The Forerunner. 1:1-8
The prologue of Mark's gospel consists of the first 13 verses. It introduces us to John the Baptist and to Jesus, both of whom appear in the wilderness in fulfillment of prophecy, both summoned there by God. The gospel begins in much the same way as it ends, shrouded in mystery. In our passage for study we meet the forerunner of Messiah, "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness."
v1. The "gospel" (the word means "important news") consists of a message from God concerning human salvation. It is "about Jesus Christ," ie. it is a divine communication concerning Jesus. Jesus is the long foretold messiah who, through his life, death and resurrection, provides a way for lost humanity to be gathered into the presence of God for eternity. So, Mark sets about to fill out the gospel account of Jesus' life and teachings, describing the beginning of his book as "the beginning of the gospel."
v2-3. In Exodus 23:20, v2b, God promised to send his messenger before the people of Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness to the promised land. Years later, the prophets spoke of the coming day when there would be another journey through the wilderness and another (Moses, Elijah?) who would lead the way, Isa.40:3, v3. John is this "messenger", and so he calls the "Lord", "the Son of God" (corporate Israel), out into the wilderness.
v4-5. The people of Israel were waiting for the appearance of the prophet like unto Moses. He would usher in the "last days"; the turning point in history when salvation would extend to all humanity - the day of the coming of the kingdom of God. John appears and calls the people out into the wilderness. He calls on them to abandon their bondage in Egypt (repent of their sins) and walk through the waters of the Red sea (baptism - outwardly expressing their repentance, their leaving Egypt) and come into the wilderness to meet with their God and receive the covenant promise of their renewed relationship (the forgiveness of sins).
v6. The description given of John paints him as a man of the wilderness. The reference to the belt probably aligns him with another man of the wilderness, namely, Elijah, 2Ki.1:8.
v7-8. Mark gives us a summary of John's message. John announces the coming of a greater one, so great in fact, that John is less than a slave to him. Even a Hebrew slave is not required to untie his master's sandals. So, this coming one exposes our unworthiness. He is a coming judge. John may be referring to the coming of the messiah, but also possibly a visit from God himself to his people. When he arrives in the wilderness, this coming one will confront his people with the Spirit-empowered presence of God. The Spirit of God guided the people through the desert and sustained them and gave them rest. So again, as the people come out into the wilderness, they will meet with their God.
A wilderness gospel |
The challenge of John to his own generation is reported by Mark so that his readers are forced to respond to the challenge. We, like the people of Israel of old, are locked into the bondage of sin, death and judgement. If we want to share in this last days salvation, we must repent, we must leave Egypt and pass through the waters into the wilderness to meet with our God. There in the wilderness God will visit us through Christ, forgiving us of our sins and washing us with his eternal presence - a peace that passes all understanding.
What a tremendous gospel presentation, but then of course that is what Mark is all about. He takes the gospel and fills it out. Yet, in these opening verses of his gospel, the package is honed down to reveal the gospel in all its simplicity. Even the challenge is there.
The Christian church has given John the Baptist an important place in gospel tradition. His memory is affirmed in the Christian church on St. John the Baptist's Day, June 24. Churches are even named after him. The reason for this attention is that he was the forerunner of gospel proclamation. His call to the people of Israel was the same call as that of Jesus and his disciples, and it is the call Jesus has commissioned us to make - "go and gather disciples out of every nation, immersing them in the Name (in the gospel), and teaching them", Matt.28:19-20.
The imagery presented in this passage is very powerful. There is value in seeing our own life in the terms of a move from Egypt, from sin, death and judgement, out into the wilderness to meet with our God. It is there we can experience, through Christ, the gift of his forgiveness and his eternal presence. We can then, under his guidance, take up the journey into the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey - heaven, eternity.
There is also great value picturing evangelism in wilderness images. Our task is to call people out of bondage into the wilderness where they can meet with God - call on people to repent, to flee Egypt, to turn from self to Christ. Obviously, they must want to meet God and know they can't because they are slaves, ie. the gospel is for the "lost" who want to be found. The gospel we proclaim announces that Jesus provides the way out of bondage into the presence of God where all can freely obtain his eternal acceptance. T
So, the gospel points the way to that eternal land for all humanity.
Identify the elements of the gospel in this passage, and present and critique each presentation.
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