Passage: Mark 1:1-3:35
How are you doing with the Lent Challenge and reading a bit of Mark’s Gospel each day? It’s OK, I’m not going to be checking up on you, but I trust that it is helpful and a blessing. What I’d like to do with the Pep Talks over these week’s leading up to Easter is to do a review of the passages in Mark that we’ve been reading and draw out some of the main themes. Remember that in all of this, the aim is not that we’d get to know our bibles better but get to know God better and trust Him more! So, from this first week’s reading of Mark 1:1 through to 3:35, three big themes jumped out at me-
Earlier this week the Prime Minister delivered the roadmap for leaving lockdown. By mid-June it is hoped that all restrictions will be over and we’ll be back to normal. Of course, there were many caveats in the roadmap because the past year has shown us we’re dealing with something none of us can fully understand or control. However, as we read through the early part of Mark’s gospel, we encounter someone in Jesus who seems to have everything under control. He called fishermen to follow, and at once they left their nets (1:18, 20). Jesus commanded the evil spirit to leave the man and it did so (1:26). He taught and people were blown away by the authority of his teaching (1:22). He healed Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever and she was up and serving in a heartbeat (1:31). The leper was immediately cured of his disease (1:42). The paralytic was forgiven his sin and healed of his disability (2:1-12). Levi, the tax collector, responded immediately to Jesus’ call to follow (2:14). The man with the withered hand had it completely restored (3:5). All these events should make us sit up and think about Jesus, no matter how long we’ve been following him or whether we’re reading them for the first time. In 1:2 Mark quotes two Old Testament prophets, Malachi and Isaiah, who speak of Jesus’ arrival hundreds of years before it took place. God said through Malachi- “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” (3:1) And through Isaiah- “A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” (40:3). The point is clear, God has come to His creation in Jesus. It’s vital we get the identity of Jesus right. He’s not merely a good teacher, a moral example, a miracle-worker or a cheerleader for the oppressed. He is God. Do you realise this?
Over the past year, we’ve got used to social distancing, no household mixing, watching football and rugby with no crowds and being wary of meeting with others. It’s going to be weird when we can finally get together with each other and meet in large numbers. As we read through these early chapters of Mark however, once Jesus’ public ministry begins, you cannot miss the fact that almost everywhere he turns he attracts a crowd. After his synagogue appearance, news about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee (1:28). After healing Simon’s mother-in-law, the whole town gathered at the door (1:32). When Jesus got away for a time of prayer, the disciples sought him out to tell him that “Everyone is looking for you!” (1:37). Crowds came to Jesus wherever he was (1:45). Whenever he taught, loads of people would gather to listen (2:2, 2:13). One day so many people had come from across the region that Jesus had to get into a boat and speak from the lake (3:9). Another day, so many gathered that he and his disciples were unable to eat (3:20) and another day his family couldn’t get close to him because of the crowd (3:32). Jesus healed people of sickness, he delivered them of demons, and he taught them like no-one had taught them before. As Jesus makes clear in his first public proclamation as recorded by Mark, “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15) Here’s the thing, Jesus is good news! It is good news that God has come to his creation. What was true back then, remains true today in our pandemic-ridden world. But why is Jesus good news? To discover the answer, let’s look at our third big theme.
Sometimes when we encounter problems it’s a sign that we’re not doing what we should be doing or cut out to do. If you ever see me with my head under the bonnet of a car, you have permission to tell me to take it to the garage. I’m not cut out for that! But sometimes we encounter problems, exactly because we are doing what we’re meant to be doing. The latter is the case with Jesus. Even before Jesus starts his public ministry, he encounters one who stands totally opposed to Him, and that is Satan (1:13). Then as his ministry develops the Jewish religious leaders oppose Jesus because they think he’s blaspheming by forgiving the man’s sins (2:7) and take a very dim view of the company he keeps, by eating with tax collectors and sinners (2:16). Jesus’ disciples were criticised for not fasting (2:18) and for picking ears of corn on the Sabbath (2:24), both of which were indirectly a criticism of Jesus, their leader. Then the Pharisees, looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, catch him red-handed when he heals the man on the Sabbath. Although Jesus did the right and loving thing, in their book, he’d broken one of their Sabbath laws. The upshot was decisive- “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (3:6) It feels like the Gospel has only just begun, and already there are people who want Jesus dead. Whilst their intentions were totally evil, they were doing what God had decided should occur (Acts 4:28). Jesus knew that this was his mission as he declares- “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10:45) Jesus is good news because he came to deal with our sin, through his death on the Cross, and to restore us into relationship with God for ever. How should I respond to the Good News of God coming to this world in Jesus? Well, he tells us- to repent and believe the good news! (1:15).