Summary: Advent 2, 2020 We are challenged by Mark's gospel to take up the mantle of Isaiah - just like John the Baptist
Taking up the Mantle
Matthew has a Christmas story in which Joseph is prominent. Luke has a Christmas story. Even John has a Christmas story from a cosmic perspective where the Word became flesh. But is there a Christmas story in Mark? Let us see.
From first appearances, it kinda looks like Mark …left out the coming of Jesus into the world
Mark begins with; “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)
In that day, Roman Emperor's birthdays were proclaimed as “good news.” The world is run by highly intelligent, very well-educated people who have never been able to solve our world’s problems …and never will! The real answers to the problems we face in life are spiritual! Mark used the political language of his day, but pointed us to the real answer …Christ …not the bad news of this world’s politics.
In Mark’s account of the Good News …there are no wise men, virgin birth, angels, shepherds, or even a single account from Jesus’ youth, like Luke has. It appears to begin when Jesus was about thirty years old.
But, as we look closer, ...the Gospel of Mark does not begin with the Baptizing of John, ….but rather the prophecies of the Old Testament ...of which John the Baptist’s ministry was the fulfillment.
The Gospel actually begins with the promise of God given to the world in the Old Testament. Although he credits it to Isaiah, he actually quotes two prophets, Malachi and Isaiah. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets, …and the Old Testament ends …with a promise of sending a messenger, …Elijah, …to prepare the way of the Messiah.
Mark picks up His gospel where Malachi left off …about 400 years earlier, …and shows …the continuity of the two testaments.
Mark then tells us the message of preparation which the messenger was to bring. He quotes the prophet Isaiah, the 40th chapter. He only quotes the third voice about the messenger crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord”.
By citing this verse from Isaiah, he is in a sense quoting the entire passage.
As we look at Isaiah 40 in context …it could be seen to have been fulfilled by the return of the Jewish captives from Babylon, first after the edict of Cyrus in 539 B.C.
God could be seen as preparing the way through the wilderness for the Jew’s return to Jerusalem. Like the preparations for a superhighway, every attempt is made to make this road as straight and smooth as possible. The straightest path often encountered obstacles like mountains and gullies. This is why many roads curve around the obstacles. But God had set the way to be straight. If this were the fulfillment of this prophecy, it looks like the high places would have had to be cut down to fill the low places so that the road would be level and straight. And it would be paved to make it smooth. We know that these things did not happen in 539 BC.
So, is the return of the exiles in 539 BC under Nehemiah the real fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy? The answer has to be “no”, or at-least, not the complete fulfillment. A more complete fulfillment is laid out for us by the preaching of John the Baptist in the wilderness. John made …spiritual preparations ..for the return of God’s people from their real exile. Their exile was not from the land. Rather their exile was one from God!
The prophets had been silent for hundreds of years. Now after an exile of 400 years, the same period of time that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, the voice of God was heard again. The time of Exodus had come. The time of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah was now. John the Baptist was to prepare a straight path to Jesus without any detours.
Verse four tells us that John’s preparation for the Christ was the way of repentance. Repentance has the Hebrew idea of turning from the road one is on to a new road. The Greek idea of repentance is to carefully consider where the road they were currently on was taking them and to make sure that was where they wanted to go. The idea is that of changing one’s mind ….and making a conscientious decision to do so. Both of these ideas are at work here.
The people were called to consider that their sins had separated them from God’s promise. Then they were baptized in water, …a practice normally used …for the initiation of Gentiles …who converted to Judaism …along with circumcision of the males.
In a sense, this says …that the people’s sins …had rendered them as …heathens in the eyes of God. They were cut off from the covenant. They needed to start over.