Pastor Stephen Muncherian
February 20, 2000
This morning we’re beginning a series of messages from the Gospel of Mark - looking at the early ministry of Jesus - looking at Jesus who comes as a servant - and yet has the power to transform our lives. I invite you to turn with me to Mark 1:1-11.
One of my favorite restaurants is Fresh Choice - because of all the choices I get - all the kinds of salad - and vegetables - pasta - pizza - the deserts. If you think about it - the smorgasbord - the idea of eating all you can eat - was probably invented by an Armenian. No matter how stuffed we are, there’s always one more "hrammetzek."
Obviously the choices we make in life are much more serious than whether to have the potato or 3 bean salad. In the crucial moments of our lives we need to be sure that the choices we make are the right ones - where we’ve turned for help - where we place our hopes - what foundation we’re basing our lives on.
That’s where Mark begins his Gospel - with the importance of choosing Jesus.
Mark 1:1: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.”’
Let’s stop there for a minute. If we were to start on page 678 of our pew Bibles - Malachi chapter 4 - and turn the page - it brings us to Matthew chapter 1 and the beginning of the New Testament. In the time it took us to turn that one page - 400 years of history have gone by.
We have a historical record of what went on during those 400 years - wars - revolts - political intrigue. But for 400 years God’s prophetic voice has been silent. God hasn’t spoken through His prophets. For the Hebrews this has been a time of expectation - waiting for God’s deliverance - waiting for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Mark closes these years of ends of waiting with these simple words. “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” - and the reminder of Isaiah's prophecy.
Verse 4: “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.
John was out in the wilderness - a dry - desolate - lonely spot - where the Jordan river was the only water for miles around. The people of Judea and Jerusalem left everything and went out - some of them walking 30 plus miles - went out into the desert to hear John preach.
Whenever I’ve heard Billy Graham speak - and especially in recent years - as good a speaker as Billy Graham is - I’ve come to believe more and more that its not the man - its the message - the simple basic presentation of the Gospel - that touches the needs of our hearts.
It was the same in John’s day. John spoke to the need in their lives. He spoke of the forgiveness of their sins. And that’s our deepest need.
Think about that with me for just a minute. Sin - at its root - is self-centeredness. We focus on ourselves - loving ourselves - indulging ourselves - looking out for ourselves - and not God - not others - but ourselves. We all struggle with this. We’re trapped by it.
And sin produces guilt. People today are burdened with guilt. We feel guilty because we don’t like the way we hurt others. We fail at loving ourselves. We bear the weight of our failure. We wrestle with guilt.
Guilt leads to fear. We fear our inadequacies. Deep down we realize we’re powerless. We can’t trust ourselves to handle life. Finally - sinners bound by guilt - we’re afraid of what God is going to do to us.
That’s what brought those crowds out to the wilderness. After 400 years the voice of God was speaking again. This man dressed like a prophet - in camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey - John - was speaking about God’s forgiveness of our sin.
There are two parts to John’s message. The first is in verse 4. John came “preaching a baptism of repentance.”
The question is often asked, “Should the Armenians forgive the Turks even if the Turks have never repented of their sin of Genocide?” The answer is yes. Yes, because that’s how God forgives us.
Forgiveness always has two movements. Somehow we have the idea that we should only forgive people when they come and apologize to us. If we can get the person who’s done something wrong to admit their failure and apologize to us - then we can forgive them. But God doesn’t treat us that way. God forgives us before we’re even aware we need His forgiveness.
The prodigal son returns home. Do you remember this scene? In humility and fear he comes home - ready to beg - afraid of his father. Before the boy even got home - while he was way off in the distance - his father - who had already forgiven him - runs to him - kisses him - hugs him - orders the preparation of a great celebration banquet.
Like the prodigal son, we’ve offended God by our sin. And yet, before the creation of the world - it was in God’s plan to forgive us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Forgiveness starts in the heart of the one offended.
The other movement of forgiveness is our response towards God. We need to turn from our sin and and turn towards God to receive what He’s done for us. We must change our mind towards God - stop justifying our sin - and receive His pardon - so that the forgiveness can be applied.
That’s why John preached repentance - because its the place where God meets us - its the way we come to God and know His forgiveness.
Notice this also - John preached “a baptism of repentance.” As people publicly confessed their sins they were baptized in the Jordan river.
Last summer - at Lake Sevan - in Armenia - I had the privilege of working with 3 other Armenian Evangelical pastors in the baptism of over 150 people - repentant and believing in Jesus Christ.
It was amazing. They came out into the lake in groups of 4. And each time we asked them, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.” They would answer, “Yes!” Then we would baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - plunging them into the water and bringing them out.
In the Bible - baptism is presented as the way we publicly identify ourselves with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
"baptizo" - the Greek word for “baptize” was used to describe taking cloth and “baptizing it” - submerging it in dye - and then bringing it out - completely changed.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 6: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus - identified with Jesus - have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3,4)
In baptism - we’re immersed - put beneath the water - showing our repentance - our dying to our old life of sin. We’re buried in the water - as Jesus was buried in the tomb. Then we’re raised out of the water to new life - as Jesus was raised from the dead. Death to the old - raised to new life in Christ.
John’s baptism of repentance was a public demonstration of turning from sin and turning to trust God for His coming Messiah.
The second part of John’s message is in verses 7 and 8: “And he - John - was preaching, and saying, ‘After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptized you with the Holy Spirit.’”
John’s focus was on Jesus Christ.
The Apostle John - in the Gospel of John - describes John the Baptist this way: “There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the light - Jesus - so that all might believe through him.” (John 1:6,7)
John the Baptist was an ordinary man - living in obedience to God - called by God to testify of Jesus.
In the Gospel of John - we read that people asked John the Baptist, “Who are you? Are you the Messiah? Are you a great prophet?”
John answers, “I’m not the Messiah. I’m not a great prophet. I’m just the advance messenger - the forerunner of the one whose sandals I’m not worthy to untie.” - meaning Jesus. (John 1:19-21; 23;27)
When Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized, John points to Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
The focus is on Jesus because only in Jesus can we have the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins.
John brought people to Jesus - by the only way we can come - through acknowledging our sin - repentance - and the receiving of God’s forgiveness given in Jesus Christ. The people came - confessing their sins - they were baptized by John - identifying with his message.
And so, the stage is set for the coming of Jesus and His baptism. Verse 9: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.’”
This is one of those really interesting moments in the Bible. Why did Jesus have to be baptized? What sins did He have to repent of? Who was He going to trust as His Savior? There were at least three major things happening when Jesus was baptized - all of which have to do with His ministry for us.
First - Jesus was baptized as an act of identification. All these people had come out into the wilderness bound up in their sins. They’d heard John’s message of hope and forgiveness. They repented and were baptized. As all these people watched Jesus went under the waters of the Jordan river - identifying Himself with John - his message - and our weakness and sin. Jesus is saying, “I’m with you. I’ll be there for you.” Baptism is the first step of Jesus on the way to the cross.
Second - As Jesus comes up out of the water He is empowered by the Holy Spirit for His ministry as our Savior.
In sports there are a lot of teams that have birds as their emblems - signs of their power and ability: Hawks - Eagles - even Ducks. But, who ever heard of team called the Doves?
The Holy Spirit chose to descend in the form of a dove. Doves are gentle - harmless. They don’t fight back. And yet they’re irresistible - attractive. And, so was Jesus. Empowered by the Holy Spirit - not to threaten - or destroy - but to gather and heal. Empowered by the Holy Spirit for a ministry where He would be rejected - beaten down - even put to death - with the gentleness of a dove.
Third - At Jesus’ baptism - God declares Jesus as His Son - the Messiah.
The Gospel is not a mystery. We don’t need to guess or speculate about who Jesus is. At the very beginning God declares who He is. God declares His confidence in Jesus - His approval. And to us - the security of knowing that our Savior is the Savior - the means of the forgiveness of our sin.
With God - we cannot sit on the fence. We are either with God or without Him. We have that choice - to agree and repent and welcome His forgiveness - or to continue on our own.
Have you repented? Chosen to stop blaming others - blaming circumstances? Have you stopped trying to struggle through life - looking for answers on your own?
Have you said, “Its me Lord. This is who I am - a sinner. I need your help.”
That’s the place were God will meet you. That’s where you’ll find forgiveness of sin - the washing away of guilt - freedom from fear. If you’ve never repented - this is the time. God will meet you right there. In the quiet of your heart you can say to Him, “Lord, I repent. I receive the forgiveness you have given me in Jesus.”
If you are a Christian - going through a desert - and we all have those dry times - times we just don’t know how to handle - times apart from God - looking for spiritual healing. Repent from trying to struggle through it on your own. Acknowledge it - and God will meet you there. Not in condemnation - but forgiveness and cleansing.