1.  The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Unlike in the titles to the books, where “gospel” comes from the Old English “godspell” which means “a life of God,” the word “gospel” when contained in a book is a translation of the Greek word evangelion, which means “good news.”  Yet this “good news” is not necessarily good because it is beneficial to the hearer, but rather because it is the right message for the hearer.  Thus, we might say that a “gospel” is a right message.  And this book of Mark is good because it is right, and it is something that we need to hear, know, and understand.

The Lord Jesus is here at the beginning of the book introduced as the Son of God, although He will be viewed from a much more human standpoint throughout the rest of the book until the very last verses.  However, we must keep this introductory verse in mind as we read the book.  Let us not lose sight of the true nature of the One Whose life we are studying!

2.  As it is written in the Prophets: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.”
3.  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’”

Here John is introduced.  Notice that the prophecies he fulfilled are quoted before his name is even mentioned!  This is actually a composite of two prophesies, given in Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.  That is why it is said that this is written in the plural “Prophets.”  John is called the Lord’s messenger (Greek “angel”) and the voice of one crying in the wilderness.  He is the one who prepares the way for the Lord’s ministry.

Mark starts right off with the ministry of John, and offers us no information on the lineage, birth, or childhood of Christ.  Matthew offered us a record of His birth, focusing especially on Joseph.  This is because birth is very important for a king, and the male lineage is likewise extremely important.  But who ever cared about the birth of a servant?  Luke provides us even greater details of His birth and gives His lineage through Mary.  This is because actual blood lineage is extremely important in presenting Christ as a man.  John again offers no birth, childhood, or lineage, for God has no lineage, and likewise no birth.

4.  John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

John comes here baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance.  The word “baptism” is actually not an English word at all, but is a transliteration of the Greek word baptismos.  Our English translators have not given us a translation of this word, leaving it up to us to figure out what it means.  The average Bible student believes that a “baptism” is when someone is either sprinkled with or dunked in water.  Yet this is not at all what the Greek word “baptism” had to do with.

The Greek word “baptize” originally meant “to dip.”  Many scholars will stop right here, and will try to build on this the idea that “dipping” could only be done in water, and that something that is dipped in something else must be immersed in it.  Well, the fact is that neither of these things is true.  Something that is dipped does not necessarily have to be immersed, nor does this dipping have to be done in water.  Those who try to claim that all “baptism” means is “immersion” are simply mistaken.  For this word grew beyond its original meaning, and by the time John began his ministry, it had taken on a very important, technical meaning.

The word baptism was adopted as a technical word by several kinds of craftspeople.  In the dying industry, this word was used for when a white cloth was “dipped” into a dye to make it a colored cloth.  Before it was dipped, it was nothing but a white cloth.  Yet after it was dipped, it was no longer a white cloth, but from then on it was a blue cloth or a purple cloth or whatever color the dye was that it happened to have been dipped in.  In other words, when the cloth was dipped in the dye, it was from then on forever identified with and merged with the dye it was dipped in.  And this was the idea that the word “baptism” took on…the idea of an identification resulting in a merger.

Perhaps the most common example of the idea of an identification resulting in a merger in our lives today is that of marriage.  Two people, formerly independent individuals, are identified with each other to such an extent that from then on they are considered one family unit.  There is an identification that occurs that results in a merger.  This would be called a “baptism” in the Greek usage of the word in John’s day.

Now the baptism that John went about preaching was a baptism of repentance.  But this is a terrible translation of the Greek word.  The word here is metanoia.  This word does NOT mean repentance.  It comes from two basic Greek words, meta, which means “after,” and noia, which means “mind.”  Thus, metanoia when we define it by its parts means “aftermindedness.” 

What in the world is aftermindedness?  The idea is making up your mind to such an extent that, no matter what comes afterwards, you will never change it.  You are so settled in what you intend to do that your current mind will always match your aftermind.  To return again to the example of marriage, this is what two people are doing when they proclaim in their wedding vows that “richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part,” they will remain married to each other.  They are stating that no matter what might come in the future, good or bad, they will never change their minds about their marriage vow.  They are proclaiming that the mind they have now is the mind that they will always have.  In other words, they are saying that they have the aftermind.

Now we know from practical experience that many people, no matter how solemnly they proclaim that they will have the aftermind on the day of their wedding, do not end up actually having such a mind when difficulties come.  Such people prove that their aftermind is not actually in line with their foremind, and their marriage soon will come to an end.  This is an example of one who did not really have an aftermind to begin with.  But one who really has an aftermind, one who really makes that vow and means it, will do what he said and keep his vow no matter what trouble the future might bring.  Such a person truly has the aftermind.

Thus, putting these two words together, we learn what it was that John was proclaiming here.  He was proclaiming an identifying of people as afterminded individuals.  Those who were baptized by him were basically making a promise by doing so.  They were proclaiming that, although they did not know what God’s plans for them in the future might be, that they were deciding right then to have the aftermind and to serve God in the future no matter what.  This was the promise they were making, and when one could make that promise and mean it John would baptize him.

Now we know that some of the people who were thus baptized and made this promise, just as some of the people who are married and make an “aftermind” promise today, proved when the time of trial actually came that they did not truly have the aftermind after all.  An example of this is Judas, who proved most spectacularly that he hadn’t truly had the aftermind at all.  This does not change the truth of John’s baptism.  John was baptizing men who were willing to make this promise.  He cannot be blamed if some who did so did not in the future come through on it.  He was just an identifier of those who were promising submission to God.  He could not force them to actually come through on their promise when the time came.  That was not his job, but theirs.

Many try to make John’s baptism out to be something it was not.  They try to act like these people were saved by being baptized, or that this baptism marked them out as believers.  If this were the case, then Judas too must have been saved, and so many struggle to try to make him just a misguided believer.  But the fact is that John’s baptism was not making a statement about people’s salvation at all.  It was just giving people a chance to make a promise.  Once we understand this, the mystery of John’s baptism will finally begin to clear.

5.  Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

Here we have mention of John baptizing, but no mention of how he was doing this, other than that it was done “in the Jordan River.”  This passage offers us little information as to what exactly he did when he baptized people.  Those who try to copy what he did end up invariably making things up, for there is no pattern to follow given in Scripture.  Moreover, there are almost as many opinions upon HOW to simulate this baptism of John’s as there are churches.  All we know is that he baptized.  One must wonder why God left this so ambiguous if it is something so important for us to do today?  Far better is it to realize that John’s baptism was something that John and John alone was sent by God to do.

 6.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

John was not actually wearing a camel’s skin, but rather a garment woven with camel’s hair.  This was a far cry from the fancy garments that other priests of his line would have worn!  His diet, while strange, was perfectly permissible, for locusts and wild honey were clean foods.  Yet these things were far different from the norm for a priest, one of the honored rich class of Israel.  John was separating himself here from the normal garments and living habits of the priests of his day.  His actions marked him out as a far different kind of priest, who cared more for his service to God and the people of Israel than he did for providing for his own honor and comfort.
 
7.  And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.

John here is fulfilling the prophecy given in verses 2-3 and preparing the way for the coming of the Lord.  Notice the humble and subservient attitude John takes.  He is not even worthy to perform the tasks of a lowly servant for the One Who is coming after him.  What a contrast to the pride that most of the priesthood of the day displayed!

8.  “I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
 
Here is the first mention of holy spirit baptism in Mark.  There are no articles (“the”) in the Greek, so John meant baptism with the Holy Spirit’s power, not His person.  Thus, this is baptism with holy spirit or power.  Also, notice that it is baptism WITH the holy spirit, not OF Him.  These little articles are important, as they give us a far different picture depending on which article we choose.  IN the holy spirit would also be an acceptable translation here.  I would take this baptism as being an identification with the power of the Holy Spirit through the display of miraculous signs on the part of the person being baptized as was the norm in the book of Acts.

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