Look at this book (Agatha Christie). Has anyone here read this one? You know what's inside - so please don't help the others...! What does the cover tell you about this book?... Cover design... picture... title ... short extract on the back or dust jacket... We haven't read the book yet, but we have already discovered some significant things about it. The cover is designed to make us curious, to draw us in to find out more...
Here's another book (Tin Tin or Asterix). Have you read it? What does the cover tell us? Now, here's a difficulty. If we have read this one, we will know that the picture comes from a very significant part of the story. We could probably tell a good deal of the story just from the cover. But if we haven't seen it before, the cover draws us to turn the page and to see that the book is full of little pictures and words to tell the story. When we look at the back cover of this one, we notice that the same people have written a whole lot of other books. If we like this one, they hope we will want to read more.
A book's cover should keep in mind the person who has never read it before. Once we have read it we will see all sorts of things we didn't notice before. In fact, we find it rather difficult to think about the cover without the memory of the whole book coming back to us.
The books in the Bible weren't written the way our books are. They were written on a great long piece of parchment paper (a scroll). Take this one, for instance. This scroll simply tells us, "According to Mark". So it is only identified by the author's name. That's all we have found about it - it was written by someone called Mark. But when we begin to look into it, we soon find out what the scroll is about - the opening sentence says, "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (v. 1).
So what does that tell us about this scroll-book "according to Mark"? Quite a bit really, though it doesn't give us any clues about Mark himself. It does tell us that it is about Jesus - a real historical figure. It calls him the Christ. That's a Greek word meaning the same as the Hebrew "Messiah". It means the anointed one. They had a specific service in which they used special oil to set someone apart to be a priest or the king. When Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth II, the Archbishop of Canterbury anointed her, pouring a little oil on her head. The Jews were looking for someone God would send - he would be the Messiah. There are still Jews looking for God to send the Messiah, but - guess what? - he's already come! Anyone who will stop long enough to read and to believe will know that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah!
Mark also calls Jesus "the Son of God" - that's the part the Jews weren't really expecting! They would welcome the Messiah, especially if he rid the land of these wretched Romans and made Israel an independent kingdom again. Jesus wasn't the kind of Messiah they were looking for. He didn't fit their ideas. And, in quiet but definite ways, he gave out clues that he was truly the Son of God. The Jews hadn't expected that! They didn't want God to come to them as a man! Anyone who got anywhere near God had felt such a sinner, so unworthy. But Jesus was the Son of God. That's why John came, calling on people to "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins".
Now that's good news! The coming of Jesus Christ the Son of God is good news! Yes, sin is awful, horrible, deadly! But God loves you! He wants to forgive you! He wants to welcome you into his family! That's why Jesus Christ the Son of God was born into this world! "Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."
"According to Mark" is the story of Jesus, but it is no ordinary story - "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God"!
"Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan." Why would he do that? If he was truly the Son of God, he wouldn't need to be baptised! He hadn't done anything wrong. He had no sins to repent. So why did he get baptised? John had a real question about that. He felt that he should be baptised by Jesus, not the other way round. Matthew records the conversation and Jesus answers, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness" Mt. 3.15. Jesus doesn't need to be baptised to be forgiven his sins - unlike us, he wasn't a sinner. So why would God require that his Son be baptised? Because later he would be dying to bear the punishment for our sins. Through that future death on the cross, these people who were now repenting of their sins and being baptised could right now be forgiven. And in his baptism the sinless sin-bearer was identifying himself with sinners.
And at that very moment as he was coming out of the water, it was as if heaven itself was ripped open for him - "he saw heaven being torn open" (Mk. 1.10). His ministry was about to begin and he received dramatic confirmation as the Spirit descended on him like a dove and as the Father spoke from heaven. "You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
Could you use some good news? I suspect that half of us find the news boring and the other half find it depressing! We're always thankful when the sport comes on - it's such a relief!
I have heard it said, "Jesus is the answer to the question no one seems to be asking." Somehow I sense an ache returning to the human heart. The news doesn't lead us to optimism about life without reference to our Maker. We are starting to see the stirrings of a spiritual quest. All sorts of weird ideas are abroad. Each month witnesses the rise of some new guru.
Sadly, we mightn't be ready for him yet, but there is a deep unrest, and Jesus Christ the Son of God is the good news. Don't wait for all the others! Be in the forefront of change! Turn from your sins now and believe the good news.
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