Sermon Prep in Mark 1 – Part 1 Featuring BibleWorks

“Unless you repent, confess your sins, and put your trust in Jesus Christ, He will destroy you.”

I’m working on a series of sermons in Mark chapter 1. And as I mentioned some time ago, I will be using BibleWorks, the premium software for studying the biblical languages, and featuring BibleWorks in a series of posts blogging through my sermon preparation. The nice folks at Bibleworks provided me with a complimentary copy of the latest version of their software, for which I am very grateful. The new features in version 8 are not only helpful but a lot of fun to discover and work with. For more on BibleWorks and where to get it, click here.
Software for Biblical Exegesis and Research 

One of the first things I do when I begin to exegete a text of Scripture is to diagram the syntax of the passage, in Greek, on paper. BibleWorks has had a diagramming tool in previous version, but I found it a lot quicker to use a pen and paper. Version 8, however, has a module containing Leedy Greek New Testament Diagrams. So I thought, “why reinvent the wheel?” Studying the diagram for Mark 1, I noticed first how similar are the constructions, “John appeared” (verse 4) and “Jesus came” (verse 9). In fact, not only are the grammatical constructions very similar, the words, “appeared” (v 4) and “came” (v 9) are the same word in Greek—even the same form of the same Greek word (indicative, aorist, middle, 3rd person, singular). Hmmm. Is it just coincidence that when Mark penned this text, he introduced John and Jesus using the same word and the same sort of construction? I think not. 

That little discovery led me to wonder, “What is Mark’s point in comparing or contrasting John’s entrance with Jesus’?” I noticed that, in verse 4, “John appeared baptizing and proclaiming…”; in verse 9, “Jesus came… and was baptized…”. But in verses 7-8, John was proclaiming / preaching about Jesus. So the passage reveals that John began his ministry “baptizing and proclaiming” while Jesus began His ministry being baptized and proclaimed. 

The simple but profound point I drew from this is that while John was the last and greatest of the Old Testament era prophets (Mat 11:11), Jesus was his infinitely greater subject. 

This is borne out, in the text, by another interesting observation from verses 2-3. I noticed that the phrase about John as the forerunner of Christ (“who will prepare your way”) uses a somewhat unusual word for “prepare” (i.e., kataskeuazo). Looking this word up in the various lexicons supplied with BibleWorks yielded some helpful results. The word is used in ancient Greek literature, a) to describe making guest rooms available for a visiting senator, b) to describe making a room ready by furnishing it, c) to describe the construction of a city gate, and interestingly, d) to describe the route built for a procession to get to a pagan temple (VGNT Dictionary, p. 332). In verse 3 we read exactly what the Old Testament said John would do to “prepare” the way for Christ: “make his paths straight.” 

If you read that verse you will notice that it’s talking about preparing the way for “the Lord”. The quote comes from Isaiah 40:3, where “Lord” is the Hebrew name, Yahweh, and where He is identified further as “God” (Elohim). Why does God need John the Baptist to make His path straight? I thought about that for a bit and it occurred to me to ask, on the other hand, would God condescend to walk a winding, crooked path? Would He go around obstacles or go through them? What would happen to anything standing in God’s way? Like a road crew building a highway, when confronted with a tree, they wouldn’t build the road around the tree. They would uproot the tree to accommodate the road. So then, in this metaphor, what are the “paths” of God? 

We can deduce what God’s “paths” are by observing what John the Baptist did to prepare them. 

“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mar 1:4 ESV) 

John preached to people and how did people respond? 

“And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Mar 1:5 ESV) 

The people who heeded John’s preaching moved their “trees” out of God’s way: they confessed to God that they were guilty of rebelling against Him so that He would not destroy them at His coming. John also pointed forward to the means of forgiveness for sin—(repentance alone cannot obtain the forgiveness of sin)–: 

“And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.””  (Mar 1:7-8 ESV) 

Faith in the Messiah, the Christ, whom the Old Testament had promised and whose paths John was preparing by his preaching, was and is the only way to find forgiveness of sin. You can resist Him; you can refuse to admit you’re a sinner; you can choose to believe you’re basically a good person; you can prefer to believe that God is not the sort to punish sinners. But unless you repent, confess your sins, and put your trust in Jesus Christ, He will destroy you. The bad news is bad. But the Good News is great.