The New Testament track of our daily reading plan had us in Mark all last week and most of the week before. It will keep us in Mark all this week and the first part of next week.
Of all the Gospels, Mark is the most utilitarian, that is, it is the easiest to use as an evangelistic and discipleship tool. This is because Mark is short and action-oriented and thus is the perfect book for 1) Christians who had never read the Bible before, 2) new Christians, and 3) people considering Christ. I was taught in Bible college to recommend Mark to all these people, and I still do to this day.
But I’ve noticed something else about this book besides its utilitarian nature during the time we’ve spent with it this year. I’ve noticed it is built on the term good news or Gospel. These terms are synonymous, both being English translations of the Greek term evangelion (literally “good message”. And those words pop up often in this Gospel.
The Beginning of the Good News
Good news pops up first in Mark 1:1. This verse is not just the first verse in Mark but the introductory verse, the statement which starts and characterizes the book. The Jewish-oriented Matthew opens with Jesus’ genealogy. The thoroughly-researched Luke opens with a statement about how thoroughly-researched it is. The contemplative John opens with a poetic prologue. But Mark just opens with the terse statement The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.
While terse, this is a perfect opening for a Gospel. It establishes the subject of the Gospel, Jesus Himself. It establishes who Jesus is and what He does (the Messiah and the Son of God), it gets the story started, and it also suggests the story continues (some believe the beginning mean that the earthly life of Jesus is just the first part of the Gospel that continues to play out in our lives today). Yes, it is terse in comparison to the others, but it is also effective as well as beautiful in its own way. And that beauty is based on this “good news” idea.
Believe the Good News
Good news pops up again just a few verses later. In Mark 1:14 & 15, Jesus begins His earthly ministry. He does so with a short sermon that I call His “inaugural message”, that is, the message that not only kicks off but also characterizes what He will do and say and be throughout His time on earth. That message is “The time has come…The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
With this, Jesus breaks into the lives of His Jewish contemporaries. He tells them that they are now being confronted with a special time (kairos) which will change everything for them. He further defines this time as being the time of the Kingdom of God, that is, God’s good reign in their lives and world. He tells them how to respond to this time/Kingdom with the dual-action phrase repent and believe. And He finalizes all of that by calling it “the good news”. In fact, verse 14 refers to this entire message as “good news”, so this term actually appears twice here.
The Gospel Sayings
At this point, the NIV begins translating evangelion as “Gospel”. I do not know the reason for the switch (it could be as simple as a different translating team working on this section of the book), but I do know that the word continues to appear in this new form. Here are a couple examples of this word being used by Jesus in His teaching:
- Mark 8:35 – For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
- Mark 10:29 & 30 – 29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.
- Mark 13:10 – And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.
- Mark 14:9 – Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
- Mark 16:15 – He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
The final one is disputed; as you may be aware, there are some questions about the second half of Mark 16. But we know from the other Gospels Jesus said something like that during that time, so I’m going to count it.
Altogether, then, we have five appearances of Gospel in Mark 8-16, all from Jesus Himself. Adding that to the previous three, we have eight usages of this word in these sixteen chapters. Compare that with just four usages in the much longer Matthew, none in the other two Gospels, and two in Acts, and we begin to see just how often Mark uses this term/idea.
I believe this is meaningful. I believe Mark and the Holy Spirit who inspired Him intentionally put this word in this book this many times. They did that in this “utilitarian” Gospel, this Gospel which is short and fast and thus the perfect book for those beginning their investigation of the Jesus message, because they wanted to define or maybe even “flavor” it. They wanted us to know that the Jesus message is “good” in every sense of the word.
And it is. The Gospel, that is, both the facts about Jesus and what God accomplished through Jesus, is not bad in any way shape or form, nor it is simply necessary (which is how I saw it as a kid). It is not just a reprieve from punishment, eternal or otherwise. It certainly is not a burden which keeps us from enjoying life. It is a good thing. It is good in its nature, good in its effect, and good in its taste. It truly is good news. And nobody reveals that to us like Mark.