an infant in a white dress being presented by her parents, and a solemn ceremony of sprinkled water.

In one sense, the Jews knew about baptism too. In the law of Moses, ceremonial washing was a daily part of being cleansed from impurity. And in that time if there were Gentiles who wanted to join God’s covenant people, but they didn’t want to be circumcised, they could be “baptized.” They would be dunked in the water, a ritual to mark the big change in their life, a break from the ways of unbelief and sin.

So this baptism in the Jordan wasn’t totally strange. But what John says is the shocking bit. It’s not just those who are ritually impure that need washing. It’s not just unclean Gentiles that have to be washed from sin. It’s everyone! Everyone needs to have their sins wiped away. Everyone needs to go to God for cleansing.

Our own baptism is a reminder of this. Whenever we think of our baptism, it’s a prompt for us to remember that we’ve been made dirty by the pollution of sin. Its contamination is all around us in this world, and its infection is deep within us, in our desires and thoughts. We need a total washing! So again and again, day by day, we need to seek God’s grace in Christ.

Notice also what kind of baptism John is offering, “a baptism of repentance” (1:4). If you come into the Jordan, John says, you’re admitting that you need to change. You’re saying that you will change! This baptism has to mean a new start for you.

And John didn’t hold back this message of repentance from anyone. Luke in his Gospel tells us that he warned those who were getting baptized, just because it was the “in” thing to do. John also warned anyone who had money that they needed to share with the poor. He warned the tax collectors that they had to stop ripping people off, and the soldiers that they had to stop intimidating people. You can read in Mark 6 that John even went after King Herod for taking his brother’s wife. This was a ministry that landed John in prison, a ministry that ended with his head on a tray.

Why was John so bold? What made this call to repent so pressing and urgent, that he was even willing to die to announce it? It was this one fact: Jesus is on his way. Christ is coming, and He’s going to deal with sin. For you, and for everyone, He’s either going to forgive your sin, or He’s going to condemn your sin. He will either take all of your punishment onto himself as Saviour, or He will hand your punishment to you as Judge. Either way, Jesus will deal with sin.

So before He gets here, you’ve got something important to do. You need to confess your sins, and you need to change your life. Before He gets here, you need to repent. And that’s as true today, as it was back then, during John’s ministry. If you will receive Christ, if you will share in his salvation, then your heart has to be ready. It has to be swept clean. The rubbish removed. Sins confessed. It’s the most important thing that you’ll ever do: being ready for Christ, ready with a broken heart, a repentant heart, a believing heart.

Remember how Isaiah compared it to building a highway across the desert. Because the Lord is coming, we have to make his way ready. Smooth out the rough places! Where in our life do we have bitterness and anger, jealousy and pride? Let the rough places be made smooth, and begin to live in Christian peace, mercy, and love.

Because Christ is coming, we have to make straight whatever is crooked. Where in our life are things not in agreement with his Word? Where are we straying from the straight road of his commandments? Is it dishonesty at work? Resentment in our marriage? Is it worldliness in our choices in entertainment? With laziness in devotions? We have to make these things straight, repenting, and seeking the Lord’s grace.

And because Christ coming, we have to clear away any obstructions and barriers from his way. What is there that keeps us from trusting God with our whole heart? What roadblocks keep us from serving Christ with our whole life? Maybe roadblocks of sin that we’re protecting, instead of removing. Barriers of hatred that we’re sticking to, instead of giving up. Because Christ is coming, He calls us to confess our sins, to repent of them. He calls us to prepare him a highway, so that He can come in.


3. Jesus’ greatness: Imagine your whole job was to introduce other people, to get attention for someone else. Like the announcers at sports arenas, who introduce the starting line-ups with great exuberance. People cheer, but it’s not for the announcer, it’s for the one who’s running onto the field. That was John’s whole ministry, wasn’t it? He wasn’t pointing to himself, but to Christ. He wasn’t promising anything that he could deliver, but only Christ could. John would only get people ready for the Saviour who was coming, who was superior in every way: “There comes One after me who is mightier than I…” (1:7).

John needed to say this, because people were wondering if he might be the Christ. They were drawn to him, this strange-looking, powerfully-preaching man in the desert. But he wasn’t the Christ—far from it. And John wants the people to know how much greater the coming Christ will be. “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, who sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose” (1:7). Back then, everyone wore sandals. These ones were made up simple soles and a whole series of straps to keep them on tight.

So when a master returned home after a day of traveling, it was a servant’s job to make him comfortable. He’d put up his feet, and the servant would untie his sandals and take them off. You probably understand that this wasn’t a pleasant task: in dry weather, roads were dusty; in wet weather, they were muddy—so peeling off a dirty, sweaty sandal was a lowly thing to do. It was the most menial of jobs. But John says he’s even lower than this. He’s not even fit for the lowest act of a servant.

Not because John has such low self-esteem. But because he esteems Jesus so highly! He is so majestic, so powerful, so perfect. John might be baptizing with water, but what’s a bit of symbolic water? Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:8). John might give an outward washing, but Jesus can give true cleansing to sinners, in soul and spirit.

This is the great Saviour that John the Baptist will keep pointing to. This is the great Saviour whom Mark the Gospel-writer wants his readers to know. Look again at the first verse, the title for this book. There Mark puts the spotlight where it needs to be: “The gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1).

There’s something powerful in each of each of those names. “Jesus” is no ordinary name, but it means “the LORD saves.” Jesus will save his people! He is also the “Christ,” the Messiah, the anointed one of God and promised for so many centuries. The confession that Jesus is the Christ is actually the whole turning point in Mark’s Gospel. It’s in chapter 8, where Jesus asks the disciples what people think of him. They volunteer various answers—none of them right—but then Jesus puts it to his disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” (v 29). Peter answers: “You are the Christ.” In other words, “You are God’s Messiah. You’re the Saviour we need.”

And after that moment, everything changes. For the very next thing Jesus does is tell them that He is going to suffer, be rejected and killed, and after three days rise again (8:31). It’s the first time that He tells them that. And it’s after Peter’s confession that Jesus sets course, and begins heading to Jerusalem.

Then, as we said, Mark spends the final major portion of his short book on the last week of Jesus’ life! Altogether, it’s a Good Friday story with a prelude. A passion narrative, with a long introduction. More than anything, Mark wants to tell us about the cross. That’s where our victory is—our hope, and “comfort, comfort” for the people of God.

There’s one more piece of Jesus’ greatness to consider: He is “Jesus Christ… the Son of God.” That title keeps coming back in Mark. Listen to what the Father says about Jesus when He’s baptized: “You are my Son, whom I love” (1:11). Listen to what the evil spirits cry when Jesus casts them out: “You are the Son of God” (3:11). Even the Roman centurion confessed it, when he saw the agony of Jesus on the cross, “Surely this man was the Son of God” (15:39).

Right at the beginning of his Gospel then, you can see that Mark is pointing us forward. He’s pointing forward all the way to the cross. Just like John the Baptist made a career of pointing away from himself. “It’s not about me,” he says, “it’s about the mighty One who’s coming. He must become greater, I must become less.”

So it should be for every Christian. We don’t point to ourselves. We shouldn’t seek praise for ourselves. We shouldn’t make our life all about us and our goals, and maybe give Christ a supporting role. But every day we ought to stand in awe of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. For He was willing to come to this earth to deal with our sin, to suffer and die and rise again.

Like John said, we’re not worthy of what Christ did. We’re not worthy to be called Christ’s servants, or even to be given the lowest place in his kingdom. But the miracle—the gospel!—is that Jesus did it anyway. He died to wash us, to forgive us, to give us his Spirit. And now? Now Christ calls us to come, and follow Him.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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