The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1, NIV)
For anyone investigating Christianity, the very first line of Mark’s gospel is a brilliant place to start.
Mark introduces his work as being about Jesus Christ. In setting out an account of the faith that, by the time of writing, had begun to sweep the ancient world, Mark focusses entirely on Jesus. If we were to make a film of his gospel, Jesus would be in shot for every single scene - except, of course, for the last one, when the message is that “He is not here!”. The other three gospels all take the same approach. “Obvious”, we might say - but is it? So many think of Christianity as an ethical system, an expression of culture or a way of life. But in fact, it revolves around a single historical figure more than any other world faith.
Mark claims that Jesus is Christ. The term Christ is a title, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah, which means “Anointed One”. It is a one-word summary of the river of hope that flows and swells throughout the Old Testament - that one day, God would send a great rescuer-king into the world. It is not surprising, therefore, that Mark’s next verse (“I will send my messenger…”,1:2) takes us back to that Old Testament hope, which Jesus fulfils in multiple ways.
Mark also claims that Jesus is the Son of God. Some Greek manuscripts of Mark lack this, but the majority opinion is that he did include this in his very first verse. Even if he didn’t, it is a term attached to Jesus throughout his gospel. To claim that the carpenter from Nazareth is indeed the Son of God naturally raises the question: how did Mark come to believe this? He answers, with evidence after evidence that Jesus does the things that only God can do. After the calming of the storm, for instance, the disciples say, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41)
“Oh”, someone says, “But the gospels are biased - they were written by Christians!” But note this: they were written by first-generation Christians. These writers had not grown up as followers of Jesus. Something had persuaded them that this was true. If they hadn’t become Christians, might we not be saying that they found their own evidence unconvincing?
Mark’s opening comments, then, are so helpful in showing us where to go if we are investigating Christianity. Everything rests on who Jesus is, and the evidence for that. This we can investigate by reading a gospel.
And if Mark shows us how to investigate Christianity, he also gives us a hint as to why. He introduces his work as “The beginning of the good news…” He brings us a picture of a man who was constantly helping people, in life-transforming ways, being good news to them.
And he will show us how, by his death on the cross, Jesus has opened up the way for us to be forgiven, and to have access to God himself.
We are due to start “Arena at Home” this Monday evening, 24th May, at St Andrew the Great, when we’ll look at Mark’s bio of Jesus together, with a chance to ask questions and discuss. Please join us, on person or online.