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A Tale of Two Gospels, Pt. 2

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him and were baptized by him in the river Jordan. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my Beloved child in whom I delight.”

First and foremost, the gospel of Caesar was the “good news” of empire. Any “joyful tidings” or “gospels” coming out of Rome were going to be decrees that propped-up the empire, edicts that glorified Rome, stories and imagery that thumped the chest of the greatest civilization man had ever built. They were the rulers of the world, and Caesar was god on earth, after all. Contrastingly, Mark’s gospel—the “good news” of the Christ—doesn’t open with a decree or an edict.

It opens with a voice crying out in the wilderness—inviting others to come.

And, friends, the invitation to the wilderness is not subtle. In the opening 13-verse passage of Mark’s gospel, he alludes to the metaphor of the wilderness 8 times. Mark is clearly holding the wilderness up as an alternative to the great civilization of the Roman Empire. The wilderness was nothing like the empire. It was the place outside the reach of the predatory systems of Caesar or, if we prefer, outside the reach of Pharaoh.

After all, this was not a new idea.

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness—inviting all that would hear away from empire, away from the narrow place and into the open and wild space—is one of the layered themes at the heart of the biblical narrative. Beginning with the Israelites leaving the empire of Egypt to wander in the wilderness of the Exodus, this metaphor is repeated over and over throughout the scriptures. Unlike the empire, the wilderness seemed to have no viable life support system. In the experience of the biblical writers, the wilderness was the desert—a place without water or food or real shelter.

There was no reason for anyone to think they could survive there.

Yet, in stories of the Bible, when people answer the call to wilderness, they’re not only sustained, they’re transformed. The empire was the domain of Pharaoh, of kings, of Caesar. The wilderness is the realm of the Creator...

The Source of all things.


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