Imagine dozens of Romans from many different backgrounds gathered in a marketplace with a Jewish man standing in their midst. This man has a story to share. This is just another day in the public square for these listeners; they are a curious bunch taking a break in the midst of the day. This scene is not unique. Everyone in Rome enjoys hearing different ideas and discussing new philosophies. The practice of public speaking is commonplace. Everyone in Rome is allowed to practice whatever religion as long as their beliefs remain secondary to the worship of the Emperor and the Roman Empire. Yet Mark knows the story he has to share is not like the typical new idea for the Roman listeners to debate and discuss. His story purposefully undermines the Empire. His story places a Jewish man above the Emperor. How is Mark going to tell the story of Jesus Christ while keeping his listeners’ attention, or worse, preventing his listeners from tossing him out of town? How can he break the deeply ingrained dogmas of the Empire, and lead these Roman listeners to turn from the hand that is feeding them? Mark has a huge task, but the inspired Word of God does not ever fail to accomplish its purpose.
Mark tells the Gospel proclamation of Jesus Christ as a fast paced story highlighting the actions of Jesus and the critical events that occurred during his life on earth. Mark chooses his words carefully. He only includes the necessary details to make his point. In the first section of this story, the portion of Mark that Bible owners today would know by Mark 1:1-8, three things stand out: the gospel proclamation of Jesus Christ, the preparations to be made for Jesus Christ, and the gift of Jesus Christ.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1 ESV) The very first words of this story harken to a particularly noteworthy practice in Roman tradition. Gospel proclamation is commonplace in the cult that worshiped the Roman Emperor. The messengers of the Empire spread the news far and wide throughout the region to let everyone know about the celebration of the new Emperor. People know immediately to begin preparing for the festival of the King. The Gospel Proclamation precedes one of two events; the coronation of a new Roman Emperor or the Emperor’s visitation of one of his surrounding cities. The Emperor’s entrance begins with a parade full of his strongest military warriors, his most spectacular women, and whatever else comes along with the caravan of the King. The people of these places prepare for the parade diligently. They sweep the streets, kill the fattened calf, clean their clothes, and wait in anticipation for the arrival of the son of the gods. Mark starts his story to evoke the scenes of previous Roman parades for his listeners. They know the work that goes into the preparation for the parades, and they know the joy which fills the cities as the Emperor’s entrance marks the beginning of days of festivities. He certainly has his audience hooked to hear more about Jesus Christ, Son of God.
Mark is the first person to tell his audience about this Jesus character, but he is not the only one who knows about Jesus, and so he lets his listeners know about some of the others who knew of Jesus even before the Son of God stepped onto the scene. A prophet from centuries prior foretold the coming of this Son of God. Not only of his coming Son of God, but of another man who would prepare the way for his parade.
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (Mark 1:2-3 ESV)
This messenger knows exactly what to do. He has all of the details required to prepare for the parade for the Son of God. He personally knows this Jesus Christ, and he definitely knows what Jesus Christ expects upon entering. John the Baptist proclaims it boldly. Repent, be baptized and receive forgiveness. Now Mark’s listeners are confused. They know the typical routine for the Gospel parades. They know the sweeping and the sweating, and the washing and the waiting. Never before have they had to confess their sins and be dunked in water. This new king has some weird demands. This is exactly Mark’s point. This new king is not like any other king the Romans have ever seen. This new king is not concerned about the garbage on the streets, he is concerned with the jacked up hearts of the people. The Romans hearing this story could have thought to themselves, “Sin? Nobody cares about my sin! As long as I work hard, care for my family, and fight for the Empire, I am good!” But this coming king cares about the heart of man. The cleaned up, swept up, pumped up and dressed up man is not the one ready for this parade. The broken down, run down, confessing man who has received forgiveness for his sins is ready to receive what this king offers.
What in the world is the Holy Spirit? The Roman Emperor brings peace, prosperity, and power wherever he walks. According to John the Baptist, as Mark recalls in his story, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, covers people with the Holy Spirit. “Hagios Pneuma” is the phrase Mark uses in the original language, and I am almost certain nobody in Rome had ever heard that phrase before Mark made it up here to introduce the coming king. The Roman listeners may have translated it as “holy breeze” or “sacred breath”, but all of them are scratching their heads. John telling the people to go get dunked in water sounds a little weird, but John then foreshadowing Jesus Christ immersing people in a holy breeze sounds insane. Hopefully Mark's story will provide some more clarity about the Holy Spirit.
Thirty seconds into Mark’s Gospel Proclamation one thing is clear. This Jesus Christ is unlike any king these people have seen. At this point in the story, some of his listeners are curious, and others think he has lost his mind. Unfortunately their lunch break just started. They have barely pulled their sandwich out of their lunch pale. They might as well listen to this Jewish orator for a moment longer to clarify some of these bizarre ideas.