Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mark: The Foundation of Freedom

Mark 1:1 is the title of the whole book, not just an introduction to the ministry of John the Baptist. No other part of Mark's Gospel has a heading like this one. So if "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God" is a book title, what difference does that make? How could you or I possibly benefit from a little thing like that? The answer lies in the word beginning: if our good news has its beginning (or foundation) in Jesus' earthly actions and His identity -if all of our hope is built on who He is and what He has done- then the rest of our journey through this book will be an exercise in asking ourselves "If this is who Jesus is and what He has done, what must I do about it?" That's what Mark wants us to do anyway.

God's Son From Nazareth
First, Jesus is the Son of God. The Apostle John once said that in making God his Father, Jesus was making himself equal with God (John 5:18). So when Mark says that Jesus is the Son of God, that is a heavy statement. All throughout the book, Mark tries to demonstrate that Jesus is really the divine Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, and God in human flesh. Things come to a head in Mark 14:61-62 when the High Priest asks the central question, "are you the Christ, the Son of God?" and Jesus answers "yes." The conclusion is unmistakable. If Jesus is claiming to be equal with God, then he is actually claiming to be God, and if true, we must fall down in worship of Him. If this is not true, then Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic, and in that case the High Priest was right to tear his own robes and sentence Christ to death. Which option would you choose?

The Suffering King of the Jews
Second, Mark calls Jesus Christ, which is the Greek word for Messiah. This was the Messiah who was prophesied to the Jews in the Old Testament and who was supposed to be the fulfillment of God's covenants with both Abraham and David. To Abraham, God had promised offspring that would bless the nations of the earth. To David, He had promised a descendant who would rule an everlasting kingdom. Jesus fulfilled this by being crucified for the sins of the world (Abraham) and rising from the dead to rule the earth as the resurrected King of kings (David). Today, he reigns as the Lamb, meaning the Abrahamic savior of the world, and the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, meaning the Davidic king of the nations. Though present-day Jews, except for Messianic Jews, do not acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah, that does not change the fact the He is the true King of the Jews and will one day return to judge the living and the dead.

To Fall Like Lambs Before the Lion
The first truth about Jesus leads naturally to the second: he can only be our Messiah and save us because of his identity as the true Son of God. The life of one normal man could not atone for the failings of the entire scope of humanity; only God himself could provide a fair substitute that could satisfy the righteous fire of the Father's justice. As John Calvin once wrote about Mark 1:1,
"Mark designates Christ as the Son of God. The other writers testify that Christ was born of the seed of Abraham and David, and therefore was the Son of Man, but Mark shows us that no redemption is the be expected but from the Son of God."
Also, as Son of God, Jesus assumes the position of a new Adam, who is also called the son of God (see Luke's genealogy). This means that in Jesus, we can have a new beginning and a new identity in God's eyes. We don't have to be seen through the lens of Adam's sin anymore, because Jesus enables us to be seen through the lens of His own righteousness. Through one man came sin, and sin led to death, but through Jesus we have received grace. Because Adam sinned and we were united to him, we too fell into his miserable state, but now that we are united with Jesus we are called with Him to be heirs of the Kingdom of God.

Salvation of the People
As the Messiah, Jesus is the Suffering Servant who dies for our sins and makes way for a new agreement between God and His people. He is the one who takes God's wrath on Himself and absorbs the punches, the ripping of the beard, the tearing of the flesh, the mangling of the body, and the nakedness of the crucifixion which he suffered under Pontius Pilate. In Mark's Gospel, from chapter 8 onward, Jesus is teaching His disciples about the meaning of His upcoming execution and resurrection: that to be His disciple requires following Him even to the point of extreme sacrifice in this life, that He has come to give His life as a ransom for the lives of many, that His death will serve as a judgement upon the elders and chief priests of Israel, and that the breaking of His body and the spilling of His blood will inaugurate the beginning of a new covenant. And, back to Jesus' answer to the High Priest in Mark 14:62, it also means that Jesus will come back to judge the earth and to reign over it, ruling and reigning over the earth as the prophesied son of David (also a common title for Jesus in the Gospel of Mark).

(1) The Christian gospel has its foundation, or beginning, in the identity and actions of Jesus of Nazareth; (2) Since Jesus is the Son of God, he alone is a worthy sacrifice for the sins of humanity, and he is worthy to be worshiped as the Lord Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; (3) Since Jesus is the Messiah, who dies for our sins, he has taken on the punishment that we deserve for our sinful actions, and he has made way for a New Covenant with his people.

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