Be joyful in HOPE,
patient in affliction,
faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s
people who are in need.
Romans 12:12-13

1st Sunday of Advent – 2023

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Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, we are embarking upon another church year. Help us to know what it’s all about the Gospel. Lord, we of all people should know the Gospel, for to know You is to know the Gospel and to know the Gospel is to know You. Let us know You through repenting of our sins and believing that You save us from these sins. Let this Gospel begin in us, and never end! Amen.

The Text, St. Mark 1:1, 14-15.   

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ: Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

This is the first Sunday in the new Church Year. This year all the sermons will be from Mark’s gospel. So we begin at Mark 1:1, of course. Let’s start at the very beginning. Mark even says it that way: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is how you talk to children. There’s a reason for that. 

We are told that this gospel is the one that has Simon Peter’s viewpoint. The disciples of the apostle John said that’s what he told them – that Mark wrote down what Peter remembered. Although the Holy Spirit miraculously was “breathing in” to Mark the words to write down, like all of the Bible the Holy Spirit used the writers’ experiences. Mark didn’t see these events himself, Peter did. Peter provides the eyewitness viewpoint of Mark’s gospel. 

We know that Peter went to Rome to preach, and after about a year there he was killed by order of the emperor, Nero. So to whom was Peter preaching at the end of his life, when Mark was with him? To Romans, people who didn’t have all the Old Testament background. 

They needed the story of Jesus told simply. That’s how it feels in Mark’s gospel, like telling a story to children. Whenever Jesus does a miracle in Mark, He does it “immediately.” So simple and straightforward. So he starts it that way: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” 

What does that mean, “the gospel?” It’s an important word, every Christian needs to know what it means. I’m glad Mark starts his gospel with this word.

We know there are four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. What are they about? Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. But gospel doesn’t mean “Jesus’ life story.” When Mark says this is “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he’s saying there’s a lot at stake. A life story, you can take it or leave it. A biography, you can pick it up or put it down. But “the gospel of Jesus Christ” is something that, if you put it down, if you say “maybe later,” you lose eternal life!

Because the Gospel, big G, is the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s the same word we’ll hear the angels use on Christmas; there it’s “good tidings,” but it’s not general; it’s very specific, it’s that “unto you is born … a Savior” (Lk 2:11).

What we learn from this is that the Gospel, big G, is not just good news. It’s good news for sinners. The Gospel is for sinners. Jesus is the Savior of whom? Sinners. His name is Jesus, which means “He will save,” and when the angel says this to Joseph he says it this way: “for He will save His people from their sins.” The Gospel is the gospel of forgiveness. Forgiveness of what? Sins. 

So actually whenever you hear the Gospel, you are being reminded that you are a sinner. If you want to pretend that you have no sins, the Gospel is not for you. If you want to keep doing a sin and not repent, the Gospel is not for you. But your sins would still be there, speaking against you. You would die in your sins, unforgiven because even though all your sins are paid for by Jesus, forgiven for His sake, you would have rejected this Savior, this Gospel.

That’s not what Jesus wants! We see this in our text, where Mark comes back to the word “gospel” in verses 14 and 15, and says that “Jesus came preaching,” and what is His message? “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Jesus says, “Repent,” because He doesn’t want anyone’s sins to condemn them; He wants to take your sins from you and forgive the sins. He did this when He came and died for the sins. But He wants everyone, including you, to benefit from it by faith. The gospel is for you, the sinner, to believe that your sins are all died-for by Jesus, to believe that all your sins are forgiven.

It’s important that this is the message right away in Mark’s gospel. If you know his story, you would think he wouldn’t get to write a gospel. In the Bible, he is John Mark. His mother’s home is where the apostles gathered. This is where Peter came after being rescued from prison. You would think such bravery would rub off on him. But instead, you see something different. 

When the apostle Paul went on his first missionary journey with Barnabas, Mark’s uncle, they took eager Mark along as their assistant. But persecution came, and just that quickly it says “John [Mark] left them.” He went home. In Acts 15, when it’s time to go on a second missionary journey, Barnabas wants to bring Mark again. Paul says no. St. Luke – who wrote the book of Acts and traveled with Paul later – writes: that Mark “had deserted” them and “not gone with them to the work.”Paul won’t even say Mark’s name. He’s just “that one who had departed … [that one] who had not gone with them.”

This is Mark’s story. He’s “that one who didn’t.” It’s a story of someone who gives up, whose faith isn’t strong enough. It looks like he’s out of the story, out of Peter’s story, Paul’s story, the Christians’ story. How could he face anyone? His faults, his imperfections, the embarrassing details, are out in the open. It shows him being one whose faith isn’t good or strong enough. 

There is a happy ending. It ends up that Paul wants him again when he’s in prison, and Peter even publicly calls him “Mark my son” in his epistle, so evidently they forgave him, gave him a second chance, and he became valued and useful. That’s a happy ending. But the real happy ending is the one in Mark’s opening words here: that there’s such a thing as “the gospel of Jesus Christ”and it’s for everyone! Him too. You and me too.

The sins and weakness, the shame and unworthiness, that Mark felt keenly are something perhaps that plagues you too. So “the gospel” is front and center: the good news that Jesus is the Savior born for you and His blood makes you clean and worthy in God’s sight. 

As you continue reading in Mark, after it says here that Jesus came “preaching the gospel,” you encounter hardly any preaching that He does until close to the end. You get a grand total of four parables, but you get 28 miracles! The great majority of miracles show the kingdom of the devil fighting Jesus, who all by Himself represents “the kingdom of God,” and Guess Who always wins. 

So what Mark does is show you the gospel in the person of Jesus. Mark is a person who needs to see the Gospel, to see Jesus, in front of him. You do too. So He shows us Jesus. That’s the preacher’s task: to show you Jesus right in front of you, saving you. He is “the gospel of the kingdom of God.” When Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” or near, where do you see it? 

In Jesus! He is at hand! He is here! “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” means what? Believe in Him. He is the Gospel, in the flesh.

Jesus says: “Believe in the Gospel,” which means: “Believe you are forgiven.” So His Gospel is more than a life story. It’s powerful. It does something. It gives you faith in Jesus, faith that you are forgiven. “Believe in the Gospel” isn’t a command for you to obey yourself. It’s the command God Himself makes come true for you. God works this faith in you. 

Remember the first words of Mark: “The beginning of the gospel.” Every time you hear this Gospel and believe it, God is saying this is true of you. It’s a new beginning. The Gospel is beginning again in you. When you come to the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus says “for you,” the Gospel is beginning again in you. But it’s only the beginning. It should only be the beginning for you. 

It leads to what you do to love one another, giving rather than getting, practicing patience and self-denial. Only the Gospel can begin this and make it go on. May there be a “beginning of the Gospel” in us that never ends until we are in heaven. Amen!