Who is Jesus? – 1:1

In the middle of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he exhorts his readers, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1), and too often we understand this in the sense of, WWPD (What would Paul do?), instead of focusing on Paul’s point: he modeled his life after Christ’s.

There is a present danger in our Christian culture. The threat of not knowing who Christ is. We cannot rightly answer the question, “What would Jesus do?”—better: What did Jesus do?—if we are not studying the life of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels. In a former time, the people who overemphasized the gospels were the liberal scholars who couldn’t deal with the divisive, Christological claims of the writers of the epistles. And i think in our zeal to prove the divinity of Christ, we deserted the Gospels and ran to the epistles, and we got really good at theology but not very good at living like Christ. (Yes, there are exceptions in this world; this is just a danger i see, especially in Reformed circles).

We cannot rightly know how to follow Christ if we are not often dwelling on the life of Christ. He lived 2,000 years ago in a foreign part of the world (compared to us in the United States). The intended result of Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 11:1 is for his readers to imitate Christ. I want to imitate Christ. I hope you desire to imitate Christ.

With that said, let’s start this journey through Mark’s version of the Gospel, so we can better follow Christ in this life.

Today’s Text

Mark writes, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Going Back in Time

Two thousand years ago, the entire known world was ruled by Rome. For Jews living in Palestine, their eyes looked earnestly toward the future day when the Messiah would come deliver them from the oppression of Rome. No longer did they have possession of their land. They were brutally taxed by a nation that cared nothing for their God, by pagans who participated in every form of immorality known to the world, by heathens who worshipped a plethora of false gods including their emperor.

Messiah was the Hebrew word for “anointed one,” typically referring to the Hebrew king who reigned in Jerusalem. In Psalm 2 we read, “The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers conspire together against the LORD and His [Messiah]” (2:2). David refused to raise a hand against Saul because at that time Saul was God’s messiah; “He said to his men, ‘I swear before the LORD: I would never do such a thing to my lord, the LORD’s [messiah]. ⌊I will never⌋ lift my hand against him, since he is the LORD’s [messiah]” (1 Samuel 24:6). In Psalm 2, God says the following to the Messiah, “Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your inheritance and the ends of the earth Your possession.  You will break them with a rod of iron; You will shatter them like pottery” (2:8-9; cf. Revelation 2:26-27).

The problem with this for the Jewish people living in Palestine was that they did not have a Jewish king reigning in Jerusalem. The one on the throne—Herod the Great—was descended from Esau, and thus not a true Israelite.[1] In reality, Herod was a puppet of Rome and didn’t have any power apart from what Rome allowed him. As such, the Jewish people were looking forward to the one promised to David: “When your time comes and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up after you your descendant, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He will build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13).

The Jewish people wanted freedom from Rome. They wanted the kingdom restored. They wanted Jerusalem to be the capital of the world as the prophets had described (e.g., Isaiah 2:2). And it is with this background that Mark began writing his gospel.

He writes, quite literally: “Beginning of the good news Jesus, Messiah, Son of God.”

While not explicitly the point of this first verse, this study (as a whole—1:1-16:8) will argue that this book is Mark doing what the women are described as being too afraid to do (Mark 16:8).

Mark is preaching the Gospel; he is rightly called an evangelist.

Jesus’ Life is the Gospel

Right off the bat, Mark clarifies the gospel he is sharing. It is not about a promotion at work. It is not about Caesar’s birthday. It is not even about a victorious king. It is about Jesus. Mark will further describe the Jesus of whom he is speaking since Jesus is “one of the commonest of first-century Jewish names”[2] (cf. Mark 1:9).

I’ll hold off on the specifics of His identity for one moment. It is necessary to emphasize: Jesus Himself is the gospel. What Jesus did. What Jesus said. How Jesus died. What happened after Jesus died. These are the facts that make up the gospel. Nothing else compares to these facts.

And with that clarified, when we see Mark call this Jesus the gospel, those who were in Palestine in 30 A.D. probably laughed when they heard. “How could there be good news about that Jesus? He was crucified by the Romans. He was a fraud.” Mark’s goal in this gospel—likely the first to be written—is to convince and remind his readers of the importance of following Jesus, even though the path will be difficult.

Jesus is the Messiah

The first specific to identify Jesus is the word Christ, or the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah.

Mark wants his readers to know the Jesus who shows up on the scene in Mark 1:9 is the One for whom they have been waiting. He wants them to see that the man they crucified was the One for whom they were expectantly watching.

They called Him a fraud, but those with ears to hear (cf. Mark 4:9) know of His true identity.

One commentator explains, “In bridging the context to our contemporary situation, we need to recapture the scandal of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, who exposes our false hopes and selfish expectations.”[3]

Too often we place our hopes in the wrong thing. We think there is just one thing we need to make us happy, when—in reality—once we have that thing we discover it wasn’t actually the answer to our sadness, so we go off searching for something else. The Jewish people had the Messiah right in front of their face 2,000 years ago, but they crucified Him. Jesus is the only One we need to be complete; nothing else will actually fulfill us; all other selfish hopes and desires will leave us empty.

Jesus is the Son of God

Mark concludes his introductory words by calling Jesus the Son of God. This gospel is arranged neatly between 1:1 and 15:39 by the phrase the Son of God. Everything inside these phrases is Mark trying to prove this as Jesus’ identity, and the 16 verses that follow are a nice conclusion that forces us to ask ourselves, “How will I respond to the gospel of Jesus?”

But as far as the meaning of Jesus as the Son of God, Pastor J. C. Ryle (who lived in the late 1800s) explains it beautifully.

There is a beautiful fitness in placing this truth in the very beginning of a Gospel. The divinity of Christ is the citadel and keep of Christianity. Here lies the infinite value of the atoning sacrifice He made upon the cross. Here lies the peculiar merit of His atoning death for sinners. That death was not the death of a mere man, like ourselves, but of one who is “over all, God blessed forever.” (Rom. 9:5.) We need not wonder that the sufferings of one person were a sufficient propitiation for the sin of a world, when we remember that He who suffered was the “Son of God.” Let believers cling to this doctrine with jealous watchfulness. With it, they stand upon a rock. Without it, they have nothing solid beneath their feet. Our hearts are weak. Our sins are many. We need a Redeemer who is able to save to the uttermost, and deliver from the wrath to come. We have such a Redeemer in Jesus Christ. He is “the mighty God.” (Isaiah 9:6.)[4]

Mark wants us to see Jesus as the Son of God. To see Him as anything less is to miss the mark entirely and prove to not even be saved. First John 4:15 says, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in him and he in God.” Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? I pray you do.

How Will You Respond to
Jesus?

In conclusion, Jesus is enough! Do you want to know Him better? Do you want to stand in awe of His life? Then join me on this journey through Mark’s gospel, as together we are wowed by the life of Jesus. Subscribe to the blog, so you don’t miss the next entry.

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus

Thanks for reading.

The next post can be found here.

[1] Merrill Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary.
[2] R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC, 49.
[3] David E. Garland, Mark (The NIV Application Commentary) (p. 23). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[4] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: The Four Volume Set [Fully Linked and Optimized] (Kindle Locations 5607-5614). Primediaelaunch eLaunch. Kindle Edition.

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