When you see the word gospel in the New Testament, always read it in the context of Isaiah 52:7.
There are two points which I wish to highlight before leaving the first verse of the Gospel of Mark. The first point is that good news presupposes bad news, which is revealed in the context of Isaiah previous to the feet of him who brings good tidings. The second point is that it is the suffering of Jesus Christ's which redeems us, revealed in the context of Isaiah after the feet of him who brings good tidings.
In the last blog post, we looked at Isaiah 52:1-19, which is the immediate context of the Isaiah reference to the gospel. Now, we will look at the larger context of Isaiah prior Isaiah 52. We ask the question, why does God comfort Israel in Isaiah 52? What happened prior that caused Israel to be seeking comfort. We find the immediate answer in Isaiah 51:17: Rouse yourself, rouse yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of the Lord, the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl of staggering. They were being punished by God, but why? For sin, but we have to cut this off for now. Maybe sometime we can look at the nature of the sins of Israel, and draw comparisons to our own day. Indeed, we too are punished, not arbitrarily by an angry God, but as children beloved of the Father.
Verse 18: There is none to guide her among all the sons she has borne; there is none to take her by the hand among all the sons she has brought up. It is a Biblical principle that when God punishes a Church, she lacks guides among her sons. This sad situation, we see today in spades in the particular Churches which are even now under the wrath of God. Lay ministers, Deacons, Priests, and Bishops unable to guide the sons and daughter of those particular Churches.
Verse 19: These two things have befallen you -- who will condole with you? -- devastation and destruction, famine and sword; who will comfort you? While there is no doubt that eventually, sin will lead to famine and sword, nevertheless, what we see in our western civilization is more of a spiritual famine and sword. Our spiritual leads are unable to feed the flock with the Word of God which they themselves -- to their shame -- rarely study, which results in sacraments bestowing curses upon the faithless. This is the famine, the lack of spiritual food and drink which comes from faith which comes from hearing which comes from preaching (Romans 10:14-15). The spiritual sword is the free reign which the demons have some particular Churches because the spiritual fathers have forfeited their authority. Christians are dominated by pride, self-righteousness, lust, anger, and every form of ungodliness.
Verse 20: Your sons have fainted, they lie at the head of every street like an antelope in a net; they are full of the wrath of the Lord, the rebuke of your God. Another Biblical principle is that God's wrath results in a forfeiture of masculine protection and strength. The enemy targets the men and emasculates us with the permission of God.
Verse 21: Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted, who are drunk, but not with wine: namely, drunk with the wrath of God.
Verse 22: Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God who leads the cause of his people: Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering: the bowl of my wrath: you shall drink no more. When we have paid justly for our sins, such that we become like the prodigal son in the pigsty, when we have come to our senses, then -- and only then -- does the Lord speak to us again.
Verse 23: and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors, who have said to you, 'Bow down, that we may pass over'; and you have made your back like the ground and like the street for them to passover. Once God has had mercy upon us and restored the dignity of our sonship, he then begins the process with our enemies who have oppressed us. He pours his wrath upon our enemies, because they are His children, too, and he wants to bring them to repentance so that he can bestow the blessing upon them, also.
This the nature of the bad news, the wrath of God, which prepares the ground so that He can eventually offer comfort and restoration, namely, the person of Jesus Christ. Now, if we look at the verses of Isaiah which follow closely upon the heals of the announcement of the beautiful feet of him who brings good tidings, we discover the method of our redemption.
Isaiah 52:13 Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high. Jesus alludes to this verse when he says, and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (John 12:32) He speaks of the manner of His death, crucifixion. Jesus further confirms his own awareness of the poignant context of his own words when -- only a few verses later -- he proceeds to quote Isaiah 53:1, Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed.
Verse 14: As many were astonished at him -- his appearance was so marred beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men -- He was so brutally beaten and whipped by the Roman guards prior to his crucifixion, that he almost did not appear human.
Verse 15: so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; Startle is a mistranslation. It should read, "so shall he sprinkle many nations," alluding to baptism. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).
Verse 15b: for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand. When you see the word, for, you must always ask what is is therefore. The nations first hear the gospel proclaimed so that they can see, hear, and understand. Then, and only, then can they be baptized, without prejudice to the ancient practice of infant baptism when both parents are believers in Christ.
Note the circular pattern of the text as a whole. First, the People of God sin. Second, they loose the favor of God. Third, God uses the nations to punish them. Fourth, they repent and are received into full communion with God. Fifth, God punishes the nations. Sixth, the nations hear the gospel, see, and understand. Seventh, after they believe in Christ, they are baptized into the People of God. Then, the patterns repeats until the full number which are to be saved.
Isaiah 53:1 Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Yet, what comes next is most difficult to believe, and yet, it is the cornerstone of our faith. And, this too, all of this, is part of the contextual background of the word gospel in Mark 1:1, and elsewhere in the New Testament.
Verse 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of the dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. When we are in our sin, we have no desire at all for Jesus. When a particular Church is under the wrath of God, her children do not see any reason to want to know Jesus, who seems to embrace weakness and powerlessness.
And now, the rest of Isaish 53. I make my comment now, because nothing can follow these prophetic words. I just want to emphasize the context. This account of the suffering of Jesus Christ, prophesied hundreds of years earlier by Isaiah, is the gospel. It is beautiful good news upon the mountains, and in the faithful Churches where the Holy Spirit is poured out, we hear our priests proclaim this good news at each and every homily.
Verse 3-12: He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked as with a rich man in his death although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.