by J. Randal Matheny, editor
Zhang Zhixin was a young Chinese woman who opposed Mao Zedong’s communist government. She was executed in 1975 for her struggle for human rights. Before her death, in order to ensure she could not speak out again at the last moment, the authorities cut her vocal chords.
Tyranny seeks to squelch the voice of freedom.
Satan seeks to do the same to Christians. The great danger is not oppressive governments and persecution from authorities, but from saints who let timidity, cowardice and conformity to the world silence their proclamation of the gospel.
The Gospel of Mark is known as a vigorous account of Jesus’ actions. But in the first chapters it also highlights Jesus’ principal activity and mission: proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. This he does, even in the midst of opposition.
His example calls us to do the same. Let’s see seven points where Mark establishes Jesus’ major activity.
#1. The gospel opens declaring “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Instead of telling about Jesus’ birth or childhood, it goes directly to the forerunner, John the baptizer, whose principal job is “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4 NET). Though John is before Jesus, his message signals what Jesus will be about.
#2. When Jesus started his ministry, soon after his baptism at the hands of John, he “proclaimed the gospel of God” (1:14). The content included the imminent arrival of the kingdom, repentance and faith in the gospel (v. 15). He called men to do the same, to be “fishers of people” (v. 17).
#3. When the disciples search for Jesus to appease the crowds, he refuses and declares why he came to earth: “Let us go elsewhere, into the surrounding villages, so that I can preach there too. For that is what I came out here to do” (1:38). Jesus came to preach. If he didn’t allow his vocal chords to be cut by Satan, neither would he become a panderer to crowds or a miracle-worker for physical and material good.
#4. After four men strained to get their paralytic friend in front of Jesus, the Lord offers him … forgiveness of sins! (2:5), because he knew what the man most needed. Only to prove that he had authority to forgive sins did he finally heal the man.
#5. Infrequent as Jesus’ declarations of purpose are in the gospels, it is surprising to see another so soon after 1:38, but in Levi’s house, among publicans and sinners, he answers a question put to the disciples: “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2:17). The calling comes by going to the sinners and inviting them into the forgiveness of God.
#6. Mark lists three reasons Jesus designated twelve apostles, or envoys: “so that they would be with him [to learn from him] and he could send them to preach [to continue what he started] and to have authority to cast out demons [confirming the message, Mark 16:20]” (2:14-15). And when he did send them out, what did they do? “So they went out and preached that all should repent” (6:12).
#7. The story about Jesus’ family attempting intervention surrounds the accusation that he cast out demons by Satan’s power. He meets that accusation head on, but winds up speaking about what? Forgiveness and non-forgiveness of sins! “I tell you the truth, people will be forgiven for all sins, even all the blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (3:29-30). Jesus winds up the family issue by saying that his family (the forgiven ones!) are those who do the will of God. A good part of that will, as John and Jesus and the disciples taught, was repentance.
This short survey of the beginning of Mark’s gospel establishes that Jesus came to preach and offer forgiveness of sins. (Mark 10:45 will establish the means.) Jesus spoke at every turn, in the face of opposition, criticism and bald attempts at intervention.
If we want to be like Jesus, we will do the same. For Satan will cut our vocal chords only with our permission.
by J. Randal Matheny, editor