As I thought about what book to study next, I decided upon the gospel of Mark. It’s always important to study the gospels, and one of the things I like about Mark is that it moves so quickly and focuses on what Jesus does. There’s no long introduction in Mark, there’s no long genealogy. So, in that same spirit, let’s look at Mark starting from the beginning.
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
This is Mark’s introduction. I think it’s an interesting commentary. If you take this introduction as applying to the whole book, Mark makes it clear that the resurrection is part of the beginning of the gospel. If that’s true, then we are living in the continuing story of the gospel. The gospel story begins, according to Mark, with the preaching of John the Baptist. It still hasn’t ended. Some would see this as a commentary on the story of John the Baptist, noting that his story began the story of the gospel. Whatever the case may be, Mark reminds us that this is gospel or good news, and that the good news is the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That designation isn’t up for debate in his mind, that’s just truth. How often do we get caught up in debates over issues that aren’t productive. Mark didn’t debate the issue, he proclaimed it and then wrote the story that explained why he believed that.
2. As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 3. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Some translations mention Isaiah as the prophet, but verse two is actually a quote from Malachi 3:1. Verse three is found in Isaiah 40:3. Whatever the source for these verses, they’re being used to indicate the coming and the task of John the Baptist. John’s job was to help prepare the people for the coming of Jesus. He was to be a voice from outside calling on people to clear the way spiritually for the Messiah to come. I hate to make this comparison, but I’ve been to concerts and they always have a “warm-up” band. Their job is to get people in the right frame of mind to enjoy the main band. If, as they go off the stage, you think, “that was great, how can it be better?” then they’ve done their job, especially if you answer your own question after the first couple of numbers with “Now I see.” John had an amazing message of the need to repentance. He never sought the glory of Jesus and always pointed people to Jesus, but many wondered if he was the Messiah. (How can it get any better, John?) John told them again and again that he was nothing compared to the real Messiah who was coming.
4. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
Where did you find John? In the wilderness. He made it hard for people to find him, and yet, find him they did. People flocked to him, coming from all over the Jewish area of influence to hear his message. We wouldn’t call his message “seeker-friendly” to use today’s terminology. John let them know what was wrong and what they needed to do. He baptized people and told them that they needed to be baptized to bring about forgiveness of their sins. Now, a couple of things are interesting here. Baptism did not originate with John. Whenever a non-Jew wanted to accept the teachings of the Jewish faith and become a Jew, they were baptized. When John called on Jews to be baptized, it was almost like saying, “You have strayed so far from God that you should no longer be considered a Jew, you should be considered a pagan.” If I were to go into any Baptist Church and make statements like that, they’d probably run me out on a rail. The Jews flocked to John in spite of that. Perhaps they did that because they really were hungry for a prophet, since it had been hundreds of years since God had sent them a prophet. When John talked about the need to be baptized for remission of sins, I would take that to mean a symbolic washing away of sin because of the confession of sin and the accompanying change of heart. If baptism actually washed away or forgave sin, we could live as terrible people, just so long as we made sure to be baptized to get forgiveness. That’s contrary to the demands God places on the lives of believers.
6. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;
OK. I’m gonna say it. As a Baptist, we often identify with John the Baptist. But if John the Baptist came into many of our churches today, looking like that, bringing meals to a church potluck like that, and demanding that we confess our sins and get re-baptized, he wouldn’t last long. As Christians, we’ve become so sophisticated that we can judge the spirituality of people by the way they look, what they eat, and how they talk. (OK, that was sarcasm.) John would definitely not fit in with most of our churches. That should remind us not to look at outward appearances, but learn to listen to the heart of those we interact with.
7. And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. 8. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
As well as people received John’s message of repentance, which probably surprises most of us, he made it a point to remind people that one who was truly great was coming. When John compared himself to the coming Messiah, he told them, in effect, “You know the lowest servant in the household? The one who unties the shoes (after the master came in from walking on the streets shared by camels, donkeys, sheep, and other animals, if you catch my drift)? I’m not even worthy to be that slave in comparison to the one who’s coming.” John probably pointed at the Jordan River and noted that he baptized with water – a common everyday thing; the coming Messiah would infuse them with the power of God.
9. And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: 11. And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
I would guess that John proclaimed the coming of the Messiah every time he preached. I would also guess that he was so sensitive to God’s Spirit working in him that when Jesus came, he recognized Him immediately. Other gospels describe John balking at baptizing Jesus. In the end, John did that, and then amazing things happened. Jesus came out of the water, the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, landed on Him, and a Voice from Heaven proclaimed Jesus to be God the Son. Even though Jesus hadn’t started His ministry yet, the Father proclaimed that He was well pleased with the Son. Whether that refers to a) Jesus’s life leading up to this point, b) Jesus submitting to baptism, or 3) a proclamation of all that would be, the Father was pleased with the Son. And, in this amazing transition, we move from talking about John and his message to focusing on Jesus.
12. And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness.13. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
If you’re familiar with the other gospels, you understand why I said that the gospel of Mark moves fast! We’re about 1/3 of the way through chapter one and we’re already at the part of the story that opens up the fourth chapter in both Matthew and Luke. Both of those gospels give us details on the last part of Jesus’s temptation. Mark just noted that Jesus followed the impulse of the Spirit, went into the wilderness for forty days and then, after He dealt with the temptations of Satan and the wild beasts, angels ministered to Him. We should be reminded that while we pray not to be led into temptation, being tempted isn’t a sin in and of itself, giving into temptation is. At the same time, God cares for us and sends messengers to minister to us throughout our days as we deal with those everyday battles against temptation and the wiles of the devil.
14. Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,15. And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
I think this part of the timeline is interesting. Does verse 14 imply that Jesus didn’t begin His ministry until after John was put in prison, or does it mean that Jesus moved his base of ministry from Judea to Galilee in response to the arrest of John. Was there a period of time after the temptation before Jesus started His ministry? Was John arrested immediately after Jesus was tempted in the wilderness? My guess is that John was arrested not long after the temptation, because when Jesus came, John started pointing people to Him. As people turned to Jesus, John’s crowds dwindled and it may have been safer for Herod to arrest John. Then, Jesus recognized the unrest in the area and went back to Galilee to minister there. He preached the gospel: the good news. That good news contains the ideas that the kingdom of God was at hand, people still needed to repent, and that people should believe in the good news from God that we have forgiveness for our sins. It’s a message that still rings in our hearts and still calls people into the kingdom of God today.
While I will refer to the other gospels occasionally in what I write, I invite you to compare what happens in Mark with what happens in the other gospels and when things happen. I believe the more we know about our Savior, the more we can appreciate what He did while here on earth. Through learning about Him and appreciating Him, we get to know Him better.
Excellent point concerning how unwelcome the words and appearance of John the Baptist might be in our churches today! When we read John and all the prophets we agree with their words… when we apply them to others! But put yourself as the recipient of the words of the prophet and see how cutting and challenging their words can be! Great study. Looking forward to more. William
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