JANUARY 13th, 2019 PASTOR DON PIEPER
Right On The Mark! Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11/Mark 1:1-13
“WHO IS THIS REALLY?”
This morning we begin a new series entitled, Right On the Mark, because as we'll see, in telling us about Jesus, the author of this gospel hits it right on the Mark. But whenever digging into scripture, it’s always wise to consider the historical context, such as who the author is, and for who and why he writes. Without it, it's a little like opening up a mysterious letter with no return address.
Calvin: Gosh, I never get mail! I wonder who sent this? There's no return address! In its place
there's a crude human skull with x's for eyes and it's tongue hanging out. Maybe it's the I.R.S.
Okay, maybe not; but if you read thru this book, this letter to us, you won't find the author ever identifying himself here either. So like Calvin, I can't help wonder who sent it. It's kinda exciting!
Calvin: This is so exciting to get a secret untraceable message in the mail! It said a coded letter
would follow! Maybe it will arrive today! I can't wait to get home and see! I wonder what it will say? I wonder who sent it? I wonder why it's in code? ...I'll bet I grow up to be a spy! I'm so good at figuring out what's going on! (...Jungle Cat, p 6, 8)
Yeah... Right. And then, comes the moment of discovery....!
Calvin: I'm home! I'm home! Did I get a letter today??
Mom: Yes, it's on the table.
Calvin: Hey! This says, 'Calvin is a porridge brain!' It's..., it's an Insult!
Hobbes: Some people have secret admirers. You have a secret detractor!
Calvin: Wait a minute! These are coming from our house??
Mom: Oh, and I want you to ask before you cut up my magazines, ok?
Calvin: All right, where's that miserable bunch of stripey orange flea bait?!?
Well, Calvin's mystery letter writer is solved – what about ours? The ancient fathers, Clement, Jerome and Eusbius, in referring to the writings of an early second century church leader by the name of Papias of Hierapolis, identify John Mark as the author, and Peter, Jesus' disciple, as Mark's source.
Those of you who were around for our series on the apostle Paul might recall that John Mark was also a traveling buddy of Paul's, having gone with him on his first missionary trip. Paul later refers to him repeatedly in his letters as a trusted partner in the gospel, as he does in his letters to Timothy: “Bring (John) Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.”
(2 Timothy 4:11)
Peter also refers to Mark in his letters: “My son, Mark, sends his greetings.” (1 Peter 5:13) The fact that Mark is referred to in Peter's letters reveals that he was with Peter in Rome when the disciple penned his letters from prison there and Mark probably wrote this gospel around the same time, early in the reign of the Roman emperor, Nero, who was in power from 54 to 68 A.D.
Written within a generation of the events it conveys, Mark's gospel is the earliest as well as the shortest of the four gospels. About 93% of the Markan material is repeated in Matthew and Luke, many times using the very same words, confirming that they had access to Mark. It's rapid pace, concise telling of Jesus' miracles, the frequent use of the Greek imperative verb tense and its abrupt, cliff-hanger ending make Mark's Gospel feel like an action novel, told with an increasing sense of urgency.
Written in a political, social environment of skepticism and persecution, Mark addresses a truly timeless question: Who is this Jesus, really – and why should we care about him, all these years later?
Mark launches his gospel with an opening statement addressing that question and identifying the book's purpose: “Here begins the Good News, about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”
Mark's purpose, here, is threefold: 1) to show that Jesus is the messiah promised through the prophets, 2) to show that Jesus is also the Son of God, and 3) Mark writes for those who never saw or heard Jesus themselves so that they will see why Jesus is such good news for them as well.
The word, messiah, is the Hebrew word for the anointed one, or in Greek, the Christ. As sup-porting evidence that Jesus is the messiah, Mark quotes from the prophets, Malachi and Isaiah. Such messianic prophecies date back hundreds of years before Jesus. They point to the anointed one who makes good on God’s promises by setting us free from the vicious cycle of sin and deception that ensnare and diminish us.
Mark wants his audience to immediately make this messianic connection so his opening story reveals how that happened. “One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove.” (Mark 1:9-10) He was anointed in the Spirit.
But Mark also wants us to recognize this Spirit anointed one as the very Son of God, so he adds a detail that only someone like Peter would've known: “And a voice from heaven said, 'You are my dearly beloved Son, and you bring me great joy!'” (Mark 1:11) Who is this, really? He's God's son!
In the stories we'll be exploring in the weeks ahead, Mark will, in rapid-fire, show how Jesus proved that he was God's Son through the remarkable miracles he performed. What's more, the Baptist identified Jesus' mission or purpose by declaring “I baptize you with water but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8) Only God can baptize people in the Spirit of God and that's what Jesus came to do, the Baptist was saying, and that's what he's still doing!
This then is the third reason Mark writes his gospel – that we might grasp why this is all really good news, which is what the word, 'gospel', means – and why its good news not only for those who walked and talked with Jesus – but for all of us who would later follow as well!
How so? Mark's opening chapter point to three ways. One, as already indicated, it's good news for us because God is even now keeping his promises to us. The first words we hear spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark point to this: “The time promised by God has come at last!” (Mark 1:15)
The time Jesus mentions here is the messianic age in which God would walk among us in order to reconcile us to himself by paying the price for our sinfulness. As the prophet Isaiah promised of the messiah: “He'll be pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins, beaten so we could be made whole and whipped so we could be healed. ...The Lord laid on him the sins of us all!” (Isaiah 53:5-6)
That's why Jesus' opening message, echoes that of his cousin, John the Baptist: “The promised time has come...! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
Even now God promises to cut you loose by forgiving you and claiming you as his perfect son or daughter as he sees you through the lens of his son. We access this promise by acknowledging that we're stuck in sin, unable to kick the habit on our own, and that we need He who is greater than ourselves, that his grace is greater than any mistake, addiction or sin we are guilty of! God promises to let you off the hook not because of who you are but because of who he is! You can bank on that!
Two, this is good news because God is on the move! Mark reveals Jesus as a man of action!
Jesus' opening message points to the same: The Kingdom of God is near! God's reign and powerful, life-giving presence can be experienced not only in the future, but here and now!
I sat in wonder as God recently did that for one of you. As you opened your heart in prayer the walls came down and tears of joy flowed as you experienced wave after wave of his presence, and with that presence the burden lifted, healing came and you sensed how near the kingdom of God really is!
Three, this is good news because Jesus loves to baptize us in the Holy Spirit, just as John the Baptist prophesied: “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”
For what purpose, you may ask. One to give us boldness as his witnesses. As Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses, telling people about me every where...” (Acts 1:8) And two, to do what he did, as Luke records: “Jesus called together the twelve and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases, proclaiming as they did that the kingdom of God was near.” (Luke 9:1-2)
As author, Vance Havner, put it: “We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.” (Vance Havner)
In his book, Do What Jesus Did, Robby Dawkins writes: “Living in obedience to the Lord of Life is the biggest adventure we'll ever have. Life is short, and God wants to give away so much thru us. God is on the move. Underground churches in China and Iran overflow with those who are desperately hungry for God despite constant persecution. By the power of God, demons are cast out all over Africa....and America! From the urban slums of the Philippines, to the gypsy camps of Eastern Europe, to the explosion of prayer movements all over Latin America, the Kingdom of God is being declared. The Lord is supernaturally breaking in with power to free people and heal them, bringing them into the reality of His love. When we declare the Good News of the Kingdom, things happen! Blind eyes open, cancer disappears, hearts are made new, crooked legs are straightened, families are reconciled, Satanists start preaching Jesus and hope springs up anew in the wastelands.
This is what it means to be the Church – not to be perfect, or better than our neighbors. It means the good news of God's love actually lives inside us and is available to build up, restore, heal and transform the world around us. This is the treasure – the hidden pearl of great price that we seek before anything else. It's the beauty of the Kingdom and the wonder of its King that compels us.
God is on the move and we can do what Jesus did! He's not only saving people from sin, but He's saving people for victory and glory over the kingdom of darkness!” (Robby Dawkins)
This is what Jesus is about – he offers to fill us so that he can give us new eyes to see, a fresh passion to witness, the power to heal and be healed, a new heart to love and a longing to be changed more and more, day by day, into a closer likeness to him! How can you be filled with the Holy Spirit?
Jesus answers that himself: “If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit, to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:13)
Sounds like we just have to ask…! So, shall we ask?