14 - Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Jan 3, 2016 (with audio)

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II Timothy 4:5-8

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Gospel is a word announcing a military victory that leads to the enthronement of a new Emperor. It is therefore a victory of global significance since the rule of an Emperor is world-wide in scope.

“The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” is therefore the beginning of a military victory and the enthronement of a new Ruler whose reign, being of the Son of God, is ultimate in scope; i.e., “all in all”. Where, what is this beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  

St Mark says immediately: “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet.” But, the word St Mark gives, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face; He will prepare or build your path,” is a conflation of the LORD’s word to Moses in the wilderness (Ex 23:20) and the word of the LORD to the prophet, Malachi (Mal 3:1). Now comes what is written in Isaiah: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness. Make ready the path of the LORD, make straight His paths.” (Isa 40:3)

From this, where should we place the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: at some point in time or history? Actually, I would say it is found in neither but in the word of the prophets.

Now, that word of the prophets is not the prophets’ word; it is the LORD’s word. It does not originate in the mind of the prophets but in the will of God. It is given to the prophets directly from the LORD Almighty. It is found “in the world,” but it “is not of the world.” It is historical in that it enters history and takes a historical shape and form, but it is not of history. It is of the eternal God in Heaven. It is not a word that is in the world as an “idea” from on high. It is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” It is fully expressed not in an idea or in the printed word but in an act of God. In the OT, it delivers Israel from slavery and puts her on the path to the Land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As we learned from Hebrews on the Sunday before Christmas, that Promised Land is not of this world. It is the City of God that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11:10). The foundation of that City is the Stone that was rejected by the builders, the Body of Christ that was crucified and buried outside the city and that, in the tomb,became the chief cornerstone of the Heavenly Temple not of this creation, not made with hands. The scope, then, of this “Gospel of Jesus Christ” begins, looking at it from this angle, in the mystery of the death of Christ; but the beginning of this beginning is not in Christ’s death but in the heavenly Word that originates in the will of God.

You see then, that the Gospel is a word that cannot be received without taking action because to receive this Gospel means that you get up, having been delivered from slavery, and start walking on the path to the Promised Land that that word of the Gospel sets before you.

Let’s look even more closely. If the Gospel begins in the will of God, and if the Kingdom of Heaven is in you, and if Christ in you is the mystery of God hidden before the ages and generations, and if Christ is the Image of God in whom we were made, then is not the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in each one of us? Its beginning, i.e., is not restricted to some point in the past. It is eternally present in our soul – yet again, it does not begin in our soul but in the mystery of the will of God.

In the OT, this word took shape as the LORD’s deliverance of Israel from Pharaoh, as the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that led Israel on the path that led through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land, and as the Law centered in the sanctuary of the tabernacle, which even in the OT was seen by the prophets as sacred space demanding full participation of the heart. I.e., even in the OT, the Word of the LORD has an interior, spiritual meaning.

But, listen: Adam and Eve by their disobedience fell under bondage to the devil through the fear of death (cf. Heb 2:14). Yet, even as they were expelled from the Garden, the LORD said to them: “From the dust you were taken; to the dust you shall return.”

The history of Israel is centered on her return to and taking possession of the Promised Land. But, the story of Adam and Eve shows that Israel’s deliverance from the Pharaoh and return to Canaan was but an event in history that pointed to a deeper, spiritual return of the soul to Eden not as a geographical spot somewhere in the Near East but as the Kingdom of Heaven that is within you (cf. Lk 17:21). And, I would say that the “Gospel” word to Adam and Eve shows that the return to Eden is by way of a path that leads back to the dust of the ground, i.e., into the tomb of the heart where we are dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1), and that path was not opened until Christ was born of the Virgin (He opened her womb) and baptized by John in the Jordan (the heavens were opened) and was crucified on the Cross (the curtain of the temple was torn open) and was buried in the tomb, i.e., He returned to the dust of the ground (when after three days the tomb was opened and Christ came forth in His Resurrection as a Bridegroom in procession).

This leads me to say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, this divine word announcing His victory over death, was began in the dust of the ground, i.e., at the moment of our Fall into death through disobedience. This Gospel of Jesus Christ that is given in the word of the prophets has in these latter days suddenly come into His temple, the Holy Virgin Theotokos (Mal 3:1) and become flesh. Jesus Christ is Himself the Word of the Gospel spoken to us in these last days by the Father (cf. Heb 1:1), taking shape not as an idea nor as a messenger (angel), but as the New Adam in the historical act of His conception and birth of the Holy Virgin and the Holy Spirit, and of His Cross. The Word of God Himself is laid in the tomb and returns to the dust of the ground, destroys death by His death and opens Eden to all.

This takes us full circle: the beginning of this Gospel of Jesus Christ, originating in the will of God, is found eternally present in the mystery of our soul. This word is the voice crying out to us in the wilderness of our soul. It comes to us as it came to Israel, in the midst of our bondage to the devil who holds us in the power of death and corruption: “Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight His paths.”

The paths and ways of the LORD that are to be made straight, then, are not terrestrial roads winding through some Near Eastern countryside. They are immaterial and spiritual paths that lead through the wilderness of our soul and into the tomb of our heart. A path is a venue of movement from one point to another; and so, let’s say that these paths of the LORD that we are to make straight refer to an immaterial movement that is within us: ourwill, whereby we choose to take either the path that leads to the Tree of Life: the Cross of Christ that goes down into the tomb of the heart and to the Gates that open onto the Heavenly City; or to the serpent’s tree: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life that are of this world that is passing away.

With the birth of Jesus Christ from the Virgin, the first Epiphany of God in the flesh, the climate of the Church suddenly changes. Here, in the middle of the Winter Pascha, we catch a whiff already of the sacred fragrance of the Lenten Spring wafting from the Tomb of Christ and tincturing the air of the Church’s liturgical worship with the sober joy born of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For God is with Us in His Holy Church to lead us through the wilderness of our soul and into the tomb of our heart, back to the dust, back to our beginning that we may come upon the “beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” to hear in the bridal chamber of our heart the Gospel of the destruction of death and of our deliverance from the devil and of the enthronement of Christ as the King of All in our union with Christ in the likeness of His death and holy Resurrection. Amen!