For the past month, I have felt very hopeless. Yesterday, my good friends Barbara and Jay Seidle, along with their awesome children Abigail, Caleb, and Joel, visited our home. When they left, perhaps a few of the host of angels which they brought into our home stayed, because I spent a little time the beginning of the first chapter of Mark, and the hopeless feeling departed.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1
This is the beginning of a whole book which is the "gospel," which refers to Isaiah 52:7: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tiding of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
Good tidings can be translated good news or gospel. He who brings this good news is Jesus. We see from Isaiah that Jesus has beautiful feet. The context around this verse in Isaiah enters into Mark 1:1. So, let us just look a little bit a some of that context.
Isaiah 52:1 Awake, awake, put on your strength, o Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Here the Lord speaks the exiles of Judah, the people of God who are particularly connected to the King David, the Temple, and the Holy of Holies, which has been desecrated and destroyed by the Babylonians. They are feeling hopeless and the Lord wakes them up and speaks words of encouragement, telling them to "be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take on the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod you feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one." (Ephesians 6:10-16)
For there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean which, allegorically, refer to those principalities, powers, world rulers of this present darkness, and the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. These shall no longer come into us. How is this? Who is going to set us free from our bondage?
Verse 2: Shake yourself from the dust, arise, O captive Jerusalem, loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion. How am I to do this, Oh Lord? You are telling me to do this myself? I have not the power.
Verse 3: For thus says the Lord: You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money. Jerusalem sinned gravely and for her justice, God sold her for nothing into captivity to the Babylonians. She was not redeemed by money, but rather by the Blood of Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses , according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. Ephesians 1:3-9
Verse 4: For thus says the Lord God: My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing refers back to the 400 years of slavery at the hand of Egyptian pharaoh and later, to the Assyrian exile of the northern tribes of Israel, both of which occurred within the bounds of divine providence, to teach a lesson to His children and prepare them for good news. Indeed, the exiles of our lives are to prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus.
Verse 5: Now therefore what have I here, says the Lord, seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail, says the Lord, and continually all the day my name is despised. I have been guilty of this, wailing and blaming the Lord for exile in my life which prepares the way for my redemption. And, many laity and priests, pastors and prophets, we are all guilty. Lord, forgive us for wailing, and mumbling. We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents; nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stand take heed lest he fall. I Corinthians 10:9-13
Verse 6: Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I. And Jesus said, I am the good shepherd; I know my own andmy own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down lmy life for the sheep. John 10:14-15
Verse 7: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tiding of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." These are indeed the feet of Jesus, but they are also the feet of anyone who puts on those beautiful garments spoken about in verse 1, by preaching Christ according to Romans 10:15-17. The sacraments of the Church are the written text become living Word in the lives who us who receive the power of Christ. Yet, where the gospel is not preached, the sacraments of the Church quickly become the works of the law which bring death to us who do not have living faith in Jesus Christ, indeed they can bring the curses of the law upon individuals and upon an entire particular Church, by which I refer to a local Church under the authority of their proper Bishop. And where a particular Church does not preach Christ, Jesus removes the lamp stand (Revelation 2:5), selling them for nothing.
Verse 8: Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. When I repent of unbelief, that is, when I no longer place my trust in my own works, no longer trusting in my own righteousness, then the Lord will return to me. And the same Church, once she repents, will hear the watchmen singing for joy, proclaiming her redemption without money, that is, by the blood of Christ.
Verse 9: Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. Without Jesus, our hearts and our churches become waste places. His very presence fades and we are left with ourselves in our wretched sinful state. When Jesus returns, He comforts us and redeems us, paying for our sins, as individuals and as Jerusalem, as the people of God, as His Church. We who were Not His People, once again become His People.
Verse 10: The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. Indeed, this is how the Lord brings good out of our evil. As His People, individually and collectively, when we sin, we are sold to the nations, so that, after repentance, when we are redeemed, God by redeeming us in the midst of the nations, shows his salvation to the ends of the earth. We can see by this, that even in the unfaithfulness of the Church, God will show himself faithful.
Enough context, back to Mark 1:1: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, this good news is about how a particular Church, even in her unfaithfulness, becomes a vehicle of God's mercy to those who do not know God. Cardinal Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- taught that it is unhistorical to say that Jesus founded a Church (Seven Thesis on Christology and the Hermeneutic of Faith: http://scotthahn.com/download/attachment/2637). Rather, the Church is the People of God through out the ages, from Adam right down to the present age. In Ratzinger's own words: Jesus made the old People of God into a new People by adopting those who believe in him into the community of his own self (of his “Body”). Even a particular Church, when she ceases to know God, herself becomes the object of God's mercy as His glory departs so that His Bride, the Church become harlot, can find repentance and rediscover her lover. So, I wonder if we could begin to think of the Jews through the lense of a particular Church with their own Bishop. In this light, when Paul says, And so all Israel shall be saved (Romans 11:26), he alludes to the restoration of the lamp stand to the particular Church of Israel. Israel will be bought without money, with the blood of Christ. Indeed, they have insofar as some Jews have believed in Christ, but I am speaking now of the restoration of old People of God as a particular Church.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Ah, it is so easy for me to just want to gloss over these words of God, saying that this refers to the divinity of Christ, which is true, yet there is so much more. It refers to the promise of God through the prophet Nathan: He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. 2 Samual 7:13-14. It is the promise of God to David that his son shall be the Son of God. This is provisionally fulfilled when Solomon becomes King, as revealed from his coronation psalm. I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, You are my son, today I have begotten you. Psalm 2:7 Yet, it is Solomon who through his sin, looses the kingdom, and so the prophets look forward to another who will fulfill this promise of Nathan. This person is called the Messiah, which in Greek means, Christ. Christ is not the last name of Jesus, rather it indicates that he is the promised Messiah, who will establish the throne of the Kingdom of David forever, who shall be called God's Son.
And, so, Mark proclaims Jesus to be this Son of God, the one spoken of in 2 Samuel 7:13-14. The gospel obviously refers to so much more than this. It refers to his work of redemption on the Cross. It refers to his mission to set captives free, give sight to the blind, and it refers to the very person of Jesus Christ.
So, after reflecting upon verse 1, next, I started looking at verse 2. But, I must get some sleep now.
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