Somewhere in my mum and dad’s house, there’s a book that is all about me. If we were to hoke it out of whichever cupboard it’s stored in, we would discover all sorts of fascinating facts about me - my date of birth; what weight I was when I was born; what I looked like when I was born; and so on. There were also pages for when my first tooth came; when I started walking; my first word, all those sorts of things. It’s all about me. And maybe baby Noah has a similar sort of book which is all about him.
This morning we find ourselves at the very start of a book which is all about Jesus. We’re told that in the very first verse: ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ (1)
Mark sat down to write a book which is all about Jesus. And here at the start, he tells us that it is ‘the gospel about Jesus.’ Now that word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’. So this is the beginning of the good news about Jesus. So often when we open a newspaper, or turn on the TV news, it’s only bad news that we hear. But Mark says that he has good news for us - good news about Jesus.
And just so that we’re absolutely sure who Jesus is, Mark tells us a bit more about him in that opening verse. He is ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ Christ there isn’t Jesus’ surname - you know the way the spy introduces himself, ‘The name’s Bond, James Bond.’ (I have a minister friend who sometimes introduces himself The name’s Boyd, James Boyd!). So it’s not James Bond, Gary McMurray, Jesus Christ. Christ isn’t his name, it’s his title - it means the anointed one, the one who has been chosen and set apart for his job as King. You could also say this verse as ‘Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.’
Jesus is the Christ, and he is also the Son of God. He is in close relationship with God, his Father. He is one with the Father. Mark is writing down the good news about Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.
So you might be a bit surprised to see what he doesn’t include. There are no details here about Jesus as a baby; no birth weight, or first tooth, or any of those sorts of things. He doesn’t deal with the first thirty years of Jesus’ life - Mark doesn’t have time for the story of the shepherds or the wise men. He starts in when Jesus is about thirty years old. But, did you notice, he doesn’t even start with Jesus at all!
This would be like the first bit of Noah’s baby book with pictures and details all about Sophie instead. So why does Mark include verses 2-8, which aren’t about Jesus, but are all about John?
It’s because John is the messenger sent to get people ready for Jesus. We see that in the Old Testament verses Mark quotes; we see it in what John does, and we see it in what John says.
Back in the Old Testament, God had promised to send a messenger ahead of the Lord. ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way - a voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ (2-3)
Jesus had been promised from long before - but so had John. And for Jesus to come, John had to arrive first. That’s what verse 4 tells us: ‘And so John came.’ And how did he prepare the way for Jesus? He came baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’
People from all over Judea and from Jerusalem came to John. They confessed their sins to him, and were baptised in the River Jordan. To repent means to turn around - to stop going in one direction, and instead to go in a different direction. That’s what the parents and sponsors will declare later on in the service - turning away from the devil and all proud rebellion against God; renouncing the deceit and corruption of evil; repenting of sins. Then turning to Christ as Saviour and Lord.
In verse 6, Mark tells us what John looked like. He wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. I’m sure that no one is wearing camel’s hair today, and that you’re not going home to tuck into locusts and wild honey. But this tells us a bit more about who John is.
If you’re driving home later and someone in dark green clothing (and a hi-vis coat) is standing in the middle of the road holding their hand up, you’ll stop. Their clothing tells you that they are a police officer. Or because I’m wearing this big white surplice shows that I’m a Church of Ireland minister.
John’s clothing tells us that he’s a prophet. He’s wearing the same things as the prophet Elijah (2 Kgs 1:8). This is the messenger sent ahead of Jesus. Now, a messenger is sent with a message, so what was it? Mark tells us there in verse 7: ‘After me will come one more powerful than I, the things of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
Some people might have looked at John and thought that he was the Christ. He had big crowds coming to him. He was baptising people, giving them a fresh start. He was a prophet, sent from God. But John says that he’s just like the warm-up act before the main performer. That while he baptises with water, he will baptise with the Holy Spirit.
So Mark tells us that the good news of Jesus begins with the arrival of John, the messenger who comes before him. John did come, he did preach, and that paved the way for Jesus to arrive. In verse 9, Jesus is baptised by John. Not because he has any sins of his own. Jesus is perfectly sinless.
Back in verses 4-8 we were told what you could see and hear with John. Well here in verses 10-11, we find what Jesus saw and heard, as he came up out of the water at his baptism. Both point to who he is, so let’s look at them briefly in turn.
What Jesus saw: ‘He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.’ On Black Friday there was a BBC news crew inside one of the stores on Oxford Street in London, ready to film the rush of people fighting to get the bargains on offer. They filmed as a security guard unlocked the doors to discover... just one man standing waiting, who calmly walked in and started browsing around. Contrast that to the scenes in French supermarkets this week where people were fighting over Nutella - it had been reduced by 70% and everyone wanted it!
Heaven was torn open, as if the Holy Spirit couldn’t wait, coming down on him like a dove. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power (as Peter says in Acts 10:38). The Holy Spirit is the sign and seal that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is God’s long promised King.
But Jesus also heard something that day. We hear it in verse 11: ‘And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”’ God the Father speaks to Jesus, confirming that he is his Son - but more than that, the Son he loves, and is well pleased with.
In a world of bad news, here is some good news. All the promises of the Old Testament have come true. The messenger came to prepare the way. And now Jesus is here. Jesus who is the Christ, the anointed King, who has the power of the Holy Spirit to save us from our sins. He’s the one who gives us more than a washing in water, he baptises us with the Holy Spirit, giving us the power to live.
And Jesus is the Son of God, the Father’s beloved Son, who has come to save us from our sins by living the perfect life that we could never live, and dying the death that we deserve. The good news is that Jesus has come... for you. Why not take the opportunity to discover more about this good news - read through Mark’s gospel. It would only take about an hour. Or come along this evening, when David will look at another section from Mark 1.
When we hear the news, we need to do something with it. Maybe you think this is fake news, that we’re getting excited about nothing. But it’s a bit like the urgent alert in Hawaii last week - when you hear the news you need to do something about it. We hear this good news, and so we need to do something about it - listen to it, receive it, welcome it. Accept Jesus for who he is: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And this is good news.
This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 28th January 2018.