The Gospel of Jesus Christ for You
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“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
When Martin Luther spoke about the forgiveness that Christ won for you, he spoke about it in a way that too few people speak today. Luther spoke about the message of forgiveness as though it was his own possession. Luther repeatedly spoke about “my gospel” and “my theology,” a habit he probably learned from the apostle Paul (Romans 2:16; 16:25; 2 Timothy 2:8). For example, when he described his now famous “Luther seal,” the reformer stated that this seal is “a symbol of my theology.” When speaking about the way he had come to believe, Luther said, “I didn’t learn my theology all at once. I had to ponder over it.”
Luther also believed that you and every Christian—not just pastors and theologians—should speak in these same terms: “A Christian often says: ‘This is my message, my Baptism, my Christ, my God, my gospel,’ although, strictly speaking, they are not his. He [the Christian] did not invent them; they did not come from him; they are not of his making. And yet they are his, his gifts, given to him by God.”
That’s a very good way to look at today’s text. St. Mark shows you where Jesus’ gospel becomes your gospel; where the good news concerning Jesus becomes the Good News concerning you; where Jesus’ God and Father become your God and Father; where the history of this only-begotten Son of God becomes your history and the history of all the adopted sons of God.
St. Mark goes straight to Baptism: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God… John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
It was the calling and privilege of John to prepare the way of the Lord. He was to preach so that the people were ready for Jesus. And what did John preach in order to prepare the way of the Lord? You have his doctrine summed up for you in verse four of our Gospel lesson: his message was one of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In preaching repentance, John sought to turn the people from any sort of idol that they would trust in more than Jesus. In preaching forgiveness, John proclaimed that the One was coming who would forgive their sins and baptize them with the Holy Spirit for salvation. John was preaching repentance and forgiveness. In other words, John was preaching Law and Gospel.
As usual, St. Mark cuts straight to the chase, giving the major details without a lot of explanatory notes. We need to learn from the other Gospels just how John specifically applied this message of Law and Gospel to individuals.
In Luke 3, the people heard him preach of God’s judgment for sinners and convicted of their own sin said, “What shall we do then?” John answered, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (vv. 10-11). What he was saying, in effect, it this: “I’ll show you your sin, what keeps you from God. You do not love your neighbor as you should. You rely on your possessions for security, not the Lord. Repent: confess that you’ve made material things into an idol, because your trust in them keeps you from trusting the Lord.”
Tax collectors came to hear John, made fat by their extra collections, having lined their own pockets at the expense of their fellow citizens. “Teacher, what shall we do?” they asked, and John declared, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you” (Luke 3:13). In other words, “Your sin is that you’ve made an idol out of money, and you serve it by acts of greed and extortion. Your coins cannot raise you from the dead; and as long as you do trust in them, you’re not trusting in the One who can raise you from the dead. Repent!”
Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” John said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). In other words, “Your sin is that you rely on your strength and your sword to get your way. And because you have that power at your disposal, you see no need for God’s mercy. Repent! As long as you trust in your strength, you won’t let the Savior be your Savior.”
In Matthew 3, John said to the Pharisees, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.” In other words, “You believe that God is pleased by your works and many little rules. As long as you trust in yourself, and your own filthy works of righteousness you will not trust in the Savior. Repent!”
Do you see how this work? Sin says, “You don’t need a Savior. Cling to me, because I’ll fill the need.” Imagine lead weights in the pockets of a drowning man saying, “Keep us. We’ll save you.” Imagine an overloaded plane headed for the side of a mountain, with the cargo singing out, “You can’t live without us!” That’s what sin says to you. It wants you to cling to it so that you reject your Savior. It’s a dangerous, deadly lie. To hold on to sin is to say, “I don’t want Jesus to save me.”
Repentance, on the other hand, seeks to strip you of everything that would come between you and your Savior. It empties drowning pockets of those lethal lead weights and throws the burdensome cargo out the door. It prepares you for the Savior who forgives you all of your sins and gives you eternal life. It moves a sinner to say, “I cannot save myself, and I reject the idols I’ve trusted in.”
So John preached repentance. He didn’t tell anyone that they had to leave their vocation and join the monastery or do any other extraordinary works of righteousness. But to each one, he pointed out their sin, those things they clung to in order to keep Jesus from being their Savior. He urged each to cast away those chains that bound them to sin and the devil, and cling only to their Savior. Repent!
And once he preached that Law, he preached the Gospel. You know one of those proclamations well: having prepared the way of the Lord with the Law, John would soon point into the crowd and declared, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” It is still the calling and privilege of the Church to prepare the way of the Lord today.
John simply preached the same Law and Gospel, the same repentance and forgiveness, that Isaiah declared in our Old Testament lesson: “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm shall rule for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him” (Isaiah 40:10). Peter declared the same in our epistle: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). That is how the way is prepared for Jesus among you: by this proclamation of Law and Gospel, preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins.
That’s the doctrine. It is pretty straightforward, basically the same for everyone. But any pastor will tell you that the application to each individual is the tricky part. But take a stab at it, anyway. Is the temptation knowledge? Do you believe that your knowledge of doctrine makes you more of a Christian than others? Then repent, for you are saying, “I need Jesus less than others, because I’m smarter than they are.” Confess the sin which seeks to push Jesus away, for He is the only One who is perfect in knowledge (Job. 37:16).
Is the temptation immorality? Are there illicit pleasures of thought or deed that you don’t want to give up? Do you say, “Since I believe in Jesus, He’ll go ahead and overlook my pet sins and immoralities”? Repent, for you are saying, “I am such a good Christian that the holy Son of God will excuse my unholiness.” Such thinking doesn’t want forgiveness; it wants a Savior who compromises and only saves you from some sins, but let you keep your favorites. Repent!
Is the temptation materialism? Do you look at the things that you have and says “My life with God is okay, because I’m taken care of”? Then you are measuring God’s love by things that rust, not the holy, precious blood of His Son who died for you. If you are trusting in your possessions as proof of God’s love, you are not trusting in His promises. Repent!
Is your temptation apathy? As in, “I’m just not that sinful, so I don’t need to worry about forgiveness that much”? You better go back to that confession you just made. You said you were sinful and unclean. Now you’re saying, “I don’t need Jesus to die for all that many sins. I’m better than that.” Repent.
Do you see? Every sin seeks to make you say, “I don’t need Jesus to be my Savior from that one. I don’t want Jesus to be my Savior.” To fail to repent is to cling to the sin. To cling to the sin is to shun the Savior and His grace. Repent.
Repent, because by repentance the Lord is preparing His way to you with grace. He has already gone the way of the cross to redeem you from your sin. He has washed away your sins and made you His own in Baptism. Now He comes to you by His Word and Supper to renew your Baptism, to give you the forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
Why would you ever want to jump back into the depths of sin with lead weights in your pocket? Why would you ever want to leave the true freedom you have in Christ to go back to the bondage of death and the devil? Why would you ever want to cast away Christ’s robe of perfect righteousness and put back on those filthy rags of your own works and self-righteousness?
Repent, for the Savior is near. In fact, as your hearts are prepared by His Law unto repentance, I now point you to His Gospel and His Supper and declare, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” I point you to your Baptism. Remember, as far as St. Mark is concerned, Jesus’ Gospel begins with Baptism: a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Martin Luther’s somewhat unusual manner of speaking lays bare the great importance this Gospel has for you. Remember, Luther spoke about the Good News of Christ’s forgiveness as if it were his own possession. He called it “my gospel” and “my theology.” You should learn to think along the same lines. You should practice the habit of speaking about “your gospel” and “your theology.”
You could say things like: “My theology urges me to drown my Old Adam by daily contrition and repentance, so that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. It compels me to receive the sacrament of the altar regularly, for here I receive my Lord’s pledge and token of forgiveness and life.” “My Gospel grows more comforting for me every day, especially in light of all my repeated sins and failures.” “My Gospel and my theology will give great benefits also to you.”
When you teach yourself to think and speak this way, you will be doing more than learning from or emulating a great theologian of the Christian Church. When you learn to speak about “my Gospel” and “my theology,” you will be wrapping your heart and mind around what St. Mark is proclaiming to you here today. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God… John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Using such phrases as “my Gospel” and “my theology,” you will be confessing before God and man that everything belonging to Jesus is now yours. Everything that Jesus earned by His suffering and death is now credited to you. The Gospel belonging to Jesus is your Gospel. The death died by Jesus is your death. The resurrection victory won by Jesus is your resurrection. The forgiveness secured by Jesus is your forgiveness. Indeed, this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ for you: you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.