The passage in Mark’s gospel is one that has been close to my heart since I was fourteen years of age. I still remember that I was into my first year as a Christian and since becoming a Christian I had developed a keen desire to know more about Christ and as such, I spent quite a bit of my time praying and studying the Scripture.
The passage from Mark has its historical roots in the Old Testament from the book of the prophet Isaiah which is part of our devotional reading this week.
- Historical Context
Many biblical scholars believe that this part of Isaiah’s prophecies relates to Israel’s exile under Babylonian captivity. The section of Isaiah’s prophecy relates to the time where the Babylonian Empire was in decline and they were about to be taken over by upcoming Persian Empire under the leadership of Cyrus.
Therefore, the prophetic narrative reflected the sense of a new thing God was about to do – a sense of an imminent salvation and hope as the prophet reflects on Babylon’s demise. The prophet writes of God’s overall sovereignty and that God still rules in spite of Israel’s past failings.
This narrative picture for us the very moment of God’s new act; and with its delivery the new event, i.e. of the exiles’ release and the new exodus that is already under way.
In other words, the prophet was proclaiming that God was ushering a new thing and that that new thing was Israel’s release from captivity and imminent return to the land of God’s promise. In this way God was bringing salvation to Israel.
“The Lord has punished her twice over for all her sins” – Isa. 40:2
Israel’s exile into Babylon was the result of neglecting her covenantal relationship with God. It is here that God now declares that Israel had served the penalty of her failings and God is now extending his grace through her imminent return to the land of God’s promise.
How does this piece of prophecy relate to John’s ministry at the beginning of the New Testament?
In similar fashion God has declared that we are now recipients of God’s promise of salvation and all its benefits. But unlike Israel we have served no sentence for our sins because Jesus Christ bore the penalty of our sin. Christ is both the message and the means of our salvation – this is the good news and we, who are the messengers of the Way, Truth and Life have been called to make others aware of this wonderful age of grace we live in view of Christ’s imminent return again.
John the Baptist’s role was pivotal as he began heralding the new event that was about to begin in human history – Today the Church is the fruit of the way John prepared for Jesus Christ.
Let us look closely at how John the Baptist describes his role in God’s scheme of things. This description gives us an understanding of how we are to continue heralding the good news in view of our Lord’s imminent return.
- No pretensions to power
In verse 3 – In no uncertain terms John makes it very clear that he has no pretensions to power.
“I am a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Clear the way for the LORD’s coming!’”
He is not the Saviour but simply the messenger. John had come to bear witness about another and not draw attention to himself.
John was not concerned with himself and his own safety. He was trying to prepare people to be ready meet the Saviour. By doing this, John never elevated himself and focussed on the message pointing to Jesus Christ.
- No pretensions to position (authority)
In verses 7-8 John makes no pretensions to position or authority. Even when baptising he speaks of a greater baptism to come, pointing to the Saviour who would baptism with the Holy Spirit.
He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
Today we take baptism for granted as part of our Christian heritage but what John was doing in the context of his community was totally out of character and insulting. Why do I say this?
In John’s account, this act was questioned by the Jewish religious leaders of his day. The rite of baptism in Judaism was reserved for those who had converted from other religions or were non-Jews who have decided to follow the Jewish faith. All Jews were prepared to accept the view that non-Jews were defiled and needed cleansing. But to put Jews in the same category by baptising them was horrifying for the Jews as they considered themselves to be God’s chosen people.
John’s admission he was not the Saviour or the great prophet Elijah made matters worse because this gave him no authority to change Jewish practice.
John’s actions and teaching reflect that he had no pretensions to authority. He simply says that what he does, he does in preparation for a greater baptism ushered in by the Christ – its purpose is to point people to Christ.
What lessons can we take away from this text:
- Our nation and our community may be marred by the continued presence of wrongful behaviour but God’s word still brings the results of change in the hearts of humanity through the renewing work of the Holy Spirit established by Jesus Christ at Calvary. In other words there is still hope for this world we live in. That has not changed and will not change until our Lord’s return.
- We are to continue being faithful messengers of God’s of hope. We do this by making no pretensions to personal power and position or (authority). Our true power and position lies in Christ and only in him do we truly understand the significance of God’s grace and salvation. We act on behalf of God, simply God’s agents of grace, love and hope.
For me, this message is a very timely reminder of how I should respond to the presence of evil in the world.
The message of today’s reflection reminds all of us that we are living in exciting times, simply because we have been entrusted to carry the message of God’s hope and love to a broken world.
We do this not because of any sense of personal gain but that we have been granted the grace and privilege to be simply a “voice in the wilderness”.