As we are continuing through our study of the Gospels, we are now introduced to the book of Mark. Mark was written by John Mark, the son of a woman named Mary in whose house the early Jerusalem church would meet, and it is addressed the church at Rome who was in the midst of persecution. Mark is mentioned several times throughout the New Testament, most notably in Acts where he sets out with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey and then later goes with Peter. It is thought that Mark wrote this Gospel under the direction of Peter. Mark’s letter emphasizes the good news of the Gospel and the super-human power of Jesus the Wonderful – whose rejection, suffering and death were an essential part of His mission, as well as an example to future believers. He emphasizes the work of Christ, what he did rather than what he said.
John the Baptist (or baptizer)
|Matthew 3||Mark 1||Luke 3|
|In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
|The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”—
|In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
The Luke passage describes the setting for when John would begin his ministry. It was the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius, which would have been roughly 29 AD. Notice the mention of the key players in Jesus’ crucifiction noted here. Luke is very careful in recording history. We know that John was already ordained by God to usher in the ministry of Christ (see Luke 1). John himself was surely aware of what the angel Gabriel had told his father regarding his future life, and as a person set apart to God he lived a humble life in the wilderness. Now the word of God comes to John and he begins his public ministry and prophecy is fulfilled.
Isaiah 40:3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Just prior to this prophecy, Isaiah tells King Hezekiah that his own children will be captives in Babylon. The time is growing short for Israel – they refused to worship and serve the living God, and now His wrath was coming. But God always leaves a remnant of survivors of His people, and through Isaiah’s prophecy we see that God is comforting even in the hard times ahead. Isaiah speaks of one who will come to God’s people and proclaim that the Lord is coming, and that He is here (Isaiah 40:9). Now John comes out from the wilderness and begins to proclaim a message of preparation because the Lord is coming and His kingdom is near.
The imagery that Isaiah uses is “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” As John prepares the people to meet Messiah, he must make them examine their hearts. Prior to accepting Christ you must believe that you need Him. These valleys, hills and mountains represent our lives of sin – our insecurities, harboring of wickedness, and refusal of God’s will. John’s goal is to lay out a path for Christ to enter their lives by way of confessing their sins and accepting their standing before God – worthless and in need of saving. It is only once the recognition of sin has been made that the valleys and hills no longer block the path of God entering their lives.
|Matthew 3||Mark 1|
|4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.||4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.|
Matthew and Mark record the manner in which John came. He wore clothes of camel’s hair, he wore a leather belt, and he ate locusts and wild honey. This is significant because John represented the last in a great line of prophets (most of whose ministries were forged in the wilderness). A prophet is one who has been given a message from God to share with the people and specifically to point them back to God. Prophets were not merely preachers but always voiced the covenants given to the patriarchs and proclaimed a message of what would happen if you chose to obey or disobey God’s commands. They differed from the false prophets in that they preached not that everything was fine, but that repentance had to be made. Prior to his arrival, the last prophet was Malachi (whose last words spoke of John) and that was some 400 years prior.
The people of Jerusalem and Judea heard about John and God stirred their hearts to go and hear his message and many were baptized and confessed their sins. Because of this stir and the method of baptism being used (full emersion) the Pharisees and Sadducees came out to see what was going on, too. In the Jewish tradition, full body immersion and baptism were requirements for anyone wishing to convert to Judaism. The Pharisees believed and taught that the ‘Oral Law’ or the written commentary (Talmud) that follows the ‘Written Law’ or Torah is accurate and to be followed. The Sadducees believed and taught that only the Written Law (Torah) should be followed and that it was not open to interpretation. The Pharisees believed that there is an afterlife and that you are rewarded and punished in the afterlife by your deeds on earth (hence the harsh emphasis on the Mosaic Law). The Sadducees did not believe in the afterlife or ‘resurrection’. The rules and regulations set in place by the Pharisees and Sadducees greatly weighed on the people because they were not able to maintain the added laws set by them.
|Matthew 3||Luke 3|
|7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.||7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. 14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”|
Now as John sees the Pharisees and Sadducees coming he is indignant and asks who warned them to flee from the coming wrath. He calls them a brood of vipers – not very complimentary – likening them to a mass of evil creatures who have seen the fire approaching. John tells them to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. This is a weighty command. Later in the New Testament we see what this fruit looks like: love, joy, peace, perseverance – all of these things come from a desire to continually repent and seek God in all matters. It is the ultimate way we can know Him as Lord. John then accuses them of their thinking that just because they are Abraham’s seed they will be safe from the fires of Hell. This would have shocked not only the teachers, but the Jewish people as well.
The Jews were a people ‘set apart’ by God. This was done through their worship of Him and the various rules and regulations they must follow under the Mosaic law. However, as Paul will later write in Romans 9:6 “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.”
That promise was:
16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. – Galatians 3
14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. – Galatians 3
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. – Romans 4
So we see that it is not physical descendants that are Abraham’s offspring, but people who have faith in the Father to make them alive by His Son (the promise). John even goes so far as to say that God can raise up children for Abraham from rocks – which is essentially what happens during salvation. Once you were dead in your sins and while you were dead God made you alive through Christ. It is by His grace that you are saved – not of your own work (See Ephesians 2). John continues that the ax (judgement) is already at the root of the trees (each person’s true heart condition), and if their is no fruit from that tree (signs of repentance) then they will be chopped down (receive justice = punishment for their sins) and be thrown into the fire (hell).
Luke records what some of the crowd yells in response to all of this. Their hearts have been cut and they are ready to do whatever they can to be saved and escape judgement. John gives them instructions to love God and love their neighbor. Treat others as you would be treated and do everything to the glory of God. John’s ministry was fulfilling prophecy – all people were made equal before God and in each other’s sight. They were all sinners in need of saving.
Do you see fruit in your life that shows your desire to remain in repentance? Have you asked God to forgive you of something but you still do that thing? This is the command John gave to the Pharisees and Sadducees. If you have asked for repentance but continue to sin thinking that all you need to do is some act and you will be fine – something is wrong. Ask God to take that sin from you, and to give you strength to stand up against it. If you are truly in Christ then you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you – and He is the one who works through us to sanctify us from these sins.