Mark introduces us to the life and work of Jesus Christ by beginning with a summary of the message and activity of ‘John the Baptist’. In the same way royal dignitary’s have a herald that precedes them and announces their arrival, Jesus also had a herald.
Referring to John, Mark briefly cites and alludes to some Old Testament scriptures that talk about the role and purpose of God’s messenger.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
His quote is a combination of Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. He attributes the quote to Isaiah as the major and most well-known author cited. All of those references speak of the messenger that announces or heralds the way God has laid out before us – that way leads from captivity towards God’s salvation- ultimately revealed in and provided by Jesus Christ.
“in Isaiah the entire nation was in a spiritual wilderness, and each Israelite needed to get ready spiritually for the appearing of the Lord and His glory. Raising the valleys and lowering the mountains refer in hyperbole to workmen leveling or smoothing out the roads on which a dignitary would travel when he came to visit an area. Today an equivalent is, “roll out the red carpet.” In Isaiah’s day he was calling Israel to be “smoothed out” so that the Lord could come to the nation and rule.” – (Walvoord & Zuck on Isa 40:3)
A Roman reader would hear this and no doubt think of the concrete roads that littered the empire, all leading back to Caesar’s throne.
While in Kenya during the federal election in 1997, we saw the incumbent President travel all over the country to campaign. Where ever he went, a road construction team went ahead of him to fill in the pot holes and make the road smooth for him. The imagery of Mark and Isaiah is very similar.
From this 3-fold quotation we see that the arrival of the messenger indicated 3 things;
- he preceded God’s arrival and inauguration of his kingdom,
- he precedes the arrival of a suffering servant who will bring deliverance and rescue and
- he precedes a time of judgment against sin
these things are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Mark wants his readers, even though they are not Jews, to prepare themselves to hear about Jesus and receive his good news.
The first step in that preparation is repentance. The announcement of Jesus is good news if you receive it. If you don’t receive it, it is a confrontation because it calls you to admit you are a sinner in need of forgiveness.
Jesus provides deliverance through bearing the penalty of your sin when he died upon the cross. If you receive him, he comes, not as a therapist, but as Lord, to inaugurate his kingdom. In whose kingdom do you live and serve? One of religion? or One of redemption?