A Gospel of Few Words
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. – Mark 1:9-20
Mark’s gospel account is the most brief of the four accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry in the New Testament. But it reminds me of a saying I treasure: We know precious little about God, but the little we know is precious. I believe that is such a humbly-healthy attitude. While admitting the limited knowledge we have of God, it does not give way to agnostic reductionism. We know little. But we do know.
That same thought can be applied to Jesus’ first recorded words in Mark. They are few, but powerful words. He speaks in the context of learning that John, his cousin and fore-runner, has been put into prison. And his words speak of hope, truth, and grace.
Jesus’ words announce the presence of the reign and rule of God in the face of John’s imprisonment. That gives us hope, for in the case of even the most dire situation we are reminded of God’s rule and reign over all. Furthermore the fact that Jesus announces that the time has come, points to this moment as a signal of God’s reign and rule. We might think that is a reality only when all good things are evident in our lives. But when things are good, we are less likely to hold fast to hope. Jesus gives us an announcement that brings hope. He shows that his heart is fixed on God’s kingdom. His hope spans all of eternity.
This is also a message of truth: we need to repent. We need to think about God differently. We need to think about the events going on around us differently. We need to think about God’s reign and rule differently. We have so much wrong. That’s not just a matter of sin, but also a matter of understanding. In other words, we may not be sinning in any particular way when God’s kingdom breaks in, but we may need to think differently about how we are living or what God is doing.
But this is also a moment of grace, for Jesus points us to the Good News, the Gospel. Mark uses this term (εὐαγγέλιον, good news) more than any other gospel (εὐαγγέλιον) writer. It’s the third word of his account. And it shows up here 14 verses later. God is looking for us, seeking to bring us to himself. He is showing up. He will be connected with people’s lives. He will heal diseases. He will teach the truth of God. He will die for our sins. This is Good News! God’s grace has broken into our world.
Some say, Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” I say preaching the gospel requires words. But these few words speak volumes and can begin a great conversation about God, faith, hope, truth, and grace. Few, but powerful: these words are just that.