Mark 1:1-11 (6 Dec 2020)

Mark chapter 1 verse 1 reads, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” and then goes on to tell us, “as it is written in Isaiah the prophet”. That quotation points out to us that the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God started a long time before Mark wrote about it in his book.

Mark 1, Verse 1 is not the beginning of the story of Jesus.  That started long before anyone had even invented writing, let alone books. It was all part of the plans of God the Father from the very beginning, even before the beginning of time itself.

Certainly, the prophets God had sent over the several thousand years before Jesus was born, Emmanuel, God with us, had explained a lot about his coming well before they really understood how God would work this out.

About 800 years before Christ was born the prophet Isaiah had predicted his coming and had even predicted that there would be a messenger sent ahead of Jesus. He wrote,

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”

John wasn’t announcing that it’s only 20 days to Christmas! The first Christmas had taken place at Jesus’ birth over 30 years before.

So at this time both John and Jesus were men in their 30s, although this wasn’t the first time they had been in each other’s company.

Luke’s gospel tells us that Mary, pregnant with the baby Jesus, visited her relative, Elizabeth and that Elizabeth was pregnant with the as yet unborn, John – this same person we know as John the Baptist.

When the two women met Elizabeth’s baby leapt for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. Mary’s voice meant to the unborn John the presence of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.  Even before their births John knew who Jesus is and the presence of Jesus provoked a response: he leapt for joy. (Luke 1:39-45)

Now, here we are years later and the adult John appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The description we have of John the Baptist has him out in the wilderness wearing clothing made of camel’s hair  somehow woven into his garments – sounds prickly to me – with a leather belt round his waist and that he ate locusts and wild honey.

He was no distinguished well-paid executive type and I suspect we would not have been comfortable inviting him to pastor our church.

He was a rough-living man who might have been more in place living in the bush up the top of the valley.

He was a preacher. His sermons came straight to the point.  Matthew’s gospel tells us that what he preached was, “Repent, for the kingdom heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:1)

This is a message that hasn’t changed much, either.  Soon after this when Jesus learned that John the Baptist had been put in prison he began his public ministry and he, too, began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)

Later, after Jesus had been crucified, had been raised from the dead and ascended into heaven came the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which brought with it wonderful demonstrations of Jesus’ power.  This, of course, caused the population to ask, “brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ (Acts 2:36-39)

If we set up down by the river and preached, “Repent, be forgiven and be baptised” what response would you expect?

Well, John the Baptist certainly got a response!

“The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan.”

Donald Trump has made it plain and public that he has nothing for which he needs to repent, nothing for which he needs forgiveness from God. He is not the only person who thinks this way. The Christian gospel message begins with a call to repentance. Unfortunately, these people cannot see that the gospel applies to them.

Being a Christian begins and continues with repentance. The Bible says that if we claim we have not sinned we are saying God is a liar (1 John 1:10).  Of course that means we have just committed yet another sin!

In recent months there has been a lot of news about a tiny, sub-microscopic little bit of chemical we call Covid-19 virus.  Some people don’t seem to mind sharing it around but most of us don’t want it and take steps to avoid it.  We keep back from other people who might have it, we wear masks to avoid picking it up from droplets in the air and we sanitise our hands just in case we have touched one of them.

When someone has the virus, or we think there’s a good chance they have, we ask them to quarantine for a couple of weeks or, if they are sick with it we confine them in a hospital ward and anyone who goes near them wears elaborate personal protection equipment. You’ve seen this on TV but fortunately, not in person.

If you’ve got the virus, don’t come near me! Not with that minuscule bit of chemical!

So when God says, Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The answer is it’s the one who has clean hands and a pure heart. (Ps 24:3-4)

In God there is only complete and scrupulous perfection and to go into his presence requires us to be completely and scrupulously perfect. That means, sinless.

It only takes a very small virus to make someone so short of perfection that we don’t want them in our company.  It only takes the smallest of shortcomings to make us unfit to be in the presence of God. If one tiny virus is repulsive to us then why would we think that even the smallest of offences is any less repulsive to God?

The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. (Romans 3:23)

People try to live in denial about many things and this is one of them. But they fool themselves for only so much of the time. We pray that God’s Holy Spirit would provoke their conscience and allow them the honesty about themselves that they need so that they can repent and ask for forgiveness.

That honesty must include being honest with yourself, then you can be honest with God.  That honesty will include confession.  honesty and confession will then lead to receiving forgiveness. In the letter from James, brother of Jesus, we are encouraged to confess your sins to each other. (James 5:16)

Why would I confess my sins to you? Well, for one thing, you could pray for me that I may be healed of that sin.  And for another, having confessed to you it will put me on my toes and help me to discipline myself against that sin again.  I will be being watched!

Similarly, confessing to God puts that added incentive on us  and helps us to avoid that sin again. When you know God is watching and never misses a thing you know you need to repent, to confess and to be wary of sin in future.

But, best of all, when we confess our sin we have the wonderful promise that God will forgive us completely, fully, cleansing us of any blame or guilt. It is completely freeing. (1 John 1:8-9)

Sometimes it can be that a whole community can be so moved by the message of Jesus that there is a wholesale turning to him in repentance and confession. It seems that’s what happens in response to John the Baptist’s message. Crowds of people in Judea and Jerusalem all responded.

From time to time over the years there have been what are sometimes called revivals as whole communities turn to Jesus as Saviour and Lord.  This was one of them.

A couple of week’s ago Ross drew our attention to Matthew 25:31-32 where Jesus said, ’When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.’

Our nation, our community, our village, one day, will answer to Jesus. How do you think we will stand?

So John was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Why baptism? This has to be important – his very title points that out, too: John the Baptist.

The act of baptism following repentance and confession has real meaning.  

Repentance means we are determining to leave the sin we have confessed, to turn from it and avoid it from now on. One thing Christian baptism means to us is washing, washing away of sin and accepting the forgiveness, the cleansing offered by God in Jesus.

And if you think of baptism in terms of full immersion, being lowered into the water and lifted up out of it again, baptism as the significance described in Romans 6:4.  “We were therefore buried with hi through baptism into death in order that, Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” We rise again in new life, as new creatures, the Holy Spirit of Jesus being in and with us. (2 Corinthians 5:17, John 14:17)

John the Baptist pointed to this when he spoke of Jesus, the Jesus he had been sent to prepare the way for.  John was a man of so little significance – compared with Jesus.  His own words were that he was not worthy to perform such a lowly task as to undo Jesus’ sandals for him.  Just like us, really.

That declaration is really a matter of comparisons.  Jesus is so much more mighty, significant, important, precious, honourable and worthy that either John the Baptist or us.

For one thing, while John baptised with water Jesus baptises us with the Holy Spirit. That is to say, the very person of God, the person of Jesus, the person of the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us, making each of us and the group of us the Temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19)

As if to show that this is what happens Jesus himself came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan and, as he came up out of the water the heaven was torn open and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove would.  The symbol of a dove in the Uniting Church Logo represents the Holy Spirit in the church. After his baptism it was clear that Jesus was always filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1, 10:21).

Also at Jesus’ baptism a voice came from heaven, “you are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him”, according to Luke 9:35. With this God Almighty put his stamp of approval on Jesus, declaring him to have complete authority as the heir to the kingdom of God, the one who would be Lord and King. That event alone tells us something extremely important.  Quite simply here is God himself is explicitly telling us be obedient to Jesus! Pay attention to Jesus, the Son of God, and do what he says. 

And what does he say? What does he tell us to do?

In Matthew 28:18-20 we read, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

So, we are to follow the examples of John the Baptist, Jesus himself and the apostles to preach the message, “repent, for the Kingdom of God is near”.

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching this message and quite often when we try to share the good news about Jesus it really feels like we are preaching in a wilderness, doesn’t it? No one there, no one listening, you’re on your own.

Nonetheless, that’s our duty not only to our Lord Jesus but also to all the people we can share it with.  John preached in the wilderness but crowds, regions and cities responded, repented, were baptised and forgiven. Who knows? As we are faithful, prayerful and preach the good news we might see the whole countryside and all the people of Bellingen coming out to Jesus, confessing their sins and being baptised for forgiveness.

I know, it seems fanciful put like that, and we aren’t wanting to be fanciful.  However, what we must be is faithful.