The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 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. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 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. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
(Mark 1:1-8 ESV)
Where does the “good news” – the gospel – begin?
It begins with Prophecy. Isaiah wrote some 750 years before Christ appeared. Had Mark wanted to, he could have filled a book with the specifically messianic prophecies of the Old Testament canon. His choices of Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 as examples make total sense, but they are only fractions of the total Old Testament witness. Mark knows this and so does his late First Century audience.
The gospel also begins with Proclamation. None of the Old Testament writers believed they were living in the days of Messiah. They knew they were writing and speaking things that were to be accomplished in the future. What makes John the Baptist unique is not that he was speaking prophetically. Many had done that over the past 2000 years of Israel’s history. What makes John the Baptist unique is that he believed he was preaching about a present reality, not a future coming. So his preached prophecy comes in the form of Proclamation. His is a broadside approach. He is the newspaper issuing today’s events.
The third element of the beginning of the gospel is Penitence. The text says that “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.”
It is about 20 miles from Jerusalem to the Jordan. That doesn’t seem very far today, but at 3 miles per hour (average walking speed), you’re talking about a six hour walk each way. It was kind of like traveling from Boston to New York on US 1. You had to go through all the little downtowns along the way. The scene of all those people coming down to the boat landing with the express purpose of repenting of their sins is what I expect revival would look like. Add to this, Jesus was probably coming down the Jordan from Capernaum and John had come in from the east, beyond the Jordan and the most likely place for the baptism is the area where all the north-south commerce changed from boat to land: a pretty busy intersection. Considering that the Temple was back in Jerusalem, it is also a pretty unlikely place for large groups of people to go to confess their sins, though there’s probably a scholar out there who knows a reason for it that escapes me.
The final, and most important piece critical to the beginning of the gospel is the presence of the Paraclete. Without the specific action and intervention of the Holy Spirit, there would have been no gospel. Both of the birth narratives (Matthew and Luke) emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit in advent of Christ, right down to how Mary conceived. This gospel of the Kingdom is, from beginning to end, a testimony to the power of a triune God. The Father spoke through the prophets. The Son came into the world through the action of the Holy Spirit.
Has the gospel of Jesus Christ begun in you? Have you heard the ancient prophecies and heeded those who are proclaiming Christ to you today? Has the effect been to give you a penitent heart before God? Is the Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) speaking to you today? If so, don’t delay. This is the day of your salvation. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)