“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the Prophets: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.’ ” Mark 1:1–3
Two of the gospels begin the account of Jesus’ life and ministry with a record of his conception and birth, and two begin their account with the ministry of John the Baptist. John, the last to write his gospel, makes it clear, without actually stating it, that his gospel account isn’t intended to be a retelling of that which others have told. Rather he intends to emphasize elements of the Saviors earthly ministry not covered by the earlier written accounts. This may explain John’s exclusion of the birth of Christ from his narrative but what of Mark’s. The Gospel of Mark is believed to have been written first, and even used as a reference for Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts, but no reason is obvious for his beginning with the work of John the Baptist rather than the nativity.
While we don’t know Mark’s exact reason for beginning his gospel the way he did there are a few plausible answers to the question of which I believe the most compelling is found in the Old Testament prophetic record.
Mark has not set out to do as Matthew did and cite as many prophetic fulfillment’s as he could find. Yet it appears he may have taken as his starting point those events pointed to by the time prophecies of Daniel. When God revealed the time of the Messiah to Daniel his time table pointed to Messiah’s anointing at the time of his baptism, when Christ was thirty years old, not the time of his incarnation and birth.
In truth, the world new very little, and understood even less, when it came to the monumental actions being taken by heaven for the salvation of souls at that time. Christ had lived unrecognized for decades and it was the promised forerunner, John the Baptist, come in garb reminiscent of the prophet Elijah, who first brought the time and person of the Messiah forcefully to the people’s attention.
“Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight,” was John’s call. The time of Messiah was at hand the people must be prepared to receive him.
Hundreds and thousands came to hear the prophet preach and to be baptized by him. Perhaps some even speculated that he might be the promised Messiah but John set those people right. “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Many spend their lives pursuing greatness in this world. Jesus’ testimony was that there was none, born of woman, greater than John, and he lived and worked to point others to Jesus. This is our privilege as well. Only lifting up Jesus will produce for us anything that lasts. Only this can bring us any true greatness in this world.