Welcome to a new series on Coffee and Commentary – the “Red Words” – the very words of the Lord Jesus which in many Bibles are printed in red, making them easy to find.
While all four gospels have a large number of verses which quote the words of Jesus, for our study, I’m going to focus on the Gospel of Mark as it is universally identified as the very first Gospel to be written. Though Mark was not one of the apostles, he worked closely with Peter after the Ascension, heard Peter’s sermons, gathered all of Peter’s memories about the words and works of Jesus and sometime between 50-70 AD, wrote the scroll we now know as the Gospel of Mark.
Before we delve into Mark’s Gospel, it’s worth our while in this first post in the series to address the reliability of the New Testament. While I trust this is not an issue for any of my subscribers, you may well encounter people who question the validity of the Gospels and these few comments may help you in speaking with such people.
Just as the Hebrew Bible contains the history and prophecies that witness to the first covenants of God with Israel, so the early Christians gathered memories, experiences and texts that bore witness to the life and ministry of Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the gospel writers then recorded for generations to come the person, the character and the life on earth of the Lord Jesus.
Abundant evidence supports the reliability of the New Testament. First of all, the amazing unity of the entire Bible – Old and New Testaments – speaks powerfully of a divine authorship. The more of the Word that I learn, the more amazed I am at the incredible weaving of God’s Redemption plan throughout all of the Bible. Literally hundreds of prophecies contained in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) are fulfilled in the New Testament. Considering that the varying ‘authors’ span centuries, only the Spirit of God could have orchestrated such a perfectly unified and revelatory book.
Secondly, the early church acknowledged the divinity of Jesus from the very start because that is what the apostles taught, as recorded in the New Testament. Written by ordinary men, not literary geniuses, the authenticity of the gospels stems from the fact that those who wrote were eyewitnesses, or, as in the case of Mark, gathered their facts from eyewitnesses. ALL of the New Testament writers placed great value on eyewitness testimony. Consider these verses:
For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard…’ Luke writes in Acts 4:20
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.’ Peter records in 2 Peter 1:16
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…I John 1:1
Thirdly, as reported in the book of Acts, thousands of people accepted the Lordship of Christ and His redemptive atonement before a single word of the New Testament was committed to parchment. Christianity is founded on historical events – the life, death resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. It is not the figment of someone’s imagination, nor a cleverly devised religious system from the minds of man. It’s – simply put – all about Jesus.
Fourth, there are some 25,000 New Testament manuscripts or fragments of manuscripts in existence, most of which are carefully housed in temperature and humidity controlled locations to preserve them. By contrast, there are only about 1800 fragments and manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad, less than 10% of the New Testament texts.
The New Testament writers reported what they actually saw, heard, experienced and witnessed during the three and a half year ministry of Jesus. Their testimony is true, reliable and deserves our total acceptance.
In short, the Gospels declare to us that the Christ of prophecy in the Old Testament is the Christ of fulfillment in the New. The Messiah hoped for in the Old Testament is the clearly presented realization in the New. The expectancy of the Jews in the Old Testament is transformed into experience in the New in which the long-predicted Messiah is revealed in all of His fullness.
With that background, let’s turn to Mark’s Gospel.
Mark skips over the birth and early life of Jesus which Matthew and Luke recorded. As already stated, by asking Peter questions and gathering Peter’s memories, Mark was able to write a clear and persuasive gospel which generations since then have enjoyed, studied and absorbed.
In Mark 1:14-15 we read: Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’
The Jews had been waiting for centuries, looking and hoping for a Messiah whom they anticipated would be a military, political hero.
Instead, the first instructions they hear are: ‘Repent and Believe…’ This was shocking. Can’t you hear the reaction?
‘What do You mean, Jesus, telling us to repent? ‘ they may well have cried out. ‘What about those Romans? Why don’t you tell them to repent? They treat us harshly and besides that, they shouldn’t even be here. This is our land.’
But REPENT was the first commandment. It still is.
REPENT and BELIEVE.
True repentance is an expression of humility; that is, an acknowledgment that we are not perfect, superior or righteous. We have sinned.
Why didn’t Jesus say BELIEVE first and then REPENT? (Bible study tip: When you study the Word, not only the actual words but the order in which Jesus spoke them is important.)
I suggest there are two reasons why REPENT comes first and BELIEVE comes afterward.
Before we can have any relationship with Jesus, we must acknowledge our own sinfulness. We fail miserably at being our own sufficiency. We make a mess of our lives quite easily. Until we REPENT of our selfishness, our egoism and our inclination towards sin, we fail to BELIEVE that we even need a Savior.
Repentance expresses our need of a Savior; Believing enables us to receive the salvation we so desperately need.
REPENT is more than a word; it’s a behavior. The word means ‘to turn around’, ‘to change’.
BELIEVE is also more than a word; it’s a surrender to the only Person who can save me from myself – the Lord Jesus Christ.
From Mark’s perspective this was the Lord’s first message, the foundation on which to build a relationship with Him.
Mark, of course, was right.