A great story queues expectations and then suddenly changes direction. The gospel of Mark begins on a dramatic high note. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). The word gospel means “good announcement.” We begin with frontpage news: God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, is coming. We’re even told about a prediction of this moment in world history, given about 700 years prior by the prophet Isaiah—a guy who spoke for God to God’s people. Isaiah foretold that before God would send his Son, he would send a PR man, someone named John the Baptist, to get everyone ready for his momentous arrival. The Baptizer would announce, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (3).
Now that the stage is set and the anticipation is building, what would you expect to happen next? The story abruptly slams on the brakes and does a reversal. We read, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (4). There’s no drumroll, trumpets, or military parade. There’s just a madman coaxing strangers into a muddy river in an unknown zip code. It’s somber. It’s real. It’s raw. These people aren’t arriving in urban Jerusalem with their merits, but in the wilderness with their mistakes. If it were today, you wouldn’t see anybody posting their favorite pictures or videos, achievements or stats, or whatever else makes them look good or get liked. Instead, they’re wheelbarrowing out their dirt. They’re telling each other the stuff they are most ashamed of and would prefer to keep hidden. They are on their knees in the sand, begging for forgiveness.
Every kind of person is doing it, not just the religious ones. “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” (5). The word “all” doesn’t mean quantity, but quality; in other words, all types of people: gay, straight, rich, poor, reputable, outcast. And consider, it wasn’t even an important river! It wasn’t the vital Nile or the holy Ganges, but the humdrum Jordan. It was just the backwater of some wilderness, which nobody could even find on a map.
And then there was John the Baptizer, definitely not a leading person of his time. He wasn’t a religious leader or charismatic politician. He didn’t have a wealthy wardrobe. In fact, he was dirt poor. He dressed like a maniac, sporting a camel’s hair tunic held in place by a homemade leather belt. Come to think of it, he’d make a great metal drummer! Even worse, this guy ate locusts and raw honey combs, making Ozzy Osbourne seem cliche!
Speaking of expectations, I don’t know what you expect a relationship with God to look like. Given whatever you’ve been through, you may be turned off by Christianity, and no wonder. We want to validate your experience. But let’s not allow that to interfere with what we’re reading in the Bible right now. In Mark 1:1-6, we see a bunch of nobodies, going out to no important place in particular, to meet a strange man, in order to tell him their worst secrets. These are people who are sick and tired of the religious culture of their time, with all its rules, regulations, and hypocrisy, and they’re leaving behind the familiar and comfortable, to encounter God. They’re not showcasing their talents or trying to impress anyone; they are sharing their struggles, talking about what keeps them up at night, and humbling themselves beneath the welcoming waters of baptism. Baptism is the moment when you finally say, for real, “I can’t do this on my own anymore. I’ve tried. And it’s not working. So, God, here I am. Help me.”
This is the call of the wild. We all have a John the Baptist living inside of us. He’s that voice you hear inside you when you’ve messed up for the nth time, telling you to stop trying the same old thing and finally do something different. When you’re exhausted from being fake and wearing the same predictable false persona of what-you-think-it-is-to-be-an-acceptable-person, he’s that voice inside you that says, “To hell with it! It’s time to be me, quit hiding, and go out to God with all my trash—and I don’t care who sees me doing it.” Yes, that’s the true voice of the wild man, the wild woman, inside of you, begging you to set yourself free. He’s that voice inside you, urging you to get right with God, stop playing games with the One who made you and loves you, and seek his Son, Jesus Christ, with all your heart and soul and might.
The gospel is the call of the wild. It’s a call that resonates with something deep within us all, telling us to lay aside our self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-congratulatory behavior. It’s the call that tells us it’s okay to be weak and vulnerable along the river of life, lined with dozens of others who are brave enough to drown the status quo.
Let me assure you, if you come with that posture to God, I promise you, he will give you what you most desperately need, want, and can’t get anywhere else: forgiveness. It may seem strange to encounter forgiveness on the website of two random drummers. But it’s no stranger than receiving it through a man like John the Baptist. As you’ll see, the journey of faith is about encountering God in the least likely places from the least likely people during the least likely times of your life.
We hope you join us for the next study in the gospel of Mark. Here are a few questions to think about this week.
- What does “gospel” really mean? How could the gospel affect your life today? What is repentance? (If you’re not sure, then talk about it with someone and read our next devotional.)
- Talk about your experiences of Christianity. Do they look like what we read in Mark 1:1-6? In other words, have you been around Christians who admit their faults, are humble, and seek God regularly for forgiveness? What would need to change?
- How does your life compare with our Bible passage? Are you honest about your faults and sins? Or do you hide, pretending to be someone or something other than you’re not? Name one of the “masks” you wear. What’s one thing you could do differently this week?
- What is the wild man or wild woman inside you calling you to do? How can you get alone with God in your own wilderness this week?