A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Monday, August 3, 2020
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way,3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 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. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 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. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
We all know people who just lead way more interesting lives than we do and have a way of capturing our attention and drawing us in to their antics through their ability to communicate in vivid detail. Some of my friends can’t ever seem to do anything “normal”, even the mundane activities of their ordinary day-to-day lives seem to consist of nothing but one wildly unbelievable anecdote after another and another. As we read through the gospel of Mark, we quickly get the idea that Jesus was certainly one of those people. In Mark’s gospel, we find God audibly confirming Jesus as His Son, Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, Jesus preaching of the arrival of the Kingdom, fishermen leaving their nets to follow Jesus, Jesus casting out demons and performing healings of all sorts of diseases, and more all just in the first chapter!
Compared to the other gospel accounts, the gospel of Mark is fast-paced and action packed. One of Mark’s favorite words is “immediately,” which he uses 35 times in just 16 chapters. After a one sentence introduction, Mark jumps right into the life of Jesus. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not contain any part of the birth narrative of Jesus. There are no shepherds or angels or wisemen or even a reference to the virgin mother Mary. Make no mistake, Mark is assuredly writing with a purpose. Just like the introduction to the gospel of Luke, Mark makes clear from the opening line of his gospel why he is writing. He is writing an account of “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This may seem redundant or obvious to modern readers since we are reading this gospel in the Bible, but remember that Mark was writing to a skeptical audience in the first century, perhaps even within two decades of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Throughout the gospel Mark takes care to explain some of the Jewish customs that would have been obvious to a Jewish audience but not so much to Gentiles.
Although the author does not introduce himself in the book, early church tradition is unanimous that Mark was the one who wrote this gospel. Like Luke, Mark was not a disciple or even an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. Rather, Mark was a friend and close follower of Peter, and this gospel narrative displays the action-oriented style that marked the life of Peter. By contrast, the gospel of John spends considerable time showing that Jesus did not just come into existence at His birth but builds that case that He has always been a member of the triune God from all eternity. Rather than creating parallels to Genesis and creation, Mark draws upon the past in a different way, quoting from God’s promises in Isaiah about the one who was to be sent to prepare the way for the Messiah.
After his opening salvo, the first person Mark introduces is actually John the Baptist. This John, like Jesus, was no ordinary man. Mark says “John appeared,” almost as if out of nowhere, “baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” As striking as John’s physical appearance—neither clothing oneself in camel’s hair nor eating honey-dipped locusts was in vogue in the first century Middle East—even more incredible was his message. John preached repentance, which is the acknowledgment of and turning away from sin before a perfectly holy God. While preaching on sin is commonly thought to be a sure-fire way of keeping curious people away from God, we actually see that everyone from everywhere came out to the wilderness to hear this message, confess their sins, and be baptized in the Jordan river.
And yet, although experiencing an extraordinarily successful ministry, John was always deflecting credit and pointing to the One to come. John realized that he was nothing more than a simple messenger, and the greater One would soon arrive. Despite John’s success and spreading fame, compared to Jesus, John was lower than even the lowest slave of a Jewish household, unworthy to even untie His shoes.
From the beginning, Mark reminds us of who we are in relation to who Jesus is. If John the Baptist, who was righteous and holy in a way that we simply can not appreciate or compare to, was unworthy of having any association with Jesus, so are we. And yet, He comes as the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One. From Genesis 3, God had promised His people that even though they had sinned, even though they had rejected God, that God would make a way for His people to return to Him. He knew that their best could never be good enough to deserve His blessing or affection, so He went to work to do the work on their behalf. Mark’s message is the gospel, the good news, that God has arrived on the scene. He is fulfilling everything He has promised to do, so much more than we could have ever hoped for or imagined. Join us each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as we dive into the greatest story ever told and learn about what God did even for the likes of me and you.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we are beyond grateful that You have and always will be faithful to Your promises. You have moved heaven and earth to make the way for us to know You, to be restored into a loving relationship with our Creator and Sustainer. May you renew within us a spirit of wonder and excitement and joy as we remember the magnificent story of Your salvation. Open our eyes to our sin, draw us to repentance and new life in You. We pray in Your powerful name, Amen.