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Mark 1:1-8

John the Baptist has always been one of my favorite biblical characters. In fact, I like his character so much that it was the second icon I ever received (the first being Christ seated on the throne). It was important for me to get this icon of John because it acts as a constant reminder that the Kingdom of God is at hand and that there has been a way prepared for us. It also acts as a reminder that I am to join into the preparing of the way so that others may join in on the journey.

Even though John has been one of my favorite characters, there’s been a question that I’ve wondered about for a long time. Why does Mark start there? The other gospels tell more of an origin story. Two gospels start with genealogies of Christ and the other tells of how he came down to us. Mark, however, jumps right into the story of John preparing the way for Christ (1:1-8) and then into the baptism of Christ and what follows because of it.

I think this may be because Mark wanted to jump right in. He wanted to get started. Mark just couldn’t wait to get to the ministry and gospel of Christ. No, he had to dive right in headfirst. No backstory. No lead up. Just bam: here’s the good news! This view may be influenced by one of my professors in college who joked in class one day, “I think Mark may have had undiagnosed ADHD.” A quick word study will reveal that in Mark’s short gospel he uses the word “immediately” 40 times. On top of that he uses the phrase “and then,” “just then,” or “at that time” another 25 times.

So what was Mark so excited about? The good news of Jesus of Christ, the Son of God! But what is this good news? It would seem that Mark is excited about at least two things in regards to coming of Christ (I’m sure he was excited about much more, but for now I want to focus on just two). Mark opens his gospel by showing his readers that two changes are taking place. Two major changes that affect everything.

The first change is that this is a new beginning. John the Baptist, or the Forerunner, represents a change from the law to gospel. We used to know God through the law given to Moses, but now we know God more fully revealed through Christ. Saint Jerome highlights this difference when he discusses that John wore camel’s hair rather than the tunic of the Lamb.[1] John in his camel hair could point to the one who takes away the sins of the world, but he could not be the one who takes away the sins of the world. The law points us to the gospel.

Mark is showing us that terrific change has occurred in the coming of Christ. It’s the fulfillment of the last prophecy of the Old Testament (Malachi 4:5-6). We can now finally know God more fully because Christ is God incarnate, God with us, even if the characters in the gospel tend to miss that. [2] Mark opens his gospel by declaring it’s not about the “do this and don’t do that,” but rather it’s about what Christ has done. This is important because instead of having to try to find our way to God in the midst of our struggles, God finds us.

Prepare a way! It’s not our way, though, it’s the way of Christ. It’s the way of grace and mercy that we enter into and walk along. We invite others to participate in that journey with us. It’s not a journey where we just find God at the end, however. It’s a journey where God finds us every step of the way and calls us to continue onward in faith. That’s good news! We’re not alone in our struggles. We’re not alone in this journey.

Speaking of the way, let’s talk about that for a minute. We know that God meets us every step along the way, but what does that way look like? Well, it probably looks like John – a little odd. John wears camel’s hair and eats bugs. He’s unkempt and doesn’t look like he knows what he’s doing. He’s too…simple. The way of the Lord is like John. It’s simple. Visit this site It’s not easy, but it’s simple. Its simplicity makes us look kind of crazy to others. “What do you mean all I need to do to follow God is follow God? It has to be more complicated than that!” “What do you mean I don’t need to do anything particularly special? You’re saying I can just walk in faith?” “You mean I don’t have to change everything about me, but rather God will walk alongside me and lead me as God so sees fit?” Yup. That’s what I’m saying. There’s nothing fancy. The way of God is just following God. It’s loving God and loving neighbor – that simple.

The other change that Mark is highlighting is a change in power. Mark starts off his gospel by saying that it is the good news (Gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Caesar was called the Son of God and his “gospel” or “good news” was a decree. Sometimes it was a decree from a battlefield.[3] Shots fired. Ched Myers says it like this – “Mark is taking dead aim at Caesar and his legitimating myths.”[4] Mark is starting off his gospel by saying that Jesus Christ is the one true Son of God and that the good news of Jesus Christ is the true good news. Things have changed. The empire and emperor are no longer to be thought of as the world’s rulers. Christ is the ruler of the world. Christ is the one with true power. Jesus is the one who has the power to bind the strong man (see Mark 3:27).

This change in power isn’t just who holds the power though. It’s also how it’s used. Jesus has the power to bind the strong man, but he doesn’t use it in an imperial way. He uses it to invite us to participate in his Kingdom. John was unworthy to even untie the sandals of Jesus, but Jesus invites John to baptize him and to participate in his glorious Kingdom. Mark shows us who has the real power. Mark also shows us how Jesus uses that power – as a servant who reveals the true Kingdom.

[1] See Jerome’s Homily 75.

[2] For more on that I suggest looking into the Markan Secret.

[3] Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary (New Testament Library; Louisville: WJKP, 2006), 30.

[4] Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2008), 124.