The gospel of Mark is generally considered to be the very first of the four gospels written. It starts without much introduction; in fact, the very first sentence is not a sentence at all but rather a concept. The beginning of the Good News (gospel) of Jesus Christ.
In whichever translation or copy of the Bible you read, Mark chapter 1 will seem to be a collection of vignettes that are distinct from one another. Do not be fooled. While you may have been taught each of them individually, Mark was written as one long book and the themes of the entire book are all centered around that opening “sentence” and laid out in those first sections that are deceptively separate. This is the discussion of the Gospel, the good news, of Jesus the Christ.
The themes of Mark as laid out in the first chapter are:
- The origin of the Good News
- Christ is the anointed one of God (Messiah) for the purpose of salvation
- Christ has authority
- Repentance is about believing who Christ is
- The specific work of Christ is dealing with the sin problem
For this first post, I want to focus specifically on the second and fourth of these themes.
We see that Mark starts by saying this is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. Beginning implies that you are seeing the start of something that is ongoing; or, that you are seeing the start of something that has an ending. Either way, the beginning is the start. When we get to the end of Mark, you will see that there is no ending to this Good News, but that is for a much later post.
John the Baptist arrives on the scene (1:4) preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
What does it mean to repent? For most people and many Christians it means “stop it”. What is to be stopped is whatever thing you are doing that is against the will of God. Sin is the word we Christians like to use for everything that we do that is outside of God’s will. I know a thing or two about sinning. Truth is that I have many years experience in sinning. Some of my sins are public and spectacular and some are private and mundane. Most of us can look no further than the 10 commandments to realize that we got plenty of sin in our lives. Christians are always hypocrites because we are always sinning. And let me tell you that we do ourselves no favors with our very limited concept of repenting.
More than once when I was a pastor I had a people approach me about some person in the church that we were letting be a part of the fellowship of the congregation whom they knew were sinners. They wondered if we had asked these people to repent before they were allowed to join. Ironically, they never saw this admonishing of the church leadership for our poor standards as being judgmental or gossipy; after all, their motives were always pure – they wanted to keep the Church community clean from these sinners. the problem of course is that if we did that then no one would ever be in the community, because, honestly, every single one of us is sinning in some way every single day.
Take a look at Mark 1:15. Jesus begins his ministry by saying “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. This statement is LOADED with meaning. Depending on how you read it, “the time is fulfilled” seems like either hyperbole or simply a statement that the hour as come. Nope! Ancient Greek, the language of the New Testament, has two words for time: Kairos and Chronos. The latter is the word from which we get the English words chronological and chronometer. This is measured time like minutes and hours and days and years. Kairos is used in the New Testament as a short hand for God’s timing. I like to think of it as the “right time”. An illustration may help with the difference: when a woman is pregnant the baby is said to be due in 9 months. That 9 months is “chronos” or the measured out time of gestation for a baby. Now, any woman will tell you that the doctor’s prediction of the day a child will be born is as about as useful as the weatherman telling you when it will rain. The actual birth is “kairos”, the time of the fulfilling, when the baby is ready. Don’t spend a lot of time saying but wait don’t babies sometimes come too early? Yes, but they come when they come and that is the aspect of kairos I want you to understand. What Jesus is saying is that the moment of the kingdom of God has come and the appropriate response is to repent and believe.
Repent means to change direction. Repent means to think differently. And the way that Jesus meant it was to say, “Hey! God is acting now and you best believe that something wonderful is unfolding, RIGHT NOW”.
This isn’t different from John the Baptist. John was saying “Hey, God is about to act and you better stop what you are doing and get ready for the arrival of what God is doing.” You could even say that John was trying to tell every one that they need to change their way of thinking to believing that God was about to do what God promised.
I know that a lot of people will say that I am crazy to suggest that the principle meaning of repentance is to believe rather than to stop your sinning. Let me be clear: repenting is not not about stopping sin, but it is more so about trusting what God is doing and in this passage it is first and foremost about believing in who Christ is.
Case in point. Mark starts by telling us that this is the good news of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. Then in 1:11, the baptism of Jesus occurs where God says to the gathered that this is my beloved SON. Jesus says the time is now and the Kingdom of God (the very presence of God on earth if you will ) is happening in front of them. Next, Jesus calls people to this repentance in action by saying “follow me” and then we have this curious moment in 1:21-28 where Jesus encounters a demon possessed person and the demon says “I know who you are- the Holy One of God”.
See the pattern? Everything is driving toward this one central point that Jesus is the Christ, the Holy One, the Anointed One, the Son of God. Something special and unique (in the truest sense of this word) is happening right before their eyes and their belief in the same is of the utmost importance!
- Where are you in believing that Jesus is the Christ?
- Many Christians like to downplay or even deny the uniqueness of Christ? If this a sin; is it hypocritical?
- Is Jesus of Nazareth just a great teacher or is Jesus of Nazareth something more?
- Is it more important to stop sinning or is it more important to start believing in the truth about Jesus?
Feel free to use this Bible Study for your own groups or discussion. It is freely given. If you do I merely ask that you acknowledge where you got it and if you find it useful that you encourage others to seek it out. It is freely given and written with fear, foreboding, and prayer by a fellow hypocrite who is simply trying to figure out the road ahead.