Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When God Wore Sandals (Mark)

Last year, I spent a few months hanging out with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Most of our conversations never got around to whether or not Jesus is God; but when they did, my strongest arguments inevitably zeroed in on how the Apostles quoted Old Testament Scriptures about Yahweh (God) and then applied them to Jesus. In Mark 1:2-3, especially when paired up with Mark 1:7-9, I found one of my key texts for these discussions. Mark's words were some of the strongest proof I had about the divinity of Jesus Christ. It is, then, with some really good memories that I come back to this passage in the process of blogging through the Gospel of Mark.

Looking At Mark 1:2-9: (Part 1 of 4)
"As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, 'After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.' In those days Jesus came..."
-Mark 1:2-9 (ESV)
Mark so intertwines the testimony of Isaiah, Malachi, and John the Baptist that they all together and inseparably witness to our Savior's divine identity; their combined testimony fulfills the Jewish requirement of two or three witnesses to establish a thing as a matter of fact (Deuteronomy 17:6).

Malachi: A Messenger Will Prepare God's Way
I. Malachi is cited in Mark 1:2, where it says "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way." The whole context is found in Malachi 3:1-5. First, in the Book of Malachi we learn that a messenger will prepare the way for God: John the Baptist will sit as a refiner and purifier (Mal. 3:3) preparing Israel's people so that the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to Yahweh (Mal. 3:4). Second, we learn that soon after Yahweh will come himself: "I [God] will draw near to you for judgment" (Mal. 3:5). Specifically, God will suddenly come to his temple to judge it, which is later fulfilled in Jesus twice kicking butt in the temple grounds. (Jesus cleanses the temple first in John 2:13-17, with a whip; then a second time in Mark 11:15-17 with his bare hands.) Third, by quoting Malachi the way that he does, Mark makes the point that John the Baptist is the messenger that Malachi is talking about; and if that is true, then that must mean Jesus is God.

Isaiah: Make A Highway for Our God
II. Isaiah is cited in Mark 1:3, where it says "the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!'" The whole context is found in Isaiah 40:3-11. In the original passage, 'Lord' is actually LORD or 'Yahweh', which is the revealed name of God. The passage goes on, "make straight in the desert a highway for our God." Isaiah then says several things about what the coming of God will be like: (1) the glory of the invisible God shall be revealed physically, so that all flesh shall see it together: this is fulfilled in the bodily incarnation of God in Jesus Christ; (2) the Lord will be strong and mighty in his coming, so that it is said the Lord Yahweh will come with might: this was fulfilled in Jesus' strong displays of miracles and exorcisms, which he said were done by the finger of God, Luke 11:20; (3) God will at that time reward those who have followed him faithfully: this is fulfilled in the giving of the Holy Spirit to believers, Luke 11:13; (4) Yahweh will tend His flock like a shepherd: this is fulfilled clearly in Jesus Christ, who is called the Good Shepherd, John 10:11-14.

John: Someone With Sandals Is Coming
III. In John the Baptist's coming, he does act as Malachi's refiner and a purifier, and as Isaiah's voice in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of confession and repentance to the lost children of Israel. He is the one who prepares Israel for the coming of God himself. He comes in the spirit of Elijah, whose traditional role in Judaism had been to calm the wrath of God -by calling the people to repentance- before it breaks out in fury (Sirach 48:10). As herald of God's visible coming (remember "all flesh shall see" in Isaiah?), he preaches after me comes he who is mightier than I. He preaches the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie ("sandals" should hint at someone in human form). He preaches he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. He preaches about Jesus, and is the first witness in Mark's Gospel that he is the Son of God.

We Can Approach Jesus as God
John, taken together with Malachi and Isaiah, says that Jesus of Nazareth is God. Period. So we are to approach Jesus as we would approach God: can pray to Jesus; we can worship Jesus; we can follow Jesus; we can trust and believe in Jesus; we can call Jesus our God and our Judge and the lifter of our heads. We can do this because John says "he's the one." Amen.

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