Some stories begin dramatically—“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . .” Other stories offer lots of background or extended prologue before getting to the story at hand, like the fifteen minute prologue of Lord of the Rings or the even longer introduction to Les Miserables, or the magnificent storytelling of Disney’s “Up.” Still other stories seem just to start without much fanfare at all—“Mr. and Mrs. Dursely, of number four Private Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much,” of Harry Potter, or the “Call me, Ishmael,” of Moby Dick. Regardless of pomp or fanfare or length, a stories introduction, like a musical’s overture, sets the tone and mood for the following story.
The Gospel of Mark seems to start out of nowhere. There is little background offered. The first verse is to the point. Likewise the Gospel of Mark is brief. Jesus is a mysterious figure. There’s no birth narrative. The disciples seem confused throughout the story. The Gospel ends with an uncomfortable cliffhanger—“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Mark’s introduction sets the scene for a fast-paced, to the point Gospel that offers us just what we need to know about Jesus Christ.
Let’s take a detailed look at this brief introduction. The Gospel begins with, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The introduction is so brief this sentence is incomplete. There’s no verb. The first words, “The beginning,” offer a radical immediacy, with little time for detail, that carries throughout the story. For example, verse four says, “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness . . .” He appeared? Out of thin air? Just ten verses later Mark reads, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God.” Wait, John was arrested? For what? It doesn’t seem to matter . . . moving on. Mark doesn’t seem concerned with where people were born, or what they used to do before Jesus came upon the scene. Mark spends his time “on the move,” so to speak, getting the audience to jump on board a fast-moving movement. Mark uses the word, “immediately” over and over and over again. It’s a movement filled with so much passion, it’s hard to get it all down on paper. You see, Mark isn’t concerned with where his audience has been, or what your life used to be. Mark is not concerned with you having all of the answers or impressive multi-syllabic theological terms. Mark wants you to jump on board this passionate, fast moving train of good news.
This doesn’t mean it’s easy. “The beginning of the good news,” the author of Mark says. Good news means peace and salvation, though this term did not originate with Mark. In first century Palestine, it was Caesar’s office that used the term, “good news.” It was Caesar who offers peace. It was Caesar who offers salvation and abundant life. Even though Mark jumps in with little fanfare, it doesn’t mean these few words aren’t powerful, provocative, or dangerous. Mark says, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” This flies in the face of the Roman authority. Make no mistake of why John the Baptist was arrested so early in the movement. He was speaking truth to power. Early in the story Jesus begins to find himself in hot water. In chapter two Jesus is picking grain on the Sabbath. A group of Pharisees say, “You can’t do that.” Jesus replies, “Have you ever read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Jesus says to the Pharisees, “Have you read the Bible?” BURN! The very next story in the Gospel Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath in the presence of the Pharisees. Again, this is something unlawful. No one shouted Hallelujah. No one sang praises. The story says, “The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” Interesting side note—The Pharisees and the Herodians were enemies. The Herodians worked for Rome and the Pharisees wanted Rome out . . . and yet they come together. Even enemies come together in the presence of Christ. There’s a sermon in there somewhere . . .
The cost of discipleship is high. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without repentance, baptism without discipline, communion without confession . . . Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it asks for your life. It is grace because it offers true life . . . Grace is costly because it compels [you] to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’”
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God. Sometimes our story with Christ begins with dramatic fanfare, a radically changed life—new wine in a new wineskin. Sometimes our life with Christ has a long introduction of a childhood lived in the church. Maybe your story is like Mark’s story? You can’t quite put your finger on when it began. You don’t have all the answers, but you know that it is good news. What we all can glean from Mark is, as I mentioned above, is that Mark is calling us into action—regardless of how your story began or how it will soon begin. The opening verse is missing a verb because we are to be the verb. Fill in the blank. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God” is . . .
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.