Mark isn’t finished with the wilderness at the mention of John. He will have Jesus in the wilderness for his temptation. This too is intentional. God, through Mark, wants us to see that Jesus enters into the wilderness in order to redeem it. He enters into the place of our greatest shame, emptiness, brokenness, and he redeems it. This is why Mark is so adamant about having us see John as in the wilderness. It’s his way of tying us back to all of the hope of the Old Testament and eventually showing us how Jesus is the Great Rescuer.
Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.
Mark tells the story of Jesus in a little over 11,000 words. That’s 7-8000 less words than Matthew and Luke. He is concise, intentional, and action-packed. This begs the question, why stop and tell us about the clothing and diet of John the Baptist?
Why Even Tell Us About John?
Doesn’t it seem a tad strange that Mark begins by saying, “this is the gospel of Jesus Christ…” then he proceeds to tell us about some guy named John? What is he doing here? There is no birth narrative. We don’t know where Jesus came from…but we know that he came on the scene at the same time as some strange dude baptizing people out in the wilderness? What is Mark doing by starting his gospel account out in the wilderness?
The wilderness was an empty, abandoned, wasteland. It was symbolic of the wandering Israelites—a place that was spiritually bankrupt. You don’t want to go to the wilderness. But Mark wants us to start there. Why?
Mark starts in the wilderness because it will be out of this emptiness that great hope is found. The wilderness is the place where our nakedness and vulnerability is fully exposed. It’s the place where we are stripped of our own efforts and resources and are forced to rely solely upon God. It is because of the pruning of the wilderness that it became a place of hope and new beginnings. The wilderness is also the place where Israel will find God’s love for them and rekindle their love for God. This is why around the time of Jesus there were many desert dwellers waiting upon God for salvation.
Mark tells us about John the Baptizer as a bridge to the prophetic hope of the Old Testament. He quotes from Exodus, Isaiah, and Malachi to place John as the fulfillment of this out of the wilderness time of renewal—where a prophet like Elijah would prepare the way for the Lord Himself. That’s why John appears at the beginning of Mark’s gospel.
Why Mention His Diet and Dress?
If John is in the gospel account to serve as a bridge to the Old Testament, it would do us well to walk across that bridge and make the connections that Mark is intending.