“The Beginning of the Gospel”
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”
There is much speculation about the evangelist Mark and his gospel. I will leave the speculations to the people who are interested in chasing rabbits. We will be content with what is revealed. The book we are studying is called, “The Gospel according to St. Mark. “It is “a joyful account of the ministry, miracles, actions, and sufferings of Christ” (John Gill).
The human author of this gospel narrative was John Mark, the son of Barnabas’ sister, Mary (Acts 12:12, 25; Colossians 4:12). He is probably the same Mark whom Peter describes as his son in the faith (1 Peter 5:13).
Mark’s Gospel is somewhat different from the other three. He tells us nothing about the birth and early life of our Lord. He gives us very few details about our Lord’s sermons. Yet he gives greater details than others about his miracles. Of the four inspired histories of our Savior, Mark’s is the shortest. Yet it is not in any way less significant. Mark used greater brevity than the others; but his narrative is just as important. Those who suggest that Mark simply copied down some facts from Matthew, or that he wrote what Peter told him to write both miss the purpose of Mark’s work and undermine the inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture. J.C. Ryle very properly observed that Mark’s gospel is, “The independent narrative of an independent witness, who was inspired to write a history of our Lord’s works, rather than of his words.”
As we go through these sixteen chapters, I hope we will read every word with reverence and that God the Holy Spirit will give us understanding in the things written in them. I quote Ryle again, — “Like all the rest of Scripture, every word of St. Mark is ‘given by inspiration of God,’ and every word is ‘profitable.’”
Passing by the incarnation, birth, and early life of our Savior, Mark begins his gospel narrative by telling us who Jesus Christ is, and his starting point is the ministry of John the Baptist, when the Lord Jesus was about thirty years old.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (v. 1). — Obviously, Mark does not mean for us to understand that the gospel began at this time, or that he was the first to preach it. There are a few religious imposters like that around; but Mark was not one of them. The gospel of Christ began back in eternity, in the mind and purpose of God almighty, when Christ was in his decree “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). It was preached by God himself to our fallen parents in the garden (Gen. 3:15). It was preached to, believed by, and then preached by Job, Noah, Abraham, and the prophets of God throughout the days of the Old Testament.
By these opening words of Mark’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit simply means for us to understand that this gospel age, this dispensation of grace, began with the ministry of John the Baptist, which was introductory to and one with the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. John’s ministry announced the end of the legal dispensation, the fulfillment and termination of the law by Christ, and the dawn of this day of grace. This is not a guess, but exactly what the Scriptures state (Matthew 11:13; Luke 16:16).
The gospel revealed in Holy Scripture, the gospel by which the Word of God is preached and expounded to sinners is here called “the gospel of Jesus Christ.” It is not the Baptist gospel, the Protestant gospel, the Catholic gospel, the Arminian gospel, or even the Calvinist gospel. It is “the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The gospel is not a theological system, a denominational creed, or a religious practice. The gospel is a Person. Mark calls it; no, the Holy Spirit calls it, “the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Christ is the gospel. Do you see that? Very few people do. He is the Author of it, the great Preacher of it, the Substance of it, and the Message of it. The gospel is God’s good word, faithful and true, about his Son, Jesus Christ. The gospel is the revelation and proclamation of Jesus Christ, who he is and what he has done. You cannot separate Christ and the gospel. Christ is the gospel; and the gospel is Christ. It is God’s revelation and declaration that his Son is Jesus, the Redeemer and Savior of lost sinners, — the Christ, the Messiah, who was promised in the Old Testament, — the Mediator between God and men, — the Prophet who has declared all the mind and will of God, — the Great High Priest who has offered himself a sacrifice for his people’s sins, made peace, procured pardon, brought in everlasting righteousness, obtained eternal redemption, and now lives to make intercession for us according to the will of God, and — the King of Glory who reigns over all things to save, defend, protect, provide for, and preserve his redeemed ones.
That is the commencement of the gospel. It began with, and has its beginning in our hearts with the coming, the revelation, and the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The Claim of Christianity
Look at verse one again. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” — That is the unique, foundational, essential, basic claim of Christianity. Jesus Christ is himself God the eternal Son. Those who deny the eternal deity and godhead of the man Christ Jesus, either openly and directly, or by inference of their teachings, are not Christians.
When Mark asserts that Jesus Christ is “the Son of God,” he makes no effort to prove his claim. He simply states it as a matter of well-known, commonly received fact, because among Christians, it is a well-known, commonly received fact.
The man Jesus Christ is God the eternal Son, in every way one with and equal with the Father and the Spirit, of the same nature and essence, possessing the same perfections and the same glory. He is “over all God, blessed forever.” In him “dwelleth all the fulness of the godhead bodily.” The whole of the gospel stands or falls here. Christianity stands or falls here. The satisfaction of Christ is of infinite merit and efficacy because he is God. His death upon the cross is of infinite value to God and infinitely effectual for sinners because he is God. The death of Christ was not the death of a mere man, but the death of a man who is God. That means He cannot fail. Those for whom he died must and shall be saved. Those who deny the efficacy of Christ’s atonement, in effect, deny the deity of his Person, for if his blood is not effectual, his sacrifice is worthless! John Gill wrote…
“Matthew began his Gospel with the humanity, Mark with the divinity of Christ. The one calls him the Son of David, the other the Son of God. Both (are) true. Christ is the Son of David according to his human nature, (and) the Son of God according to his divine nature. So a testimony is borne to the truth of both his natures, which are united in one person.”
The Unity of Holy Scripture
“As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (vv. 2-3).
Matthew Henry observed that, “The gospel of Jesus Christ begins, and goes on, just as it is written in the prophets; for it saith no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said should come (Acts 26:22).” The gospel of Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. From Genesis through Malachi we see the event foretold again and again with constantly increasing clarity. The promise was made to Adam, renewed to the patriarchs, and repeated to the prophets that the Redeemer would come. His birth, his character, his life of obedience, his sin-atoning death, his resurrection, even his forerunner, were prophesied and typified hundreds of years before he came. Our Savior’s great work of redemption was accomplished in every detail exactly as the Old Testament Scriptures declared it must be. That is what Paul preached to the Jews at Antioch. — “And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre” (Acts 13:29).
In this passage Mark quotes from both Malachi (3:1) and Isaiah (40:3), two Old Testament prophets who lived three hundred years or more apart, telling us that both wrote of the coming of Christ and redemption by him. In doing so he tells us three things about John the Baptist, and really about every true gospel preacher.
We have read the Old Testament with absolutely no spiritual profit, with no profit to our souls, if we have only observed its historical facts, moral laws, supernatural events, and fulfilled prophecies. The message of the Old Testament is Christ. Our Lord was referring to the Old Testament when he said, “These are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). The Old Testament and the New Testament is one revelation of God. We do not have two Bibles, just one; and its theme is “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
“John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins” (vv. 4-5).
We must not make more of baptism than the New Testament makes of it. Yet, we dare not make less of it than the New Testament does. Baptism has absolutely no saving merit or efficacy; but it is not a matter of indifference. It is not an optional, insignificant religious ritual. Baptism is not a sacrament by which grace is conferred or even received; but it is an ordinance of divine worship, by which we confess our faith in and allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, by whose blood we have the remission of sins. Taking John the Baptist as our example, three things are clearly revealed in these verses about the gospel ordinance of baptism.
We read, “John did baptize in the wilderness.” We do not read that he sprinkled, or that he poured, but that he baptized (dipped, plunged, immersed) those who came to him. The word translated “baptize” in the New Testament cannot, with honesty, be made to mean “sprinkle” or “pour.” The word means, “dip, plunge, or immerse.” Immersion is not a mode of baptism. Immersion is baptism.
John preached “the baptism of repentance for (unto or because of) the remission of sins.” He did not preach that baptism washes away or remits our sins, but that it symbolizes and portrays the washing away and remission of our sins by the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Baptism does not represent regeneration, or conversion, or sanctification; and it sure doesn’t represent circumcision! Baptism represents the remission of sins by the sin-atoning death of our great Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why it is always described as a burial. Believers are buried with Christ in the watery grave of baptism symbolizing our death, burial, and resurrection with him representatively as our Substitute (Romans 6:3-6; Colossians 2:10-12).
Those who were baptized by John came to him. They were not brought to him. They were baptized in the river, not with a teacup. And when they were baptized, they personally confessed their sins by the symbolic act of water baptism. That is to say, they confessed their need of a Savior because of their sins, their faith in Christ by whose blood their sins were (in the decree of God and soon would be by the actual shedding of his blood) put away, and their allegiance to him who would put away their sins by the sacrifice of himself. Throughout the New Testament, the one pre-requisite for baptism is personal faith in Christ. This is one reason why we reject the practice of infant baptism (Acts 8:35-39).
There is absolutely no precedent for infant baptism or for sprinkling in the place of baptism in the Word of God. Those things are nothing but remnants of papacy in Protestant churches. There is no reason to practice sprinkling, except to make it convenient to baptize babies; and there is no reason to baptize babies, unless you think there is some spiritual, saving efficacy in doing so. Thus, in reality, infant baptism is as much a denial of the gospel of salvation by grace alone as the Roman doctrine of indulgences.
Another fact that is displayed in John’s ministry is that outward success and popularity is never to be depended upon or used as the measure of a preacher’s usefulness. We read in verse 5 that “there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.” Large crowds are always pleasing to see and encouraging; but we must never forget that very few of those who heard John and were baptized by him were truly converted. John the Baptist stirred things up. People were scared, emotionally excited, and greatly moved by his preaching; but few heard his message. It is not enough to hear and approve of popular preachers. We must hear Christ. It is not enough to follow the crowd, even when the crowd is right. We must follow Christ. We must never judge the success or failure of a ministry by those things that we can see. It is not enough to be baptized in water. We must be baptized into Christ. — “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
A True Prophet
“And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (vv. 6-8).
John did not live delicately in luxury. He was not much concerned about the brand of clothes he wore or the ratings of the restaurants in which he ate. His concern was for the kingdom of God, the gospel of God, the truth of God, the glory of God, and the Son of God. He never tried to please men, and never sought the approval of men. John the Baptist was a prophet, a man sent from God with a message from God, a message that eternity bound sinners must hear and obey. He really was not very concerned about anything else. John was a prophet.
That which John preached is exactly what every prophet of God in every generation is sent of God to preach. Let me show you seven things about the preaching of John the Baptist. If these seven things do not characterize me, and my preaching, I am not God’s servant, I have no business claiming to be a preacher, and no human being should hear me preach or read anything I write. The same is true of every other man to whom the term “preacher” is applied.
The Word of God nowhere talks about the Holy Spirit baptizing us into Christ; but it does talk about Christ baptizing chosen, redeemed sinners into the Holy Spirit. Christ baptized his church into the Spirit on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The Kingdom of God was then immersed in the Spirit. It ceased to be a carnal, family kingdom, and became a spiritual kingdom. In a sense, believers are baptized by Christ into the Holy Spirit in the new birth. That is to say, when a person is born again he is translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. He is taken from being in the flesh to being in the Spirit (Romans 8:1-14).
This was John’s attitude. I pray that it is mine and that it is yours. — “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
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