We have all gone astray like lost sheep that need protection from predators and from our own stupidity. We have fallen into the ditch of wrong thinking and wrongdoing. Our society is lost. But there is a highway back to God with national and personal salvation.
To show how preparation was made for the highway back to God.
We will look at John the Baptist’s message in Mark 1.
Prophecy of Comfort
Isaiah’s message (40:1-11) continues into Mark 1:1-8. God instructs his angels to comfort his people, to reassure Jerusalem that her punishment will soon be over. A voice from God’s angelic council urges fellow angels to build a highway from Babylon to Jerusalem so that the exiles may return home. John's cry for repentance is a voice crying in the wilderness of the mission to all nations, that a highway has been made to return to God. What should be the content of that preaching? Everything in this world is transitory and erratic but our God's promises are sure. The bringer of good news is to cry out, announcing God's triumphant return, like a warrior returning with power, bringing a reward with him. He gathers the little lambs of his flock into his arms and gently leads nursing sheep.
The Beginning of the Good News
In ancient Rome the birthday of Emperors was proclaimed as good news. People worshiped them as gods. We are not much different, but politics is bad news. Even Christians focus overly much on political agendas and human beings who boast great things, but in reality have no answers. The world is run by highly intelligent, very well-educated people who don't have a clue, because the real problems and their solutions are spiritual in nature, not carnal. When writing his Gospel, Mark used language familiar to ancient people used to promote Roman Emperors, but instead of proclaiming political good news, he pointed the way to Christ. In contrast to this world's inability to solve its problems, "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" as it says in Mark 1:1 is real good news indeed.
Good News of Victory
What do the words the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1) mean? The end has not yet come and we proclaim the good news to all nations. What is that good news of Jesus Christ? Isaiah 52:7; 61:1-3 prophesied of good news of peace, salvation, freedom, release, comfort, the Lord’s favor, beauty, joy and praise. The advent of Jesus begins the fulfillment of that prophesied good news. In ancient Greek society the word gospel was a shout of victory, we won! Throughout the Roman Empire it also celebrated the birthday of Caesar as a god. To ancient hearers the words the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ shout, the beginning of the victory of the Savior of the world. Is the cross victory? Are Jesus’ sufferings triumph? Jesus conquered sin and death.
Preparing the Way
What does the word Christ mean? It means anointed one and in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament priests, kings and prophets were all anointed ones. Mark 1:2-3 introduces Christ as a conquering king, anointed priest, and a prophet. What do the words Son of God mean? Greeks may have thought of sons of gods like Hercules a son of Zeus. Jews might have thought of a king. Both may have thought of a conquering hero but the story includes the puzzle that Jesus must be crucified. To understand the conundrum we must read the rest of Mark. John prepares the way for the Lord. Who is the Lord? Mark quoted Isaiah 40:3 where the Lord is Yahweh, our God. John appears as a prophet, wearing garments reminiscent of Elijah. John points to the greater one, Jesus.
How Many Baptisms
How many baptisms are there in the Bible? Mark 1:4 mentions a baptism of repentance, a baptism in the Jordan and a baptism of the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere we read of a baptism of fire, the baptism of water, the baptism of repentance also called the baptism of John, baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is also like a washing (Acts 22:16) and a death (Romans 6:3-4). Jesus’ death on the cross is referred to as a baptism (Mark 10:38). It is tied in with spiritual circumcision (Colossians 2:11-15). Israel was baptized into Moses (1 Corinthians 10:2-5). Even though we find so many baptisms described, Paul reminded the Ephesians that there is essentially only one baptism (Ephesians 4:6). All Christians are baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27).
Baptized with the Holy Spirit
Baptize literally means "to dip" but is used in the Bible in several nonliteral ways like passing through the Red Sea dry shod (1 Corinthians 10:2), washing dishes (Mark 7:4), overwhelmed with calamity like the cross (Mark 10:38-39), ceremonial washings by sprinkling (Hebrews 9:9-14), and an outpouring or large bestowment (Matthew 3:11). What do following Jesus and a life baptized in the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8) mean? Could it include the "baptism" of suffering and death which Jesus experienced? The cross is as Christians understand it, good news indeed for God's anointed, the Son of God. If we want to follow Jesus, make sure we “look good on wood.” A commercialized Christmas hides the real cost of following the baby who would be born. Advent prepares the way that will lead to the cross.
Self-sacrifice is the Way
Being baptized with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8) brings a different way of life, the way of the cross. Much of today’s politics is about selfishness. We don’t want to make sure the poor have health care because we are selfish. The super rich block any legislation that requires them to pay more in taxes, because they are selfish. We don’t want to be merciful towards illegal aliens because we are selfish. Countries with universal health care pay much less than Americans do for health care. On average more foreigners start businesses and create more jobs than native born citizens. In the 50’s-70’s requiring the super rich to pay more in taxes caused a resurgence of the middle class. Selfishness hurts a nation. Jesus taught us that self-sacrifice benefits everyone. Living the way of the cross is good news.
The Way Back Home
Why did Mark quote Isaiah 40 in Mark 1:1-8? Isaiah gave comfort to Jews in Babylonian exile. John prepared for the ministry of Jesus Christ. The message to Jewish captives was a highway in the wilderness leading straight home to Jerusalem. They had gone into exile — punishment for national sins. God would make amends for their suffering. Like sheep lost in the wilderness, their shepherd would bring them back home. Our world is currently in exile from God, held captive in spiritual Babylon to sin and corruption. Our home is heavenly Jerusalem and the way home is Jesus Christ. Isaiah pictures a flattening whereby the low will be elevated and the exalted will be brought low. It can picture a leveling, difficult terrain made easy to journey. Jesus is the way. His burden is light (Matthew 11:30).
We have all gone astray like lost sheep that need protection from predators and from our own stupidity. We have fallen into the ditch of wrong thinking and wrongdoing. Our society is lost. But there is a highway back to God with national and personal salvation; that way is Jesus. He is the way and the truth and the life.