The birthday of the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar was celebrated throughout the Empire as “good news” and, with much pomp and grandiosity, he was declared the “Son of God”. These two phrases were common knowledge among Roman subjects, and Mark begins his gospel by linking these phrases to the Old Testament and to Jesus Christ instead (v. 1). This radical message challenged the claims of the imperial authorities in Rome: who were they compared to the King of kings? Caesar’s claim to special authority was challenged by the absolute authority of Christ, just as all mortal rulers are, for Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The rest of the gospel introduces the reader to this Christ, who is divine and is good news to the world.
Mark quotes Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 in announcing that the Lord and Messiah had come. His coming had been prophesied in the Old Testament, and now, after about 400 years of divine silence, the special messenger foretold in the last book of the Old Testament had finally come to prepare the way for the Lord. This messenger was John the Baptist, who ministered in the wilderness by “preaching a baptism of repentance” (v. 4) John was a rugged individual who dressed like the Old Testament prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). Jesus later said in Mark 9:12–13 that John came like Elijah, confirming the fulfilment of the prophecy in Malachi 4:5 (cf. Matthew 11:14; Isaiah 40:3). John prepared the people for the coming of the Lord by urging them to confess their sins and be baptised in the Jordan River.
John’s baptism was reminiscent of the Israelites’ exodus experience: coming out of Egypt through the Red Sea. It challenged the people to repent—to come out of sin—and undergo a second exodus through the waters of baptism in preparation for a new covenant with God (Isaiah 51:10–11).
John described the coming Messiah as one far more important than he (vv. 7–8). Jesus was more powerful and far greater, and John felt unworthy to even untie His sandals. Jesus also provided a baptism far superior to John’s. While John only baptised with water (to symbolise repentance that precedes such baptism), Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit (to bring transformation into holiness that follows such a spiritual baptism).
There is something unique about this Jesus, an individual completely unprecedented in human history. Good news indeed!
Think of all the “good news” the powers-that-be and marketplaces of the world offer. Why do they pale in the light of the good news of Jesus Christ? Why is it and how has it been good news to you personally?
What does repentance mean and what does it involve? Reflect on the message of repentance and the two kinds of baptism (v. 8). What is the relationship between repentance and spiritual transformation?