Sunday 04 December 2011

Bible Book:

"John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins ... 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.'" (vv. 4, 7, 8)

Mark 1:1-8 Sunday 4 December 2011


Mark begins his Gospel with a clear statement of its theme. Itcan be no accident that the first word he writes, "beginning", isthe same word with which Genesis opens the whole Bible; Mark writesabout a new start, and it is "good news of Jesus Christ, the Son ofGod" (v. 1). The ambiguity is probably intended in that it is thegood news about Jesus and the good news proclaimed by Jesus.

But after this beginning and the sense of anticipation it arousesin the reader, Mark spends the rest of today's passage writingabout John rather than Jesus. All four Gospel writers giveconsiderable attention to John the baptizer before they get down toJesus; indeed Matthew, Luke and John (a different John) all givehim considerably more space than Mark does. The early Christiansclearly felt John and his ministry of Baptism were vital, and so itis no wonder that the Church continues to take time over John onthe Sundays before Christmas.

John is introduced with a combination of two Old Testamentprophecies; it is the second that comes from Isaiah (Isaiah40:3) while the first is from Malachi3:1. The original readers, many of whom would have beenfamiliar with the Scriptures, would have recognised these texts asexpressing a hope patiently held by the Jewish people for manycenturies. And that may indeed explain the eager response of peoplein going out to be baptised by John, even though the reference inverse 5 to "all the people" is surely hyperbole. John wearsclothing associated with the prophet Elijah (2 Kings1:8) and his diet reflects what could be gleaned from nature inthe desert.

The Jews were familiar with ritual washing, and converts to theirfaith were probably baptised as a sign of conversion. But as far aswe can tell it was new for faithful Jews to be offered Baptism inresponse to the kind of repentance that the prophets always soughtfrom them. John views Baptism as symbolic both of the cleansingeffect of forgiveness and of Baptism with the Holy Spirit. The twoideas are found together in relation to water in Ezekiel36:25-28.

The other part of John's message which Mark reports is the way heemphasised the huge significance of Jesus by declaring himself toounworthy to do for Jesus even what the lowliest slave would do fora master - tying and untying his sandals.

To Ponder

Why do you think John chose the wilderness forhis ministry, since the Jordan also flows through fertile populatedcountry?

Some Christians have understood verse 8 as makinga contrast rather than a connection between water Baptism andSpirit Baptism. Do you think it is possible to experience onewithout the other? And if so, why might this be?

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