TODAY’S READING: MARK 1-3
“And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” – Mark 1:10
As you read just the first three chapters of the gospel of Mark, the English word immediately jumps off the page. It is used over and over again. The English word immediately is only found four times in the Old Testament. It is found 79 times in the New Testament. It is used only once outside of the gospels and Acts. And within in the gospels and Acts it is far and away found the most in the gospel of Mark.
Why do we find the word immediately so much in the gospel of Mark?
Well, on a surface level, we know that the gospel of Mark presents Jesus as the servant, the ox. A good servant, which Jesus is, takes immediate action when they are given a task or an order. A good servant does not delay. In that way, it makes sense the English word immediately is overwhelmingly found in the gospel of Mark.
But, when we look at the Greek word for translated immediately in Mark, we perhaps come to a deeper understanding of what Mark is saying.
The Greek word for immediately is euthys. It is used 59 times in the New Testament. Only once is euthys used outside of the gospels and acts. Of the 58 times it is used in the gospels and Acts, euthys is used 41 times in the gospel of Mark. So, almost 70 percent of the time that euthys is used it is used in the gospel of Mark. And, if we account for the fact that Mark is much shorter that the other gospels and Acts, euthys is 15 times more likely to be found in Mark than the other gospels or Acts.
We could say the gospel of Mark is the gospel of euthys.
Mark 1:10, which I quoted above, is the first time the word immediately appears in the gospel of Mark. However, it is not the first time the word euthys appears in the gospel. Euthys first appears in Mark 1:3.
“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 [euthys].”‘” (Mark 1:2-3)
The first time the word euthys appears it is translated straight. Common meanings of euthys are at once, immediately, and straight. It can even mean direct, by the straight road, of going straight forward, level ground, right, upright.
In regards to time, euthys does mean immediately or at once. But, euthys has an underlying moral meaning – straight, right, upright, level – as well. In fact, euthys is a compound word. Euthys is made of eu, which means good or well, and theo, which means to place. So, in its most literal sense, euthys means well placed.
Perhaps somewhat interestingly, theo means placed in a passive or horizontal posture. However, there are other Greek words that are similar but different to theo. If stao were used, then it would give the idea of something placed in an upright and active position. And, if keimai were used, then it would give the idea of something placed in a reflexive and utterly prostrate position. (All of this is according to the Concise Dictionary of Words in the Greek Testament and the Hebrew Bible.)
Why is this important?
In Mark’s use of euthys, something immediate or straight, there is the idea the thing is well placed or straight because it is passive or being acted upon. The thing that is well placed is horizontal or level or on the same playing field as everything else.
This is in contrast to something that is active, taking the action upon itself. This something is vertical, perhaps standing taller than the other things.
And, this is in contrast to something that is reflexive and utterly prostrate. This something ponders and contemplates, is reflexive, instead of something that acts.
So, given all of this, what is Mark saying about Jesus as the servant?
Jesus didn’t just ponder things in his mind and worship God in his thoughts. A servant would never do that. A servant needs to act.
But, Jesus did not take action on his own accord. Nor did Jesus elevate himself above others. He was a lowly and humble servant.
So, Jesus was a horizontal and passive servant. Horizontal in the sense that he did not elevate himself above anyone. And, passive not in the sense that he did not act, but passive in the sense Jesus was acted upon or through. In the case of Jesus, he was the servant of God because he was acted upon and through by the Holy Spirit.
It was the Holy Spirit that made Jesus the servant that was well placed. It was the Holy Spirit that made Jesus the servant who was straight. It was the Holy Spirit that made Jesus the servant who acted immediately.
All because Jesus humbled himself and made himself passive to the Holy Spirit so that the Holy Spirit could be active through him.
Knowing this, consider how Mark is starting his gospel.
“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.'”
What is not apparent is this passage is that Mark uses two different Greek words for prepare. The first prepare has the idea of an external preparation. This external preparation is done by the messenger that is sent before the face of the Lord. This preparation is done by John the baptist.
The second prepare has the idea of an internal preparation. The messenger is crying out that the way of the Lord needs to prepared. The way of the Lord is an internal way that needs internal preparation. The Lord’s paths, this internal way, needs to be made straight, euthys. It needs to make us passive and humble so that the Holy Spirit can work through us.
Now consider what Mark tells us in verses four through eight.
“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John baptizing in the wilderness is an external preparation. It was a baptism done with water. It was an external sign. And, it was a baptism of repentance. John’s baptism of water was a baptism of changing the mind preparing it for the inward reality that was to come.
“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.” Jesus baptizes, or immerses, us in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was how, the manner in which, Jesus was the good servant. The Holy Spirit is the way of the Lord that needs to be internally prepared within us. Jesus does this. He makes us well placed, straight, passive, humble, ready to receive the Holy Spirit who acts through to do God’s work.
All of this gets played out in the life of Jesus. Mark 1:9-10 says, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately [euthys] he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”
Jesus was baptized in the water, externally prepared, so that he was baptized by the Spirit. For when he came out of the water he was immediately internally prepared. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. He was filled with the Spirit.
“And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'” (Mark 1:11)
These same events are recorded in Matthew 3:3-17. Matthew adds the additional detail of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming out for his baptism. John calls them a brood of vipers and asks who warned them to flee.
Matthew uses euthys in the same places as Mark. So, perhaps we can now understand John’s reaction to the Pharisees and Sadducees. They did not come to be passive and humble, to be worked through by the Holy Spirit. Their spirits were active and vertical. They wanted to take action and be elevated above others.
Luke records these events in Luke 3:4-22. I think this understanding of euthys, something well placed, one who is passive, horizontal, on level ground, straight, gives insight to Luke’s additional quotation from Isaiah.
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight [euthys]. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight [euthys], and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” (Luke 3:4-6)
Or, consider where the Lord told Ananias to find Saul/Paul after he had blinded by the light of the Lord and knocked off his high horse while he was on his way to persecute the church.
“And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight [euthys], and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying.” (Acts 9:11)
Paul was to be found at euthys. He had been made straight and put on level ground by the Lord. Paul was now passive and humble, ready to be acted upon and through by the Holy Spirit.
We should know that there is another Greek word translated to the English word immediately. It is parachrema. But, in my study, it more literally means instantly or immediately and does not carry the connotation of morally straight or upright that euthys does.
Therefore, Mark’s use of the word immediately, of euthys, is highly significant to what he has to say about Jesus as the servant of God. Beyond the surface of a servant taking immediate action in response to an order, Mark is telling us about the inward nature of Jesus that was passive and humble so that the Holy Spirit could upon and through him. This was necessary for Jesus to truly be the servant of God. And, it’s necessary for us to be servants of God too.