God’s Guide to a Life-Well Lived: A Study of Mark (Mark 1)
God’s Guide to a Life Well Lived
Forgiveness. How do you deal with guilt when you do something wrong? Every religion in the world recognizes feelings of guilt and every religion in the world tries to offer some way to experience forgiveness.
Some religions deal with guilt by encouraging people to give alms to the poor. In that way, they try to “balance out” the wrong they’ve done with good.
Some religions believe that you should beat yourself, lacerate yourself, in order to punish yourself for the wrongs you’ve done. In that way, you get a sense of forgiveness.
Other religions believe that you have to work your way toward a feeling of freedom from guilt, a feeling of nirvana. You may have to be reincarnated in order to work your way to freedom from guilt.
Judaism, as well as some modern religions, believe that you have to kill animals in order to atone for your sins, your guilt, and get forgiveness that way.
Christianity deals with forgiveness in quite an unusual way. Christianity’s way of dealing with forgiveness is the most intellectually defensible approach to forgiveness. It is the most historically-grounded approach to forgiveness. It is the most theologically consistent approach to forgiveness. It is the most relational approach to forgiveness. In short, the way Christianity deals with forgiveness is summarized in one word: Jesus.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). The word “gospel” means “good news.” The Greek word means “announcement,” which is related to the Greek word “angel.” And it has the prefix “eu” in front of it which means “good.” So “gospel” means “good announcement” or “good news.”
If the gospel of Mark announces good news, what is the bad news? The bad news is guilt. The bad news is sin. The bad news is offense. The bad news is that we simply cannot live right. We say the wrong thing. We do the wrong thing. We express bad attitudes sometimes. The bad news is, we can’t live right. Not consistently.
The good news, the gospel, is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The gospel of Mark was written to tell us, in a way that is briefer than the other gospel accounts, who Jesus is. How He lived. And what we need to do in order to be forgiven through Him. Not only is Mark about forgiveness but it is also about what happens, ultimately, when we have been forgiven, and that is, we have a home in heaven.
The first Sunday of each month in 2021, we are studying the Gospel of Mark, under the theme: “God’s Guide to a Life Well Lived.” A dozen sermons from the life of Christ, out of the gospel of Mark.
Who wrote the Gospel of Mark? Well, the earliest manuscripts all identify the book by that title, “The Gospel according to Mark.” But who was this Mark? There is not a man named “Mark” in the Gospel of Mark. But we are introduced to a man named “John Mark” in Acts 12:12 who lived in Jerusalem, whose mom was a serious Christian and probably wealthy by first-century standards.
This John Mark traveled with Paul and Barnabas from Jerusalem to Antioch and there, they formed the first Christian mission team to take the gospel to the world. John Mark began the mission trip with Paul and Barnabas, but for whatever reason, after the first major stop, John Mark left the mission team and went back home. We do not know why. We can imagine some feelings that he had. We can imagine, depending on his reason, that he felt bad, guilty that he quit.
Apparently his reason was not good enough for the apostle Paul because later, when Barnabas wanted to take a second mission trip (they were cousins), Paul was so adamant against taking John Mark, that Paul and Barnabas split up and created two separate mission teams (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas took John Mark and Paul took another Christian named Silas.
However, eventually Paul and John Mark were reconciled because we see in Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24 that John Mark worked again with Paul in his mission work. At the very end of Paul’s life, in 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul says that John Mark was “useful” to him “for service.” Not only was John Mark associated with the apostle Paul, but he was also associated with the apostle Peter. In fact, in 1 Peter 5:13, Peter refers to John Mark as “his son.” That suggests, not a physical relationship, but that Peter had converted John Mark.
It is this John Mark that the early Christians tell us wrote the gospel of Mark. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” What does the first chapter tell us about Jesus, as we seek God’s guide to a life well-lived?
JESUS WAS THE SUBJECT OF PROPHECY - 1:2-3:
In these two verses, Mark identifies two statements from the OT prophets which he says were fulfilled in the days of Jesus. Mark only names one prophet, Isaiah, who wrote the longest work of the prophets and was much more quoted than the other prophet, Malachi. But there are dozens if not hundreds of prophecies from the OT that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The first quotation (vs 2) is from Malachi. Malachi lived about 400 years before Jesus came. God speaks through His prophet, Malachi, and tells someone whom God identifies as “LORD” in verse 3, that God will send a messenger ahead of the Lord, who will prepare the way for the Lord. You know, when someone really important travels somewhere, he almost always has someone go first in order to get things ready for him. The president of the US has Secret Service agents, for example, who travel somewhere before the president in order to make elaborate preparations for his arrival, from preparing a place to sleep, food to eat, as well as security.
The coming of Jesus into the world was so important, that God sent a messenger before Jesus came, who happened to be a relative of Jesus, John the baptizer. We’ll get to him in just a moment…
The second quotation (vs 3) is the one from Isaiah where God refers to this messenger as a voice crying in the wilderness and his message was: “Make ready the way of the Lord. Make His paths straight.”
John the baptizer came to prepare the Jews and their hearts to receive Jesus. That is the first step in getting our hearts right with God, as we talked about last week. We listen to the word of God. John was preaching the word of God.
JESUS WAS THE SUBJECT OF PREPARATION - 1:4-8:
Here is what John did, to get people ready for the coming of Jesus… He preached that the Jews needed to be immersed in water after they repented of not living according to the Law of Moses. When they did that, repenting and being baptized, then they would receive the forgiveness of their sins. They would be prepared for the Messiah and they would be prepared for His kingdom.
The Jews were so ready to be forgiven of their sins! They were so ready to hear that something could be done to help them get past their feelings of guilt for violating the nature of God through their sins! And they responded to the preaching of John by the multitudes.
They were being baptized by John in the Jordan River as they confessed the sins that were weighing on their hearts and minds. John was predicting that Someone would come after him, who was more worthy than he, more dignified than he, more important than he. John baptized with water, but the Coming One would baptize with the Holy Spirit. That, too, was the fulfillment of prophecies from Ezekiel and Joel.
JESUS OBEYED GOD IN EVERY DETAIL - 1:9-13:
Mark does not give as many details about the baptism and temptations of Jesus as Matthew and Luke do. However, his point is that Jesus was faithful to all that God required. Jesus went to John to be baptized by him. Why? Because that’s what God was commanding to be done and Jesus loved God supremely. So, Jesus did all that God required, including being baptized. When He was baptized, God the Father spoke from heaven saying, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased” (vs 11).
What is the gospel of Mark about? “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). Jesus was baptized and God said, “You are My beloved Son.” In 1 John 2:3, the apostle John will write that we have a relationship with God, we are His children, if we keep His commandments. Jesus showed that He was God’s Son by keeping God’s commandments.
Then Jesus was tempted to sin. God the Holy Spirit (notice) “impelled” Jesus to go out into the wilderness to be tempted. Ever since Satan appeared to Adam and Eve and tempted them to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Satan has been appearing to humanity, tempting us to eat of our own “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Those three temptations in the wilderness were Jesus’ “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” But Jesus had the moral strength to turn down those temptations. He had the moral strength, the spiritual strength, to say “no” to each of the Devil’s temptations.
And when Jesus succeeded in those temptations, God sent some angels to serve Christ and to strengthen Him.
Who is this Jesus?
JESUS IS THE FINAL MESSENGER OF GOD - 1:14-15:
John the baptizer gets thrown into jail which is around the time that Jesus began His public ministry. And His message was to the Jews: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, God promised in Genesis 3:15 that He was going to destroy the works of the devil and bring reconciliation between God and man. Humanity’s relationship with God is ruptured by listening to Satan, but Jesus came to restore that relationship. For several thousand years, throughout the OT, God was working out His plan to bring Jesus into the world.
Then Jesus arrived on earth and said, “The time is fulfilled.” In addition, there were prophecies in the OT which predicted the establishment of a kingdom which would never end, especially by Daniel the prophet. Jesus said, “That kingdom is at hand.”
So, in order for the Jews to be ready for that kingdom, they needed to repent, just as John had been preaching, and they needed to be baptized - Jesus preached baptism as well (John 4:1) - and the Jews needed to believe this new message Jesus was preaching, the “new announcement,” the “gospel” message.
Jesus is the final messenger of God.
JESUS CALLS FOLLOWERS - 1:16-20:
Jesus wants more than just having people follow Him. He also wants His followers to be in a relationship, an association, with each other. As Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he found two brothers, fishermen, and He called them to leave their nets immediately and become His followers. They did so. As Jesus moved along, He came to another set of brothers, James and John, who were also fishermen, and He called them to follow Him and immediately they dropped what they were doing and followed Him.
As we study through the gospel of Mark, we are going to see that Jesus calls everyone to follow Him and that call necessarily means that we have to - figuratively at least - drop everything and follow Jesus. In other words, if Jesus is Who He says He is, and if His message is the truth, then He must take top priority in our lives. We must follow Him above anyone else and everything else, if we want to live a life well-lived.
Jesus will, of course, give us ample reasons to drop everything and follow Him. And some of those reasons are what follow in Mark 1…
JESUS IS MORE POWERFUL THAN SATAN - 1:21-28:
Why would anyone want to serve Satan when he is not the most powerful being in the universe? To illustrate Christ’s power over Satan, God allowed demons, evil angels, to leave the unseen world and to inhabit human bodies.
This specific man was in their synagogue and he had an unclean spirit, a demon. Notice that the demon knew, he understood that Jesus had the power to destroy him (vs 24). The demon also recognized what Mark has already told us in verse 1: Jesus is the “Holy One of God.” Jesus is the Holy One and Jesus does not support the evil that Satan does. Now, Jesus allows Satan to do some evil in this world but, as we studied Sunday morning a few Sundays ago (the sermon is on our website), Jesus will one day throw Satan into the fires of hell and he will never again tempt man to sin. He will never again cause someone to die. He will never again cause rape and murder and lies and deceit. One day…
But to help us have confidence in Jesus’ power over Satan, God allowed demon possession; so here, Jesus rebuked the demon: “Be quiet and come out of him!” The wicked demon made one last effort to hurt that man, throwing him into convulsions, but then he came out of him.
Notice the end result of this event (vs 27). The people were amazed! The people began debating: “What is this!? He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him!” Then news about Jesus began to spread like wildfire!
Jesus is more powerful than Satan. He came to free us from slavery to Satan. Isn’t that a life well-lived? Lived in freedom from Satan, from the shackles of sin, from the burden of sin?
JESUS HEALS THE HURTING - 1:29-45:
God’s guide to a life well-lived centers on His Son, Jesus Christ, the “Holy One of God.” The rest of chapter 1 gives a series of miracles Jesus performed to show us several things: 1.) Jesus’ message is True. Nobody can perform miracles unless God empowers that person and God will not empower a false teacher to do miracles; 2.) Jesus has power over diseases and illnesses. That does not mean Jesus will always cure diseases and illnesses; sometimes they are allowed for God’s purposes, which we cannot understand. But Jesus can heal diseases and illnesses and; 3.) When Jesus comes again and He gives us our spiritual bodies, they will not be susceptible to diseases and illnesses. Isn’t that a motivation to give your heart to Jesus Christ? He is the great healer. 4.) Jesus loves humanity. Jesus’ healing miracles show us that He loves us. He does not like it that Satan hurts us with sicknesses and illnesses and fear.
He wants to heal us; but He can only do it in the way and in the time that the Father knows is best. And for many of us, that healing will not occur until we have our new spiritual bodies in heaven.
Healing miracle #1 - Peter’s mother-in-law (1:29-31)
Healing miracle #2 - Various demon-possessed people and diseases (1:32-34)
Healing miracle #3 - Casting out demons (1:39)
Healing miracle #4 - Cleansing a leper (1:40-45)
Let me suggest to you that the theme of the gospel of Mark can be summarized in the words of Jesus in 1:41 to the leper: “I am willing; be cleansed.”
If you are dealing with guilt; if you are needing forgiveness; if you are needing hope, Jesus tells us: “I am willing; be cleansed.”
And just like Jesus told that leper in 1:44: “Offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded,” in order for us to be free from guilt, to be forgiven, to have hope, we’ve got to do what Jesus has commanded. That, family, is how to have “the life well-lived.”
Take home message: The life and teachings of Jesus are God’s guide to a life well-lived. Let us study the gospel, live it, teach it, and gain strength from it.