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Developing the Heart of a Servant: Part 1--Introducing God's Servant

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“Introducing God’s Servant”

Developing the Heart of a Servant

Emmanuel Bible Church

October 13, 2002

Pastor Scott Thielen

Text: Mark 1:1-13

Idea: Mark’s opening introduction to Jesus as God’s Servant

Introduction

Hook

Everyone in this room lives somewhere.  And the place you live has an address.  And at that address, you receive mail.  But not everything that comes in the mail is something you want to read.

Question: “What is your definition of junk mail and what do you do with it?”

Turn and talk.

Need/Common Ground

Yes, we all receive mail, and within that mail are things we are not interested in.  For most of us, we consider it junk mail because we either don’t know who it’s from or we didn’t ask for it.  If it’s junk mail, chances are, you don’t take the time to read it.  Am I right?

Transition

There’s a lesson here for us as Christians.  God has sent us mail.  We call it the Bible.  But if you don’t know who wrote it—if you don’t know about the importance of what’s inside—you probably aren’t going to be very interested in reading it, are you?  Let me put it another way.  The more you know about the people and situations behind the books of the Bible, the more you will understand its importance and relevance to your daily living.

As we begin to read through Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, I hope we can get started on the right foot.  We don’t want to think of Mark’s gospel as junk mail, do we? 

Before we can understand the message of the gospel according to mark, we need to understand something about the people in the gospel according to Mark. 

  • Who is Mark? 
  • Who is he writing about? 
  • Who is he writing to?
  • How does he know these things? 
  • Why is he writing this stuff down anyway?

“Introducing God’s Servant”

Open your Bibles to Marks gospel.  The New Testament begins… Matthew, Mark.  It is the second book of the NT.

Look at verse 1.

"The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." (Mark 1:1, NIV)

How does Mark start?  What are his first two words?  The beginning… 

  • The beginning of what?  The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ. 
  • What is the “gospel?”  The word gospel simply means “good news.”  If you visit the Evangel bookstore you may not realize that the word “evangel” is the Greek word we translate “gospel” or “good news.”  So, when someone asks you, “What is the gospel?,” you can answer, “It’s the good news about Jesus.”
  • The name “Jesus”, meaning “Yahweh saves,” is the earthly name Jesus received at birth, whereas the term “Christ” is an Old Testament title that designates Him as God’s chosen servant.
  • The term “Son of God” makes it clear that Jesus is not just a man.

It is the "beginning," not of Mark's book, but of the facts of the Gospel.  Christianity is not some nebulous philosophy; it is firmly rooted in real history.

Who is Mark?

The stories about Jesus’ life are so vivid, so action-packed, that it had to come from an eyewitness to Jesus’ most intimate moments.  Yet, Mark probably wasn’t the one who was there to see it.

The book never mentions the author, but in about A.D. 125, Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, suggested that Mark prepared this Gospel by writing down an eyewitness’s recollections of Jesus’ life.  That traditional view has continued to this day for good reasons.

So possibly what we have here are the memoirs of Peter.  While ministering to Christians in Rome, Peter may have recalled his memories in order to create a written biography of Jesus’ life.  If so, it’s no wonder that the story reads so easily: as a fisherman, Peter was probably quite skilled in holding an audience with a good story, as you can imagine.

  • Mark’s use of Greek is nonliterary, close to the everyday speech of that time.
  • He used tenses and terms which emphasized this vividness.
  • Mark portrayed his subjects with unusual candor.
  • He drew attention to the looks (3:5) and gestures (10:16) of Jesus.
  • He highlighted Jesus' emotions such as compassion (1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 10:16), His anger and displeasure (1:43; 3:5; 8:33; 10:14), and His distress and sorrow (7:34; 8:12; 14:33-34).

As far as we can tell, Mark had never been a follower of Jesus during his earlier lifetime.  But, he may have been present at the arrest of Jesus, leaving an “anonymous signature” in the story of a young man who fled naked.  You’ll have to look it up in Mark 14:51–52. 

His Jewish name was John (Acts 13:5, 13), but his Roman name was Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37).  What we do know is that Mark was a native of Jerusalem, and the church there often met for prayer at his mother’s house (Acts 12:12).  Thanks to his cousin Barnabas (Col. 4:10), he was mentored in the faith (Acts 15:37–39) and became a valued associate of Paul (2 Tim. 4:11) and Peter (1 Pet. 5:13).  Mark was probably the young man who frustrated Paul by running away while on a missionary trip when the pressure got to be too much for him to handle.  Mark probably traveled later with Peter to Rome, where tradition holds that he composed his Gospel in the early 60s.

What is Mark’s Message?

Mark wants to get a point across as he tells the story of Jesus’ life.  And so there are several important themes that you will see as you read through his account.  Let’s look at just four of them briefly.

Jesus is the Son of God

The overall message of Mark’s gospel account is that Jesus is the Son of God (1:1, 11; 9:7; 14:61–62; 15:39).  He repeatedly emphasizes that Jesus is not just a mere man, a good teacher, or a gifted healer.  His message is clearly that Jesus is sent from God.  He is the Son of God.  And in Him all our hopes and dreams are finally realized.

It’s as though Mark wants to make sure we don’t make the mistake of misunderstanding Jesus as just another man.

~       If President Bush quietly slipped into the back row here without any announcement, it may take a while before you began to recognize who it truly was.

Mark helps us avoid that same misunderstanding with Jesus.

Jesus had a big secret

Jesus keeps his identity as Messiah a big secret from the public. But, according to Mark, Jesus had a good reason.  As he tells Jesus’ life story, Mark shows us that the Christ, or Messiah, was the promised king of David’s family line and officially took this title only at his enthronement. 

~       It’s like Mark Twain’s story, “The Prince and the Pauper.”  The rich prince secretly goes to live among the poor members of his kingdom.  The difference, of course, is that Jesus as the Son of God already understood the needs of His helpless subjects.  And so He comes with a whole different motive, one that is far more noble.

So, the point Mark is making is that Jesus isn’t officially “coronated” until He has been lifted up on the cross.  Nobody saw this coming.  It was Jesus’ big secret.

Jesus came as a servant, not a politician or military leader

Another important emphasis made by Mark is that Jesus’ mission was completely different from any of the political views about messiahs circulating at the time.  His idea of Messiah was the complete opposite of the popular view.  And the only way people would understand the nature of the true Messiah would be to watch Jesus in action. 

Mark's Gospel is dominated by Jesus` movement toward the Cross and the Resurrection.  From 8:31 onward Jesus and His disciples were on the way to Jerusalem.  The rest of the account (36%) was devoted to events of the Passion Week (the 8 days from Jesus' entry into Jerusalem to His resurrection).

His mission could be understood only to look at His life from the end, in the light of his death and resurrection.  He came to earth to serve us, not to be served.  That would come later.

~       Not exactly the “Saddam Hussein” approach to world domination

Jesus’ disciples were failures

The fourth theme emphasized by Mark is the obvious fact that Jesus’ disciples were failures.  Normally, it’s not a compliment to one’s influence to point out that your trainees can’t get it right.

~       When you hear that Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren is a football genius, and then you look at the performance of the team, you begin to wonder if he’s really that brilliant.

In the same way, people look at Jesus, then they look at His disciples, and they wonder, there must be something wrong here.  In Mark’s story, the disciples don’t really get the mission of Jesus or even their own.  They didn’t understand his power to work miracles, but they also didn’t get His need to suffer at the hands of the Romans.  Over and over Jesus calls them to total commitment, and every time they look nothing short of dense!  You could almost say that Mark uses the failure of the disciples as comic relief as he tells Jesus’ story.  He even ends his account on this note.

To Whom is Mark Writing?

Most scholars agree that Mark probably wrote his Gospel to Christians living in the city of Rome during the time of the great persecution there, about A.D. 64, at the hands of the ungodly emperor Nero.  His readers were probably not Jewish because every time a Jewish word or tradition comes up, Mark explains it.

Those who heard Mark read in the churches already knew many of the stories about Jesus, whom they worshiped as Lord.  Mark simply connects these stories into a sort of biography of Jesus’ life.

The believers in Rome faced some awful things. 

~       You think it’s tough to be a Christian in Seattle.  It is, but not like it was in Rome. 

So Mark wrote to a church that needed to be reminded that God heard prayers and would work through their witness and faith. 

But Mark also wrote to remind his readers that following Jesus Christ might cost them their lives in persecution.  Another way Mark’s gospel would have been an encouragement was by reminding Christians that failure is necessary for growth to occur. 

And by pointing out the failure of the disciples, Mark encourages us that, if we have not yet achieved the radical lifestyle their Lord’s words demanded, He will still work with us patiently to help us get to that level of commitment. 

What Makes Mark’s Gospel Valuable?

Each of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life offers a unique perspective. 

~       It’s like the difference between using an overhead projector versus four different video cameras from different angles. 

Four views of the same character.  It’s almost as though we can see Jesus in 3-D, or hear Him in stereo.  Four colors which together make for a brilliant, colorful portrait of someone who is much more than a mere man.

  • To Matthew, who writes for Jewish Christians, Jesus is above all the King of David's line promised in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Teacher who brings a new revelation of God's Law. Matthew weaves fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies around five discourses about the Law and the Kingdom.
  • Luke crafts his account of the Son of Man, the Savior of the World, to be both meticulously accurate and also captivating for a cultured Greek audience.
  • John records a few miraculous signs and several long discourses to spark faith in God the Son.

We call Matthew, Mark, and Luke the Synoptic Gospels (one point of view) because they have much more material in common than any of them has with John.

But what makes Mark special is its focus on Jesus as God’s Servant.  

Like a television drama, Mark’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ life in simple, straightforward, action-packed scenes.  In fact, action is really important to Mark’s storytelling.  In this gospel account, Jesus reveals Himself more by what He does than by what He says.  In Mark’s view, what Jesus does is really the key to seeing Him for who He is.

  • He recorded 18 miracles but only 4 parables and 1 major discourse.
  • He repeatedly wrote that Jesus taught, but then did not record His teaching.
  • He spends no time on background information, but jumps right into the ministry of Jesus.  In contrast to the 13 verses of introduction in Mark we find 76 verses in Matthew and 183 in Luke!
  • He develops everything toward the consummation of his purpose: death and resurrection.

How Mark Begins His Account of God’s Servant

Mark tells his story of Jesus quite differently from the other gospel writers.  Rather than starting with Jesus’ royalty, birth or existence before time, Mark starts with history.  He goes back to the Old Testament for his starting point.

Jesus’ Beginning was Foretold Hundreds of Years Earlier (1:2-3)

Text

"It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”" (Mark 1:2-3, NIV)

This is the only time Mark quotes the Old Testament, except when quoting Jesus doing so.  In this case, he begins with prophetic statements made in Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 that God would send a messenger to prepare the way for His Servant, the Jewish Messiah.

In ancient times, a messenger was sent ahead to announce the coming of the king.  Local communities would often repair rough roads to ensure the comfort of the king as he traveled. 

These four voices—Isaiah, Malachi, John the Baptist, and the writer Mark—together proclaim the coming of the King of all kings, Jesus Christ.

Application

As a lesson for our personal lives, always remember that God has a purpose for everything.  Ecclesiastes tells us:

“There is a time for everything… He has made everything beautiful in its time… I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.  God does it so that men will revere Him” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,11,14).

The Lord has a purpose for you as well.  Don’t miss the opportunities God gives you to prepare the way of the Lord.

Jesus’ Beginning was Announced at the Perfect Time (1:4-8)

Text

"And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”" (Mark 1:4-8, NIV)

John came on the scene at the time appointed by God.  It was just the right time.

His message was one of repentance.  Repentance means a “change of mind and heart which alters the conduct.”  In order for God to introduce His Son as a servant, the hearts of the Jewish people needed to be changed, prepared for what was to come. 

That was John’s job.  So he began pointing out the obvious: “Everybody is sinful.  Deal with it!”  He didn’t waste words, and he didn’t make friends.  But he did prepare the way for the next stage of God’s plan, the arrival of Jesus.

John was an unusual person, wasn’t he?  Not everyone is cut out for this kind of assignment.  John’s job was so important, that God kept him out of the normal affairs of life.  Why?  I believe to give John a clear head about his mission.  John wasn’t worried about making friends.  He had only one concern: dealing with sin in order to prepare the world for what God had planned.

I want to point out that John did not call people to baptism, but to repentance.  The physical rite of baptism does not bring about cancellation of sins, but is rather a visible, public testimony that repentance has taken place.  John demanded a visible demonstration of repentance before he would baptize (cf. Matt. 3:6–11).

John said he was not worthy to even loosen the Messiah’s sandal strap.  Students of that time often performed menial tasks for their rabbis, but even they were not expected to remove someone’s sandals.  That task was left to slaves.  It seems clear that John wasn’t out for personal fame; he humbly understood and accepted his own role in the coming Kingdom.

John proclaimed that his baptism in water was temporary, that later would come the baptism of the Messiah, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  John baptized by means of water, but Jesus would baptize by means of God’s Holy Spirit which of course was fulfilled in Acts 2.

So John was prepared at just the right time to announce the need to prepare for God’s promised Messiah.  And so Jesus was announced at the perfect time.

Application

When we think of the perfect timing of God’s plan, we need to wonder about our lives as well.  John was useful because he didn’t worry what other people thought about him, only what God thought.  Jesus wasn’t playing to a crowd, He was focused on pleasing His heavenly Father. 

If I work for God because I know it brings me the good opinion of those whose good opinion I wish to have, I am a Sadducee.  OSWALD CHAMBERS (1874–1917)

Are you useful to the Father right now?  Is it time to stop trying to please other people in your life and begin again to please God?

Jesus’ Beginning was Marked by a Supernatural Sign (1:9-11)

"At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”" (Mark 1:9-11, NIV)

The Spirit descended upon Jesus to anoint Him for God’s purpose.  He was anointed by God for His mission as the Messiah (the “Anointed One”; cf. Acts 10:37, 38).

Since Jesus was sinless—as the New Testament states in Hebrews 4:15, a baptism of repentance was unnecessary.  So, why was He baptized by John?  It showed His identity with John’s work and with the sinner for whom He would die.  It also foreshadowed His own death, burial, and resurrection for sinners.  Notice that it says Jesus was “coming up out of the water” when the Holy Spirit anointed Him.  This is precisely how baptism pictures our salvation.  As Paul teaches in Romans 6, baptism is a way of describing our burial with Christ along with our sins, as well as being raised to new life through His resurrection power.

The NIV loses an important emphasis in its translation of verse 10.  The original meaning is better captured in the New American Standard translation:

"And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him;" (Mark 1:10, NASB)

What’s missing in the NIV is the sense of urgency with which Mark tells the story.  This word “immediately” occurs 41 times in Mark’s Gospel (vv. 10, 12, 18, 20, 21).  Keep watching for the way everything is immediate to Mark.

What’s important to see is that when it was time for Jesus to begin His public ministry, God clearly endorsed Him by supernatural sign.  This mysterious voice from heaven must have gotten folks really talking.

Application

By application, ask yourself, “How has God spoken His approval in my life?”  Just as God was well-pleased with Jesus’ obedience, He promises to bless our obedience as well. 

"So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised." (Hebrews 10:35-36, NIV)

Hang on to what Christ has done for you with confidence.  Don’t let your faith waver.  God keeps His Word.  So get up and keep pursuing faithfulness and obedience to all God calls you to.  In the end, you will not be disappointed!

Jesus’ Beginning was Launched in Humility (1:12-13)

"At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him." (Mark 1:12-13, NIV)

There’s that word again: “at once,” the same word translated “immediately” in verse 10 and here by the NASB and KJV.  And where did God send Jesus, His newly announced Son?  To the palace to take over?  To the governor’s office to overthrow the corrupt government?  No, God sends Jesus immediately to the desert.  And it wasn’t just for a weekend getaway in Palm Springs, was it?  It wasn’t just for a week.  It was for a period of 40 days!  Think about that.  Forty days alone, in the desert.

It’s interesting that Jesus went there for a reason: the Holy Spirit made Him go.  The word used is the same word used to describe Jesus driving out demons.  In this case, the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.  God’s will was perfectly clear.  Time to get alone.  We have some work to do.

While He is in the desert, two things happen. 

  • First, Satan tempts Him to compromise His mission to satisfy His own human needs. 
  • And second, and Mark is the only one of the gospel writers to mention this, angels take care of Him while isolated in the desert.  Without food or drink, these messengers from heaven certainly were instrumental in getting Jesus through this difficult time.

Application

I think there are a couple of very encouraging lessons about humility for us here.

  1. Obedience to God’s will may involve opposition.  Don’t assume that because you are obedient that everything will be easy.  But…
  2. Remember that when you obey, God will always take care of your needs.  He has promised that in so many ways.

My World

This is how Mark begins his good news about Jesus of Nazareth.  And it helps us to think about Mark’s portrait of our Savior.  Perhaps the one statement that best summarizes Mark’s gospel—the key verse—is found in chapter 10 verse 45. 

I challenge you to look it up, read it over several times, and decide to commit it to memory. 

~       If you can memorize a zillion phone numbers and computer passwords, surely you can memorize these 25 simple words.  Because they summarize so well the life of Jesus Christ.

Consider this…

1.      Always remember that God has a purpose for everything

Read Ecclesiastes 3

Don’t miss the opportunities God gives you to prepare the way of the Lord

2.      Stop worrying about what other people think

Re-read Mark 1:4-8

Are you useful to the Father right now?  Is it time to stop trying to please other people in your life and begin again to please God?

3.      Hang on with confidence to what Christ has done for you

Read Hebrews 10:35-36

“How has God spoken His approval in my life?”  Get up and keep pursuing faithfulness and obedience to all God calls you to.  In the end, you will not be disappointed!

4.      Obedience does not guarantee ease

Read James 1:2-4

Don’t assume that because you are obedient that everything will be easy.  But remember that when you obey, God will always take care of your needs.

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