Shocks in Mark’s opening

Have you ever been stunned by Mark? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As I’ve said, I’ve been reading and listening to N.T. Wright lately and as a result I am really rethinking much of the NT. One night, I started thinking about the book of Mark as I was going to sleep and it’s been a thought that often pops back into my mind. I’d like to share some if it with you.

The first verse begins:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Jesus begins with a hefty pair of titles! He is the Messiah and he is the Son of God! We are about to hear his good news, the gospel. Let us suppose we are people who know nothing about Jesus and are rather picking up the gospel for the first time. What do we expect? Well let’s move on and see. Verses 2 and 3 read:

“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:


Ah! Eschatology! This is big stuff then! Today we know about 2012 hype. When people think a prophecy is to be fulfilled, they expect something dramatic. The Jews had been studying and expected a mighty warrior to rise up and defeat Rome and restore Israel to a golden age. How could it be anything less?

We see that a prophet has said something! Even if we do not know who Isaiah is, we can know that this is pointing back to someone in the past. This has been an event long foretold. If it was foretold, then surely it must be something important to us all.

But even before this Christ comes, we have a messenger making ready the way of the Lord. Ah! A king is coming! A king has been prophesied and a king deserves only the best! What kind of great messenger could come that will fulfill a prophecy about a king? Verse 4 reads:

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Beg your pardon?

This is the great messenger?

This is the preparation for the king?

We have someone in a river dunking people?

Where’s the chariot? Where’s the sword? Where’s the entourage? How is this messenger described? Let’s look at verses 5-6.

“And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.”

This messenger appears in Judea? A nowhere country? Not in Rome? Not in Athens? Not in Egypt? He is in Judea?

The people are coming to him? Isn’t a messenger to go to the people?

In the Jordan River? That’s not much of a river. If we knew our Bibles, we would have known it’s the river Naaman did not want to disgrace himself by bathing in. The other rivers were much cleaner.

Let us suppose we thought about all of this.

A Jew would have recognized the outfit of Elijah and would have thought about how Malachi said Elijah would come before the day of the Lord. Now Elijah has come. They can tell. What of the Jordan? The Jordan was representative of entering the Promised Land. Is this messenger making way for the Promised Land again?

The crossing of the Jordan would mean just that. This would bring to mind the Exodus and God restoring His people. Such had not happened since the exile. Oh they had been in the land, but they had not enjoyed the richness of a Davidic age. Now here it was at last once again! As Wright would say “The exile is over.”

We go on to 7 and 8.

“And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

We have read this passage so much I think we overlook what John says about himself. “One who is mightier than I?”

We are looking at him and tempted to say “You’re just out there in the water dunking people. You’re not exactly Mr. Universe or anything.”

But this is someone mighty! He can pronounce the forgiveness of sins! He doesn’t even need you to bring a sacrifice. We don’t even know if he is asking about circumcision! All we know is that he is teaching about the forgiveness of sins and with authority. If it was not, people would not come to him.

It takes someone either mighty powerful or mighty foolish to pronounce the forgiveness of God Himself. John is one of the two. You must decide. Does his authority come from Heaven or from men?

We’re going to go to verses 9-11 then and end it for tonight. I do not know if we will continue through like this, but if we don’t, it is because I hope your flame has been lit to see the gospel for the first time on your own. Let’s see what happens in these verses:

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

Amazing juxtapositions take place here! Jesus from Nazareth? What kind of great leader comes from a little Podunk like that? This is the Messiah and this is the Son of God? Why would such a man come from such a place? If this is a prophecy, did they not have the chance to foresee he must be a loser coming from such an area like that?

From Galilee? That’s also nowhere. Why should anyone give a rip about that? Were we to know about the Sanhedrin, we could know that they say that no prophet comes out of Galilee! Why there’s no need to even examine the case! We know where he comes from and the case is closed!

And he comes to the messenger? Seems like things are backwards. The messenger should be acting under the authority of the king, but not the other way around. Instead, Jesus (Who by the way also has a common name. Not much noble about that) comes to John asking to be baptized under John! What nonsense!

And then we hear about the testimony of God. Once again, we are in a tough situation. It really isn’t, but for us, it is. How often we today know what God says about something, but it meshes with our conceptions at the time. We know that God says to not worry. We look at our checkbooks and bank accounts. We know God says He loves us. We question that and call it into question constantly. We know that His way is best, yet we continually seek our own. We know about the joy of God and we sing about how awesome He is and marvelous and His ways beyond understanding, yet we treat Him as if He does not matter and that He is uninteresting entirely. We claim that He is Lord of all, yet we live in fear of all that He has made. We know that He has told us to trust Him, yet we hold on to silly fears. We know His Word is true, yet we do not seek to take it in constantly. We know He is always there to help us, yet we rarely pray.

Oh the way the first century responded with skepticism and disbelief in the face of the evidence of this testimony and the miracles we read was wrong, but let us make sure we are not too quick to condemn. We say the case for the resurrection is incredibly strong and thus we have even more evidence for who Jesus was and is, and we have more wisdom in the epistles and the apocalypse, but yet we too have hesitation when it comes to believing what God has said and we too hesitate then when we face the claims of Christ. We may sign our names to the creeds, but do we sign our lifestyles to Him? Do our actions show what we say we believe with our mouths?

This is the juxtaposition of Christ. I often use a saying and my wife corrects me as she should when I get it wrong. I say that Jesus did not turn the world upside-down. The world was not right-side up. It was upside-down and instead Jesus turned it right-side up. He is still doing it and you and I are a part of that world that’s being turned around and too often, our thinking is still topsy-turvy and God gives us a huge contrast. What will we believe? Him or ourselves? If Mark has shown us anything at this point, it is that God does not act the way that we often expect or think He should. It is easy for us to trust God when He acts as we would like. Can we do it when He does not?

I hope this has given you much to think about and I hope as you read the Bible, you also will try to read it for the first time with new eyes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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