Mark probably wrote his Gospel in Rome, using the stories he’d heard from the mouth of Simon Peter, who by then had become the leader of the church in Rome. The Romans knew about ‘Good News’. That was the expression given to announcements about the emperor – his birth, or his enthronement, or his victories. Roman emperors had begun to think of themselves as divine – ‘Sons of God’. So when Mark begins his Gospel, ‘Good News about Jesus’, and says he is the ‘Son of God’, he is making a rival claim to that of the emperors – a claim that Jesus is the one to whom our allegiance is owed, above any earthly king or politician or general. Dangerous stuff! Who said religion and politics should not mix?
Mark adds weight to his statement. This Jesus, Mark says, is the ‘Messiah’ – the king sent by God, the ‘anointed one’ the Jews were expecting (‘Messiah’ is Hebrew for ‘Anointed One’, which in Greek would be ‘Christ’), who would put the whole world to rights and start a kingdom that would never end. The coming of Jesus was not an impulse. It had been prepared by God long before, as witnessed by the prophet Isaiah in the Jewish scriptures. The passage from Isaiah Mark chose speaks of the coming one as God himself coming to rescue and lead his people. Jesus was the ‘Son of God’ in truth!
Mark combines that with another passage, from Malachi, which speaks of a messenger, Elijah, preparing the way. Thus he introduces John the Baptist, a man whose fame had spread through Jewish circles all over the Roman world. John wore the same sort of clothes that Elijah had worn, and preached a similar message: Repent! But he went further: Show your repentance by confession and baptism.
Baptism was well known to the Jews at the time. However, it was only given to Gentiles who were becoming Jews – they had to do three things (if male): get circumcised, make a sacrifice at Jerusalem, and be baptized. (There were lots of other ceremonial washings, but they tended not to be called ‘baptisms’.) The new and challenging thing about John’s preaching was that he was asking people who were already Jews to be baptised – to become as if they were outsiders wanting to come in and needing to be washed clean. Why was that necessary? Because the Messiah was coming, and God’s people were not ready for him.
John knew he was famous. But he knew that the one who was coming was greater by far. God’s king was coming, God’s Spirit was coming! Get ready!
1) If Jesus were to come this week in all his glory, what would he want to find going on in your life?
2) What is the Good News?