Series: In His Steps - Part One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
August 1, 2004
Please turn with me to Mark 1:1-11. Today is our first look at a new series of messages - looking at the first two chapters of Mark’s Gospel. We’re going to be looking at the early ministry of Jesus and what it means to follow in His footsteps.
Imagine a scene with me. Its early morning - the cool before the heat of the day. The sun hasn’t shown itself yet. Its that kind of twilight just before dawn. Do you know what I mean? Kind of a bluish hazy soft sky. There’s a crispness in the air. We’re in a desert - a wilderness of rocks and distant hills - empty - silent. When a rock falls - miles away - we can hear it. With the spreading light there’s an anticipation of something new coming with the new day.
That’s where Mark begins. Mark 1:1 - look with me at how Mark sets the scene - the anticipation of what God will do.
Mark 1:1: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Malachi 4:6 is the last verse of the Old Testament. After that - in the Bible version I’m using there’s some reference material - some historical and background information. In your version you might also have a place for important records. Then on page 1365 - finally Matthew 1:1 - the first verse of the New Testament. In the time it takes us to turn through those few pages - from Malachi to Matthew - 400 years of history have gone by.
We have an 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. For God’s people its like being in a spiritual wilderness - waiting - anticipating.
Mark closes these years of waiting with these simple words. "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." A beginning - something new. God is visibly on the move again.
Verse 2: 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" - a distant sound in the dessert - in the stillness it commands attention. "Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight."
Its no secret that two of my favorite places to eat are HomeTown Buffet and the Grand China Buffet. So many good choices. Can I get an “Amen” to that? Here in Mark there’s a more serious choice than whether to have the potato or 3 bean salad.
God is on the move. What about His people? What about us? We have choices to make. Serious choices. Is our heart prepared - open - willing - teachable - moldable - prepared for what God desires to do in us and through us? Is the path of our life straight or are there detours? Sins we allow ourselves to indulge in? Stuff that comes up that keeps us from God? From quality time with Him? From worship? From Bible study? From prayer? From faithful service?
Verse 4: John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins - the voice has a name - John the Baptist.
Verse 5: 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. This man dressed like a camel - eating those crunchy things that hop around in the garden.
Why? This was no air conditioned sanctuary with cushy chairs. Why did they go?
The message John spoke touched the deepest need of their lives. He spoke of the forgiveness of their sins - the restoring of our relationship with God. That's our deepest need - foundational to all the other needs we feel.
Think with me about that for a moment. Sin - at its root - is self-centered behavior where we focus on ourselves and not God - loving ourselves - indulging ourselves - looking out for ourselves - and not God - not others - but ourselves.
Sin produces guilt. People today are burdened with guilt. We feel guilty because of our attitudes towards others - our inability to forgive. 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.
Sin is self-destructive. While we’re trying to please ourselves we’re destroying ourselves - and our relationship with others - and ultimately our relationship with God. We all struggle with this. We're trapped by it.
God hates sin. Our self-destructive behavior destroys the very image of God - destroys the people He loves - us. God sends John to break the prophetic silence - to speak about God's forgiveness of our sin - the healing and restoration of our lives. That's what brought those crowds out to the wilderness. After 400 years the voice of God was speaking again.
Let’s be honest. Isn’t that some of what brings us here this morning. To hear God’s voice. To wonder if He’ll do something new in our lives?
Mark sets this scene. He begins with a voice calling us to what God is doing - to choose how we’ll respond. Turn to the person next to you and share that with them, “We need to choose.”
Thinking about our own needs this morning - there are two parts to John's message that I’d like to focus on. Look with me again at verse 4. John came "preaching a baptism of repentance"
Let me ask you a question. Have you chosen to repent?
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.
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 how they’ve wronged us and apologize to us - then we can forgive them. But God doesn't treat us that way.
First movement - forgiveness starts in the heart of the one offended.
Like the prodigal son, we've offended God by our sin. And yet, before the creation of the world - before we were even aware of our need for His forgiveness - it was in God's plan to forgive us through Jesus' death and resurrection. God is there desiring to wrap His arms around us and to begin the celebration.
The second movement of forgiveness is our response towards God.
We need to repent - to choose to turn from our own self-destructive sin - to stop living our lives the way we want - to stop excusing and justifying our behavior and attitudes that are damaging ourselves and others and our relationship with God - and to turn towards God to receive His forgiveness and healing - what He's done for us in Jesus Christ.
That's why John preached repentance - because its the place where God meets us. Repentance is when we respond to God and know His forgiveness.
Notice this also - John preached "a baptism of repentance." As people repented they were baptized in the Jordan river.
Let’s make sure we’re all tracking on this. Baptism is a public declaration - something we do in front of others - that shows what’s already happened in our hearts. A declaration that we’ve turned our lives over to God.
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. (Romans 6:3,4) We’re together on this. Right?
Recently I saw a picture of 18 Muslims who had come to faith in Jesus - 18 former Muslims being baptized by a pastor in Indonesia. This is in a country where just this last June Muslim mobs have ransacked churches - destroyed Christian homes - severely wounded and killed our siblings. The baptism of these former Muslims is a death sentence.
We miss some of this when we think of baptism - to repent - to be baptized in the name of Jesus. Repentance doesn’t mean just choosing to say, “Okay I sin. Okay, I choose God’s forgiveness.” Repentance costs us our lives. There’s death involved - crucifixion. Everything is continually and totally surrendered.
Again consider the question. Have you chosen to repent?
The second part of John's message that we want to focus on - thinking about our needs - the second part comes 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."
The Apostle John - in the Gospel of John - describes John the Baptist this way. Did you follow that? The Apostle John describing John the Baptist: "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)
A four year old girl was at the pediatrician for a check up. As the doctor looked into her ears he asked, “Do you think I’ll find Big Bird in here?” The little girl stayed silent.
Next, the doctor took a tongue depressor and looked down her throat. He asked, “Do you think I’ll find the Cookie Monster down there?” Again, the little girl was silent.
Then the doctor put a stethoscope to her chest. As he listened to her heart beat he asked, “Do you think I’ll hear Barney in there?”
“Oh, no!” the little girl replied. “Jesus is in my heart. Barney’s on my underpants.”
We need Jesus in our hearts - as the center and focus of our lives. John brought people to Jesus - to repentance and baptism. Only in choosing Jesus do we have the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins.
Verse 9. After setting the scene - the voice calling us to choose Jesus - look with me at how Mark introduces us to Jesus. 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’s 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 Christ.
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.
We need to choose. 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? Have you stopped trying to struggle through life - blaming others - blaming circumstances - 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.
_________________________Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.