The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” – Mark 1:1-8 ESV
Notice that Mark already calls Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God. For early Christians, there is no doubt that Jesus is the Messiah. But he invites them, us, to have a fresh look at this Jesus, the story about how he started. Mark’s account is noticeably a brief one – focusing on details and then grabs our attention again to the next scenes. First example is how he introduced Jesus without the Christmas story, going directly to John the Baptist announcing the greater one that is coming.
Mark recalls the old prophets’ words that there will be a messenger who will prepare for the coming of the Lord. And then he introduces John the Baptist who fits that description. He is making the path straight, calling people to repent and be forgiven. He is baptizing people as they confess sins.
All of this reminds Christians how John the Baptist rocked the Jewish world that time. 400 years without a prophet. The day to day struggle with Roman occupation. The Jewish religion becoming burdensome thanks to their faith leaders. Today they hear a new and loud voice from a man who eats locusts and wild honey. And not without controversy, because any Pharisee present at that time would cringe at what John is doing. “What in the river of Jordan is this man doing, baptizing the Jews? Only non-Jewish converts need that – only once!”
At that moment, John knew that someone greater than him is coming; someone whom he feels he is not worthy to even touch that man’s sandals. John was telling this to the people; that this man will also baptize them, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit.
What could have been the people’s reaction? They had been waiting for a long time for God to again move with His Spirit, at least in way that is obvious to them. Could this be what the prophets have been talking about the Holy Spirit being pouring out, about the Spirit being put within us? Could this mean that God is about to redeem them? Could this mean that the Messiah is coming?
Surely, John had grabbed the attention of many Jews. And Mark is doing just like that to us readers. He is using this scene of John to start his gospel account with a bang. It’s like we who claim to know Jesus, scrolling on our news feeds, sitting, and drinking that expensively brewed coffee, are being interrupted by someone who drags us away from our couches to take a fresh look about something we think we’re already familiar with. Mark enters into the scene where early Christians are already hearing and learning about Jesus in their weekly gathering. And he starts telling about John who enters into the scene of Israel. And John tells them about Jesus who is now entering into the scene of our history. Inceptioooon!
Now allow me to enter into your scene. You’re probably experiencing that flatlined faith. You know Jesus. You’ve accepted him into your heart (probably a lot of times during your youth). But you’re growing tired of the usual things. Maybe going to church, attending events, and doing ministry are slowly becoming routines that you’re already taking for granted. Or perhaps you’re losing sight of the value your job. No more cause of excitement.
Then Mark enters and shouts, “Hey! Take a look! God is doing something here. The Messiah is about to come and he’s about to turn things around (and flip tables)! This is going to be powerful. Man, this is going to be an awesome ride!”
And the story that Mark started isn’t finished yet. Jesus came. Served. Suffered. Died. Rose again. Went to the Father. But the whole story ain’t over yet. Take a fresh look.
Jesus came. Died. Rose again. But the whole story ain’t over yet. Take a fresh look.
Where are we asleep today, in our churches,
our communities, our personal lives?
What might it take to wake us up?
– N.T. Wright