The Gospel is heaven’s message of salvation for sinners. It proclaims the fulfillment of God’s promise of a sinless man whose righteousness and sacrifice yield forgiveness and eternal life for anyone and everyone who trusts in Him. It is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus, as the suffering servant of the Lord, is the emphasis of Mark’s gospel narrative. And Mark (a.k.a. John Mark; Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37) continually presents the Lord’s earthly ministry for God’s kingdom, which leads Him to the cross where He gives His life a ransom for sinners (Mk. 10:45). As a close companion of Simon Peter (1 Pet. 5:13), Mark’s account of Jesus’ service and suffering is undoubtedly informed by the apostle’s first-hand experience with the Lord. Additionally, Mark’s interaction with the apostle Paul’s ministry (through his cousin Barnabas; Col. 4:10) also taught him much about service and sacrifice for the sake of Christ (Acts 12:25; 13:13; 15:37-40; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philemon 24).
Mark reflects Peter’s understanding that Christ came to save both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 9:43-11:18). Unlike the other Gospels, he largely avoids uniquely Jewish information and focuses instead on God’s Son as the Son of Man promised in Hebrew Scripture with emphasis on His humanity. The details of his writing specifically target the Roman culture of the first century.
The fact that the Gospel message itself flows from God’s promise of Christ in the Old Testament is why Mark begins his narrative there. We are introduced to Jesus and His ministry in Mark 1:1-11 through the last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist. In part one of this study (vv. 1-5), we find the prediction of God’s messenger and his presentation of God’s message.
The Beginning of the Gospel – Part I (1:1-5)
God’s Messenger Predicted (vv. 1-3)
Mark gives us the title of his gospel in verse one: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Without any record of Jesus’ ancestry or background concerning His birth, we are ushered immediately to the historical commencement of our Lord’s earthly ministry “in the wilderness” of Judea (vv. 3, 4, 12, 13). But He is first identified as the eternal “Son of God” who has come in the flesh.
It was to this dry and desolate region, located between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, that God would “send [His] messenger” to herald His Son’s arrival. It may seem strange that God would announce Jesus as the Christ in a place where few people actually lived. Other than this heretofore obscure and solitary figure predicted by prophets Isaiah (40:3-5) and Malachi (3:1; cf. 4:4-6), few would have dwelt in this desert region bordered by the Jordan River (see v. 5).
But the Hebrew people knew that God first dealt with them under the covenant of law in the wilderness. By his servant, Moses, He led their ancestors through the wilderness for forty years before bringing them into the land of promise. The wilderness was a familiar meeting place with God — a reminder of how easily they transgressed His law even after He established them in the land.
However, despite their sins, the LORD had promised a new covenant by which forgiveness and true righteousness would be provided in grace (Jer. 31:31-34). And it would be mediated by a servant greater than Moses (Deut. 18:15; Heb. 3:1-6; 8:7-13). This man would be perfect in His service to God and suffer the just punishment for the sins of all (both Jews and Gentiles) who repent and look to Him in faith (Is. 53:1-56:8). This is Jesus Christ who gave His life a ransom for many on the cross of Calvary.
For this reason, long before Christ appeared in history, God promised His Son a messenger to go “before [His] face” and “prepare [His] way.” This forerunner would distinctly and literally be a “voice crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.'” As we will see, the way of Christ, to those who trust Him, is paved with their repentance.
Isaiah’s prophecy is particularly in view to indicate the appearance of God’s salvation in Christ (Isaiah is referenced heavily, implicitly and explicitly, in Mark’s gospel). The Hebrew people would immediately recognize the significance of a lone figure in the desert heralding the Lord’s arrival. And, as prophesied by Malachi, this bold messenger was foreshadowed by the prophet Elijah (v. 6), a prophet indeed who called Israel to repent and turn to God (cf. 1 Kings 18:21; Matt. 11:7-15; Lk. 7:24-30).
Just as God revealed His law in the wilderness, so He also began to fully reveal His grace in Christ there. Why? Because the good news of salvation in Christ is for sinners condemned under the law. The Gospel completes what the law could not accomplish.
Romans 10:4 says, “For Christ is the end of the law for everyone who believes” because He fulfills its righteous demands on our behalf both for obedience and transgression (Gal. 3:10-25).
God’s Message Presented (vv. 4-5)
Everything about the ministry of John the Baptist called for those who heard his message to turn from their sins to the LORD. There was no mistaking that God had raised him up for this most unique moment in history. The focus was moving from God’s condemnation under law to His grace through faith in the promised Savior, which predated the Old Covenant (Gal. 3:16-18). John’s message from God drew attention to the change.
God’s message via John came by a “baptism of repentance for the remission [i.e. forgiveness] of sins.” The baptism was a water baptism of some fashion. Various forms were practiced by the Jews and others as a public symbol of cleansing and identification. John required those who heard his message of the Christ (the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; Jn. 1:29) to show their desire to be forgiven and their willingness to repent by being baptized.
He did not pronounce forgiveness, but he made very clear the meaning of the baptism. Only God’s Spirit, through the new birth, can generate true repentance and faith in Christ which leads to forgiveness (Jn. 3:3, 5, 16; Acts 11:18; Eph. 2:8-9). John taught those who came to be baptized that genuine repentance and faith would be evidenced by righteous living (Lk. 3:7-14). Although He needed no repentance, Jesus would later be baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness — identifying Himself with the Gospel message (v. 9; cf. Matt. 3:15).
Verse five tells us that “all” the people of “Judea, and those from Jerusalem” went into the wilderness to John. These “were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” This means they came in large numbers and made a public identification with John’s message. In other words, they openly acknowledged their sin and need of forgiveness. Repentance necessarily involves the confession of sin.
John did not baptize anyone who did not confess sin and thereby claim to repent of it. But does this mean they all were truly repentant? We know from the other synoptic gospels that John recognized a superficial repentance in the crowd and especially among the hypocritical religious leaders (Matt. 3:7; Lk. 3:7; “brood of vipers”). A religious response was not what John required. However, Mark does not go into detail about that here. He simply and pointedly emphasizes God’s message:
The Gospel demands true repentance, which involves a confession of sin. This is not optional.
That has always been the proper response to God’s promise of salvation in Christ. It is the message that Jesus Himself would later proclaim as He embarked on His public ministry (Mk. 1:15). While God is patient with sinners, He now commands everyone to repent and believe in His Son or face judgment (Acts 17:30-31). It is required of all people to have “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
God wants you to know about His gracious salvation; He meets you in the wilderness of your sin, as it were, and calls you to repent and believe the Gospel of His Son Jesus Christ. Have you genuinely acknowledged that you are a sinner in need of God’s grace? Have you sincerely placed your faith in Jesus, the suffering servant of God? That is the straightforward message of the Gospel.
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