Mark 1:1–11. Prepare the Way of the Lord

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
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Mark 1:1–8. The Beginning of the Good News

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The Gospel of Mark opens with the words “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). These words echo the first line of the Old Testament, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The good news is that Jesus is renewing the entire world—“the heavens and the earth”—according to God’s “very good” original intent (Genesis 1:31). (See the TOW Bible Commentary on Genesis 1:1–2:3.) Jesus has not come to evacuate people from the world before it’s too late. Just the opposite; Jesus has come to fill the world with God’s presence (Revelation 21:3), overcoming every impulse to keep God out. Wherever Jesus goes, God is fully present.

God’s full presence in the world in the person of the man Jesus is news, astonishing news. Yet the prophets had proclaimed it as God’s promise for centuries. When it finally happens, what should people do? Get to work, says the prophet Isaiah. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Isaiah 40:3 as paraphrased by Mark). Preparing for Jesus’s coming takes work. The way to greet Jesus is not to wait around passively, but to actively take stock and recognize where you have fallen short of God’s good intent.

John the Baptist calls people to repent of the things we do—and the things that we fail to do—that betray the goodness of God’s creation. As Mark tells the story, when John calls people to repent, they are already well aware of their sin. (Luke records a bit more detail; see Luke 3:10–19.) They come from everywhere to repent and be cleansed (Mark 1:5). The same is true today, in work as in every sphere of life. When it comes to your own sin at work, just a few minutes of self-reflection may bring plenty to light. Some may be individual sins of doing something wrong, such as lying or shifting the blame for your actions onto someone else or profiting from others’ misfortunes. Other sins may come from what you don’t do at work, such as not producing quality work, or not helping a coworker in need, or not giving a customer complete and accurate information. Repentance means turning away from sins of doing wrong and sins of not doing right. But repentance is more than changing what you do. It also requires changing your perspective and motivation. For example, if you are only working to earn a paycheck, repentance means also caring about how your work affects other people. If you are only seeking to advance your own career, repentance means investing in the success of the people you work among.

The good news of Jesus, enacted by John, is that God is ready to wash away our guilt and give us the power to walk in the good work he has ordained for us from the very beginning (Ephesians 2:10). We don’t have power on our own to do truly good work, or even to desire it. But God stands ready to give us both the desire and the power (Mark 1:7–8) to do the work he wants us to do in the world.

Mark 1:4–11. John Baptizes Jesus of Nazareth

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From the Field: Family Business

Personally, having worked in a family business has taught me many things about better understanding my place and identity as a daughter of God. There is a difference in posture as I engage with my own father, not merely as my employer, but also as one whom I know loves me and sees it as a joy to provide for and guide me. Understanding my adoption as a child of God, likewise, informs the way that I should relate rightly with my father at work. For though it is tempting and far too easy for us to take our privileges for granted, our identity as children of God informs me that it is both my duty and delight to labor in God’s field. (Jessica Tanoesoedibjo)

Jesus himself comes to John to be baptized, as if to declare that he is the one John has been proclaiming. As Jesus emerges from the water, God’s Spirit descends upon him like a dove, and a voice from heaven confirms Jesus’s identity. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10–11). Although Jesus is the Son of God, that doesn’t negate Jesus’ human ethnicity, language, culture, and family. He is from Nazareth of Galilee (Mark 1:9). Galilee was a remote region, and Nazareth had a bad reputation among the elites in the capital, Jerusalem (John 1:46). Jesus, like his ancestor Ruth (Ruth 2:6), is treated as a suspicious outsider.

Origins influence the way people present themselves and are perceived as they go about their work. Sometimes an identity may be an advantage. At other times, it creates barriers. Immigrant workers, for example, often face stereotypes about their homeland or ethnicity. They typically lose whatever status and reputation they had in their community of origin. Highly skilled workers may be shunted into unskilled jobs. Financial and emotional support networks may be torn apart.

Jesus’ identity as uniquely beloved of God is deeper and more fundamental than the circumstances of his origin. In God’s eyes, Jesus is not some suspicious character from Nazareth, but God’s beloved, born to bring God’s own Holy Spirit throughout the world (Mark 1:8). Jesus’ obedience to his calling, opens the way of the Lord to all creation (Mark 1:3), and his work on the cross fulfills and perfects all good work (Mark 16:9). If Jesus can embrace his particular human origin, each of us can embrace ours. No one has the right to treat us as inferior because of our identity. And none of us have the right to treat another person as inferior because of their identity. For most of us, this alone is cause to repent.

Even so, our origin does not dictate or limit our identity. Through baptism—the visible sign of turning to Jesus’ way—we accept our identity as children of God above and beyond any identity the world confers. The identity that we have as children of God is the starting point by which we live out our lives, even in the workplace.