Feb 15 2013 - Mark 1:1-28 – Turn, turn, turn
Mark begins his account of Jesus in an abrupt, no-nonsense style, "The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). The rest of his book will unpack this claim. It starts (or almost starts) with the declaration of God himself, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (1:11). At the centre of his Gospel is the confession of Peter, “You are the Christ” (8:29). And at the end (or almost the end), Mark records how even a Gentile, a hardened Roman centurion acknowledges, "Surely this man was the Son of God!" (15:39).
Mark begins with a brief account of John the Baptist. He is introduced with a quotation from Isaiah 40;
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God... (Isaiah 40:3)
In its original context, these words from Isaiah are addressed to the exiles in Babylon. It is part of an announcement that God's judgment upon Israel is coming to an end and that he is about to come and save them. Just as God had previously rescued Israel from Egypt and brought them through the desert to the land he had promised them, so now he will rescue them again and bring them into their inheritance.
... Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:4-5)
John has come as the herald of an even greater salvation. He calls everyone to repent and get ready for the arrival of God their Saviour. He calls them to turn around and face the coming King. He also tells them that he is only the warm-up act. He can only baptise with water, but the one coming after him will baptise with the Holy Spirit. With his coming, they will know the powerful presence of the living God.
As I read these words, the picture of a post mill sprang to mind. A post mill is an old fashioned windmill. But it is one built on an enormous post, made from the trunk of a tree. The whole of the wooden building is able to rotate around the post so that the vanes face into the wind and are able make use of its power. And it is the wind itself that causes the mill to rotate around the post – that continually nudges it one way or another to face the wind. If the mechanism becomes clogged and refuses to turn, the mill will end up without power.
John calls his hearers to repentance – to a life turned around to face God. And is only as they turn to face the coming Saviour that they will receive power from the wind of his Spirit, enabling them to enjoy the life of the kingdom and do the work of the King.
Repentance is a continual necessity in the Christian life. We need continually to turn away from ourselves and turn towards the Saviour. We need continually to be nudged by the Spirit to turn and face God and receive the power of his Spirit energising us for the work he has for us to do.
Awake, O Lord, as in the time of old!
Come, Holy Spirit, in Thy power and might;
For lack of Thee our hearts are strangely cold,
Our minds but blindly groping towards the light…
Turn us, good Lord, and so shall we be turned:
Let every passion grieving Thee be stilled…
Make us to be what we profess to be;
Let prayer be prayer, and praise be heartfelt praise;
From unreality, O set us free,
And let our words be echoed by our ways.