"The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."—Mark 1:1.
"The Gospel of Jesus Christ"
The commentators tell us that the phrase "the Gospel of Jesus Christ" may mean one of two things, (a) It may mean the Gospel which Jesus Christ Preached, (b) It may mean also the Gospel of which Jesus Christ is the subject.
—The Gospel He was.
It is in this latter sense Mark uses the phrase here. He is thinking not so much of the Gospel Jesus preached, as of the Gospel He was. He is about to tell us the good news about Jesus, and—man of action as he is—he finds the "beginning" of it in our Lord's first public appearance and definite entrance upon the work of His ministry. And that, of course, was a very real beginning. As far as the great world was concerned, it was the beginning, for it knew nothing of the Gospel, the Gospel had no existence for it, until Jesus came teaching and preaching. But, as Dr. Morison says, "Mark might have gone further back, and found other fountains, the feeders of the fountains at which he pauses." That is to say, there are other "beginnings of the Gospel," carrying us further back than this "beginning" of St Mark. Let us think for a moment of some of these other "beginnings."
Other "Beginnings" of the Gospel: St Matthew's and St Luke's.
(1) I turn to the Gospels by St Matthew and St Luke, and I find they "begin" with Bethlehem. The birth of the little Child "all amid the winter's snow" was to them the "beginning of the Gospel." That was how the angel announced His birth, "Behold, I bring you Gospel... there is born to you this day a Saviour" (Luke 2:10, 11). And was it not true? Did not new hope and joy come into the world with the coming of that little Child? Trace back the pity and compassion and love that enrich the world to-day; you will find they have their fountain in Bethlehem! Indeed, the world dates its life from the birthday of Jesus. We put a.d. 1913 on our letters, as if the years before Christ came were scarcely worth the counting, and could not be reckoned as true life at all. Yes, it was the "beginning of the Gospel" for the world, when the Son of God emptied Himself, "took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:7).
(2) But I turn to the Gospel by St John, and I find that for his "beginning" he goes further back than Bethlehem. He travels beyond the region of time into the region of eternity. "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1), he writes, and at once transports to the glory which the Son had with the Father before the world began. And back to that eternity where John starts from we shall have to travel, if we want to discover the absolute "beginning of the Gospel."
So we are led ever further back in our search for "the beginning:" from the Baptism first of all to the Birth, and then from the Birth to the Promises, and then from the Promises to the Eternal Purpose of God. For Jesus was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8), or, as Peter states it still more strikingly, He was "pre-known from before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20). That is where the Gospel finds its real ultimate beginning, in "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God," and who shall attempt to fix a date for that?
—In the Individual Soul.
(3) And there is yet one other "beginning of the Gospel," viz., the beginning it has in the individual soul. The Gospel has a new beginning when, as Paul would say, "Christ is formed" in a human heart. The Gospel began for Zacchæus the day Christ lodged in his house. It began for Saul the day he heard the Lord's voice on the way to Damascus. It began for Augustine the day he heard the child sing, "Take and read, take and read." It began for John Wesley the day he felt his heart "strangely warmed" in the little meetinghouse in Aldersgate Street.
Every time Christ is born in a man's heart, the Gospel has a new beginning. And every other beginning of the Gospel—its beginning in the eternal purpose of God, its beginning at Bethlehem, its beginning at the Baptism—will be of none effect, as far as you, my reader, and I are concerned, unless it has another "beginning" in you and me.
This is the "beginning" of the Gospel that saves a man—when the Christ of history becomes the Christ of the heart; when the infinite love of God to the world in His son ceases to be a story, and becomes an experience.