The purpose of the last two blog posts, was to relate the hope which I experienced from the Lord as I was reading the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, after my good friends Barbara and Jay visited our home. I frequently experience a profound absence of Christ in the local catholic parishes. And, it grieves me, and persuades me that the Lord abandons this particular Church community here in the Diocese of Metuchen, except for the remnant. I have also noticed that many catholics have become deeply wounded and the attack of Satan has been very effective in neutralizing many efforts to bring renewal to the Diocese of Metuchen. Many priests seem to be unable to preach the Word of God and our lay leaders, including myself, have also been rendered largely ineffective for the Kingdom of God. Some have no expectation that any thing should be any different, for they are blinded and deaf and dumb. Others feel the bondage and deep pain crying out to God for mercy.
I have had this feeling of hopelessness that this is never going to change, and while in my mind, I know this is a lie straight from the pit of hell, yet, it has continued to persist in my heart as something that felt very true, largely until the night after Barbara and Jay left and then, I sat with the Word of God, and the Lord eradicated this feeling of hopelessness through His Word. Yet, there is still pain and sadness at the bankruptcy of our particular Church of Metuchen, but now with hope! Let's finish up this reflection on Mark 1:1.
So, we have seen in Mark 1:1, how Mark used the word "gospel" which is drawn from Isaiah 52:7. And we saw how the sin of Israel led God to sell them for nothing so that, after repentance and also making payment for their sins, God also promised to redeem them without money, which indeed he does through the shed blood and the sufferings of Jesus Christ. And we have drawn the parallel to our own day, and placed our hope in Jesus Christ, that perhaps, God withdraws even now from many of our particular Churches to bring them to repentance so that these Churches can be redeemed once again through Jesus Christ. And, even if they do not repent, and even if the Lord Jesus must turn against a particular Church because she foolishly attacks the remnant of the Lord, even so, after our Lord snuffs out that particular Church, there will be new missionaries that will come from neighboring particular Churches to preach the Gospel. And, even if the particular Churches in an area are unfaithful together, the Lord raises up prophets and evangelists and whole evangelical Christian communities of believers who are invisibly in communion with the Catholic Church through faith in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through Baptism and through Holy Matrimony for the proclamation of the Gospel.
So, since, it is apparent that Mark had one eye on Isaiah as be began writing his Gospel, it would seem logical he might continue in the same strain of thought. And, indeed he does in verse 2-3: As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his maths straight--" Mark is conjoining three different Old Testament passages, namely: Exodus 23:20, Isaiah 40:3, and Malachi 3:1, and if you want to explore the relation, then go buy this study Bible. In this space, I will focus solely upon how I saw the text last Sunday evening, in the light of Isaiah.
The background context of Isaiah 40:3, is Isaiah 36 through 40, which itself is a very long (almost?) verbatim quotation of 2 Kings 18:13- 20:19, regarding the reign of King Hezekiah. Now prior to Hezekiah there were a slew of bad kings who led Israel into deep sin. While Hezekiah was devoted to the Lord, nevertheless, at this point the judgment of God is at the doorsteps of Jerusalem. According of Isaiah 36:2, Sennacherib King of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. The Rabshakeh is basically the number two guy after the King of Assyria. So, the Rabshakeh makes a really arrogant speech mocking God and God protects Israel and defeats the King of Assyria. Then the King of Babylon send envoys to Jerusalem with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezekiah welcomed them; and he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. (Isaiah 39:1). And, Isaiah says to Hezekiah, "Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your father have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon, nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who are born to you, shall be taken away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon." (Isaiah 39:6-7) And, this is what happens. They go into exile and, starting with Isaiah 40 and onward, are the words of God spoken to them by the prophet Isaiah.
Certainly, the particular Churches in the West have no concept of physical exile. Yet, some particular Churches outside of our Western civilization know persecution. In the West, the experience of exile is still only spiritual, the withdraw of the experience of God, His power and His love. It is the lack of the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the lack of knowledge of the Word of God, which leads to despair, hopelessness, and a sense of no purpose for existence. And, yet, is it not clear as day, that if the Churches of the West do not repent, God is raising up nations which will punish the West and thrust her dead unrepentant Churches into exile once again?
Isaiah 40:1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. The Lord speaks these words to those in exile after the People of God receive from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. Indeed, it is Jesus Christ who pays that ransom. But, to the man who knows His own sin, but has not yet encountered the remedy in Jesus Christ, these words feel like mockery, like placing salt into the wound to make it hurt even more: "Lord, you speak these words to me, but you do nothing. What comfort?" And, what a sorry state is the soul of the man who believes with his mind the things of God, yet his heart is dead. The only remedy is repentance, surrender, and honesty about the state of ones own soul. That man must acknowledge the debt of sin which he cannot pay, and the hypocrisy of his life up until now, and let go of any sense of self, any lie that perhaps he can save himself through his knowledge of God or his good works. He must place his trust completely in Jesus Christ for salvation, and all others things must be accounted as worthless, not that they are, but so that God can re-order man's life, and give them worth through His grace and love. Indeed, once our free will is received as the gift of God, it then has value in Him. And, once the sacraments of the Church are received as the gift of God, then they, too, have value in Him. However, to the self-righteous Christian, the sacraments of the Church can bring death. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body and eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (I Corinthians 11:28-30) The self-righteous Christian reads this verse and says it is about transubstantiation (which I accept as a true doctrine). However, the true believer reads the same verse and says it is about experiencing being spoken to tenderly by the the living God that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
Verse 3-4: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Here we have the New Exodus. In the original exodus, the way of the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt by way of a highway through the Red Sea, out of slavery and into freedom. Now, the way of the Lord brings Israel out of all the nations to whom Israel has been scattered, especially Assyria, through the desert and back to Jerusalem. This is the promise of the restoration of the Twelve Tribes under a shepherd who will gather the lambs in his arms (verse 11), Jesus Christ. It is the redemption of the People of God from slavery into freedom. And, Christ is at work, even now, continuing this work, bringing those who reject him to repentance, and then to restoration.
And so, in Mark 1:2-3, this is the backdrop. Jesus Christ is the shepherd King, the son of David, who will gather together the scattered sheep of Israel into the Kingdom. Jesus Christ, the new Moses, makes straight in the desert a highway for our God, to bring a remnant of Israel from the slavery of exile, along the way of the Lord, back into the freedom of the promised land. And so, he will bring a remnant out of our dead Church if there is repentance, or else judgment.
And then, I jumped down to Mark 1:11: and a voice came from heaven, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased", which is an echo of Isaiah 42:1.
Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant, who I uphold, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make is heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands with for his law.
God brings forth justice to the nations, but he starts with the Church, for the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And "If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?" (I Peter 4:17-18) He fights fiercely to set us free and bring us into his law of love. He will fight for every particular Church to bring Her into the fullness of His Body and He will spare no expense for her. Yet, if any particular Church becomes the enemy to the remnant of the Lord, even the Lord will turn against that particular Church and cut her off from the universal Church. He will bring judgment and baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. And, yet he is so gentle, especially to the bruised reed and the dimly burning wick. The Lord does not count our wounds or weaknesses against us. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) This brings hope to my heart, that the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God are deep and furthermore that his judgments are unsearchable and his ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33).