2017 December Issue
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Sermon Ideas For Mark 1:1-8 Part 1

Christology

Advent is a season of high expectations. Perhaps for many the expectations extend only to the holiday festivities now custom plan revealed to Jesus. In this plan, God is sending the divine messenger as the voice crying in the wilderness who prepares the Lord's way. The parallelism of vv. 2-3 also reveals to us that the Lord is none other than Jesus.

Hence before John even sets one foot on the story's stage we already know that the gospel's beginning is in God's plan; that the focus of the gospel is Jesus; that Jesus is Messiah, Lord, Son of God; that the divine messenger is being sent by God before Jesus; and that this messenger's mission is to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus.

Mark 1:4-8

John's specific appearance in the wilderness reveals him to be the divine messenger. He is preparing the way of the Lord through the proclamation and administration of a repentance-baptism. That, of course, is why all the people are confessing their sins as they are being baptized by John in the Jordan River (1:5). John's baptism and their confessions are the intertwined acts of repentance as preparation for Jesus' advent. In Mark's gospel, however, John's baptism does not itself grant forgiveness.

Rather, it points to or anticipates the coming of forgiveness which Jesus grants according to God's authority (cf. 1:4b; 2:1-12). Repentance is part of John's work of preparation; forgiveness will be manifested in the person and authority of the stronger one who is coming, i.e., Jesus Messiah, God's royal Son.

John's dress recalls that of Elijah (1 Kg 1:8). In Mark's story this is the opening signal that not only will John prepare the way for Jesus through his preaching and repentance-baptism, but he will also prepare for Jesus in that he will be handed over (cf. paradidomi in 1:14; 3:19; 9:31; 10:33; 14:10-11,21,41-44; 15:1,10,15), repudiated by evil leadership and killed (6:14-29). Hence as they do to this, the Elijah figure, so will they also do to Jesus, the Son (cf. 9:9-13; 12:1-12; 15:35:39). John prepares the way for Jesus in both his ministry and his death.

Ultimately, then, the whole focus of Mark's opening is on Jesus, not on John. The first line of this story heralds the object of the gospel as Jesus Messiah, Son of God. In the conversation recorded in scripture, God tells Jesus about the person and mission of the Lord's preparer. John, the preparer, is also Elijah who preaches and baptizes as the way to make all of God's The declarations of the Councils were responses to bitter disputes within the early church itself. The inclination to stress the divinity of Jesus Christ at the expense of his humanity as well as the contrary tendency of emphasizing his humanity at the expense of his unity with God were both disavowed. Although the Councils did not define the work of Christ, it too was of utmost concern to them. Precisely because Jesus Christ brings God's salvation he is to be proclaimed "one" with God and "truly human and truly divine." Controversies over the meaning and adequacy of such key creedal terms as "essence" and "nature," borrowed from Greek philosophy, have figured in virtually every Christology thereafter. Technicalities aside, defenders and critics of classic Christology must address the same serious, complex issues posed by the biblical record itself. Two are of overriding concern: (1) The relationship of history and faith, and (2) the relationship of the "good news" about Jesus Christ and the "good news of God."

Mark's Christology, like those of other biblical books, is presented from a standpoint of faith. This is not to say that scripture fails to record the "facts" of history about Jesus, but that these "facts" as well as everything else that is recorded are witnesses of and for the community of faith. Jesus was variously identified by those who met or heard of him—as prophet and pretender; wise man, madman; martyr, criminal. Apart from the faith of the church, his "history" would have been all but lost to history. And so it is that Christology is beholden to the faithful witness of apostles. Yet their testimony is by no means a closed circle from faith for faith: It refers to the Nazarene who lived as a public figure—and died a "public enemy"—in the days of Pontius Pilate. Critical biblical and church-historical studies are therefore resources for Christological reflection.

Regarding the second issue, Christians tell of the story of Jesus not merely because like Mount Everest it is there, but because it is bound up with the story of God's saving love for the world. That these stories are inseparable is a presupposition for all Christology; explaining that relationship is Christology’s central task. Precisely this is what the ecumenical creeds undertook by affirming the oneness of God in three persons and the oneness of Christ in two natures.

Many modern theologians seek to address these issues anew by self-conscious efforts to (re)construct Christology either "from below" or "from above." The former approach takes as its starting point the fact that Jesus was a human being whose "career" is a matter of historical investigation. Faith-claims that set his story within that of God's are then shown to be in keeping with the character, function, and effects of his lifework. Christologies from above, on the other hand, begin with the fact that the biblical (apostolic) witness to Jesus proclaims that his story is the revelation of God. The goal is then to explicate the person and work of Christ by detailing the peculiar content and form of that revelation as the Jesus-story unfolds. The two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive. By casting light on otherwise hidden aspects of Jesus Christ, each contributes to an increased understanding of Christianity's Advent expectations.

James O. Duke Texas Christian University