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Friends, today we hear the opening line of Mark’s Gospel: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” This can sound anodyne and harmlessly pious to us, but in the first century, those were fighting words.

Mark’s Greek term euangelion, which we render as “good news,” was a word that was typically used to describe an imperial victory. When the emperor won a battle or quelled a rebellion, he sent evangelists ahead with the good news.

Do you see now how subversive Mark’s words were? He was writing from Rome, from the belly of the beast, from the heart of the empire whose leaders had killed his friends Peter and Paul just a few years before, and he was declaring that the true victory didn’t have a thing to do with Caesar, but rather with someone whom Caesar had put to death and whom God raised up.

And just to rub it in, he refers to this resurrected Lord as “Son of God.” Ever since the time of Augustus, “Son of God” was a title claimed by the Roman emperor.

Not so, says Mark. The authentic Son of God is the one who is more powerful than Caesar. The opening line of the Gospel of Mark is a direct challenge to Rome: Jesus Christ, not Caesar nor any of his descendants, is Lord.