When you experience the excitement of a big event, you naturally want to tell someone. Telling the story can bring back that original thrill as you relive the experience. Reading the first words of Mark, you can sense his excitement.
Mark 1:1 CJB
The beginning of the Good News of Yeshua the Messiah, the Son of God:
Picture yourself in the crowd as Jesus heals and teaches. Imagine yourself as one of the disciples. Respond to his words of love and encouragement. And remember that Jesus came for us who live today as well as for those who lived 2,000 years ago.
Even though Mark was not one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, he probably knew Jesus personally. Mark wrote his Gospel in the form of a fast-paced story, like a famous novel.
The book portrays Jesus as a man who backed up his words with action that invariably proved who he is—the Son of God. Because Mark wrote his Gospel for Believers in Rome, where many gods were worshiped, he wanted his readers to know that Jesus is the one true Son of God.
Mark gave the “punch line” of his Gospel in the very first verse, but both Jesus’ enemies and his disciples would not get it until Jesus’ resurrection. For us who read Mark today, the message is clear that we must not ignore or reject Jesus Christ.
The Office And Work Of John The Baptist
Mark 1:2-3 CSB
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight!
Mark quoted from two Old Testament prophets to show that Christ’s coming had been foretold long ago. In fact, it had been at least three hundred years since a word had come from God. The two prophets that Mark quoted from were Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1.
Mark combined the sayings of these two prophets but named only Isaiah probably because Isaiah emphasized the servanthood and salvation of the Messiah whereas Malachi highlighted the judgment of the Messiah. In both cases, a messenger was sent to prepare the way for Christ’s coming.
The figure of speech, prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight, refers to the custom of sending an officer before a monarch who was to make ready a royal journey. This person was to level and smooth out any ruts in the road so the monarch’s journey would be smoother. The messenger being sent to prepare the way was John the Baptist.
The Ministry Of John The Baptist
Mark 1:4 CSB
John came baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The appearance of John the Baptist in the wilderness was the most significant event in the life of Israel for more than three hundred years. It had been that long since Israel had heard a “word from God.”
Scholars have estimated that the desert region in which John started his ministry of baptism is between Judea and the Dead Sea. This area is known for its stark surroundings and rugged terrain.
In the Old Testament, it is sometimes called Jeshim-mon, which means “the devastation.” John was no city dweller; he was a man of the wilderness, and he performed his ministry in the wilderness to make a point.
The wilderness in Israel’s history symbolized rebellion and disobedience. The nation of Israel, after the deliverance of God and the Exodus from Egypt, disobeyed God by not going into the Promised Land. As a result, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years before they entered the Promised Land as God’s people.
By coming to the wilderness to be baptized, the people were admitting their wandering from God and their rebellion toward God and their desire for a fresh start. Also, John’s preaching of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was highly unusual for a Jew. Jews believed that only Gentile converts to Judaism needed to be baptized.
The baptism of Gentiles was a ritual washing from all the defilement of their past. The Jews were being asked to do something they had never done before. To call all Israel to be baptized meant that in some way all of Israel was defiled and needed cleansing.
In Matthew 3:9 John criticized the people for presuming to be righteous and secure with God just because they were children of Abraham, the father of the Jewish race. He warned, in Matthew 3:7-12, that they would be purged and rejected if they did not bear fruits of repentance.
The baptism by John was a baptism of repentance. Repentance means a turning away from something and turning in a new direction. Israel was being asked to turn away from its disobedience and rebellion and to start anew by turning toward the coming Messiah. By doing so, they would be forgiven—released—from their sins and would experience the grace of God through the Messiah.
Mark 1:5 CSB
The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
This verse says that the whole Judean countryside and all of the people of Jerusalem went out to him. When his hearers did repent, John baptized them as an outward expression of their about-face. Baptism separated them publicly from the mass of the nation of Israel who had forsaken the Lord. It united them with a remnant that was ready to receive the Christ. Its estimated that as many as three hundred thousand people came out to be baptized by John.
Confessing their sins demonstrates their acknowledgment of disobedience and rebellion toward God. It might seem from verse 5 that the response to John’s preaching was universal. But this was not the case. There may have been an initial burst of enthusiasm, with multitudes surging out to the desert to hear the fiery preacher, but the majority did not genuinely confess and forsake their sins. And this will be seen as the narrative advances.
The location of the baptism was the Jordan River, which was several miles outside Jerusalem.
Mark 1:6 CSB
John wore a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.
What kind of man was John? Today he would be called a fanatic and an ascetic. His home was the desert. The reference to John’s clothing and diet emphasizes that he was not mainstream. John’s dress and lifestyle were a protest against the godlessness and self-serving materialism of his day. You would not see John staying at the Jerusalem Hilton—nor would he be welcome.
To go out to be baptized by this man meant a break with the institutions and culture of Jerusalem. His clothing and food were those of a wilderness nomad. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. His camel hair robe was the kind worn by the very poor, and his belt was nothing but a leather belt.
His clothing also, especially the leather belt, was reminiscent of another man of the wilderness who was also a prophet preparing the way—Elijah (2 Kgs. 1:8). Mark references the explicit identification of John with Elijah later in Mark 9:9-13. Not only did John dress like Elijah, but he also understood his ministry to be one of reform and preparation, just as Elijah’s was.
A popular belief of the time was that Elijah would return from heaven to prepare the way for the Messiah (Mal. 4:5-6). John reminded the people of Elijah because of his dress and behavior.
His food was locusts and wild honey. There are two possible meanings for these words. The locusts could be the actual insect or also a kind of bean or nut that was the food of the poorest of the poor. The honey could be from the honeycomb of bees or a sort of sweet sap that distills from the bark of specific trees. John’s diet was “very simple” and “down to earth.”
Mark 1:7 CSB
He proclaimed, “One who is more powerful than I am is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals.
John made it clear that he was the servant of the coming Servant. John’s task was to prepare the way and then get out of the way. John appeared as an authoritative figure, but he made it clear that he would pale in comparison to the Messiah when he appeared. He showed his insignificance compared to the Messiah by saying, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
Sandals were made of leather soles fastened to the foot by straps passing through the toes. The roads in those days were not paved. In dry weather they were dust, and in wet weather, they became rivers of mud. To remove the sandals and wash the feet was the job of a slave. John was saying that he was not even worthy of the office of a slave when compared to the One coming after him.
Mark 1:8 CSB
I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
John made it clear that his ministry was only preparatory, symbolic, and temporary. His baptism was with water. John was administering an external rite that symbolized moral cleansing and a desire to break away from the sin that had separated people from God. The one to follow him would baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
John was pointing out that the Messiah’s baptism would bring about lasting change. The Messiah’s baptism would be internal, changing a person from the inside out. Jesus’ baptism would secure the purity of heart and life, deliver his followers from the guilt and power of sin, and bring them into fellowship with God.