Preparing the Way: Beginning of to Believing in the Gospel
Introduction: Mark writes in verse one, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…” and in verse 15 he records the words of Jesus Christ: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” The word gospel provides an indicator of where the first unit of thought begins and ends in this Gospel. It is a section devoted to the idea of preparation. It is the beginning of the gospel as it appears in the entire portrait of Mark, beginning in chapter one and ending in chapter 16. It is also the gospel in which mankind must believe.
The preparation ministry of John the Baptist, the response of the Jews, the baptism and temptation of Jesus Christ, and finally the proclamation of His Kingdom provide a parallel for our own lives. Before the conversion of Paul, the Scriptures tell of his persecution efforts against those “who were of the Way” (Acts 9.2). The early Jewish Christians referred to themselves as those who belonged to “the Way”.
These early believers probably had in mind the words Jesus said to his disciples just before His death: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Why the Way? “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14).
So, in Mark we have the one true Way to eternal life. It is a difficult way that is the beginning of and the believing in the Gospel.
Transition: The first concept in preparing the heart for the Way to Life begins with repentance.
Repentance: Preparing the Way (1.1-4)
The Beginning of the Gospel (1.1)
Mark 1:1 (NKJV) — 1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Explanation: Jesus means “God is Salvation”. Christ is Greek for the Hebrew word Messiah. The verb form of Messiah means to anoint; therefore, Christ is the anointed One promised in the OT. Jews awaited a King that would lead them, a King greater than David. Jeremiah 23.5 promises that the days are coming when the LORD will raise to David a Branch of Righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. He will be called THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
But the verse states that He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As the Son of God, He is unique, the only begotten Son. He is the only One of His kind. He is the Son of God; He is God the Son. There will be two separate occasions in which the Father acknowledges His Son in Mark (once in v. 11 after His baptism; a second time in 9.7 at His transfiguration). Jesus is the eternal, co-equal, essential Son. He is the second Person of the Triune Godhead. In short, Jesus is God (John 1.1).
The word gospel simply means good news. The beginning of the good news is that which is recorded from Mark 1 through Mark 16. It is good news concerning Jesus Christ. Recall that Mark writes many years after the ascension of Christ (the mid to late 60s of the first century). Mark is saying that it all began with Jesus’ life and ministry, His death and resurrection. This makes our own way to discipleship possible. Apart from the work of the infinite God-Man, we would not know the way to eternal life.
The Baptism of Repentance (1.2-4)
Mark 1:2–4 (NKJV) — 2 As it is written in the Prophets: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You. 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’” 4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Explanation: Mark quotes from Isaiah 40.3 primarily. John is the messenger that preceded Jesus. He prepared the way of Jesus. Isaiah referred to God in his text; Mark refers to Jesus. Again, this is strong evidence to the fact that Jesus is God.
John is the voice crying in the wilderness. He preached the appearing of God Himself in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Gospel is something that began way back in Genesis 3.15. Jesus is the Seed of the woman. Satan is the serpent that is mortally wounded by the life and work of Christ. The Gospel is the completion of something God began in the history of Israel.
The way of Jesus is the way of God. It is the only way of salvation that God has made possible. It is the way of Jesus to the cross. John prepared this way by baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Three concepts need explanation from verse four:
1. What did the baptism of John mean? The terms baptizing and baptism in this verse are transliterations not translations. The word baptize means to immerse. So, John baptized by immersing people in the Jordan River. But of course, the baptism was a picture of preparation. Jews were accustomed to baptizing God-fearing non-Jews. John was asking that Jews receive his baptism. In other words, John is asking these Jews to humble themselves and re-enter God’s program or rejoin the people of God. The baptism prepared them for what was to come in the ministry of Christ.
2. What is meant by the baptism of repentance? It was a repentance-baptism. To repent means to change one’s mind which leads to a changing of one’s direction, the changing of one’s course in life. We have to ask ourselves what would happen if one of these disciples of John had died before the life-work of Jesus Christ. Would this repentance save them? The answer is yes, certainly! How? It would save them because they responded by turning away from their self-trust and believing in what God had thus far revealed to them. That is saving repentance!
3. What is meant by remission of sins? The word for sins in this verse means “missing the mark” – a mark God will hold us to meet fully and perfectly. All of us fall short of this mark. Therefore, we are guilty. Remission carries the idea of a clearing or sending away of that guilt and sin. It is the dismissal of sin.
The Bible teaches that “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps 103.12). God “will not remember your sins” (Isa 43.25). “He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7.19).
Application: The way to eternal life begins with an understanding of saving repentance. While the disciples of John the Baptist did not have the whole story as Mark did or as you and I do, they responded to what they knew, and thus experienced saving repentance. We have full knowledge of this doctrine.
This morning, the way of eternal life begins when you understand and acknowledge that you have been going the wrong way. Many people believe that their way is right. They keep the Golden Rule, they attend church, they have moral and upright families, they do this and they do that. You see, that’s the problem. They do it when Jesus has already done it!
You repent today by turning away from that old bankrupt way of doing and turning to the only Way, Truth, and Life. Jesus paid it all and all to Him you owe! Saving repentance means you stop trusting in yourself and rely only on Jesus Christ for your eternal life!
This is important. You cannot turn from individual sins in your life. The Bible teaches that before we come to Christ, we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Since that is the case, those without Christ can only sin – they are slaves to sin. Saving repentance is a turning from your way to God’s Way in Christ. Once you are saved, then you may begin to turn from individual sins. This is sanctifying repentance.
Transition: So, the Way to Life begins with saving repentance. This leads to the second seminal concept in this passage.
Baptism: Indentifying with the Way (1.5-11)
The Baptism of the Jews (1.5-8)
Mark 1:5–8 (NKJV) — 5 Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. 8 I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Explanation: The verbs in verse five along with the word all communicate the idea of a steady stream of people from Judea and Jerusalem going out to John for baptism. The baptism was evidence of the fact that they had repented. The confessing of their sins means that they acknowledged the sin in their lives.
John’s baptism was unique. He preached judgment and condemnation upon the hypocrisy and sin of the Jews. This led many of them to repent. Negative aspects like judgment and condemnation need to be preached in order to bring hope.
Application: Many preachers want to stay away from what they call negativism when they peddle their message of prosperity. Their desire for health, wealth, and the best life now has led them and those that follow them to a place where God is absent and hope is lost. The sad part is that they don’t even know it.
Explanation: Verse six parallels Elijah described in the same fashion in 2 Kings 1.8. Since Elijah is the quintessential prophet, this descriptor of John indicates his office as the last of the OT prophets. The rustic dress and diet of John set him apart from the religious leaders of the time. The streams of people coming to him are a harbinger of the fulfillment of God’s promise for Israel.
Hughes writes, “John’s dress and lifestyle were a protest against the godlessness and self-serving materialism of his day. It amounted to a call to separate oneself from the sinful culture, repent, and live a life focused on God.”
· John lived a life of repentance.
· John’s devotion was without compromise.
· John’s preaching was fearless.
· John’s humility demanded that people look to the One coming that was mightier than he.
Application: When John preached, the truth came through his character, desire, and whole being. The Word of God came through him. This is the power of John the Baptist. If we will allow the truth of God’s Word to completely dominate and saturate our lives, we too can have great power in our ability to witness. The baptism of John demanded that his followers identify with the way being prepared!
Explanation: Verse eight indicates that the One coming after John will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Only God had this prerogative in the OT era. Now this is claimed for Jesus who is God the Son. When Jesus baptized with the Spirit, He acted in the power of the Spirit on behalf of others. Later, after Pentecost and the ascension of Jesus, the Spirit indwelt believers.
The Baptism of Jesus (1.9-11)
Mark 1:9–11 (NKJV) — 9 It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. 11 Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Explanation: Geddert writes, “The irony is that Jesus will be immensely popular in Galilee (though not in his hometown, 6:3–6) and rejected in Jerusalem. People from Jerusalem even become synonymous with Jesus’ enemies (3:22; 7:1). But where are those from Galilee in this passage?
Mark mentions three significant signs attending the baptism of Jesus:
1. The Parting of the Heavens – the heavens parted in the sense that they were torn open. After centuries of waiting, Jesus had come as the superior revelation of God. God parted the Red Sea (Exo 14.21), Moses split the rock (Isa 48.21), and the Mount of Olives will one day split in two when Jesus returns (Zech 14.4). Later in Mark, we learn that the veil of the temple will be torn in two from top to bottom (15.38). The rending of the heavens and the rending of the veil reveal that Jesus is the beloved and only begotten Son of God!
2. The Descent of the Dove - The Amplified Bible states that the [Holy] Spirit like a dove came down and entered into Jesus. The idea is that Jesus was filled and equipped for His earthly ministry at His baptism. Genesis 1.2 states that the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters just prior to creation. He hovered in the sense of brooding, even as a dove. Here, the dove is seen as brooding over Jesus – preparation for Jesus’ new creative work in the hearts of men.
3. The Voice of the Father - Psalm 2.7 states, “I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’” Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of Israel’s OT concept of sonship. As the beloved Son, we remember the sacrifice that the Father makes in giving Him to the world (John 3.16). God did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all (Rom 8.32a). Jesus is the eternal Son of God. Mark 1.1 has already affirmed that He is the Son of God. As the Son of God, He is well-pleasing to the Father. He does not begin to be the Son of God at the baptism, but rather He begins His ministry as the suffering servant at His baptism.
Application: You may wonder why Jesus would need to be baptized. Mark does not say, but when John objects in parallel accounts, Jesus asked him to permit it to be so in order to fulfill all righteousness (Matt 3.15). Jesus did not need to repent because He was without sin. His baptism identified Him with us. We must repent because we have sinned. The only answer to our dilemma is that Jesus identify with us – which He did. The baptism of Christ points us to the cross of Christ.
Jesus connected himself with all of John’s baptisms and we connect ourselves with His life’s work when we are baptized. Our baptism truly pictures what has happened when we repent and turn to Christ alone for eternal life. Baptism does not save, but it does indicate whether or not we choose to identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior!
Transition: So, the Way to Life begins with saving repentance and identification with the Way is pictured by our own baptism. Now note a third concept in the text…
Temptation: The Way of Escape (1.12-13)
Mark 1:12–13 (NKJV) — 12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
Explanation: Note the first word of verse 12. Mark uses his signature adverb, immediately. This is a fast-paced life of Christ. The temptation highlights the humanity of Christ. He will be tempted and succeed where Adam had failed. Satan is the great adversary of man and God. Satan stands opposed to the plan and purpose of God. But the Son of God was manifested for a significant purpose: To destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3.8).
The contrasting disobedience of Adam and the obedience of Christ occurs in the familiar passage of Rom 5:12–21 (cf. Luke 3:38; 1 Cor 15:22, 45–49). Whereas Adam succumbed to his tempter resulting in hostility within creation and hardship in his own life, Jesus overcame the tempter, restored harmony within the creation, and lived by God’s sustenance as a sign of the new creation. Jesus is the second Adam, the obedient one.
Hughes aptly points out that Heaven had opened and now Hell opens. Jesus was tempted by Satan for 40 days. Israel lingered in the wilderness for 40 years, Moses was upon Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights, and Elijah was led to Mount Horeb for 40 days and nights. The wilderness was a place of testing in each case. Would Israel remain faithful? They ultimately were not faithful. Jesus succeeds where both Adam and Israel failed.
Mark states that Jesus was with the wild beasts. Matthew and Luke do not mention this detail. Mark writes during Nero’s reign. It is possible that by adding this detail, Mark is calling to mind that Jesus faced the horror and danger of the wild animals in a similar way that the believers persecuted under Nero faced them.
God ministered to Jesus through the angels. He did so throughout the temptation and not just at the end of it (imperfect tense of ministered).
Jesus was tempted. People wonder how He could have been tempted since He was God. My answer is always the same – as God, He could not have been tempted; as man, He was tempted. Lenski wrote: “The greatness of the strength tested changes nothing about the reality of the test to which it is subjected. The strain applied is just as real when the strength endures it as when the strength is too weak to endure it. Jesus as the Stronger stood unmoved under all the force that Satan, the strong one, could bring to bear against him. Was it possible that the Stronger should go down before the strong in a test of strength? Thus the test or temptation was real in every way and no illusion. 
Application: It is because of Jesus’ strength that we are able to endure our own temptations. We can choose the way of escape. We do not have to sin (1 Cor 10.13).
Transition: So, the Way to Life begins with saving repentance and identification with the Way is pictured by our own baptism. Temptation to betray our Lord and sin will come our way, but there is always a way of escape because of His great victory. Finally, this morning, there is the…
Proclamation: The Way of the Kingdom (1.14-15)
Mark 1:14–15 (NKJV) — 14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Explanation: Some time passes between vv. 13 and 14. Perhaps Jesus was returning from a journey to Judea (see John 3.22-36; 4.1-3). After John was handed over, Jesus comes to Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is at hand. One cannot enter this kingdom in his own strength. It is entered through the new birth. The mystery of the kingdom of God is revealed to those who believe (4.11). It is present with power during the transfiguration of Christ. It is revealed to few who really understand during Christ’s earthly ministry. It will manifest itself in the future literally. Its inhabitants are ever- increasing as the Gospel is sounded and people receive it. It is a kingdom already but not yet.
· It is the Kingdom of God not man. It does not have political or geographical boundaries. It is within men. It consists of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14.17). As subjects of this kingdom right now, we have our King dwelling within us. It is the Kingdom of Heaven not of earth.
· It is the Kingdom yet to be established at the time of Christ and a Kingdom yet to come in a literal fashion. The Jews were waiting for it. It was near them and they were unaware of it. It is the Kingdom of Messiah.
· It is the Kingdom appointed to those who repent and believe the Gospel.
o Repentance includes sorrow for our sinfulness. It includes a willingness to allow Christ to truly reign and rule over us as our King. It is turning from the sin of self-righteousness to the righteousness of Christ our King.
o Repentance includes an element of turning from our sinfulness generally …of seeing the end of ourselves. But turning from sin patterns in our lives follows the great turning from self-dependence.
o Belief is a trust in Christ alone for eternal life.
Conclusion: Jesus will demonstrate the arrival of God’s Kingdom in our text next week, Lord willing. In verses 16-20, He will call His first disciples. He will ask them to leave all and follow Him. Next week, the preparation is over, and the earthly ministry of Christ begins in earnest!
As for this week, we learn that it is all in the beginning of the gospel and believing in the gospel. Repentance gives way to identification through baptism. Temptation follows us, but our lives proclaim the very dedication and consecration that drives us to the Kingdom of God!
Hymn: I know Whom I Have Believed (224)
 Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark : Jesus, servant and savior. Preaching the Word (21). Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books.
 Geddert, T. J. (2001). Mark. Believers church Bible commentary (33–34). Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press.
 Guelich, R. A. (2002). Vol. 34A: Word Biblical Commentary : Mark 1-8:26. Word Biblical Commentary (39). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
 Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Mark's Gospel (61). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.