Series Note: As the post title suggests, this series of posts includes fragmentary thoughts on the gospel. It’s not intended as a commentary or full treatment of the texts. It’s some of the fruit of my own devotional reading offered for whatever small encouragement it might also offer others.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet…” (Mark 1:1-2).
In Mark’s theology, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” is at least as early as the book of Isaiah! The gospel begins with the prophets–not with the apostles or the Incarnation. From the opening two verses Mark treats us to the supernatural unity of the scripture, one seamless story woven through centuries until it reaches its climax in the life and ministry of the Son of God.
We might think of the contents of Mark 1 happening on two planes: the spiritual and the physical, the heavenly and the earthly.
I. The Spiritual Debate: Is Jesus God’s Son?
Mark tips us off to that debate with his opening in verse 1. God the Father enters the debate with His declaration of paternity at Jesus’ baptism in verses 10-11.
Dhati Lewis comments in Sheep Among Wolves: “the most emphatic theological reality presented to us in the baptism account is that God is revealed as family. God is a Father and Jesus is His Son and the Spirit affirms that bond of love. So we may be theologically precise in our Trinitarian understanding, but are our churches faithful in expressing the reality that God is family” (pp. 48-49)
The demons also reveal that Jesus is God’s Son. Though Mark abbreviates the account, that’s precisely what’s at stake in our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness (v. 13; see Matt. 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13). At the various healings recorded in Mark 1, the demons seek to speak but Christ silences them (vv. 23-25, 34). The last time a demon spoke to humanity about God the entire creation was ruined (Gen. 3). Knowing that Jesus is the Son of God and the promised Savior, the demons would still have sewn confusion, doubt and outright lies. So, the “debate” regarding the Lord Jesus’ identity and ministry rages in the spiritual realm.
II. The Earthly Work: How does Jesus complete His mission?
Meanwhile, on earth, the Lord Jesus begins His ministry. Four actions summarize the Lord’s ministry:
- Jesus picks His disciples (14),
- Jesus preaches the gospel (17, 21, 38-39),
- Jesus prays to the Father (35), and
- Jesus performs miracles/provides needs (34).
A couple of pointsfrom Robert E. Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism” regarding this pattern seem pertinent:
“It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow him. This revealed immediately the direction his evangelistic strategy would take. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before he ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public. Men were to be his method of winning the world to God.” (p. 21)
“Surely if the pattern of Jesus at this point means anything at all, it teaches that the first duty of a church leadership is to see to it that a foundation is laid in the beginning on which can be built an effective and continuing evangelistic ministry to the multitudes. This will require more concentration of time and talents on fewer people in the church while not neglecting the passion for the world. It will mean raising up trained disciplers ‘for the work of ministering’ with the pastor and church staff (Eph. 4:12). A few people so dedicated in time will shake the world for God. Victory is never won by the multitudes.” (p. 30)
“The multitudes can be won easily if they are just given leaders to follow.” (p. 31)
If Coleman is correct, then much of the ministry in our churches build on the wrong foundation.
III. Some Personal Reflections on Mark 1
- Popular Theological Debates Can Hinder the Work
There’s a spiritual debate raging around Jesus, but Jesus carries on the work. Jesus seems to treat the theological debates as a distraction from the real task. Thus he repeatedly orders the demons and the men to say nothing about Him or His mission while He works. And when men do speak out of turn, the Lord’s ministry is hindered (43-45). Really striking: Jesus gets more obedience from demons He rebukes than from the people He heals!
How many times has some online theological debate sucked up hours and hours of time while some more necessary service to the sheep or to lost souls gone neglected? We would do well to follow Jesus’ example of getting on with the work on avoiding the theological debates of our day that distract us. Some things may be safely left to the courts of heaven while we address the affairs of earth.
- Spiritual Warfare Should Not Hinder the Work
The demons oppose Christ. Let that sink in: Demons oppose the Lord as He begins His ministry. We see the opposition in the demons’ desire to “call Jesus out” and in the spiritual oppression and sickness suffered by the people (v. 32). But the presence of spiritual warfare does not distract Jesus. Likewise, we should not allow spiritual warfare to distract us from our assignment and the means the Father has given us.
Don’t stop because Satan gets rowdy or because the needs are overwhelming.
- Continue with the Work
Keep picking men, praying to God, preaching the gospel, and providing for needs. Let this be your resolution this New Year’s day and each day following.
Do the ministry the way Jesus did with His same focus.