Summary: The gospel is the message, the good news, that God’s promise of salvation has been accomplished. It’s the message that those who have been in exile from God’s presence are to be brought back. It’s the message that for those who believe in Jesus Christ, wh
Mark begins his account of the life of Jesus with these words: "The beginning of the good news (or the gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." So the question I want to ask today is this: what do you understand by that word Gospel? Is it just the life of Jesus, like a potted history? Or is it something different? When we refer to the Good News what do we mean?
Mark gives us some idea in the way he immediately presents John the Baptist who comes with a message from the Old Testament, a message that we read in our first reading: ’Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ The gospel is an announcement of the coming of someone who was foretold 700 years before by the prophet Isaiah.
What’s more, Mark points out that it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Even that title Christ is a reference to the prophecy of Isaiah. Christ means anointed one. It’s the Greek version of the word Messiah. The Messiah was the one Isaiah promised would come to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.
And now he’s come and his disciples have discovered that he’s far more. He’s in fact the Son of God. Mark takes great pains in the opening chapters of his gospel to show how Jesus came with power and authority that showed him to be more than just a mere mortal; more than just a great teacher or even a great prophet. He teaches with authority, he heals the sick and lame, he drives out evil spirits, he forgives sins and then heals a lame man to show that he has the authority to do it and he even has authority over the physical world as he calms a storm.
But what I want to do today is not in fact to concentrate on Mark’s gospel. Rather I want to look at the prophecy from Isaiah 40 to see how that affects our understanding of what the gospel is all about.
Just to give you some background, this prophecy is addressed to a people who are in exile in Babylon. They’ve been devastated by the destruction of Jerusalem. God appears to have abandoned them and it seems like that they have no future. But God speaks to them through the words of Isaiah and gives them a message of comfort; in fact, great comfort. The word is repeated to give it emphasis: "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." It must have been so encouraging to hear those words at that moment mustn’t it?
Suddenly it becomes clear that God hasn’t abandoned them after all. In fact he’s about to save them. He’s about to bring them back to himself. The guilt they’ve been bearing is gone. Forgiveness is offered. Their time of punishment is over.
You can imagine what Michelle Leslie felt like when she walked out of that Balinese Gaol the other day; when she got off the plane in Sydney the next day . Imagine how David Hicks would feel if he were released from Guantanamo Bay and allowed to come home. That’s the sort of relief, the level of joy these words would have and engendered in the Israelites as they read Isaiah’s words.
And notice the way the message is presented. God says "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem." Speak to her heart. Speak the way a lover would speak to his loved one [or perhaps the way a mother might speak to her new born baby. The way Trudi might speak to Henry when he’s upset]. But in case that doesn’t get through, he’s told to "cry out to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid." The message comes with quiet words of love and a loud shout of proclamation. Whatever it takes to get you to hear the message: "Comfort, Comfort!" and: "You’d better believe it!"
But that wouldn’t be enough if it were just words of consolation. Sometimes we need more than just words, more than just a subjective experience of God’s comfort. Sometimes we need to see that action is going on. And that’s what the message goes on to give us. This isn’t just a subjective message. It’s also a message of an objective reality. God is about to act in history. He’s about to rescue them, to bring them out of captivity and return them to Jerusalem. So he sends out his instructions: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."