As we heard from the Evangelist St. John a few weeks ago, from the closing chapters of his Holy Gospel, “These things have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you may have life in His Name.”
That likewise sums up the point and purpose of St. Mark’s Gospel, too, and the salutary reason for which we remember and give thanks for St. Mark the Evangelist on this appointed festival day.
The written Holy Gospels — of which St. Mark’s may well have been the first — became most necessary as it became clear that the Holy Apostles would not always be around and available in person. So, for example, St. Peter wrote in his second Epistle that he would make provisions for his proclamation of the Gospel to continue even after his departure. And that provision was then made available in the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, written under the authority of St. Peter. All for the sake of the forgiveness, faith, and life of the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Irrespective of the specific details of when and where he wrote it, St. Mark’s Gospel provides for, serves, and supports the continuation of the Holy Apostolic Ministry, the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, and the Apostles’ preaching of the Gospel throughout the world to all of creation.
Thus, along with the other Holy Gospels, the inspired writing of St. Mark is the authority, the foundation, and the content of the pastoral ministry to this day, even to the close of the age. All that I do as your pastor rests upon this Word that was written for the sake of your faith and life.
The substance and power of this Apostolic Ministry of the Gospel is Christ Jesus Himself, the Son of God in the flesh, crucified and risen from the dead. Nowhere is that more clear than it is in the Gospel According to St. Mark, which focuses so tightly on the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus with relatively little of His preaching and teaching.
What you hear and receive from St. Mark is Jesus in action. The Son of God goes forth to war, a kingly crown to gain. For He is the Lion of Judah, who comes to tread the serpent and bitter death beneath His heel into the dust. So it is that St. Mark preaches the Lord of Life hard at it, always moving, always doing. A little less talk and a lot more action. And all His active doing culminates in His voluntary suffering and death. That is laid upon Him and done to Him, but He is no passive victim. He knows where He is headed and what He is about. He takes up His Cross willingly and lays down His life of His own accord. So does He take it up again by strong faith in His Father.
St. Mark’s Gospel is especially devoted to the Cross. It has been described as a Passion account with an introduction, and that is just about right. The Evangelist offers ringside commentary on that great fight of which we sing with Dr. Luther: “It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended. The victory remained with life; the reign of death was ended.”
But again, these things are written for the purpose that you also should believe and live in Christ Jesus; that you should be crucified and raised with Him through repentance and faith in His Word. And St. Mark has done a masterful job of portraying that significance with reference to himself.
By long-standing tradition, at least, and I am quite inclined to agree, St. Mark was that rich young man who once came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. As you will recall, he went away sorrowful following that first encounter because he had many possessions and was reluctant to give them up in order to follow Jesus. Yet, the Lord looked on him and loved him, and what was impossible for that young man or any other, was not impossible for the One who alone is good, who is true God and perfect Man. Though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor. He liquidated everything, including His Body and Life, in order to give you the Kingdom of God.
For St. Mark the Gospel is the Cross and Passion of the Christ, and so too for those who would be His disciples. To live with Him in His Kingdom is to share His Cross and follow Him. It is to be baptized with His Baptism, to be buried with Him through Baptism into His death, in order to share His Resurrection and His Life. It is likewise to drink the Cup that He drinks, although for Him it is the Cup of God's wrath and bitter woe, whereas for us it is the Cup of Blessing and Salvation. He drinks it down to the dregs for us, in order to fill it to the brim and overflowing with His Blood of the New Testament, which He pours out for you and for the many for the forgiveness of sins. So is He stripped naked on the Cross, that you should be clothed with His robes of righteousness.
This is what He has done in love for you and for St. Mark. Consider that interesting side note in his Gospel, which the children find amusing, about that young man in the Garden of Gethsemane who slips out of his linen sheet and runs away naked at the onset of the Passion. If this is the same young man who once declined to give up his riches, he has followed Jesus to the point of giving up everything now! Yet, the Lord would not have His disciples found naked, but clothed with immortality. As He once clothed Adam and Eve with the skins of sacrifice, so does the once-for-all sacrifice of His own flesh and blood clothe all who are baptized into Him. His garments are removed and distributed to you, so that His nakedness and shame should fully cover yours.
And surely He has done it! For the next time we hear of that “young man” in St. Mark's Holy Gospel, he is sitting in the empty tomb from which the crucified Jesus has risen, “wearing a white robe.” Yes, of course, it was an angel — one of the two, actually — but St. Mark has recorded the historical facts with theological intent, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he catechizes you in the significance of Holy Baptism. The rich young man has been called to repentance, turned away from the idolatry of his many possessions to follow Christ Jesus to the Cross. He has been stripped naked of all his own prideful self-righteousness, in order to be crucified, put to death, and buried with his Lord. But now, behold, he emerges from the tomb in the Resurrection of that same Lord Jesus Christ, and he has been cleansed and clothed in the purity of that New Man.
With all of this in mind, and especially in view of the Holy Gospel for this festival day, it is clear that these things have been written for the proclamation and the hearing of the Word of Christ; that sinners be called to repentance, faith, and life in the Cross and Resurrection of the Son of God.
In particular, the publication of the Holy Gospel — the written record of Christ Jesus — aims to serve the administration of Holy Baptism in His Name. As St. John the Baptist came preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and as St. Peter preached on Pentecost that the people should repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name, so has St. Mark written that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. This promise is for you and for your children, for your body and your soul, and for your faith and life in Christ, both now and forever.
So does the Holy Gospel likewise serve the Office of the Keys and Holy Absolution, by preserving and declaring this special authority for the forgiving of repentant sinners in the Name and stead of the Lord Jesus Christ. Though perhaps not as obvious as the gift of the Keys in St. John chapter twenty, it is no less certain in what St. Mark has written here: “In My Name,” Jesus says, “demons will be cast out, and upon the sick you will lay your hands, and they will be made well.” For the healing of body and soul is bestowed, unto the life everlasting, by the Holy Absolution of Christ.
With all of this, the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, like that of the other holy Evangelists, is to serve the handing over — from one generation of the Church to the next; from pastor to people; from the Lord Himself to His disciples of all nations — the true Body and Blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ, for us Christians to eat and to drink in remembrance of Him. Just as He “appeared to the Eleven as they were reclining to eat at the table,” and He was there made known to them in “the Breaking of the Bread.” His Word and Supper, His Body and Life always belong together, and they are given and received within His Church on earth as one holy Tradition of the Gospel.
So it is, on the basis of the Word of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, especially as it has been recorded by the holy Evangelist Mark, that I preach to you on this day the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in the Name and stead of Christ; and here at His Table I give to you His Body to eat and pour out for you His Blood to drink, that you should be strengthened and sustained in the one true faith, and that you should have eternal Life in Him.
In this Ministry of the Gospel, the Lord Himself is actively present and at work, confirming His Word with the sacred signs of water, bread, and wine, and giving you nothing less than Himself.
Who has believed this report? To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? With man it is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God. He does it by His Gospel. So has He done it by the Gospel of that beloved young man, St. Mark, by whose poverty many have now been made rich. For his voice has gone out into all the earth, his words to the ends of the world. How beautiful, indeed, the feet of him who was sent with such tidings of good things.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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