“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 AHEAD OF YOU,
WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY;
THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS,
MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD,
MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.”
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.
And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals.
I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:1-8 NASB
In the game of baseball it sometimes happens that a player is not ready for a ball that’s hit to them. Because the game can be one where action doesn’t happen for every player at every play there’s a tendency to drift off into the imagination. Maybe the pitcher has been striking a lot of batters out and there really isn’t much movement from play to play each inning. Then comes the 8th or 9th inning where teams become more focused because these are the last few chances for one of the teams has to come back and win. No one on the winning team wants to mess up defensively because they drifted off and assumed a play wouldn’t involve them. Then it happens! There’s two outs in the ninth and a ball is hit hard enough to the outfield that its difficult to take the best angle and make the catch. The outfielder ends up not even getting a glove on the ball as it bounces to the wall, and now the opposing team is threatening to score with a man on second base.
To the average viewer it might appear as though the outfielder had no chance to make a play on the hard hit ball. To the experienced or educated viewer it would have been easier to see how the outfielder took a bad angle or misread the ball off the bat. What could have been the last out of the game ends up being a more dramatic finish and now senses for both teams are heightened.
The Gospel of Mark seems to start off in the ninth inning and the Jewish people hadn’t seen a play from God in quite a while. They drifted off in their imaginations as the last inning was approaching. John the Baptist is the batter who hits a ball hard enough into their outfield and they just weren’t prepared for it.
Repent vs. Rally. To begin with, in Mark’s Gospel John the Baptist is a figure that confused the people to some degree. He was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, symbolizing the anticipated Elijah (2 kings 1:8; Malachi 4:5). He ate locusts and wild honey. Perhaps this diet symbolizes the locust plague of the Exodus and the honey symbolizes the sweetness of the new exodus God was planning through Jesus. Perhaps the diet symbolized bittersweetness. John had a message of warning as well as redemption. Some could not discern whether or not he was the Messiah. His preaching wasn’t to the tone of rallying but repenting. And, his subversion of the Temple’s authority caused more than a little concern. “Why do you baptize if you are not the Christ?” (John 1:25) Anyone out in the Jordan wilderness getting baptized was being given forgiveness of sins, something the Temple authorities would normally provide. The wilderness, where John was being followed certainly shouted of a new exodus, shouted of revolution. No wonder many were confused as to exactly what he thought he was doing.
John was to prepare the way of the Messiah. Its common even in today’s world when a politician or royal figure makes a tour the selected towns or cities do quite a bit to make the visit as fine as can be. I remember visiting Athens in 2003 just before the 2004 Olympics. Streets were torn up and ready to be rebuilt. A new metro had already been put into operation. The city was preparing to welcome the world. John’s preaching and teaching were the things preparing the people for the mightier One to be revealed to Israel after John’s ministry.
Just as Americans speak of the Revolutionary War against Great Britain as being a historic event, imagine the small state of Judea reveling in the victory over the mighty Egyptian empire and how God delivered them through Moses centuries ago. Israel’s God was the true God of all the nations. He was and is the creator God that was unique to their national story. Israel’s temple is even constructed to reflect God’s claim over the entire cosmos. An enlightened Jew could explain their history from Adam by teaching about the temple. Part of John’s preaching and teaching among the Jews would’ve clearly evoked the thought of the Passover liberation, and the Exodus that ensured victory over the Egyptians, and then God came to dwell within their midst through the construction of the Tabernacle and its operations. The Spirit of God was making His home among men once again. Celebration was in the Judean air.
But Israel was unprepared for this party. They were like the outfielder who wasn’t ready for the challenge that came his way. John’s ministry was an attempt to educate the people of God’s intentions. The kingdom was arriving. It was being launched but in a very unexpected way. His edict was an order to turn from corruption and follow true justice, true charity, true faith, and the true King. The Jordan waters where so many were baptized brought excitement of deliverance and the promised Spirit would again reside with this lowly exiled nation of Israel. God would be in their midst again. The Temple would be rebuilt and the Messiah would now rule the nations. But this wouldn’t look like they imagined.
What about today? Our friends, families, churches and communities need to be prepared for a liberation, because its happening. May God bless us. He wants us all to catch that ball.