“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite musicals of all time starts like this: “Let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C; when you sing you begin with…” Can you finish that? Do-re-mi. That, of course, is from The Sound of Music and Julie Andrews’ truly iconic voice. I’ve been thinking a lot about beginnings lately. Specifically, as I have been leading my church through the first part of the book of Acts, I have been thinking about the beginning of the Gospel. How did it start and how does it start in our lives? That’s a very good question to ask and one we are going to be asking together here in our next journey together. I hope you’ll come along with me.
This morning we are going to embark on a new journey together. This is one that I have been looking forward to for quite some time. For the next several weeks…or months, more likely…we are going to be working our way through the Gospel of Mark.
Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels in terms of its length, but it also tends to be the most informative. Where multiple different of the Gospels all tell the same story, Mark’s version tends to be the longest and most detailed. Matthew and Luke, who borrowed from Mark the most, tend to offer summaries of his stories, written for their particular audiences. Mark is also the most action-packed of the Gospels. His pacing almost leaves you breathless. Over and over again he tells us that “immediately” this happened, and then “immediately” that happened. If you are new to the Gospel, new to the Scriptures, Mark is a very good place to start.
With that in mind, we are going to take some time to be reminded–or perhaps to learn for the first time–just what exactly the Gospel is and how it got its start in this world. I’m excited and I hope you are with me.
For this morning, then, we’ll start at the beginning and stay here just long enough to make a quick observation: The Gospel is something our heavenly Father very much wants us to experience. The Gospel is good news, but good news doesn’t do very much unless there is someone to hear it. As a result, He made sure that there would be someone to hear it. He has been making sure it has an audience ever since. And how has He done this? By telling us about it ahead of time in order to build interest and excitement.
That’s why when Mark introduces the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he doesn’t start with Jesus. He starts with John the Baptist. And before even he gets to John, he starts with the prophets (he labels the whole quote as from Isaiah, although the first part of it is from the end of Malachi) who foretold the coming of the one who would prepare the people for Jesus. In other words, God has been getting people ready to experience this story for a very long time. He planted seeds and gave sneak peaks long, long before it actually started to happen in real time.
Do you remember when the first Avengers movie came out? It was 2012. A full six years before the beginning of the two-part, masterful conclusion to the story. Fans knew then that there were going to be three Avengers films (which, of course, turned out to be four), but there were only rumors about what the full story arc would be. And then came the post-credits scene in which a grinning Thanos picked up the empty Infinity Gauntlet and said, “Fine. I’ll do it myself.” And in that moment, we knew what was coming. The way was prepared. Now, of course, that was a way of destruction and the Gospel is the opposite, but that kind of long-distance foretelling is what God started doing long before the actual event arrived.
Let’s take what was happening in the big, then, and make it a little smaller and more intimate. God never does anything without first telling us what He’s doing. His goal is not ever to surprise us. Now, sometimes we are surprised by what He does, but that is only ever because we haven’t been paying very close attention. Our God only ever moves in ways that are consistent with the ways He has always been moving. And the ways He has always been moving are focused entirely in the direction of life for the people He created.
The only question for us now is this: Are we paying close enough attention so that we can take part in what He’s doing rather than merely watching it go by? As we work our way through Mark’s Gospel, we’re going to get a much better sense of what our God is up to and how we can become active participants in it. I can’t wait to explore it with you in the days ahead!