1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
"See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,'"
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.5And 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, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
The consensus among NT scholars is that the Gospel of Mark is the oldest of the Gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). The author, John Mark, was a close associate of the Apostle Peter. So Mark's Gospel is essentially Peter's Gospel of Jesus the Messiah. The main reason for this view that Mark's account is the oldest has to do with the book's brevity. There are no long, extended descriptions and teachings of Jesus as you would find in Matthew and Luke. The other big reason for the Mark-is-oldest-view is that what's included in Mark is also found in Matthew and Luke, but not vice versa. The assumption is that both Matthew and Luke based some of their account on Mark.
That's a brief sketch of how biblical scholars determine possible dating of the Gospel material. For all intents and purposes, which book is the oldest, etc., does not make a whole lot of difference. We should read them all and profit from them all regardless of which came first or last. But we can note certain textual or literary features of Mark.
The Gospel of Mark is not given to setting things up. It's not into explaining background. If you want action, read Mark. Bam, bam, bam! The action comes quick and fast. So quick that there's not even a word about the birth of Jesus. No manger, no angels we have heard on high, no three amigos from the East, no schizoid Herod, no Joseph and Mary, no journey into Egypt. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
What we do get is Jesus' second cousin, John the Baptizer (Jesus' mother, Mary, and John's mother, Elizabeth, were first cousins, making Jesus and John 2nd cousins). Why do we get an account of John the Baptist?
First, to fulfill OT prophecy, namely Isaiah 40:3, about the messenger who will be sent before the coming of the Anointed One, Jesus the Messiah.
Second, to convey how momentous the coming of Jesus is. The coming of Jesus is carefully staged by the exact unfolding of history itself, especially the history of Israel. Just at the right time did the Son of God come as a human being, as a King. That careful staging of Jesus' coming begins explicitly with the coming of John the Baptist, who will prepare the way for Jesus. No greater privilege is given to a human being than to prepare the way for the coming of Israel's King and Lord. That's why Jesus says in Matthew 11:11, "Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
The greatest honor for any human being is to make a way for God, to introduce God, to usher people into God's presence, to take someone's hand and place that hand into the hand of Jesus. That is simply the greatest privilege and the greatest gift any human can give to another. And for those who enter and receive what God has to offer -- that becomes the greatest gift of all (and hence, "whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [John the Baptist]").
This unique role that John the Baptist played in the life of Jesus is replicated in a fashion in our roles as "Christ's ambassadors" (2 Cor. 5:20). Like John the Baptist, it is our greatest privilege and gift to another to introduce Jesus. The answer to life's issues is not our wisdom or solutions, but Jesus who embodies Wisdom itself. Whatever the issues of life, from the practical to the existential, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We can do no better than point people toward Jesus, the King who came so many years ago and who now reigns as Lord.
Let's pray: Lord Jesus, during this Christmas season may we introduce you to others. To family, friends, colleagues, and strangers. Christmas is a ready-made time to talk about Christ in Christ-mas. Give us good opportunities to be winsome witnesses. May our genuine joy of discovering you convey our true gratitude of finding you in our lives. Without pressure or religious spirit or guilt, may we simply share the good news of God come in the flesh, who took upon himself a form of a servant for the sake of Love. May your name be lifted up and shared during this season. In Your Name, Amen.