The word ‘gospel’ appears no more than five words into Mark’s account, which opens with: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (v.1). Right from the outset, Mark tells us that the gospel is Jesus Christ’s. It’s from him and belongs to him, as the Son of God.
And then Jesus doesn’t show up for another eight verses, suddenly it’s about John the Baptist, and in verse two Mark says he’s about to quote Isaiah the prophet and instead quotes Malachi. What is this, I don’t even.
I don’t know how Mark gets away with playing fast-and-loose on prophetic attribution here, but verse two quotes from Malachi 3, and verse three quotes from Isaiah 40. The Malachi passage is about a messenger who will prepare the way for God himself to come. But, Malachi warns, God will be like a refiner’s fire, burning away the impurities of his priests, the Levites, until they are like refined gold and silver. If this is part of the gospel, and Mark seems to suggest it is, then it’s not going to be pleasant. When John the Baptist preaches a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), it’s going to take some yanking out of the evil that’s taken root in his hearers’ lives. The gospel may be good news, but it’s not nice news.
Isaiah 40 further develops the message of preparing the way with the image of creating a highway for God. The Lord himself is coming to work in his creation in a new and powerful way. In his reference to this passage, I take it that Mark is identifying Jesus as the unique agent of God’s involvement in his world at this particular point in history. The title that Mark uses to address him, “Son of God,” suggests divinity, but without getting too theological about the meaning of that, Mark seems here to establish Jesus as the means by which God “comes with might” and “tends his flock…gather[ing] the lambs” (Isaiah 40:10, 11).
More on that Monday, as I look at Mark 1:14-15. But for now, I’ve finished off the Green & Black’s dark chocolate, and while I’ve got a little Pascha left, I’ll have to pick up some new stuff at the grocery store this weekend. See you guys next week with more chocolate and more Mark.