Read Mark 1:1-8; Isaiah 40:1-11
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
That’s the first verse of the first chapter of Mark’s gospel.
Now, there is something about this verse that I would like you to notice. It took an English teacher to help me see it. There is no verb. There is no action. And if you don’t have a verb, you have an incomplete sentence. And the fact that this gospel begins with an incomplete sentence means something important.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It implies that everything in Mark’s gospel is just the beginning; the baptism of Jesus and his temptation in the wilderness, all that Jesus said and did – his healing and teaching and preaching, even his suffering and death and resurrection. These are all just the beginning of the good news.
Even the way Mark’s gospel ends is really just the beginning.
Some women went to the tomb, and they saw that the stone had been rolled away and that the body of Jesus was not there. So, says Mark’s account, “they fled from the tomb…and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (16:8) That’s the last verse of Mark’s gospel.
Obviously, the women told someone, but that event is not recorded in Mark’s gospel. (Some later Bible editors tried to add on more verses at the end of Mark to finish it.) The story is unfinished, incomplete. And Mark does this for a reason:
The gospel, the good news of our Lord Jesus, is not finished, it has only begun.
Now, let’s unpack this a little. If something happened in the distant past, and if it’s already over and done with, how can it be news? If we’ve heard it before, it’s not news, is it? It’s memory.” The readings we had today from the Bible – we’ve heard them several times before, some of us hundreds of times. And so these stories from the Bible, read purely as historical accounts, are not news.
What Mark’s gospel invites us to do, every time we read the gospels, is to realize that the good news is just beginning. God’s story of liberation and deliverance, God’s story of justice and new life, God’s story of forgiveness and reconciliation, God’s story of resurrection and redemption – all of this is still unfolding here and now, in our lives today.
Isn’t THAT is news! In fact, it is GOOD news!
Mark wants us to see Jesus as something more than a historical figure. Mark wants us to see Jesus as a present reality in our lives.
Too often, we hear the story of Jesus’ birth and we think, “What a lovely story of something that happened long ago,” when instead we should be thinking, “how is Jesus being born in me, here, now, in my life today? How is Jesus living in me?”
Or, we hear a story of Jesus ministry from the Bible and we think, “I can’t imagine what that was like, so long ago and so far away,” when instead we should be thinking, “how is Jesus calling me to follow him today and to minister to others in my church, my workplace, my home, my community, or even to faraway places like San Bernardino, California, or refugee camps in the middle east?”
In other words, the gospel, the good news of Jesus, is something that is happening right now, in our lives today.
On the Christian Century website, a few years ago, the editors asked leading Christian thinkers to state the gospel, the good news, in seven words or less. This is helpful. Here’s a little sampling:
• Divinely persistent, God really loves us.
• In Christ, God’s “yes” defeats our “no.”
• God offers new life for all.
• Jesus was born, we can be reborn.
• Everybody gets to grow and change.
• Once dead. Now alive. Christ reshaping people.
In all of these, there is a clear belief that God is present, active, and working in our lives here and now.
The good news of Jesus began when he was born upon this earth. But that was only a beginning. The good news continues as our Lord is present with us today, doing his redeeming work in our lives here and now.
In our gospel reading, John the Baptist proclaims that, in Jesus, God is beginning to do something that he promised long ago through the prophet Isaiah: “Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low.” (Isaiah 40:4) In Jesus, God is finally coming, making a way into this world by valleys being lifted up and mountains being made low. The good news happens when God lifts up low things and levels big, high things.
John is thinking, on the one hand, of those who are beaten down by life, oppressed by the powerful, oppressed by despair, and the spirit of God, in Christ, breaks through and says, “You are my child, my beloved. I am with you.” Love finds us. And we are lifted up, and given hope.
But John is also thinking, on the other hand, of those in positions of power and authority, or those who are sufficient unto themselves – and the spirit of God breaks through and opens that person’s life to a new word and a new wisdom that has to do with humbling oneself and accepting the authority of God in one’s life. And we are brought down from the mountain of self-righteousness, and we invest ourselves in a relationship of faith with our creator.
The good news, what we call the gospel, is that in Christ, God bodily, personally loves us, feeds us, forgives us, embraces us, weeps with us, heals us, advocates for us, dies for us, and raises us to new life. That good news began 2000 years ago when Jesus came on the scene, and it’s still happening in our lives today.
And then here’s the final thing to see: when that good news makes a beginning in our own lives, then we are sent to be witnesses of that good news to others.
In the way you treat one another, in the words you speak, in the way you respect one another, in your hospitality to strangers, in your workplaces and in your homes; in the mission and outreach you do through this congregation – teaching children, supporting the worship and preaching ministry of this church, feeding the hungry, gifting folks in need with quilts and school kits and many other things. In these ways, and many others, you are witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
There is so much bad news in the world, but we are called to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – the good news that began 2,000 years ago and which continues today.
And so we gather in worship to get ready to do just that. We will confess our faith. We will pray for our Lord’s healing presence in the lives of others, in the world, in our church, in our own lives. We will share God’s peace with one another. We will give of ourselves to God in our offerings and in our songs of praise.
And then, we will hear words sending us out from this place to live as his disciples in the world this week: “Go in peace, serve the Lord.” And we will voice our affirmation, our “amen” to those words as we say together, “Thanks be to God!” And we will leave this time of worship, going out into the world, to be witnesses to the good news of God’s redemption of the world through his Son, Jesus, in our words and in our deeds.
The good news of God’s love for the world has begun in the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. And it continues today. God has not given up on this world, or on us. May we witness to this good news by the way we live, and may our lives truly say, “Thanks be to God!”