John the Baptist Prepares the Way
Mark 1: 1 — 8
This reading is part of the prologue to Mark (1: 1 — 13) and is laid down for the second Sunday in Advent: a time of personal preparation to celebrate the coming of the Messiah. The previous Sunday's Gospel opened Advent encouraging us to be ready for the final coming of the Lord and the close of time as we know it. Now we turn to the preparation of Israel for the commencement of the ministry of Jesus.
J. Dummelow (Ed)
Some Notes On the Text
The beginning of the gospel about
J. Dummelow (Ed)
Most translations consider this verse as a heading or title, since it is not a complete sentence. The translation above has, "gospel about Jesus Christ…" Literally, the text says "of Jesus Christ", but it is not so much the gospel that comes from Jesus Christ, as an account about him. The Jerome Commentary goes further and adds that it is more "a proclamation of the Risen Christ in which he is again made present."
The word "gospel" (Greek, euaggeliou) meaning "good news" does not refer to a written document but the living word of hope from the lips of an appointed messenger (Lane). Lagrange defines it as, "the proclamation of salvation in Jesus…. The announcement of the salvation contained in the words and acts of Jesus." Only later did the word come to mean a book.
By the time this account was written, the name Christ (Greek, Christos) the Annointed One had become more like a surname.
Verse 2 and 3
It is written in Isaiah the prophet:
This is not actually a quotation from Isaiah alone, but includes a sentence from Malachi as well, who, being the "lesser" prophet is not mentioned (a common custom at that time). Mark based his verses 2 and 3 on the following:
Exodus 23: 20
Malachi 3: 1
Isaiah 40: 3
As Lane informs us, "The blended citation functions to draw attention to three factors which are significant to the evangelist in the prologue: the herald, the Lord and the wilderness.
Going back to Mark's blended quotation it should open with the word "Behold, I will send…etc." This is not just a call to look, but more correctly to listen carefully and reflect on the words. After the word "behold" the next is "will send" (Greek, apostello), a very important term in the New Testament.
Some other words to note:
Summing up, Mark sees the coming of John and Jesus to the wilderness as the fulfilment of the promised salvation of which the prophet Isaiah had spoken.
Verses 4 and 5
And so John came, baptising in the desert region
Again, we clarify the meaning and significance of some terms used in these two verses.
All the people:
Lane helps us see clearly the three elements of John's ministry:
In the context of John's preaching, Mark highlights the Biblical understanding of true repentance:
Achtemier adds, that John the Baptist calls for a return to faithfulness to God — the same faithfulness that had been typical of Israel in the wilderness. Just as Israel would finally return to the desert and to faithfulness to God in the last times, so John, in the desert, calls all Israel to repent and be washed clean of their sins, so they will be ready to greet the One who will come — clothed in God's own Spirit. (Invitation To Mark by P. Achtemeir, Image Books, DLT 1978).
Thus, these few verses set in place a major underlying theme throughout the whole of Mark.
John wore clothing made of camel's hair,
John is a true man of the wilderness, an ascetic, in fact a Nazirite. His clothing was similar to that of Elijah: course, tough, and suited to the harsh environment. His simple uncluttered lifestyle matched the message he proclaimed. And we would say, he practised what he preached.
Verse 7 and 8
And this was his message:
"After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
John is saying, "While it is God's will for me to baptise, I do so with water. But the one who will take over from me will baptise with and in the Holy Spirit."
Again we point readers to the renowned work by Professor W. Lane:
(The Gospel According to Mark by W. Lane, published by W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1974)
We will return to this theme often as we proceed through the rest of this Gospel account over the next twelve months.
There is something very reassuring about this stark and piercing call from a man we may still find a strange enigma: the fact that we can go back and start again. It is a message about repentance, but it is full of hope.
The call comes to us as individuals, as well as to the Church collectively. Advent reminds us that it is not only possible to go back to our original relationship with God, but that we must respond to this call. It is then we can recover the vision and sense of purpose we sometimes feel intensely aware we have lost. Plenty around us beat the drums and shout victory for the Lord, but have no intention of first repenting of personal sin and listening to him in the desert place; the place he calls us into where we leave the noise and affairs of the world to be able to hear, the "still small voice.
Now is the time to listen!
Copyright © 2000 Community of Affirmation