The word, gospel, is used eight times in Mark, only seven times if you exclude 16: 15 that by many scholars is not regarded as part of the evangelist’s work, but a later addition. Its first usage is at the very beginning of Mark where our narrator announces, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This superscription serves as a title for at least a portion of the book. The question of debate is where does the beginning end. Perhaps, Jesus provides the inclusio that brings the section to an end when he proclaims in verse fifteen, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (see discussion in Robert Guelich, Mark, Word Biblical Commentary) The term gospel is used in both passages though their respective meaning is slightly different. In the case of the opening, gospel refers to the written work itself. The gospel comprises Jesus’ public ministry and the account of his death and resurrection (very briefly). A little later in Christ’s announcement of the kingdom, gospel refers to the public preaching of its coming. Jesus calls the people to repent and believe. What are we called to believe? Along with the coming of the kingdom, we are to believe that Jesus is the definitive bearer of this kingdom as the remainder of the gospel will show. Also, in the same context, the narrator announces that Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming “the gospel of God.” The message (kerygma–a word not used in the New Testament, only used in a verbal form and as a substantive in reference to a preacher) is of God and comes from God, thus indicating that Jesus is the messenger who speaks for God in the world. His status is not only as a messenger, but as the very embodiment of the gospel. He in His very person is the good news.
In Mark 8: 35 Jesus calls on the disciple to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him. Whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake and the gospel will save it. In this passage Jesus and the gospel are equated. In His person, Jesus is the gospel. Jesus Himself along with His announcement of the good news constitute the content of the Gospel. In 10: 29 Jesus repeats the phrase “for my sake and the gospel.” A disciple will leave everything behind him, that is, make great personal sacrifice, in order to be a follower.
In Mark 13; 10 in an eschatological (pertaining to the end time) discourse Jesus tells an inner group of His disciples that the gospel must be proclaimed “to all nations” in the context of the final things that bring with them severe persecution of Jesus’ followers. The message is not only for Galilee where the announcement begins, but all parts of the globe. Again Jesus refers to this universal mission at the end of the story of the woman who anointed Him “beforehand for burial,” who will be remembered for her gracious act; as, in fact, she is every time the passage is read privately or in the public act of worship.
The gospel is the proclamation of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, recounted in the very first written gospel, Saint Mark. The irony is that the angel’s announcement of the resurrection to the women results in their keeping silence “. . . they said nothing to anyone.” Obviously, the message they bore got back to the disciples who were commissioned to spread it abroad. In the body of the gospel in two instances there is reference to the universal mission. And, of course, the fact that we possess the gospel and read and listen to it shows the success of the disciples’ mission.
As the Church, we have received the imperative to share the gospel, as we have been instructed by the Lord. When the Church loses sight of its mission to announce the kingdom and its bearer and personification, Jesus Christ our Lord, it has failed. Feeding the poor and standing up for Christian principles in society are of great importance; but, they are lacking when we fail to put the proclamation of the gospel first. The Church and every Christian must continue to seek opportunities to share the kerygma (the gospel message) with others. No public environment should be taboo for an appropriate witness to the lifegiving appeal first proclaimed by the apostolic church. Only we can mistakenly and unfaithfully make taboo what is a sacred obligation, proceeding from Jesus Himself and emanating from our own experience of God’s love and mercy through Him.
(Biblical citations from the English Standard Version)
Michael G. Tavella
September 22, 2023