The Ministry of the Forerunner – Mark 1:2-8 (pt. 1)

Introduction:

            Have you ever asked yourself who from history you would like to meet?  If I could pick one person (besides Jesus), I think that it might be John the Baptist.  Jesus said of John that “among those born of women none is greater than John.” (Luke 7:28)  Realistically I know that I can’t go back in time, however Mark has given us the opportunity to go back and meet John through his account of the Gospel.  As we do this, it will become clear that everything about John pointed to Jesus.  So as we look at John we should be convicted to be like him, but more than that we should be amazed at the glory of Christ.  

 

I. The Prophecy about John (vv. 2-3)

            a. A forerunner to prepare the way

In verse two Mark tells us that he is going to quote from the Old Testament; specifically, from the prophet Isaiah.  This is exactly what he does, however he does not do it immediately.  Before quoting Isaiah in verse three Mark first quotes Malachi 3:1.  So why does Mark say that he is quoting from Isaiah?  It is because the quote from Isaiah is the main point that Mark is trying to get to.  This quote from Malachi simply introduces the theme that Mark wants to point out.  It is the Old Testament theme of a forerunner to the Messiah. 

Mark writes, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way….”  This comes straight from Malachi 3:1.[1]  There the prophet Malachi brings up the theme of the forerunner.  That is, that God is going to send a messenger who will arrive before the Messiah.  Look at what Malachi said:

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”

Here we see that the Lord God himself is coming, but before He comes He will send His messenger.  This messenger will be a forerunner for the Lord, and a sign of the Lord’s coming.   

            b. The preparatory work of the forerunner

This forerunner is more than just a sign of the coming of the Lord.  This forerunner has a specific task.  Mark, quoting from Isaiah 40:3, tells us that this forerunner will prepare the way for the Lord.  Mark writes, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  This prophecy about the preparatory work of the forerunner is the main theme of verse 2 and 3.  Mark uses an interesting analogy from Isaiah to bring this point out.

In the Ancient Near East roads were usually poorly maintained.  They did not have the sophisticated technology that we have today.  Imagine the how bad some of our roads are around here, and then imagine how bad they would be without asphalt or any modern machinery.  This is how the roads were in Isaiah’s time.  For this reason, whenever the king planned to take a trip he would send someone ahead to assure that the roads were adequately prepared for his arrival.  This is an excellent illustration for the ministry of the forerunner, and we need to see two things in this illustration.  First, the forerunner is not preparing the way for just “any-old-king.”  Looking at the passage that Mark’s is quoting from it is clear that the forerunner is preparing the way for God (Yahweh):

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  (Isaiah 40:3-5)

The second thing that we need to see from this illustration is that the forerunner was to come and prepare the way spiritually.  In fact, back in Malachi this forerunner is compared to Elijah (Mal. 4:5).  This is interesting because Elijah’s message was primarily about repentance.  The people had turned their hearts from God, and Elijah’s hope was that they would turn back to God (1 Kings 18:37).  Similarly, the forerunner will be working to turn the people back to God in preparation for the coming of the Lord.

From these OT prophecies we see that the forerunner is a sign of the coming of the Lord, and that he will spiritually prepare the way for the Lord.  As we will see in the next verse, Mark brings up this theme of the forerunner because John was that forerunner.  He was sent as sign of the coming of the Lord, and to remove spiritually any spiritual obstacles.  In verse four Mark describes John’s ministry to shows us exactly how John accomplished his God-given task.         


[1] It should also be noted that there may also be an allusion to Ex 23:20 in this quote.  (See Watts’ article in the NT uses of the OT, pg. 120).

 

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