Last week during our service we looked at the way the church year is arranged and the different seasons. We are in our second week of the season of Advent. Advent is the preparation for the season of Christmas and is also beginning of the church year. Last church year we were focused on the Gospel according to Matthew and this year we are focusing on the Gospel according to Mark. Mark’s Gospel is the earliest of the four Gospels we have in our bibles. It is not the earliest Christian writing, Paul’s letters pre-date all the gospels.
- What do you think of when you hear the word ‘gospel’?
Gospel means ‘good news’. This term ‘good news’ is a translation of the Greek word ‘euangelion’ (εὐαγγέλιον ). The euangelion or good news is not about “getting saved” in the sense that so many churches seem to proclaim it. Although for us it has a religious connotation, for Jesus and his disciples it was a nonreligious word from their culture. The most famous pre-Christian use of the word is in The Priene Inscription. This is a letter from the Proconsul Paulus Fabius Maximus engraved in stone in Priene, a city in modern-day Turkey.
It seemed good to the Greeks of Asia, in the opinion of the high priest Apollonius of Menophilus Azanitus: ‘Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a saviour, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance…. surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good news [εὐαγγέλιον] for the world that came by reason of him…
In other words, and in summary; Augustus Caesar was the good news for the world.
I have previously written about the fact that Augustus Caesar was also considered both Son of god and god. Mark in the opening line of his gospel is countering this claim by writing: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
The ‘good news’ or ‘gospel’ is the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth is Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Lord. The rest of Mark’s writing goes on to tell us about this Jesus of Nazareth, who is the messenger of God and also the message. He brings the news of God’s Kingdom, as opposed to the message and euangelion of Caesar’s Empire.
- What things are we told are good news for us today?
We have people or companies trying to sell us the good news of Black Friday or Boxing Day sales. Our politicians want us to believe they and their policies are the good news but the good news of Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party, jobs and ‘those who have a go, get a go’ is not the good news. Neither will it be the good news of the Labor party, or The Greens or any other party. Jesus and his message of the presence of the Kingdom of God is the good news.
Jesus first words in Mark’s Gospel are:
“Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news (euangelion) of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near (or is at hand); repent, and believe in the good news (euangelion).’” ( Mark 1:14-15)
The Kingdom of God is about far more than personal salvation. Jesus the Christ, the Son of God will go on to say:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)
For the Jewish people God had already given them good news, God had made promises to the people. Mark is quoting a promise. Mark references the prophet Isaiah but the quote alludes to more than just Isaiah. The first part of this quote is from Exodus not Isaiah.
“I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20)
This promise is the promise to bring the people to the promised land.
There is also an echo of Malachi 3:1
“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”
The quote from Isaiah 40 is:
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
This quote from Isaiah is from the prophecy in which Israel was told God was taking the nation home from exile in Babylon. Once again God promises to deliver the people. God will act. God will come. God’s promise will be fulfilled. The time of fulfillment is drawing near. God is coming to us! This is fantastic news! So, what can we do to get ready?
Enter John the baptizer stage left. He is the one from the wilderness who proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Confess your sins, John says. Get baptized. Repent. He baptised people from the Judean countryside and even Jerusalem as they went out to him. He baptized them in the river Jordan as they confessed their sins.
John also proclaimed that one more powerful than him, the Messiah, was to come. He was the subordinate one because Jesus would baptizes with the Spirit. And yet if we read on we find the unworthy one ends up doing the baptizing. Such is the good news of the Kingdom of God.
The good news of Jesus is good news in the midst of the struggle. The good news is God has entered into the struggle.
We too are called to announce and make known God’s Son in this season of Advent. Like the witness of John, we too are witnesses to the one who incarnates “the beginning of the good news, the gospel”.
Rev Tammy Hollands