Connections 02.18.2018: Making His Paths Crooked

Mark 1:1-15

I have a thirty-minute drive from Yatesville to Macon every morning and a thirty-minute drive from Macon to Yatesville every afternoon. My route takes me through the countryside, so it’s a pleasant journey. The only problem is that I travel east in the morning and west in the afternoon, so I’m always driving toward the sun, which can, as you know, be quite bright and thus hard on the eyes.

This problem is lessened somewhat by the winding nature of Georgia Highway 74. It bends to the left, then it goes straight for a spell, then it bends to the right, or maybe to the left again. It does so over and over. It is consistently curvy, which is nice, because often when I enter a bend the sun is no longer right in front of me. Sometimes it’s to my left; sometimes it’s to my right. Either way, I’m not looking directly at it. That’s helpful.

I’m grateful for Highway 74’s crooked way.

Mark tells us that John the Baptist came in the spirit of the Old Testament prophecy that said, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” While granting the unique nature of John’s ministry, I think we have the same responsibility: we are to make straight the way of Jesus. He still comes to the world and to the people in it, and as his followers we are to make it easier for people to see him coming.

I wonder if we sometimes make Jesus’ paths crooked instead of straight. I wonder if we sometimes think, speak, and act in ways that take him out of people’s direct line of sight. I wonder if we sometimes make it difficult for people to see him.

It seems to me that we all sometimes do such things.

It also seems to me that some Christians—and especially some Christian leaders—make it particularly hard for people to see Jesus these days. They do so by supporting and championing positions, policies, and people that put power, prestige, and profit ahead of grace, mercy, love, service, and sacrifice. Those who have a big stage from which to operate can do great harm to Christian witness when they speak and act in ways that denigrate the ways of Jesus.

But any of us can make Jesus’ paths crooked rather than straight. Any of us can obscure people’s view of him rather than make it clearer.

Our calling is to make Jesus’ path straight. Our purpose is to make him visible to people. We carry out our calling and fulfill our purpose when we demonstrate by words and actions his love, grace, mercy, and peace.

Maybe if we follow Jesus more closely and get to know him better, we’ll more consistently make his paths straight. It’ll be worth the effort.

Discussion

1. What might be the significance of Mark beginning his narrative with “The beginning…” (v. 1)?
2. How do we “prepare the way of the Lord” and “make his paths straight” (v. 3)?
3. Why do you think John the Baptist offered “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 4) as part of his preparation for Jesus to come?
4. Why does John contrast his water baptism with Jesus’ Spirit baptism (v. 8)?
5. Why did Jesus participate in John’s baptism?
6. What is the “good news” that Jesus proclaimed (v. 15)? How do we proclaim it today?

Reference Shelf

Verses 9-11 shift the subject from John to Jesus. Neither Jesus nor John speaks (cf. Matt 3:13-13). The only words that are spoken are those of the voice from heaven, lending an even greater sense of mystery to this scene. Mark knows nothing of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem; he introduces Jesus as “from Nazareth of Galilee” (see the commentary on Mark 6:1-6). The identification of Jesus with Galilee is important because Galilee will be the place of the inbreaking of the kingdom through Jesus’ ministry, and at the end of the Gospel the disciples will be instructed to go to Galilee: “There you will see him” (16:7).

Mark apparently has no qualms about reporting that Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan (v. 9). Matthew has John protest that he should be baptized by Jesus (Matt 3:14). Luke reports that John was thrown in prison before he says that Jesus was baptized, without saying explicitly that he was baptized by John (Luke 3:18-22), and John records John the Baptist’s testimony concerning the Spirit descending on Jesus without actually saying that John baptized Jesus (John 1:32- 34). In each of the other Gospels, therefore, the evangelist shows great sensitivity about the baptism of Jesus, either because John’s baptism was “for the forgiveness of sins,” which might imply that Jesus needed forgiveness, or because of arguments with followers of the Baptist about the superiority of Jesus over John. Apparently Mark was writing for a community that was not in debate with John’s followers. In all likelihood, Jesus was one of the followers of the Baptist before beginning his own ministry, but significantly Mark says nothing about Jesus making any confession as the others did (cf. v. 5 and v. 9).

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 48.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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