Imagine a signpost in a field nestling a tributary of the Pine Creek. On the sign is written the words, “The Big Event Before the Big Event!” No one knows what the big event is, let alone what the big event before the big event necessarily means. Nevertheless, everyone goes out to check it out. Cars line up and jam up traffic. Energy can be felt in the air, as well as excitement, intrigue, and mystery. Everyone goes out. Everyone wants to know what is going on and what will come next.
Such a scene helps portray how the Gospel According to Mark begins (Mark 1:1-7). Mark does not begin with the genealogy of Christ of Matthew. He does not begin with the angelic visions of Luke. He does not begin with the preincarnate Word of God of John. Instead, he opens with a conflated quotation attributed to Isaiah, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” Part of that citation comes from Isaiah 40. Chapter 40 is a pivotal chapter in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. After proclaiming the judgement and doom on Israel’s sin and injustice, Isaiah looks to a future hope, a time when God will restore all things. The chapter begins with the words, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God (Isaiah 40:1).” By citing this chapter in Isaiah, Mark is saying that the time Isaiah foretold is now breaking into world history.
The big event before the big event turned out to be a herald named John. John told people that the time Isaiah foretold was now coming. John prepared people’s hearts to receive God’s promises of hope by offering a baptism of repentance. People prepared the highway of their hearts by repenting of their sins and being baptized as a sign of repentance. However, neither John nor his baptism was the big event itself. If John had a twitter feed, he would have told you not to follow it. He was there for one reason alone: to prepare people for someone greater.
To build the castle you need to first tear down the shack that stands in its place. To grow the prize-winning garden, you first need to pull up the weeds. To receive Christ, we first need to admit our sinfulness and repent. Only then can the great hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ take root in our hearts.