The starting point for this expositional series can be found here.
Think for a moment about what the items in the following list have in common:
Did you figure it out? All nine of the above items are names of specific brands that became shorthand for particular products. For a longer list of similar things, check out this site.
And what we have at the beginning of Mark is very similar. How often do we hear people refer to the Gospels as “The Gospel of Matthew,” or “the Gospel of John,” or “the Gospel of Mark”? At the beginning of Mark, he writes, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus.” Mark never shows up in the gospel under his “brand name.” It’s not about him or any other specific individual.
The gospel is that of Jesus. The good news centers around Jesus. Jesus is the one whose actions and teachings and life Mark wants to bring attention to. Our post-Reformation church culture, especially in America, needs to return to the pillar Solus Christus, “Christ Alone,” before God eternally removes our lampstand.
Even in the first 8 verses of this book, even when Jesus has not yet shown His face, even when the focus of the verses is apparently on some wild man in the desert who plays in the water and eats bugs, Jesus is the point of it all. Let’s turn to the text.
Mark writes, “[The] beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the] Son of God. As it has been written by Isaiah the prophet: ‘Behold, I am sending My messenger before Your presence who will prepare the way for You. A voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight His paths.”’ John, the one who was baptizing in the desert, himself came, preaching a baptism of repentance toward forgiveness of sins. And all of Judea’s countryside and all the residents of Jerusalem were going out to him and being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing out their sins. And John had been dressed in camel hair and a leather belt around his waist and eating locusts and wild honey. And he was preaching, saying, ‘The One who is stronger than me is coming after me, of whom I am not worthy, after stooping, to untie the straps of His sandals. I baptized y’all in water, but He will baptize y’all in the Holy Spirit’” (author’s translation).
Going Back in Time
The last book in the Old Testament is the record of the prophet Malachi. The last two verses of his prophecy state the following:
“Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to ⌊their⌋ children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).
And thus the Old Testament concludes. No more words from the Lord come. Nothing happens. God is quiet.
So the Jewish people wait, looking expectantly for Elijah because they know that when Elijah shows up, it will only be a matter of time before the Messiah arrives, the Day of the Lord comes, and the Jewish people are freed from their bondage to Rome (or so the thinking went).
Four hundred years went by with them waiting expectantly for Elijah’s appearance.
The beginning of the Gospel (1:1-3)
Mark, who was likely the first to write a gospel, starts his explanation of the story at the beginning, with Scriptural references. Mark writes in 1:1-3, “[The] beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. As it has been written by Isaiah the prophet: ‘Behold, I am sending My messenger before Your presence who will prepare the way for You. A voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight His paths.”’”
Verse 1 is intimately connected to verse 2. The beginning of the gospel of Jesus is bound up in the fact that something was supposed to happen before Jesus arrived. Whereas Matthew’s Gospel locates Jesus within His role as the promised seed of Abraham and promised heir of David, Mark’s gospel goes one step further. Let me explain.
It is not the time to get into a discussion of how Mark can say, “by Isaiah the prophet” when the first Scripture quoted is Malachi 3:1, but i will write a post discussing that topic before the next entry in this series is released. (You can find the link here.) Simply put, there is no contradiction, and it does not cast doubt on the inerrant nature of our Scriptures. The fact of the matter is that the lines about a messenger are from Malachi, and verse 3, about the voice in the wilderness, is Isaiah’s prophecy.
As far as Malachi’s words are concerned, the original quotation is God speaking. The verse in its entirety reads, “‘See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,’ says the LORD of Hosts” (3:1). Notice Mark adds the words “Before Your presence,” likely pulled from Exodus 23:20, and then changes the second part from Malachi’s words, “he will clear the way before Me,” to “who will prepare the way for You.” Simply put, God stated He would come Himself after the messenger had prepared the way for Him, but Mark makes it God speaking to someone else. In 1:1 Mark called Jesus “the Son of God,” which contains within itself the idea of divinity. When we tie in verse 8 (which we will come to below) the whole Trinity is present in Mark 1:1-8. God Himself came to earth, but He arrived in the person of Jesus.
This is further elaborated by the quotation from Isaiah in verse 3. Not only does it point out that the messenger Malachi described would dwell in the desert, but it says that the one he would prepare the way fore would be the Lord Himself. When the word Lord occurs here in the text, it is in place of the personal name of God: Yahweh. Yahweh Himself would have His way prepared by a messenger in the desert.
The Wild Man (1:4a, 6)
Mark then fast forwards to the first-century, and says, in effect, “That messenger already came.” Mark writes in 1:4a, 6, “John, the one who was baptizing in the desert, himself came . . . And John had been dressed in camel hair and a leather belt around his waist, and eating locusts and wild honey.”
The one commonly referred to as John the Baptist was in the desert. Mark already quoted Isaiah 40:3 who said that God’s messenger would be crying out in the desert. Mark wants us to see John as the one prophesied who prepared the way for the Lord.
If that was not enough, Mark goes on to describe what John looked like. One commentator explains, “[A leather belt around his waist] is virtually an exact quotation from [2 Kings 1:8], describing the distinctive garb of Elijah, while the preceding phrase, [had been dressed in camel hair], . . . represents a likely meaning of the Hebrew [translated: a man characterized by hair] as one wearing a cloak of animal hair.” John looked like he could have been Elijah, and since he was baptizing in the Jordan River (Mark 1:5) where Elijah had been taken up to heaven, it could have been because the Jordan River was “the place where he was expected to appear again.”
Mark in effect has said, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that Elijah will come. John was Elijah.”
It is now time to take a closer look at John’s message.
The Wonderful Message (1:4b-5, 7-8)
Mark 1:4b-5, 7-8 says that John was “preaching a baptism of repentance toward forgiveness of sins. And all of Judea’s countryside and all the residents of Jerusalem were going out to him and being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing out their sins. . . . And he was preaching, saying, ‘The One who is stronger than me is coming after me, of whom I am not worthy, after stooping, to untie the straps of His sandals. I baptized y’all in water, but He will baptize y’all in the Holy Spirit.’”
John was not the start of a denomination. Mark is also clear that Baptist was not John’s last name. When he is introduced in Mark 1:4, Mark literally calls him, “John, the one who was baptizing,” merely to distinguish him from other Johns living at that time. He preached baptism, and he baptized, but it was not because he was the first Baptist to exist, like some have tried to claim.
But i digress. John’s message was forgiveness via confession. If someone confessed, then they were baptized as an outward sign of an inward work. John baptized. But when he spoke, he took the focus off himself. He cried out in the desert, saying, “The One who is stronger than me is coming after me, of whom I am not worthy, after stooping, to untie the straps of His sandals. I baptized y’all in water, but He will baptize y’all in the Holy Spirit.”
Since Mark puts John forward as Elijah, he wants us to know without a doubt that the greater one is God Himself. One commentator explains, “When John refers to a more powerful one who is coming, his audience would naturally understand it to refer to God, since God is the Mighty One in the Old Testament, who comes in judgment and pours out the Spirit. This biblical imagery evokes the expectation that God is about to liberate Israel again. But Mark emphasizes that God now acts through his beloved Son.” And, Mark is precise when he uses Scripture quotations: as God’s Son, Jesus is God Himself.
John says Jesus is more excellent than him. This is why i write blogs with lowercase i’s. Jesus is more significant than me.
As far as a practical exposition of John’s message, no one says it better than Pastor J. C. Ryle. He writes,
The principal work of every faithful minister of the Gospel, is to set the Lord Jesus fully before His people, and to show them His fullness and His power to save. The next great work He has to do, is to set before them the work of the Holy Spirit, and the need of being born again, and inwardly baptized by His grace. These two mighty truths appear to have been frequently on the lips of John the Baptist. It would be well for the church and the world, if there were more ministers like him.
We must not forget this fact. We must preach Christ and nothing less! There is a shortage of Christ-centered preachers in this land. We need to put Him back in the place where He belongs. He is stronger, mightier, and greater than both our churches and us. He should be the focus of our sermons and of our churches. John set the precedence for this in Mark 1:7-8. Let’s follow his example.
Will You Prepare His Way?
Jesus said the following about John in Luke 7:28, “I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John, but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” The thought here is simple: John, as a human, prepared the way for Jesus’ first coming. The whole Jerusalem countryside went out to him to confess sins and get right with God, making Jesus’ future message more natural and less shocking to the people. However, those who serve their hearts out in unnoticed ways as believers are greater than John the Baptist, according to Jesus in Luke 7:28.
Because when you preach the gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, not only are you proclaiming the message with the power to save people into Jesus’ Kingdom (cf. Romans 1:16), but you are preparing the way for His next coming. He is coming again, as my Wednesday series seeks to demonstrate, and people need to be ready for it. Whether they believe in Jesus as Savior or harden their hearts against Him and store up wrath for themselves, people need to be prepared. Our evangelism as believers accomplishes this goal.
So maybe you’ve read this whole post, and you don’t yet believe. Trust in Jesus. He came to earth 2,000 years ago, He lived a perfect life, and He died on the cross for the sins you commit daily. Then, three days later, He rose from the dead to prove your sins had been covered. Give Him your life and follow Him as we walk this road of the Christian life together.
If you refuse to trust Him, you’re trusting something else for salvation, even if it is merely a claim of atheism, hoping you are right to claim nothing exists after this life. This is no different than calling a permanent marker a Sharpie even though it is not a Sharpie brand permanent marker. Just because you call it that does not make it a reality. Sharpies are Sharpies; permanent markers are not necessarily Sharpies. Jesus is God, and He is coming again! Calling Him merely a good teacher or a nice guy or your homeboy doesn’t change the fact that He is actually God. Please believe in Him today before it is too late!
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.
The next post can be found here.
 See R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Mark, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 103.
 All Scripture text in this study through Mark under the heading “Today’s Text” is the author’s own translation.
 R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC, 69.
 Quoted in Ibid., 69. Footnote 50.
 David E. Garland, Mark (The NIV Application Commentary Book 2) (p. 53). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
 J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: The Four Volume Set [Fully Linked and Optimized] (Kindle Locations 5639-5642). Primediaelaunch eLaunch. Kindle Edition.