Devotion 6-16-14, beginning the Gospel of Mark

Time to begin a new book of the Scripture, for in-depth study. Looking back at my notes, we have done the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John since beginning this daily study, so we begin now the Gospel of Mark.

The Gospel of Mark

Mark 1:1-8

1.The beginning of the good news* of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.*

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,*

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,*
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
4John the baptizer appeared* in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with* water; but he will baptize you with* the Holy Spirit.’

Verse 1 may be the title of Mark’s gospel – or simply an introduction. The gospel is believed to be the first of the four gospels to be written, probably during the last decade before the destruction of Jerusalem, or possibly shortly after, sometime around 65 – 75 AD. Direct witnesses are dying, and the author feels an urgent need to write what they have told. Specifically, authors from the early second century believed that Mark was writing Peter’s story as Peter waited for execution under Nero.

The Gospel begins, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always good news. If anyone makes it bad news, about judgement, fear, and hate, they do not know the Jesus presented in these gospel stories. The author of this Gospel knows who Jesus is, and so do his readers, right up front in the first paragraph. We will find, however, that while a voice from heaven announces who he is, and demons know who he is, his followers take a long time to figure it out!

The Good News of Jesus Christ is announced first by one speaking in the wilderness – just as the prophet Isaiah had said. Mark begins his gospel with a connection to the Old Testament scriptures, what he knew as Scripture! The actual quote is a combination of texts, from Malachi 3:1, “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple”, and Isaiah 40:3, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God’.” And so, John the Baptist came to announce the coming of the Lord; he came from the wilderness – there are those who believe he may have been a part of the Qumran community of the Essenes, a strict religious sect of the Jews who lived a celibate life in the wilderness (those who wrote and hid the Dead Sea scrolls). John’s appearance is spelled out – because it connects him to the prophet Elijah (see the description of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8).

John comes declaring a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We have just come through the time of Pentecost – and have seen that our baptism, while it includes “Justifying grace”, the forgiveness of sins, is also much more; it is also a baptism of the Spirit. Luke makes clear, in his description of the early church in Acts, that there was a difference between the “baptism of John” and “baptism with the Holy Spirit” that comes from Jesus. The repentance leading to John’s baptism for cleansing prepared the hearts of the people to hear Jesus’ message and accept his baptism, both of forgiveness and of the Spirit.

photos are from Qumran

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