Introducing the Promised Christ

A Bible Exposition Of Mark 1:1

We are going to spend some time camping out on Mark 1:1 because in these few words there is so much significance packed in.

This first section is Mark’s prologue to the Gospel. A prologue comes early on in a piece of literature. It functions to set the stage for the story. It is pre-information that comes before Chapter 1.

Mark is writing, as he says here, about the things concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And true to this form, Jesus will appear in nearly every single paragraph throughout the work. But here, Mark is going to include some necessary details for his hearers.

Mark is writing about one thing—the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact he says as much right here:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

I’m starting at the beginning, but the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. Mark says I want to introduce Jesus to you, but I’m not going to give you his birth (Luke) or his genealogy (Matthew) or his eternal preexistence with the Father (John), I’m just going to jump right in to the events leading up in the months before his public ministry kicked off.

You need just enough prologue to get the main gist of the story.

The beginning of the gospel sound very familiar to us. The English word Gospel translates εὐαγγέλιον, which if you were transliterate εὐαγγέλιον (transliteration is just where you line up the Greek letters and put English sounds to the word as it stands you get evangel).

Our words evangelism, evangelist, evangelical are transliterating this root word for Gospel.

Mark says, I’m writing to you the Gospel. So Mark isn’t saying, I’m writing a Gospel as in a genre of literature, but rather this body of work I have written is the Good news proclaimed. Specifically, that news which concerns Jesus the Messiah.

If you want to know why we call the Gospels the Gospels, it is because of how Mark refers to it here.

The other writers speak of the Gospel of the kingdom, or preaching the Gospel, or believing the Gospel. But they don’t refer to what they wrote as the Gospel. Only Mark does that. He’s a trendsetter in the church.

Mark quotes Jesus as referring to the Gospel repeatedly:

  • Mark 1:15—and [Jesus] saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
  • Mark 8:35—[Jesus] For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.
  • Mark 10:29—Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake,
  • Mark 13:10—[Jesus] The gospel must first be preached to all the nations.
  • Mark 14:9—Truly I [Jesus] say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

It is content. It is a cause.

If you grew up in the church, or you have been in Christ for a long time, then your understanding of Gospel is radically different than a first century Jew or Roman hearing the word.

Gospel isn’t a Christian concept. But like so many other words, it took on new meaning when it was used the Church.

When Mark wrote this, Gospel wasn’t yet an established literary genre yet (as in the historical account that we call the Gospels).

They didn’t say things like, “she takes it for gospel truth” they didn’t have gospel outreaches, gospel presentations, gospel tracks, they didn’t have gospel coalitions, or gospel conferences, or gospel-centered sanctification, they didn’t even have the old time gospel hymns.

No, gospel meant good tidings, good news. It involved the proclamation of something that wasn’t just newsworthy or noteworthy, but it was praiseworthy.

The romans were familiar with good news, εὐαγγέλιον. It was part of their propaganda as they lauded the emperors. It even had a spiritual usage at times.

When a baby was born to the emperor’s family (a future heir) it was hailed as gospel. When there was a major military victory and the news was spread throughout the empire celebrating the recent success, it was gospel.[1]

Sometimes the secular gospel was almost too much stomach. There is a well-known account, which pours the praise on Augustus. He is given credit for righting the wrongs of society, providing universal blessings to the empire, and restoring military success.

One inscription even refers to Augustus as the savior who made wars cease and created order everywhere. His accomplishments were so noteworthy that the political calendar was changed so that people would assume public office on his birthday (September 23rd by the way—so that was then and this is now).[2]

When festivals celebrating Caesar (who was considered a god) the reports of the festivals were called evangels. But there is something particular here that is useful for us in understand how and why Mark uses this phrase here and now.

It had to do with the significance of εὐαγγέλιον, William Lane explains that gospel signifies…

an historical event which introduces a new situation for the world. In this perspective the Roman would understand Mark’s proclamation of Jesus the Messiah. Beginning with the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry, Mark announces Jesus’ coming as an event that brings about a radically new state of affairs for mankind.[3]

So it wasn’t just a military victory or the birth of the future emperor as new in themselves. Rather that they signified a new regime, a new direction, a reality that was going to change the world.

And yet this gospel is distinct from the roman variety. First of all, Jesus is unassuming compared to the pompous depiction of Caesars. Second, Jesus victory came by way of a gruesome and despised death, not military conquest. Third, the nature of his accomplishments.

Jesus is highlighted because of his unique personhood, preaching, and passion, said another way his character, his content (what he taught), and his cross. When the readers heard his expression, this would have been a new twist. An official report of great tidings that are going to change the world.

For the new to be effectually good though, you have to embrace it. It’s like finding out who the next president is—it’s good news, to some people, and it’s terrible new to others.

The Gospel is good news. It is the news that God has come to earth to save sinners. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. And yet for those who do not believe it brings judgment and condemnation.

Their sin is so much greater because they are sinning against such clarity and such love.

A couple of implications here:

That announcement carries the weight of a royal edict. Note: this is why we don’t tamper with the methodology. The truth of the Gospel is a message and a method. It is content announced and proclaimed. 

You have all kinds of approaches to trying to package the content of the Gospel in a package that the unbelieving world wants to receive it. But this is the way God designed it to be offered up—it’s a message and a method—they are inseparably linked. It is news heralded.

We don’t warm people up to Christianity. We don’t earn their respect and then give them the truth.

Remember what the angel of the Lord said in Luke 2:10-11:

10 Behold, I bring you good news [εὐαγγελίζομαι]… good news of great joy which will be for all the people;

Why great joy? What is this good news angel?

11 For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Same language Mark uses here… he is the Christ. Messiah, the Lord. The Lord’s Anointed One, and the Lord Himself.

The angel there said, He is Savior for you. He is a Savior for you. He is a deliverer. That’s what his name means. It’s the same thing the angel said when He came to Joseph:

Matthew 1:21—call him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.

The Gospel is the best news. Jesus said it. Paul said it. Matthew, Mark, and Luke said it. Peter highlights it. John announced it. The prophets foretold it.

What’s the appropriate response? Joy.

We like getting good news. But this news is to transcend any other news you have received.

We have children and we love to hear the news that it’s a boy or a girl. We love to hear that mom and baby are doing well. It’s good news when you get a new job, or you get to you’re your job. It’s good news when you get a clean bill of health, and there’s no more cancer.

It’s good news when you pass that difficult class, or you get accepted into the school you wanted to enroll, or you made the team you wanted to be a part of. But this news is transcends all of that other news. Said this way, if you had everything but bliss in this life, but you don’t learn about the Gospel and believe in it, then it doesn’t even matter.

The Gospel brings us to God. The Gospel makes us acceptable to Him. The Gospel brings pardon, and mercy, and forgiveness of sin. The Gospel brings us a new relationship to God whereby we are adopted, and made heirs with Christ.

[1] R.C. Sproul, The Reformation Study Bible—English Standard Version. 2005 Ligonier Ministries, 1414.

[2] David E. Garland. Mark—The NIV Application Commentary

[3] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, NICNT; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 42-43.