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Introduction // The Son of God
A year ago, if you’d asked me to put together and lead a Bible study on Mark, I’m absolutely certain I would’ve just laughed. Mark has always been the gospel I struggled with the most because I really didn’t understand its structure and themes. To me, it seemed like a jumble of stories about Jesus that didn’t really fit together. Then, last fall I signed up to attend a women’s Bible teaching workshop, not knowing what book of the Bible we’d be studying. Of course, it turned out to be….Mark. I was nervous and intimidated at first, but, as I prepared for the workshop in the weeks leading up to the event, the book seemed to unfold in a new way. It blossomed with beautiful truth and depth that I had never seen in it before: truth about who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. Mark and I have come a long way! I'm excited to have the opportunity share what I learned with you, and for us all to learn more as we study it together.
To start, we need to get an idea of where this book came from and what its original purpose was. Even though the Bible teaches and speaks to us today, every book of the Bible had a different audience before us. We need to pay attention to the history of the book so that we can understand it better. Otherwise, we might try to squeeze ideas out of it that it could never have communicated to its original audience, which would be false.
Everything we know about the author and purpose of Mark is based on scholarly research and tradition going back to the earliest part of church history. Some of what we know is based on the written testimony of an early church bishop named Papias, who got his information from two of the disciples of apostle John. Papias’ record tells us that the gospel was written by a man named Mark who was an interpreter and assistant to the apostle Peter during his ministry in Rome. Although it can’t be proven conclusively, it is widely accepted that this Mark is the man called John Mark in several places throughout the New Testament. The book of Acts tells us that John Mark traveled with Barnabas and Paul off and on during their missionary journeys. 1 Peter also corroborates the story that Mark assisted Peter in his work in Rome (1 Pet. 5:13).
Tradition holds that the book was written to make an account of the apostle Peter’s recollections of Jesus’ life and ministry that could be shared with all believers, but particularly with the gentile believers in Rome. This is why Mark often describes Jewish customs in a lot of detail, like he is explaining them to an outsider.
For some time, Biblical scholars didn’t think much of Mark. They assumed it was one of the last gospels written and was just a shorter, less detailed, imitation of Matthew. This all changed in the 1800s. Most Bible scholars now believe that Mark was actually the first gospel to be written, and that the other gospel authors (especially Matthew and Luke) used Mark as a reference and expanded on it. The book was most likely written toward the end of Peter’s life, or shortly after he died: sometime in the 60s A.D, about 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
It’s important to know that this book isn’t written as a chronological narrative of Jesus’ life: it’s more like a collection of stories that are grouped together topically to show the reader who Jesus was and what he taught.
Chapters 1-8 features Jesus’ miracles and teaching that point us to who Jesus is: the Messiah, the Son of God. Chapters 8-10 focus on conversations between Jesus and his disciples about what it means for him to be the Messiah, and how they are to follow him. Mainly, that Jesus would suffer and die for sin, but then rise again in victory, and that his disciples would also pay a heavy price in persecution by following him. Chapters 11-16 detail how Jesus became the Messiah: they describe his time in Jerusalem in the week of his betrayal, death, and resurrection.
During our meetings together, we’re going to spend a lot of our time in the first half of the book, looking at different aspects of what Jesus told us about who he is. We’ll also cover his teachings on discipleship, and his betrayal and then death and resurrection.
Today, we’re going to look at the aspect of Jesus’ identity that is the most central to everything Mark wants to teach us about Jesus: the fact that he is the Son of God. Everything in this book (and really, everything in the Bible) falls apart if we don’t understand and believe that Jesus is God’s son: fully man and fully divine. This idea is so important that Mark opens the book with it. Let’s take a look at today’s passage:
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 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. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 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. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Mark starts out clear and to the point in verse 1: this book contains the gospel (or “good news”) about Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. It is the continuation of a story that began in the Old Testament: the story of how God is keeping his promise to send the Messiah to save his people and all of creation from the deadly, destructive consequences of sin.
Beginning in verse 2, Mark points us to a passage to Isaiah, which tells of a “messenger” who would prepare the way for the Messiah. John the Baptist was that messenger. He called people to be cleansed of their sins through repentance and baptism. Luke 3:15-16 tells us that the power of John’s ministry caused some people to even wonder if John was the Messiah himself. John knew that he wasn’t even worthy to be a lowly servant of the Messiah. He told them plainly that he was just the messenger who was preparing them for the coming of someone who was more than just a prophet: he was their Lord. This Messiah was coming to completely wash their sins away forever: giving them new life and filling them with the Holy Spirit.
In verse 9, Jesus comes to John to be baptized. Matthew 3:14-15 tells us that John initially objected to this, saying to Jesus, “‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15 But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’” and then John agreed and baptized him.
Jesus was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” not for himself (because he had no sin), but to be a righteous example for future believers. Christians are baptized in obedience to God as an outward symbol of the inward change that happened in them through Christ when they repented of sin and believed in him.
Jesus’ baptism is rich with symbol and deep theological meaning. Let’s look at that section again: “when (Jesus) came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Here, we clearly see the presence of all three members of the trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and they’re present at the same time. They are distinct, yet unified. The Holy Spirit dwells with the Son. God the Father authoritatively testifies that Jesus is his righteous son. He says, “‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” God the Father repeats this statement again at the transfiguration in Mark 9, when he says, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Mark wants us to see that this isn’t rumor or speculation: God himself told us that Jesus is his Son. Jesus himself also confirmed it when he was on trial before the High Priest. Throughout the rest of the book, we see, too, that even demons cannot help but tremble and proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God. When Jesus died on the cross, even one of the Roman centurions, who were his enemies, could not help but see the Son of God for who he really was.
After his baptism, in verses 12-13, Jesus responds to the prompting of the Spirit, who drives him out into the wilderness among wild beasts where he is tempted by Satan and tended by angels through his trial. The paradox of Jesus’ complete humanity and divinity is on display. God cannot be tempted (James 1:13), so God became a human man who could be. Yet he had to be fully God too, because only God, being perfect in righteousness, could endure temptation without sin. God could not die to pay the penalty of blood for sin, so Jesus became a man so he could die on our behalf. Yet, his full divinity could not be contained by the grave, so he rose again on the third day, giving us victory over sin and death with him. Jesus is the sinless, obedient son that we cannot be. His death on the cross allows us to receive the righteousness we could never attain on our own.
Finally, in verses 14-15, Jesus’ ministry begins. He starts to travel around Galilee preaching the gospel, saying, “‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” His message is this: “The time has come! God keeps his promises. His kingdom is here! Believe in the Messiah. Turn away from sin and turn toward the Son of God.“
I think there are three takeaways for us from this passage. First, God keeps his promises. Jesus coming was the fulfillment of God’s promises going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sinned and their relationship with God was broken: marred by their sinful rebellion. Yet, even as God told them about the curse they had brought upon the world, and the fatal price that their sin required, he also gave them a promise of future hope. There would be a seed, a son, who would come to destroy evil, though he would be wounded in the process.
In Genesis 12, 18, and 22, God repeatedly promised to Abraham that the single child God enabled him and Sarah to conceive would become a nation of descendants as numerous as the stars. All of the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abraham’s seed.
In 2 Samuel 7, God told David that his house, kingdom, and throne would be established forever through his offspring, who would be God’s beloved son. Jesus was the “son” of Abraham and of David: the perfect fulfillment of God’s promises. As you saw in your study guide, Jesus was David’s son, yet also his Lord.
Also, throughout the old testament prophets, including some passages you read on your own, God promised that the Lord, the Messiah, would come to reconcile his sinful people to himself and reveal his glory to the world. God has always kept his promises to his people in the past, and he continues to do so today. He hasn’t promised us an easy life, but he has promised to be with us, and to work all circumstances for our good and his glory, always.
The second takeaway is this: because Christ was God’s son, we are able to become God’s sons. Even as women, we receive Jesus’ righteousness and become like firstborn sons along with him: co-heirs of God with Christ. We have an inheritance of eternal life on the new earth, which will be recreated in perfection for God’s people, where we will enjoy him forever. This is a treasure that can never be taken away from us.
Third, Jesus’ mission is now our mission. We need to bring glory and honor to God by sharing the gospel with others. We are called to go and make disciples in our homes, workplaces, and communities. It is our duty and our joy to share the good news of God with others: to tell them of his unending faithfulness, and his rich mercy in sending his son to die for our sins even though we have rebelled against him. We should be praying for opportunities to show others God’s love through our actions and to tell them how they can be set free from their slavery to sin and be welcomed into God’s family through belief in his Son.
I think a lot of Christians, myself included, become numb to the absolute miracle of the incarnation. God took his infinite power and his glory and wrapped it up in finite flesh. He did it all to glorify himself by faithfully redeeming sinful, rebellious people and restoring his creation to perfection. We are those rebellious people. Through Christ, we have become a part of God’s family through no goodness of our own. We are given new life and a new purpose: to glorify God by telling others about his justice and his mercy.