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Gospel of Mark 1: 1 (NIV)
1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God*.
* Because some manuscripts do not have “the Son of God”, we consider the beginning of the Gospel according to Mark as if the first verse ends with “Christ”.
The word “gospel” is from the Greek euangelion which means good news, good tidings. When the Greek in which this book was originally written was translated into Old English, the word chosen was “godspel” which became “gospel”. The author was not calling his account “a gospel”. He was declaring his account to be “good news!”.
Why “good news”? The author explained it this way (Mark 1: 14-15):
After John (the Baptiser) was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus was proclaiming the good news of God, the good news from God which was good news about God. The kingdom of God has come near; that is good news. But it is only part of the good news.
The kingdom of God has come near because Jesus has brought it near. The good news is in the forgiveness of sin for everybody who believes in him – but early in Jesus’ ministry there was much to be accomplished before people could believe in him and before he could be the sacrifice for the sin of humankind. Jesus meanwhile called on people to repent and believe. This is the gospel, the good news, the good tidings, which Mark was to proclaim in writing.
The next significant word we encounter is “Jesus”. For the source of this word, we rely on the Gospel according to Matthew. We know from Matthew’s birth account of Jesus that Joseph, husband to Mary, was told by an angel to name the child to be born of Mary “Jesus”. “Jesus” was a common enough Jewish name, derived from a Hebrew word “Jeshua” which means “Yahweh is salvation” or “the LORD saves”. The angel had said to Joseph, “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1: 21).
What was it to be saved from one’s sins? Was that something about which the average Jew of Jesus’ time would have been concerned? It certainly was!
The Jewish people were still, in Jesus’ time, dependent on temple sacrifice. The temple’s priests performed these sacrifices to atone for sin and to set each Jew aright with God. So the naming of Jesus was highly significant not only to his immediate family but also for those among whom he moved and taught, the ones he called “the lost sheep of Israel”.
Immediately after the word “Jesus”, Mark placed the word “Christ”. Chrio is the Greek root for “to anoint”. “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah”: “anointed one”.
In Mark 8: 27-29, Jesus was discussing with his disciples what people believed about his identity. He asked them, “But what about you?” “Who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the Messiah” (NIV) or “You are the Christ” (RSV, ESV).
Mark, in this first sentence, has declared that his writing was about Jesus, the anointed one, appointed by God to save his people from their sins – and that this is good news indeed.
Be sure to share this good news in the weeks ahead as we too celebrate the coming of the Christ.