Dr.Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
LakeHamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
July 15, 2012
Lifebegins with the gospel (vs. 1).
 The beginningof the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
-- Mark 1:1, ESV
Whendoes life begin?
Forthe pro-choice it begins with delivery in the hospital room. For the pro-life it begins at conception inthe mother’s womb. For the evolutionistit begins with a bang, proceeds from slime and water, forms a vertebrate,crawls to land, climbs into a tree, and then walks into humanity. For the creationist it begins on the sixthday when God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his soulthe breath of life. For the romantic itbegins when you fall in love. For thematerialist it begins when you have enough money. For the scientist it begins when you haveenough facts. For the Christian itbegins when you have enough faith, faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Thewitness of the church has been that the unnamed author who wrote the earliest Gospelis none other than John Mark, who first appears in Acts 12:12. At the time his family was hosting a prayermeeting on behalf of the imprisoned and death-sentenced Apostle Peter. Peter, of course, was released, much to thesurprise of the spuriously faithful prayer warriors. Later in the New Testament it is revealedthat Simon Peter’s relationship to Mark is so close that he refers to him ashis “son” (ref. 1 Peter 5:13). Therefore, it is strongly believed that Mark’s Gospel is anaction-packed narrative of Peter’s personal remembrances of the person and workof Jesus Christ.
Markwrote because Peter couldn’t, at least not in the koine Greek of the day. Markprobably wrote near or after the death of Peter, martyred at the hands of theevil emperor Nero, during the fierce persecution of the church in the A.D.60's. Mark wrote because he knew what itwas like to be dead in sin and to come to life in Christ. Mark wrote because he knew what it mean tofail, to be forgiven, and to be set free. Mark wrote to give Christians a perpetual record of the saving life,death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In writing, Mark created a new genre of biblical literature faithfullycopied by Matthew and Luke, and, for the most part, John. And, Mark tells us when life begins and whatlife is all about.
What is the gospel?
“Gospel,”of course, literally means “good news.” The Greek word has given us our English words evangel, evangelical, andevangelist. If you share good news withothers about some great meal you had in a certain restaurant, you are anevangelist for the restaurant. If youshare good news with others about your grandchildren, you are an evangelist foryour grandchildren. By all means, be one. But no one is going to going to receive the gift of eternal life bymeans of good food or cute kids.
Onlythe biblical gospel can impute and impart life. Paul called it “the power of God for salvation” (ref. Romans 1:16). Peter said it is the only way for a person tobe alive to God and a member of His family (ref. 1 Peter 4:17). John said in it is the key to the door thatsprings from earth to eternity (ref. Revelation 14:6). The gospel is good news, extremely good newsabout everlasting life.
Butthe contrary truth is that without the gospel we are dead (see also Ephesians2:1ff), powerless (totally depraved), and sentenced to a short earthly lifefollowed by eternal condemnation. Suchcondemnation cannot be blamed on our parents or other people. It is the result of our own personal sin, ournatural rebellion against God, and our deliberate disobedience to His word andwill. The bad news is, “For all havesinned and ... the wages of sin is death” (ref. Romans 3:23, 6:23).
Theonly remedy for the bad news is the good news. So, by the sheer grace and mercy of God, the gospel is told to dead,depraved, doomed sinners. Darkness givesway to light. Death gives way tolife. And life begins with the gospel.
Howcan you tell when a person has been made alive by the gospel? There is repentance and faith (ref.1:14-15). Repentance is not merely a one-timeexperience, but a life-long commitment of turning to God. Faith is no mere one-time decision, but abedrock and burgeoning belief that God and everything about Him is absolutelytrue and trustworthy. Real repentanceand faith produce spiritual worship and good works. A person made alive by the gospel wants to bebaptized, wants to be with the church in worship and fellowship, wants to be inGod’s word, and wants to be led by God’s Spirit. Their new lives are lived in such a way thatGod is glorified, people are loved, and others are shown the way into the lifethat begins with the gospel.
Lifedoes begin with the gospel. But it doesnot begin with just any gospel. Itbegins with a specific gospel about a specific Person and work. For life to begin and love to abound, it mustbe the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
What is the gospelabout?
Tothe unregenerate Roman ear, when Mark first mentioned “the gospel,” they wouldhave understood it to speak of “good news” about their Emperor. Christianity, in general, and Mark, inparticular, changed the meaning of the word “gospel.” Now it is, and it always will be, totallytied in to one character: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Evenbefore the early Christians had one Gospel, they had two symbols. One was the cross, of course. The other was the fish. The Greek word for fish is “3P2LH,” iota, chi, theta, upsilon,sigma. This stands for “Jesus Christ,God’s Son, Savior.”
Christiansknew then and Christians must be reminded now that the gospel is not the gospelunless it is the gospel about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior. The very words Mark chose to begin his Gospelcry out to us a comprehensive message about who Jesus is and what Jesus hasdone for us. For salvation is never aboutwhat we have done for God, but about what God has done for us in the person andwork of His Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Jesus”is his birth name, “Christ” (or, Messiah) is His divine designation. “Son” means He became human. “God” means He is the embodiment the one trueand living God. The gospel that giveslife and is indeed “the power of God for salvation” based squarely upon aperson who is both fully human and fully divine, God incarnate, Jesus Christ,the unique Son of God. He is not yourhome boy. He is not your co-pilot. He is Lord.
Andthe Lord loves us, which explains why He came to earth. Mark is preparing to tell us His story. It is the story of God who came to earth inthe form of His Son. He lived and loved,preached and taught, helped and healed, died and rose again. It is a good story. It is good news. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son ofGod.
Thereare a lot of other subjects and issues we could and should and will addressfrom the pulpit. The only thing is, ifwe do not get this one right, none of the others will really matter. We must get the gospel right. Because life begins with the gospel, and thegospel is all about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
MaryChapin Carpenter wrote, “Call it chance or call it fate, either one is cause tocelebrate. Still the question begs whywould you wait, and be late for your life?” Don’t be late for your life. Don’t wait too late to have life. Dedicate and rededicate your life to Jesus Christ today. For life begins where grace abounds, wherefaith is received, where forgiveness is free, where love is unconditional,where eternity exists, where Jesus is Lord. Life begins with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Thegospel begins with a witness (vs. 2-8).
 As it is written inIsaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way,  the voiceof one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his pathsstraight,’”  John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiminga baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all thecountry of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were beingbaptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John wasclothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and atelocusts and wild honey.  And he preached, saying, “After me comes hewho is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoopdown and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptizeyou with the Holy Spirit.”
-- Mark 1:2-8, ESV
Lifebegins with the gospel, but the gospel is brought to life by a witness. If you are alive in Christ, it is becausesomeone made Christ alive to you by the way they lived and the words they used. Now it is your turn to make the Lord aliveand real to others. Life begins with thegospel, but the gospel begins with a witness.
Thefirst full paragraph of Mark’s Gospel is not about Mark, not about Simon Peter,not even about Jesus, at least not explicitly. It is about a person named John, “John the Baptist.”
Theother three Gospels tell us more about this man. But remember, Mark is the first Gospelwritten and well-known for its brevity and immediacy. Mark’s mention of John limits the Baptist tohis primary role, that of a forerunner, and introducer, a witness to the Onewho would follow and inspire followers.
Johnthe Baptist is not the gospel. John theBaptist is not the Savior. John theBaptist is a witness. He witnessed thegospel of the Savior so that people may be saved by the gospel. So, for the gospel to save anyone, it must bepresented by a gospel witness.
A gospel witnesssprings from Scripture (vs. 2-3).
Johnthe Baptist’s life literally springs from Scripture, in more ways thanone. In the Bible we see his characterand from the Bible he ordered his conduct. Like Jesus, the Old Testament predicted his life and ministry (ref.Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1) and the New Testament presents the life andministry of John the Baptizer. Andbefore John ever began to baptize, he had chained his life to the precepts andprinciples of the word of God. He was inthe Bible and he lived the Bible.
Haveyou ever seen your life in the pages of Holy Scripture? Maybe not as graphic and specific as John theBaptist, but you and I are there. Perhaps you are the man so jealous of hisbrother that he hated him so much he wanted to kill him. Perhaps you are the man so lustful afteranother woman that he wished her husband out of the picture so he could get intothe picture. Perhaps you are the man sodrunk with power that you used it to slander and steal another man’s land. Perhaps you are the man so cowardly that youwould deny even the Lord Jesus Christ to save your own skin. In the Bible their names are Cain, David,Ahab, and Peter. But they could just aseasily be called by my name and yours.
Whenyou see yourself in Scripture, the Holy Spirit convicts you of your need ofwhat the Scriptures are a witness to, the grace of God and the gospel of JesusChrist. And when the grace of the gospelgets a hold of you, your life is changed, and you begin to look to the Biblefor the way to live. When we find thingswe are doing that we ought not, we stop. When we find things we are not doing that we ought to, we start.
Agospel witness is a person you can witness and know the gospel has made adifference in his life. His character ischanged and his conduct is chained to the word of God. And those who have experienced the gospel andlove the Bible, whose lives spring from the Scriptures, are well equipped to bewitnesses for the Lord. All they neednow is the right words.
A gospel witness speaksgospel words (vs. 4-5).
Considerthe words associated with John the Baptist in this paragraph. They include baptism, repentance,forgiveness, sin, and confession. Theseare gospel words that John knew how to use well. He was preaching them, and we need to bepreaching them, too.
InO Brother, Where Art Thou, when Delmar and Pete were baptized, Everett accusedthem of being “dumber than a bag of hammers.” I’m sure it must seem that way to an unbeliever. Getting dunked fully clothed or robed infront of a large audience looks a little ridiculous on the surface (as doespouring water over a perfectly dry baby). But to the Christian, baptism is a precious word that opens the door toother gospel words. Baptism symbolizesrepentance, which brings about forgiveness from sins, which are washed away bya true confession of faith in gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Learnthese words. Experience thesewords. Share these words. Baptism is for every believer in Jesus Christwho has undergone repentance. Repentanceis a radical change of mind, heart, and direction, a new birth and new life,forsaking sin and self and following Jesus Christ as Lord. Repentance is ongoing and forgiveness iseverlasting when sin is confessed in the presence of God. God knows all things. He will forgive anything. He will change your world and change yourwords, giving you gospel words to believe and share.
Johnthe Baptist shared gospel words. Jesusshared gospel words (ref. vs. 15). Johnthe Apostle shared gospel words (ref. John 3:16). Simon Peter shared gospel words (ref. Acts2:38). Paul shared gospel words (ref.Acts 20:21; Romans 10:9ff). A gospelwitness shares gospel words.
A gospel witness livesa simple life (vs. 6).
Johnthe Baptist drew a big crowd in his heyday. Thousands came from miles around to hear him. He could have parlayed that into a prettygood living, like our modern televangelists. But John kept it simple: camel’s hair, leather belt, and locusts (buthe’d probably freak out at some of our clothes and the spectacle of us eatingoysters, shrimp, and pork).
Simplicitydoes not necessary imply poverty. Camelhair and leather are nice accessories. Certain insects prepared certain ways are still delicacies in some cultures. Honey is a treat for Pooh bears everywhere. What all these things had in common in John’sday is that they were indicative of the wilderness culture. John took what he needed from his culture toenable him to live a life that could be centered on God and focused on thegospel.
Asimple life, spiritually speaking, is a life lived apart from as manydistractions as possible. Property andpossessions are approved by God, as long as excessive possessions and mountingdebt don’t hinder you from living a gospel life. Work is honorable, recreation is needed, andgood art reflects the glory of God, but none of these things should everprevent us from growing in the gospel ourselves and getting out the gospel toother people.
Given,John was what you might call a “vocational minister.” He preached all the time. But we do, too. We preach with the lives that we live, theway in which we spend our time and money, the things we own, the things weshare, and whether or not we own and share the most important thing of all, thegospel. A gospel witness may enjoy manythings in life, but he or she knows the main thing in life is the gospel.
A gospel witness livesa humble life (vs. 7-8).
Johnthe Baptist did not lack confidence. Hewas not weak in any form or fashion. Buthe was overwhelmingly humble.
Humilityis admitting that there is always someone better than me. There is always someone somewhere who can dowhat I do, only much better.
I’msure John got lots of compliments on his powerful preaching. That’s why he said what he said in verse 7. I’m sure some folks praised John after theyhad been baptized by him. That’s why hesaid what he said in verse 8. And thatis what all of us can say all the time, as long as we are in the presence ofGod.
Hereis a point that might actually prove to take some of the pressure off of someof you Christians who really want to be better witnesses. You’ll never say it just right, the way Jesusdid. You don’t have the charisma or powerto save anyone, only Jesus does and can. But, if in your own humble way you will simply point people to Jesus andjust do whatever God commands you to do, God will often take your witness anduse it to bring the gospel to someone’s heart.
Ican’t preach like Jesus. But, I canpreach Jesus. I can only baptize withwater. But when the baptized is sincere,it is because God has baptized them with the Holy Spirit. In the end it is always God the Father whosends God the Spirit to bring people to God the Son. But even God, as powerful as He is, does notdo this without a witness.
Solive your life as a gospel witness for Christ. Make sure you have experienced the gospel, for a witness can onlywitness about what they know, experientially. Know God by knowing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then know this book, the Bible, and live aScriptural life. Learn especially theredemptive words of the Bible, like grace and faith and the other wordsmentioned in this text. Live a simplelife and live a humble life. You willbecome a witness and you will witness people receive the gospel of JesusChrist. Life begins with the gospel, butthe gospel begins with a witness.
Godis the gospel (vs. 9-11)
 In those daysJesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavensbeing torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And avoice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
-- Mark 1:9-11, ESV
“Gospel”is the word that means “good news.” TheChristian gospel is the good news that saves your soul when it is properlywitnessed and actually believed.
Ofwhom are we witnessing? In whom do wehave to believe? Who is this good newsreally all about?
Thegospel is not the good news about you because, quite frankly, you’re not thatgood. Neither am I. “As the Scripturessay, ‘No one is good -- not even one’” (ref. Romans 3:10, NLT; also Psalm14:1ff, 53:1ff). On our best days we arenot good enough to make the gospel about ourselves.
Thegospel is not the good news about some famous person, at least no merehuman. Granted, some mortals do somegood things like invent the light bulb, make pizza, and discover the cure fordiseases. But no mere man will ever curesin and create the means of salvation.
Thegospel is not the good news about religion or the church. Some churches are good and some are bad, butno church is good enough to save a soul with religious activity. Being present in a church service is good,but sitting inside a church building cannot make you a Christian any more thansitting inside a garage can make you a car.
Forthe gospel to be the ultimate good news it must ultimately be about someone ofinfinite goodness, without any flaw or imperfection of any kind, able to remedysin and rescue sinners, offering forgiveness and everlasting life.
Manis not the gospel. Religion is not thegospel. God is the gospel. And in the Gospel of Mark 1:9-11, God showsup, in 3-D.
God the Son is thegospel (vs. 9).
Markmade this obvious by beginning his book with “The beginning of the gospel ofJesus Christ, the Son of God” (ref. vs. 1). When we think of the gospel we automatically think of Jesus. He is God incarnate, God in the flesh, theGod that people can actually see (ref. 1 John 1:1ff).
Visibilityis precisely why He, Jesus, was baptized. Baptism is a public profession of faith in God, even if you areGod. Baptism is the place to be seenwhen you enter into the kingdom of God, even if you are the King. King Jesus began His kingdom ministry bydoing something other kings wouldn’t do. In baptism He identified with us. He came to us. He became one of us;albeit, with a twist.
Baptismfor sinners is a sign of oneness with God through repentance from sin and faithin God. Baptism for Jesus is a sign ofoneness with God’s children through the bearing of our sin by being the onlybegotten, one-of-a-kind, preeminent, Son of God, and “the Lamb of God who takesaway the sin of the world” (ref. John 1:29). This is why Jesus, God the Son, is the gospel.
Therefore,to believe the gospel is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You must believe that He is the Son of Manand the Son of God, born of Mary and begotten of God, raised in Nazareth,baptized by John. You must believe thatHe is God, the manifestation of the one, true, living, loving, historical,holy, sovereign, saving, triune God, about Whom we will have much more tosay. You must believe that the only Sonis the only Savior and the only way of salvation. Jesus Christ is the only one who can take waythe sins of any person in the world who repents and believes in Him, in thegospel, because God the Son is the gospel.
God the Spirit is thegospel (vs. 10).
Jesus’baptism was the inauguration of His public ministry and His introduction to theworld at large. Interestingly enough,when God the Son revealed Himself to the world, God the Spirit revealed Himselfto God the Son. As far as we know, Jesuswas the only one who saw “the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him.” John the Baptist might have known somethingunusual was going on. The Gospelwriters, decades after the fact and informed by Jesus Himself, declare somethingwas going on. But Jesus, at the time,knew what was going on and why.
Godthe Spirit is the gospel; or, at the very least, God the Spirit makes thegospel possible and acceptable. WhileGod the Son is the visible revelation of God, God the Spirit is the silentrevelator of God. He is the power behindthe throne, so to speak. And since thegospel is “the power of God for salvation” (ref. Romans 1:16), then the Spiritof God is the power of the gospel, too.
TheSpirit of God empowered the Son of God to accomplish the gospel. Though Jesus is fully divine, He was alsofully human. And no man, not even theSon of Man, can accomplish what God wants him (or Him) to do apart from theSpirit of God. That’s why we see theSpirit come upon the Son at His baptism. That’s why we see the Son credit the Spirit for His gospel ministry(ref. Luke 4:14-18; also Acts 10:38). That’s why when the gospel was “finished” (ref. John 19:30), the Son andthe Spirit returned to Heaven (ref. Luke 23:46).
TheSpirit of God enables the child of God to believe the gospel. No dead and depraved sinner can call upon thename of the Lord without the express aid of the Spirit of God (ref. 1Corinthians 12:3). No hard heart ofunbelief can be challenged and changed into a heart of faith without the HolySpirit (ref. Titus 3:5). Just as thereis no gospel apart from the work of the Son of God, there can be no faith inthe gospel apart from the preaching and acceptance of the gospel empowered andenabled by the Holy Spirit of God.
Therefore,to believe the gospel is the divine work of the Spirit of God calling us toaccept the Son of God in order to become a child of God. And if you are a child of God, it is becauseyou have a very special Father.
God the Father is thegospel (vs. 11).
Godthe Son steps into baptism and begins His long walk to the cross. God the Spirit comes down to seal, anoint,and empower God the Son. And then, God the Father speaks from Heaven, “... I amwell-pleased.”
Ithink God has good days and bad days. Though He is the Ancient of Days, immutable in His power and perfection,eternal in the heavens, He still feels things because He is a person, theultimate person. He hates sin and takesno delight in death; therefore, days when sin and death abound are dark forGod. These would include days like 9/11,December 7, 1941, and especially Good Friday, when the skies literally turneddark at the death of Jesus Christ.
Butthis was a good day, a very good day, because it was a gospel day. The Father sent the Spirit upon the Son andwas “well-pleased” with the whole event because this was the day that thegospel really came to earth. It wasdecreed in eternity past, shadowed behind an Old Covenant for thousands of years,birthed in a manger in Bethlehem thirty years before this day, and wouldprogress for three more years until it could be completed. But this day was the day it could be seen, inliving color, emerging from baptismal waters, walking publicly on the planet. It was a gospel day, and the gospel is God,God the Father.
Godthe Father is the architect of the gospel. The gospel is His. Therefore, tobelieve the gospel is to believe in God the Father, who willed His Son to earthto live, love, and die for sinners, so that God the Spirit could make bornagain believers out of a people chosen by God who choose to believe in God andHis gospel.
God is the gospel.
Godis real, in spite of the best claims of atheists and agnostics everywhere. Their books are best-sellers, which is notsurprising in this day and age in which we live. But God will not be bound by the books ofunbelief.
Godis triune, in spite of the teachings of the Muslims, Mormons, JehovahWitnesses, and every other false religion and cult in the world. Through the ages people have denied itbecause they cannot understand it. Icannot understand it, either, but I believe it. Faith is not checking your mind at the door, but accepting some thingsthat are just too vast for the human mind.
Godis the gospel. The whole reason behindthe Trinity is salvation. God the Fatherordained it. God the Son accomplishedit. God the Spirit applies it to thesaved. The Holiness and Love of theFather converges in the gospel. Thesacrifice and blood of the Son is the price of the gospel. The regenerating and renewing work of theSpirit is how we get the gospel.
Therefore,to believe in the gospel is to believe in this real, one-and-only, perfect,complex, loving, demanding, saving God. Afterall, God is the gospel.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org