Mark 1:2-4 (NIV): 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 desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'” And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Mark simply assumed that when God made a promise through the prophets (“it is written”), that He would fulfill it to the letter (“And so John came…”) his is the kind of faith that God wants in all of His people; the kind of faith that opens the door for His miraculous intervention.
John’s job was to do exactly what Malachi and Isaiah had foretold in their respective prophesies. John was God’s messenger, destined from the moment of His birth to announce the imminent approach of the Messiah. He would come from the desert, where he had spent years living in God’s presence, learning His voice, and learning to trust Him implicitly as He provided for his every need. By the time God called John forth from the wilderness, he had been molded and shaped by God, into an instrument fit precisely to His hand. John’s only desire was to do God’s will with all of his heart, even when that meant that his own popularity would decrease so that Jesus’ could increase (cf. John 3:22-30).
But John was to do more than merely announce the coming of Jesus. He was to actively prepare His way – filling every valley, bringing low every mountain and hill, straightening every crooked road, and smoothing out every rough place (cf. Luke 3:4-6). In the 500 or so years that had elapsed since God’s people had returned from Babylon, the majority of them had grown lax and careless in their relationship with Him. But God Himself was coming to visit them in the person of Jesus, the Messiah, to work an even greater deliverance for them: the deliverance from sin and death. And the people needed to be gotten ready; to have their hearts convicted and turned back to God; to allow the process of repentance to so soften their hard hearts that they would receive Jesus when the time for His revealing had fully come.
Of course, not everyone responded to John’s call for repentance. Not everyone was willing to have their hearts prepared for God’s coming by such a man as John. But many did come. And from those prepared people, Jesus formed His initial following, that grew, and grew, and grew.
Father, it is amazing to see all that you can do through even one faithful man – a man who was willing to follow You and obey You no matter what. Even though he never performed a miracle (John 10:41), John was still filled with Your Holy Spirit from birth (Luke 1:15), and he had the same power to be a witness that You promised to give us (Acts 1:8). Help us, Father, to be as powerful as John in our witness, and as faithful to our own divine mission (Matthew 28:18-20) as he was to his. Amen.