While Matthew and Luke begin their Gospels with rather leisurely accounts of Jesus’ birth, Mark wants the reader to get right to the point—Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is “Christ” and “Son of God,” and John the Baptist is preparing the way. This is basically the only preamble the reader receives before they are dumped headlong into the baptismal waters, the same waters that Jesus enters and then exits covered with the Holy Spirit. Nothing happens at a leisurely pace in Mark.
Despite the rapid-fire narrative, the Gospel is layered with meaning from the first line. The story the reader is about to encounter is “good news.” The nature of that good news unfolds as the identity of Jesus is revealed. This is the goal of Mark 1:1–11, to introduce the reader to the Jesus Mark wants people to know. And the language Mark uses is bold and likely inflammatory. As “Christ” Jesus is declared anointed, and as “Son of God,” he is given a title traditionally reserved for the king. Such a proclamation is a direct challenge to the Roman Empire. This bold proclamation is strengthened in verse 11 by a “voice from heaven” who says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
God’s pleasure with Jesus is significant in this introduction as it places Jesus in stark contrast to some of Israel’s earlier leaders with whom God was not well pleased. The history of Israel is littered with kings who turned from God and brazenly rejected the messages of correction God sent through the prophets. Ahaziah was one such king. The message God sent to him through the prophet Elijah was an announcement of death, definitely not pleasure. Jewish people encountering John the Baptist would surely have been reminded of Elijah—who was also known for his hairy attire and leather belt—and the wayward kings he encountered.
While Jesus is described in language associated with empire and kingship and is named by John as one with power, Jesus does not emerge from the centers of empirical power. Jesus is simply a man from Nazareth and a carpenter. However, as Son of God, Jesus is also a leader who—in contrast to many who have come before him—is worthy, beloved, and one with whom God is pleased. Jesus is, in fact, good news.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, readers are invited to discover for themselves the profound truth that Jesus both proclaims good news about the nature of the kingdom of God in contrast to earthly kingdoms, and is good news in his embodiment of God’s love and healing for the people he encounters.
- When you think of Jesus as “good news,” what images come to mind?
- Prophets have always served an important role in the life of God’s people. Consider the voices in your community. Do any of them help orient you toward Jesus and his mission to embody good news in the world?
God, you can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. Open my eyes and heart to encounter Jesus in new ways through the Gospel of Mark. Inspire in me a love for your kingdom brought to life through Jesus. Amen.
The Bible studies for 2021 come from Shine: Living in God’s Light, the Sunday school curriculum published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia. Each month, Messenger is publishing two of the Bible essays that help teachers prepare.