ON YOUR MARK! World Championship 2013--and Beyond!

Dr. Delano Palmer

By Dr. Delano Palmer,
Deputy President JTS

Twenty-Thirteen is Jamaica’s fifty-first anniversary; it was also the 14th edition of the IAAF World Championship, and the entire globe anticipated the words: “On your mark!” especially in the men’s 100 metres dash. It was in this event that Jamaica made a new mark in 2008. The country had never won the event prior to this. Herb McKinley and Don Qaurrie had both mined silver before, but it was Usain ‘Bullet’ (as he is known in Israel) who became the first Jam-icon to cop the gold. After Usain bolted to the finish line in Beijing, one Caucasian asked a friend of mine: ‘Where in Jamaica do you find Africa?’ Jamaica became larger than life! Something similar happened at the World Championship in Moscow, when the country became the first nation to have half of the contestants in the 100 metres race, including the eventual winner Usain Bolt.

Two thousand years before Bolt’s meteoric rise, another young man made his mark in life but with much less fanfare. Like Usain, he had the opportunity to travel abroad but his first significant trip was a dismal failure (read about in Acts 13). But all was not loss. Even those who were deeply hurt by his failure later began to see his worth (Col 4). By the grace of God he was able to create a new type of literature that would become an all-time best seller, along with sixty-five other books of the same vintage.

In his first chapter, this young man called John Mark (his Jewish Christian name means ‘God is gracious’) introduced at least four significant themes on which we will reflect in turn. These themes are to be seen right throughout his book

A New Beginning.  Although he wrote in the Imperial capital  for Christians and for those who might show interest in the Christian faith, John Mark draws heavily upon his Jewish heritage. One of the ways in which he did this was to consciously echo two of the first three words found in the initial book of the Jewish Scriptures: ‘In the beginning . . .’ His words in the most popular translation since Emancipendence read like this:  ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1; in Jamaican: Dis a ou di Gud Nyuuz bout Jiizas Krais . . . staat).

John Mark wanted to impress upon his original hearers that God was doing something far greater than all the achievements of Caesars put together. In fact, what God was doing in that time was could only be paralleled by creation itself; yet this new work went beyond that great work in its formation of a new humanity. This was the kind of news that no edict of the Caesars of the day could ever promulgate. This was the kind of news that was beneficial for the all the subjects of the empire, including the Caesar himself.

A New baptism.  The first person to publish such good news, according John Mark, was a man in Southern Palestine with an identical first name. John Mark writes:

1 4 So Jan di Baptis staat fi priich se piipl fi ton we fram dem sin, get baptais an shuo se dem sari fi di rang we dem du an Gad wi paadn dem. 1 5 Piipl fram aal uova Judiyia an aal piipl we liv iina Jeruusilem go tu im. Wen dem si se dem a sina an sari fi di rang we dem du im baptaiz dem iina Riva Jaadn. 1 6 Jan kluoz did mek outa kyamil ier wid wan leda belt roun im wies. An fi im fuud im nyam graasapa an oni we im fain iina di dezot. 1 7 Jan tel di piipl dem se, "Smadi muo powaful dan mi a kom an mi nat iivn gud inof fi pul di schrap pan im slipaz. 1 8 Mi baptaiz unu iina waata, bot im a go baptaiz unu wid di Uoli Spirit.

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.  5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.  6 And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;  7 And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.  8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. (Mark 1:4-8)  

Although John Mark must have been the first to write about the Good News, it was the Baptist who first spoke about it in the First Century. In recent times archaeologists have discovered not a few public baths which they say were used by the Jews to carry out ritual cleansings. One word that was frequently associated with these baths is ‘baptism’ which appears in Mark 1:4. What is the meaning of this term? Whenever it appears in the Bible it will have one of three senses: 1) immersion, 2) identification, or 3) inundation. Bearing this in mind, verse 8 above may be translated like this:  I indeed have immersed you in water: but he [the Messiah] shall identify you with the Holy Spirit!  Or in Jamaican: Mi dip unu iina waata, bot im a go link unu wid di Uoli Spirit.

In contrast to the Jewish ritual baths, the Baptist introduced a new ‘ritual cleansing,’ one that was associated with the forgiveness of sins.

But he went a step further in announcing a baptism that would link repentant and forgiven people with the Holy Spirit permanently, in line with  the promise of the Lord found in the Farewell Discourse: If you love Me, keep My commandments.   "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever (emphasis added; John 14:15-16). Praise God for the new baptism!     

In his Gospel Mark  characterizes the followers of Jesus as embarrassing students. Following Peter’s insightful Christological declaration in Caesarea Philippi  (8:27-30), Jesus, as he makes his way to Jerusalem, begins to instruct his disciples concerning the true nature of his messianic office and the substantive role he would play in redemptive history (8: 31ff; 9:30-32).    However, despite this major focus, the disciples continue to harbour visions of grandeur and display very little understanding of their teacher’s mission (9:33-37; 10: 13-16, 28-31). But Jesus is not put off by the disciples’ slowness to grasp his core curriculum. He sticks to the teaching dictum: repetition is the mother of study (10:32-34).

Against this background Mark places the ambitious request of James and John for special kingdom privileges (10:35-37).  ‘But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”’ The disciples answer in the affirmative. Jesus’ response follows: ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized’ (10:38, 39). Both statements by Jesus have links with 1:8. There the Baptizer employs the words  ‘I’ and ‘baptize’ in a pun. Jesus does something similar in 10:38, 39:  ‘And Jesus said to them: ‘Do you understand what kind of request you are making; are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or the baptism that I will experience to experience?’ And they said to him: ‘We are able’. Jesus then said to them: ‘The cup from which I drink, you will drink, and the baptism that I will experience you will experience.’ The new baptism not only associates the disciples of Christ with the Spirit, but with suffering as well.

A New Beloved. Every godly Jew back then knew that Israel (or the king of Israel) was God’s beloved son. The  Jews were well familiar with Scriptures like, Isaiah 42: 1

( "Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him”), Hosea 11:1 ( “When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son”.). This last text is cited in Matthew, and is one of three crucial NT passages that help us to understand the concept of sonship in relation to the Messiah. The term is used to underscore His humanity as in Mark 1:11 above; it is also employed to highlight His royal Davidic status (Acts 13: 32-33). Moreover, the man after God’s own heart in the OT bears a name which means beloved (i.e., David). Finally, ‘Son’ is also used to draw attention to His deity as in Hebrews 1:8. followers of Christ are only acceptable on God’s sight because they are accepted in the Beloved.


A New Behaviour. The Messiah, the New Beloved in Mark’s Gospel, is the One who has demonstrated more than any one else what it means to live to the glory of God. This Messiah could genuinely pronounce: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) So He served His disciples by calling them to purposeful living: “And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men."  And they immediately left the nets and followed Him.” (Mark 1:17-18 ). He also served with an authority that was unprecedented—an authority that was effectively exercised  over demons:

And they were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  23 And just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out,  24 saying, "What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-- the Holy One of God!"  25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!"  26 And throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice, and came out of him.  27 And they were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! (Mark 1:22-27)

Over disease:

And immediately the news about Him went out everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee.  29 And immediately after they had come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  30 Now Simon's mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Him about her.  31 And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.(Mark 1:28-31)  

And over Disaster:

On that day, when evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, "Let's go across to the other side of the lake."  36 So after leaving the crowd, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat, and other boats were with him.  37 Now a great windstorm developed and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was nearly swamped.  38 But he was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. They woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care that we are about to die?"  39 So he got up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Be quiet! Calm down!" Then the wind stopped, and it was dead calm.  40 And he said to them, "Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?"  41 They were overwhelmed by fear and said to one another, "Who then is this? Even the wind and sea obey him!"(Mark 4:35-41).  

Mark wrote his Gospel to encourage faith and obedience in this kind of Messiah. Therefore, ‘On your mark’ takes on new meaning; it not only marks the start of a new race; it can signal the start of a new life, with a new type of  behavior modification based upon the offer of  a new Messianic vision (Mark 8: 22-29).

Taken from Di Jamiekan  Nyuu Testiment ( Kingston: Bible Society of the West Indies, 2012). Here is a guide for reading Jamaican: http://www.mona.uwi.edu/dllp/jlu/documents/spelling-jamaican-the-jamaican-way-Handout.pdf.

NIV 2011 edition.

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