Mark writes like man in a hurry. There’s no lingering or loitering with him. His gospel begins by telling us of a rugged, fiery prophet named John who is living (at least temporarily) and preaching in the wilderness. Crowds come pouring out of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas to hear him. They respond overwhelmingly to his message of repentance and hope that will come from “One more powerful than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” (1:7). Jesus appears and paradoxically is baptized by John. In short order He is empowered by the Spirit and affirmed by God before being rushed off to be tempted by Satan. It’s all done in thirteen whirlwind verses. And it is as provocative as it is brief.
Maybe that’s why we’re tempted to turn to the other gospels to fill in details, enrich the story, sync everything up and move on. We do so at the expense of losing the sound of Mark’s voice. Specifically, we need to make sure we hear the other-world tone of his words for he speaks from a cosmic perspective. His story defies being understood as a simple account of interesting occurrences in first century Palestine. Rather, it is leaching with demons, miracles, Satan, God, people who are possessed and Jesus—the man Mark identifies for us as the Messiah, the Son of God (1:1). This man from another world is proclaiming that the kingdom (reign) of God has come (1:15). But unlike other kingdoms which rise through violence, brutality and destruction, this kingdom is different. That’s why three different times we are assured this is good news (1:1, 14-15).
This is important to keep in mind because the events of the prologue (the preaching of John, the baptism of Jesus and the temptation of Jesus) all take place in the wilderness. Wilderness means a place that’s uninhabited but there’s more to it than that. It is uninhabited because it is inhospitable to life. It might be a barren desert or an overgrown area guarded by wild animals (v. 13). In either case, it is not welcoming to man. It is this way because of sin (Genesis 3:17ff; Romans 8:19ff). Yet in the midst of this sin-scarred setting, the Baptizer preaches God’s forgiveness and speaks of the outpouring of the Spirit, heaven is “torn open” (v. 10) and Jesus is anointed for war against Satan. In His ministry that follows in Galilee we see Him encounter a demon possessed man (in a synagogue no less) but the demon is cast out (v. 23ff). Still later we’re told “He also drove out many demons, but He would not let the demons speak because they knew who He was” (v. 34).
And with this we come face to face with the good news—this One from another world hasn’t come to bring destruction and pain like the demons do, He’s come to set things right. And He has the authority to do so. Mark shows us this over and over through the words of the Baptizer, the voice from heaven, the miracles, the people who hear His teaching, the pleadings of the demons in His presence, etc.
This morning they’re speaking of “the meltdown of humanity” that has occurred in Aleppo in the executions of men, women and children. Over here we’re aborting our unborn for the sake of convenience, holding suicide parties, and have mass shootings so often we’ve grown numb to hearing about them. Whatever else is true, it should be clear we’re in the wilderness and in desperate need of someone who can set things right. And it’s not going to be a politician, an entrepreneur, or an inventor who does it. We need someone with authority over the darkness that engulfs us. We need Jesus and His kingdom. We need to bring His world into ours.