Mark begins his gospel reminding us that the good news occurs in the midst of a grand narrative that has been in the works long before his time. The announcement of a coming Messiah has been prophesied for hundreds of years. God has been at work redeeming his people and Jesus is the climax of that rescue. Mark expresses the importance of remembering how God has worked with the nation of Israel so that we may fully understand the significance of Jesus’ actions.
Mark begins his gospel by pointing back to the Prophet Isaiah. Prophets in the Old Testament were responsible for pushing Israel back into the covenant/commitment with God. Prophets were meant to help drive people back into right relationship with God when they began to fall astray. The first section of Isaiah reveals a time when Israel was falling away from their covenant with God to the point that they were becoming spiritually dead leading to their exile. Exile is a term referring to a physical manifestation of the spiritually dead state in which Israel finds themselves. God pushes Israel away from his presence and out of the land promised to them because of their decision to move away from their commitment to God. But, there is good news in the second part of Isaiah which foretells the pinnacle point of God’s grace in a coming Messiah. Our sin places us into a place of exile, but God promises to send one who will lead us out of exile permanently.
“Repentance is not just the turning away from death it is turning to life.”
A New Exodus
Mark continues his gospel with the baptism of Jesus. The imagery of water and sin are constantly placed together in scripture. Whenever we see sin in the Bible we see water soon after because it is a symbol for God cleansing the world. During Noah’s time, God cleanses the world of sin in the waters of judgment. In Egypt, we see the Israelites passed over by the blood of a lamb while the Egyptians are later engulfed in water. These symbols are key elements in Jesus’ baptism. Now that the righteous one has entered the judgment waters and the Heavens have opened up in peace we may be certain that if we enter the grave in Christ we will rise again with Christ. Jesus is the promised one who gives us the new exodus out of the exile brought by our sin.
“Christianity is not just a better moral code or sentimental sweet nothings. It is a new identity as a beloved child of God.”
Jesus leads us through a new exodus and into the wilderness. When we read about wilderness and temptation we often assume that it is a punishment because God is displeased with us. But what if it is a sign that God is at work within us? Unlike Israel's time in the wilderness where God’s people continued to rebel, Jesus is sent in the wilderness but continues in obedience towards God. Surprisingly, scripture also describes the wilderness as an intimate time between God and his people. Wilderness is where people are stripped of their strength, dependencies and idols turning their attention towards God. Although there are certainly times where we place ourselves into an unpleasant wilderness due to our actions, we cannot immediately assume that wilderness is a result of God’s displeasure; rather, it is God’s refinement so that we find pleasure in Him.
“As Christians we are always in one of three phases. You are either entering a season of wilderness, in a season of wilderness, or exiting a season of wilderness. But be encouraged because what it means is that your Heavenly Father is refining you.”