September 29, 2020

Reconsider Jesus – Roots (Mark 1:1-3)


Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents

Roots

1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

Mark 1:1-3 – NIV

How well do you know your family roots? Genealogical research is a big business these days with many people trying to find out as much as possible about their ancestors. Everyone hopes that, like the Spencers, they are related to royalty, and no one wants to be a descendant of horse thieves or criminals. A person’s lineage was considered to be very important in New Testament times as well, and so the beginning of the Gospels8 are all about roots and establishing Jesus’ spiritual heritage.

When we look at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel we see that it begins with a genealogy that connects Jesus to Abraham. Luke has a genealogy too, along with a declaration of his intention to write an acceptable historical record of the beginnings of Christianity. John’s gospel goes back beyond the birth of Jesus to Jesus’ roots in eternity as the eternal word or Son of God. Mark doesn’t have anything like that. In fact, Mark doesn’t even have anything about the birth of Jesus. Does Mark know about the birth stories? It is quite possible he does not. Jesus does not speak of them and Paul does not mention them in his epistles.9 They appear to come from the inquiries of Matthew and Luke into the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. Matthew, the second Gospel written, has the birth of Jesus from the standpoint of Joseph, the story of the wise men, and Jesus being born a King. Luke, the third Gospel, has the traditional Christmas story that we all know so well: Jesus, born in Bethlehem, laid in a manger, and worshiped by shepherds. As for Mark, he starts with the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

In doing so, what Mark really wants to say is that Jesus’ family and roots are not that important. In fact, I will go ahead and warn you that, on the subject of the family of Jesus, Mark is going to surprise you. Everything you may have thought about the family of Jesus will be challenged when reading Mark. There is no interest in the birth, the family, or the childhood of Jesus. His only mention of Jesus’ family is in the conflicts Jesus has with them in his early days of ministry.10 Mark wants to say that the roots of Jesus are in the Old Testament, if you want to understand Jesus then don’t look at his followers, don’t look at his mother or father or brothers or the language he speaks or when he lives. No, look in the Bible, look in the Old Testament.

Mark is saying to us that you are not going to understand much about Jesus with your Bible closed. But with your Bible open and your mind and heart in the flow of God’s story from the Old Testament you will see who Jesus is and you will understand him. Jesus has roots that help us understand him but they are not family roots, they are Bible roots: roots that go down deep into scripture.

By starting with Isaiah, Mark takes us into the entire Old Covenant. The Good News begins with the promise and expectation of a kingdom that is the entire Old Testament story. Isaiah is particularly the prophet of the coming Kingdom of God, and Mark locates the beginnings of Jesus’ story not in birth records or a hometown, but in a prediction that someone would come announcing the way of the Lord. Scholars will point out, of course, that Mark is quoting a combination of Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. The two prophets touch on two different aspects of the coming Kingdom of God: judgement and restoration. John the Baptist brings these two parts of the Kingdom message together. The Lord is coming to restore his people, but it will be a time of cleansing and refinement, not just celebration.

John the Baptist is at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel because he announces the Kingdom’s arrival and insists we must prepare for it through repentance. While both preach and call to repentance, it is Jesus who performs Kingdom miracles and calls for faith in himself. Those who wish to follow Jesus must heed the message of John: Turn and prepare for the eternal Kingdom and the one who brings it now.

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Footnotes:

[8] Gospel literally means “Good News”.

[9] The epistles refer to the letters written by Paul that are preserved in the New Testament.

[10] Mark 3:34-35

Notes from Mike Bell:
1. What questions or thoughts come from your mind from what you have just read?
2. Would you be interested in a paper or Kindle version of the book when it is available? Please email us at michaelspencersnewbook@gmail.com so that we can let you know when it is ready.
3. Find any grammar or spelling errors, phrases that are awkward or difficult to understand? Also send these type of comments to the email address above.

Comments

  1. We are all familiar with the point Michael makes about Luke and Matthew being the only two gospels with an interest in the family background of Jesus. Mark and John jump right in with John the Baptist, or John the Forerunner, as the EO call him. But one could also say that neither Mark nor John are that interested in the origins of John the Baptist either – actually, I guess Luke does all the heavy lifting there.

    Whereas one can understand the strenuous efforts of the Nativity accounts (it seems to me) to attach Jesus of Nazareth to Judea, something of the sort must also have animated the His Name is John account as well: John was a Levite, if you have to know. I wonder whether the very early church either wasn’t interested in such details at all, or that the core followers simply already knew what they needed about Jesus and John’s origins. Mark may thus represent either an indifference or an assumed familiarity with such matters, perhaps?

  2. –> “What questions or thoughts come from your mind from what you have just read?”

    The idea that Mark is going to surprise us regarding “family,” followed by the idea that Mark wants to root Jesus in the OT, made me realize that Jesus ultimately surprises us THERE, too. I mean, he ends up not really fitting Isaiah’s notion of Messiah all that much, either — or at least, not the “perceived” Isaiah notion of the Messiah. So much so that John the Baptist — the one who at one time ANNOUNCED Jesus — later has to have his disciples go ask Jesus if he’s the One.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    A person’s lineage was considered to be very important in New Testament times as well, and so the beginning of the Gospels8 are all about roots and establishing Jesus’ spiritual heritage.

    More than that.
    Like the Great Houses in Game of Thrones, lineage meant EVERYTHING.

    And the early Church provided a lineage for those with no lineage.
    A DIVINE Lineage.

  4. Michael Bell says

    “it is Jesus who performs Kingdom miracles”

    That strikes me as an odd turn of phrase. What do you think Michael Spencer meant by Kingdom miracles?

    • I think the key is the additional of that line…

      “…it is Jesus who performs Kingdom miracles and calls for faith in himself.”

      So it’s a miracle that draws a person into the Kingdom, into a faith in Jesus.

      I think the miracle of Bartimaeus is most appropriate to explain the idea, from Mark 10:46-52:

      =======================
      Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
      =======================

    • “What do you think Michael Spencer meant by Kingdom miracles?”

      Miracles that announce the imminent arrival of the Kingdom, but more subtly perhaps, the sort of miracles that will take place when the kingdom comes. Jesus heals the blind because in the kingdom blindness will be healed. Jesus casts out demons because in the kingdom the demonic forces of the world will be cast out. And so on. Miracles both draw us to the kingdom but give us a taste of how the kingdom will be.

      Michael had a nice colloquial style. I can hear his voice. I bet he talked the way he writes.

  5. “ Mark is saying to us that you are not going to understand much about Jesus with your Bible closed.“ Curious timing. Just a couple of days ago I was pondering my lack of bible reading these days and how my old pastor would find that to be an egregious fault and danger to my faith. It has been some years in the making that I have kept the Bible at bay, by and large, in a purposeful effort to unlearn and find freedom from the old constructs that completely influenced and informed my reading. Part of the wilderness journey you might say. It has worked to some extent. I can glance at some scriptures now with less baggage. I still value the words of scripture above all other words as the closest thing we have to words from the mouth of God but I can’t pretend to grasp their totality in the way that I proudly used to.

    • This.

      I’ve found myself doing fewer “devotionals” these days, which would run counter to everyone who says I should be rooted in the Bible daily in order to understand Jesus or God or Calvinism or Arminianism or…

      That said, I think reading a gospel account regularly — twice a year? — is ultimately the best way to know Jesus. Beats anything else, especially the epistles, which sometimes become about something other than Jesus.

      Yes, much less baggage these days as well.

      • I thought of you when I said that and remembered what a proponent you were of reading the Gospels and I would certainly endorse that or any Bible reading but for me personally it’s part of the journey to do what I’m doing at the moment. I did open it up and get an in-depth look at some Psalms when I was writing a tune and I thoroughly embraced reading them. It was refreshing. That sounds contrary to what I’ve been saying but there you go!

        • –> “That sounds contrary to what I’ve been saying but there you go!”

          I say stuff that’s contrary to what I either practice or what I believe all the time.

          You and me, Chris… we’re enigmas.

    • Christiane says

      “I still value the words of scripture above all other words as the closest thing we have to words from the mouth of God but I can’t pretend to grasp their totality in the way that I proudly used to.”

      but Chris, is this new humility in the presence of the Word really a ‘downgrade’?

      if you think about it, do any of us ‘grasp’ sacred Scripture in all of its totality, if we are being honest?

      Scripture is revelatory and it ‘speaks to us’ and there are times when we are young that a verse says something to us that is meaningful, sure;
      but later in life, when we have been through the hard times, that same Scripture may speak to us a deeper meaning, one that meets us where we are further on the journey, with all of our baggage, and helps us in a new way

      I think your ‘admission’ of discovering that you no longer ‘grasp’ the totality of a Scripture might just indicate that you now come into its presence with a new humility and willingness to see it in a new way. This seems to me more of blessing than not.

      old saying: ‘si comprehendis, non est Deus’

    • Michael Bell says

      You know, reading the “Reconsider Jesus” mini-chapters will get you back into Scripture twice a week! 😀

      To be honest with you though, compiling these mini-chapters helps get me back into Scripture too.

      • The great thing about leading a Sunday school class and men’s fellowship every Saturday is that it “forced” me into reading the Bible to prepare the lessons.

        The problem with this Covid thingy is the shutdown of Sunday school classes and men’s Saturday fellowship, meaning I don’t have to prepare lessons, meaning I’m not “forced” into reading the Bible.