John’s Gospel famously begins with its prologue about the Word who was in the beginning with God and who was God (John 1:1). So John sets the scene for his Gospel with the message that Jesus is the Word of God. That keys us into the fact that John’s Gospel is going to be a bit different from those of Matthew, Mark and Luke – or does it?
Mark’s Gospel is the shortest and gets straight into the action. There’s no time for prologues or infancy narratives here; even Jesus’ baptism and temptations get set out quite quickly to get straight into His ministry. Or that might be how it often seems, but I’m not so sure that it’s really the case. I think Mark does exactly what John does – he introduces His gospel by telling us that Jesus is the Word – he just doesn’t do it in the same way John does. Mark introduces the identity of Jesus through narrating the action, and He tells us that Jesus is the Word by using another word. He tells us that Jesus is the Good Word, the Good News, the Gospel.
See how Mark starts his Gospel: ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mark 1:1). From those words it’s clear that the gospel is, at the very least, about Jesus. But I think Mark’s telling us more than that. While we could understand those words as ‘the gospel about/that belongs to Jesus Christ, the Son of God’, we could also read them as ‘the gospel that IS Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God’. And I think the latter reading gets closer to the heart of what Mark is telling us, and I think that because of what he writes in the rest of chapter 1.
First comes John the Baptist ‘baptizing ... and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins’ (Mark 1:4). But when Mark relates the content of John’s preaching, what does John preach? Christ! (Mark 1:7-8).
Then Jesus comes to John to be baptised, and there’s a new preacher on the scene – God the Father. And, just like John the Baptist, the content of His preaching is Jesus: ‘You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:11).
‘But yeah, yeah’, you say, ‘that’s all very well, but Jesus preaches something different a few verses later.’ Does He? When Mark introduces us to Jesus’ preaching he tells us that Jesus said, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’ (Mark 1:15). Surely that means that the content of Jesus’ gospel was ‘the Kingdom’ and not Jesus? Not at all. Things like section headings in our Bibles give us the tendency to read those words all by themselves, but Mark isn’t finished here. He goes on to give us a specific example of this general preaching, as Jesus preaches the gospel to Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. There His Words are ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Mark 1:17). What’s the content of His message? What’s His Gospel? ‘Me’ – Himself – Jesus!
And His message wasn’t ‘follow me in order to get something from me’. ‘I will make you fishers of men’ wasn’t exactly a message of a thriving fishing business or financial prosperity! Nor was it ‘change yourselves – become fishers of men – and then you can come to me’. No, the invitation was to come to Jesus as they were, and then any transforming to be done would be His work for them. In other words the gospel Jesus preached to them was Jesus – and the gospel invitation they receieved was to come to Jesus. Jesus simply is Good News!
Then throughout the rest of Mark 1, the Word speaks and as the Word speaks saves, heals and draws people to Himself (Mark 1:45). The Word speaks, and the speaking Word is Good News. And as He who is the Good News speaks the Good News, ‘immediately His fame spread throughout all the region’ (Mark 1:28). It’s not the fame of His message about something else that spead, but His own fame – the good news that’s spreading is THE Good News!
Eventually Jesus goes out to a solitary place to pray, and Peter and the disciples look for him. ‘Everyone is looking for you’ (Mark 1:37), they say. But Jesus replies, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth’ (Mark 1:38). Hang on! What’s this? Didn’t Jesus come forth to die for our sins on the Cross? Didn’t Jesus come forth to seek and save the lost? Didn’t Jesus come forth to triumph over the works of the evil one? But here he says He came forth to preach! Yes. The Word came to proclaim the Word, for the Word Himself is our salvation. What Mark has shown us through the chapter up to this point is that Jesus’ preaching wasn’t an ethical discourse, a rabbinical lecture, or an exhortation to do something in order to be saved. No. Jesus’ preaching was His proclamation of Himself as the Good News, as the Saviour, and as our salvation.
Mark 1 is a lot more like John 1 than you might think. They both present to us Jesus, who is the Word of God, the Good News of the Gospel, God come in the flesh to be our great salvation.