“It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’””
Rikki E. Watts in his helpful study of Mark’s Gospel makes the point that the opening verses of that Gospel summarize its essential point which is that what God was doing in Christ was bringing about a new exodus of His people. What the prophets had spoken about was being brought into being in the Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ God will be calling a people for Himself out of this world. They will be redeemed from their sin and brought into a covenant relationship with God through the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. God will, by His Spirit, write His law upon their hearts and minds. He will give them a brand new nature. This is the tremendous news which is contained in the Gospel. It is this that mark describes in such vivid and vibrant detail.
In the process of describing this new covenant relationship Mark also leads us along a road that takes to the cross of the Lord Jesus. The new exodus can only be established at the cross. It can only be accessed by a faith that picks up our own cross in loving, and obedient self denial. Mark’s discipleship is cross-centred. What this means for us is that we must begin our journey where the Gospel begins this is with the preparation that follows the road of repentance. The longer the disciples followed Jesus the more the encountered this sifting nature of His way. The life of faith that He called them to was one in which they would be constantly refined by the holiness of God. So Mark begins by summarizing the main point. The King is coming, and the way must be prepared in our hearts. It is literally as if Mark is asking us a key question. “Will you receive Jesus by faith or reject Him in unbelief?” That question cuts through all of our hopes, dreams, ambitions, and works, exposing them for what they are. As the Gospel unfolds the disciples are seen wrestling with their own personal unbelief, until we see them scattered by the events of the cross. In their weakness and failure however they are brought to the place of resurrection. Finally they are broken; they put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ without reservation. The whole process however is centred upon the cross.
The lesson for us is that our discipleship can only be established at the cross. We cannot experience God’s power in our lives until we die to ourselves. Dying is always difficult and unpleasant. It is however the only way through to the resurrection. To be a disciple means to be denying ourselves, picking up our cross and following Him. What Mark invites us to is the road that requires repentance. There is no other way.
This whole reflection is a long and rambling invitation to make use of this summer by engaging in a time of Biblical reflection leading up to real, genuine and fruitful repentance. Our purpose must be to really seek the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our midst and then to make Him known to others. This is what I believe that Mark is calling every reader of his Gospel to do.