Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Beginning of the Gospel

I've been journaling my way through the Gospel of Mark for some time now. I can't tell you how much I love Mark's account of the life and ministry of Jesus and his disciples. It just reaches me with its sheer narrative force.  What I hope to do here is move through the text and simply hang onto the recurring themes and note the trajectory of the story. Here's how it starts:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8 ESV)
I just want to to note a couple of things. John was a messenger, and his message had to do with a coming one. This coming one was deeply worthy of honor. He was the one Israel had been expecting for many generations. And his coming was cause for repentance.

This is the beginning, Mark says, of the Gospel. One of the questions I want to keep asking, throughout this series of posts, is this: what does Mark mean by this word, gospel? Everyone knows it means "good news," of course, but what is the content of this good news? Gospel is a word we use so often, we may not be aware of the presumptions we make about what it meant to the New Testament authors. With all due respect, we Evangelicals are prone to let Reformation-era debates answer this question for us. The gospel, we say, is the good news that Jesus died for our sins, and we are saved by faith and not works.

Fine, but here in the opening words of Mark all we know is that it has to do with this coming one, this worthy one, that John was talking about in his ministry. That coming one is, of course, Jesus, as we'll soon find out. This may seem an utterly obvious statement to many, but I still think it's worth stating bluntly: the gospel is all about Jesus. I will also note that the first thing we hear about this coming one, even before we know who he is, is that he will "baptize with the Holy Spirit."

I just want to imagine I'm a newcomer to all this. Setting aside my presumptions for a change, I'll try to read this as if it's all new. Here's what I know so far. Someone is coming. His coming is good news. He will wash me . . . and I don't have a clue about what this means . . . in the Holy Spirit.

Let's read on, looking out for what else we can learn about this good news, about this coming one, and about what this baptism might be.

No comments: