It may have been the first time anyone sat down to compose what we call a gospel. He may even have been the one who coined the term. What we don’t know is who the author was. But let’s call him Mark.
Mark neither titled nor signed his gospel because what he had to say was far more important than what he might have called it or what we might have called him. He is so eager to start that he opens with a sentence fragment, just five words in the original Greek: “Beginning,” he declares—not even the beginning.
In his rush to announce, he leaves out not only the definite article but almost everything we’ve come to associate with the Christmas season. There are no angels, no virgin birth, no Mary and Joseph, no Bethlehem, no manger, no heavenly chorus, no shepherds, no magi, no Herod, no genealogy. All the stuff that decorates our mantels and tabletops and trees during this season is missing so that Mark can concentrate on this new thing that is happening, this new genre he is inventing: gospel.
When there’s nothing but the gospel, the “good news” about Jesus is clear: No one, no thing is more important than Jesus. That’s the message of those first few words of the gospel we call Mark.
Back then, “good news” was something very specific and very special: the announcement of the birth of royalty—an emperor, let’s say—in a day when the emperor was often called “the savior of mankind.” Mark finds a way to put all of Luke 1-3 and much of what we have come to associate with this season into less than one sentence: It’s the account of one born to be the Savior of the world!
What you are about to read, Mark says, and what you are about to celebrate during this special month—and always—is the birth of your Savior. Mark is announcing salvation. This is the good news about Jesus. The very name means God saves! No one else does. No one else can. But God will, and Jesus is the proof. See why Mark calls this good news?
He is not just Jesus but Jesus Christ. Christ is neither Jesus’ last name nor his middle name; Christ is his title. It means “the anointed one.” Jesus is anointed, chosen by God. “There is no other name under heaven . . . by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The one given the name by which we must be saved has come, and therefore we can be saved. There can be no better news. That’s the gospel.
A little boy once said to his father, “Daddy, I know what the Bible means!” His father smiled and asked, “What does the Bible mean?” The little boy replied proudly, “B. I. B. L. E.: Basic Information Before Leaving Earth!” And he was right.
Mark tells that story in the first few words of his gospel.
At this time of year when we consider what greetings to send, and to whom, let Mark be our guide. ’Tis the season, he’d say, to remind folks of the heart of the story. It’s really good news! Jesus, the only one who can save, has been given to us by God himself.