Mark's Gospel

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The Message of John the Baptist

(Mark 1:2-8)

John's basic message is one of repentance; a complete turning away from sin and return back to God, "Turn away from your sins and be baptized and God will forgive your sins." John is described as 'A voice crying aloud in the wilderness', who shouts out, "Prepare a way for the Lord". The analogy is of a king making a tour of his domain. He sends out a herald to give warning of his approach and to warn his subjects to prepare for his visit by repairing the roads, filling in the pot-holes, levelling the rough places, re-aligning where necessary. The coming of the Messiah is imminent so they must repent of their evil ways and be baptized. There is no time to lose; if they are to qualify they are to submit to baptism as a public admission that by their sin they have failed God. John denied that he was the Messiah but declared that the Messiah was one who already stood among them. He is 'mightier than I, and I am not fit to take off his shoes.' (Removing a guest's shoes was the task of a humble servant.)

Mark tells his readers that John 'baptised' people in the River Jordan. The word 'baptised' literally means 'to dip' or 'completely immerse' in water. It is intended to be a symbolic washing away of a person's sin. We know from other sources that baptism, or ritual washing, was not uncommon to other Jewish leaders at the time of the New Testament writings. It was sometimes used along with circumcision as an initiation for converts into Judaism. John's understanding of baptism, however, is one of preparation for the Messiah.

John is described as wearing clothes made of camel hair with a leather belt around his waist. John is identified with the great prophet Elijah who also wore a cloak made of animal skins tied with a leather belt. At the time of John the Baptist many Jews believed that before the Messiah came Elijah would return to Israel (Malachi 4:5). John the Baptist is painted as a great Old Testament prophet who ushers in the beginning of a new chapter of God's dealings with his people.

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