The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 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,'” John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.Mark 1:1-4
Many scholars agree that Mark’s Gospel was written to Christians with a Roman background or upbringing. These people would have grown up and lived during the time of the Caesars. Mark’s gospel opens with, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Notice three words from verse one, “gospel,” “Jesus Christ,” and “Son of God.” Mark connects gospel, Christ, and Son of God to Jesus. Therefore, we can establish that Jesus’ arrival is good news (i.e., gospel), that he is the Son of God, and that he is the Christ (cf. Mark 8:29).
So what does John the Baptist have to do with this description? Mark moves from these descriptions of who Jesus is to the Old Testament–specifically Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. These texts from the Old Testament discuss the purpose of John the Baptist’s ministry. His purpose was to be a “forerunner” so that he could prepare for the King’s arrival. These Christians who grew up in a Roman context would probably not have had much knowledge of the Old Testament, but they would have known the concept and purpose of a forerunner.
Historically, before a Roman ruler would come to an area, forerunners were dispatched to get the city ready for the King’s arrival. To put it another way, they preceded the King’s presence. Mark reveals to us that John the Baptist was the forerunner to Jesus’ arrival. Mark wants his audience to see this progression in his Gospel: Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and we know that because it was John the Baptist’s divine calling to be the Messiah’s forerunner.
Why is this important? John the Baptist’s ministry had two purposes from this text. First, he was preparing the way by preparing the hearts of the people. We see that he was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). God was using him to soften the soil of hearts so that when God’s Son arrived they were ready for God to plant the gospel seed into their souls. He indicates as much in Mark 1:7:
“And he [John the Baptist] preached saying, ‘After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.'”
Therefore, John the Baptist came to prepare people for King Jesus’ arrival. How do we know Jesus is King? We look to the second purpose of John the Baptist’s ministry for this answer.
Purpose number two, John the Baptist points us to Jesus’ kingship. The first words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel are recorded in Mark 1:15 where Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Notice the words, “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdom is at hand because, as we can infer from the words, “the time is fulfilled,” the King has come. Who is this King? Mark 1:1, “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Therefore, John the Baptist is the forerunner to the King, and Mark’s audience would have picked up on this connection from their own historical setting.
The point that Mark is making to us is that Jesus Christ is the King who has come to his people and thus, established the Kingdom of God. However, as you continuing reading through the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is not a normal nor earthly King. He came to establish God’s Kingdom by dying for the sins of the world. King Jesus took our place, which is the simplest way to think of the gospel. Yet, he didn’t stay dead. On the third day, King Jesus rose from the grave to show that his work defeated sin, death, and the enemy. If you trust in the work of King Jesus, you will enter into his Kingdom for all eternity. Perhaps through Mark 1:1-4 God has softened your heart so that you too might believe in “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
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