“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” — “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the LORD, make straight paths for Him.’””
For the last few months I have been wrestling with these verses. My question is; “Why did Mark begin his Gospel with this combination of verses from the Old Testament?” Several verses are merged together. Scholars seem to be fairly certain that there are three passages pointed to here. There is Exodus 23:20; “Behold, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place I have prepared. Pay attention to Him and listen to what He says. Do not rebel against Him; He will not forgive your rebellion, since My Name is in Him.”
Then there is Malachi 3:1; ““I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the LORD you are seeking will come to His Temple; the messenger of the Covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.”
Then finally Isaiah 40:3-4, at the beginning if Isaiah’s prophesy of comfort to God’s afflicted people. “A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Make straight paths for Him.””
In looking at, and wrestling with, these quotations some things have become apparent to me. These are not an exhaustive list of what can be written here, but they are a starting point for reflection.
- Mark here begins with a reference to the Prophet Isaiah, but he does not immediately quote Isaiah. Some have eliminated the reference to Isaiah, translating the verse as “the prophets”. However it seems to me that “Isaiah” is correct here.
- Mark then seems to merge Exodus 23:20 with Malachi 3:1 before bringing in the quote from Isaiah 40:3-4.
- The impact of this looks like this;
- Isaiah the prophet
- Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1
- Isaiah 40:3-4
- This is a typical pattern for Mark. He uses this sandwich structure in many places in his Gospel to deepen the teaching he is giving.
- Here Mark draws attention to a prophetic portion of the Torah, or Law of Moses, then to the last of the Minor Prophets, then finally, to the first of the Major Prophets. In doing this Mark is in effect drawing his Gospel from the whole of the prophetic promise of the Scriptures.
- By doing this Mark forces us to focus upon a basic truth. The Promised One must be listened to because He is, in fact, God. Repentance is vital because God is coming. Prepare yourself to encounter God in the flesh.
- Ultimately Mark will be calling all disciples to listen to Jesus, who is the Gospel, and to follow Him of the road to the cross. Such following requires courageous faith. It requires dying to ourselves completely and obeying the LORD Jesus Christ. This is what genuine repentance looks like.