Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

"The Beginning of the Gospel" Sermon: Mark 1:1-8

“The Beginning of the Gospel”

[Mark 1:1-8]

December 7, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            As we continue our journey through Advent, we turn to “the beginning of the Gospel” – we see the end of the advent of John the Baptist’s work on behalf of the Coming Messiah – the Savior:

            “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

            Mark begins by telling his readers that this Gospel – this “good news” – is the Gospel of Jesus Christ – Jesus the Messiah – Jesus the Savior – the One that believers had waited and hoped for for four thousand years.  And He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God – the Savior is not a mere man, but He is God Himself, come in the human person of Jesus.

            This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus of Nazareth Who is the Promised Savior – the Messiah – the Christ – and He is God Himself.

            And we might be tempted to think, “Wait a minute, Mark, this isn’t the beginning of the Gospel – Jesus is thirty years old when your account of His history begins – isn’t the beginning of the Gospel in the miraculous conception of Jesus or in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem?”

            The answer is found in that Mark points back to the prophecies of the Christ – the beginning of the Gospel can be found in the promises that God made to send a Savior after Adam plunged all of humanity into sin.

            “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,”’”

            Isaiah prophesied that the end of the first Advent would come through a messenger coming – a forerunner to the Christ – coming – announcing Him – preparing the people for His coming – one who is crying in the wilderness – to be aware – to receive Him straightaway – without digression or side-track.

            This messenger – this one who proclaims the coming of the Christ – would minister in the wilderness. 

Why?

The wilderness reminded the Jews of the journey out of Egypt through the Sinai wilderness into the Promised Land – it was symbolic of hope – of deliverance – of God’s promise coming to pass.

It was also symbolic of their spiritual state – they were in the wilderness – dry, confused, broken, lost.  It was only by coming out of the wilderness that they would find spiritual life.

It also helped to identify “the voice crying in the wilderness” as a prophet.  There hadn’t been a prophet in Israel for four hundred years.  Many of the rabbis thought God was done talking to them through the prophets – and yet, here we find the promised “voice” – the final prophet of the Old Testament – is the one to announce the beginning of the Good News.

Mark tells us that this “voice” was John the Baptist:

            “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

            Baptism was not unusual to Israel – Gentile converts were ceremonially washed as part of their conversion to Judaism, and there were times when Jews would ceremonially wash to be considered clean again.  What was new was that John was baptizing Jews for the repentance of their sins.

            According to the Law, sins we remitted through the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur.  Jews were children of Abraham.  To suggest that they had to be washed for their sins in this way was scandalous.

            Also, sins were forgiven in the Temple in Jerusalem – and here we have the dwellers of Jerusalem going down into the wilderness by the Jordan to be washed by John.  It didn’t make sense to those Jews who were not truly repentant of their sins and placing their hope in the Savior God promised to send.
            
            But to those who truly repented of their sins and placed their hope in the Coming Savior Alone, they received forgiveness for their sins. 

Understand, it was not the baptism that caused their sins to be forgiven.  No, John’s baptism was a public ceremonial washing symbolizing that they had repented, put their faith in the Coming Savior, and were, thus, forgiven.  The baptism of John symbolized what God had already done in the hearts of those believers; it did not cause them to believe or to repent.

“Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.”

Mark notes that John was dressed and ate like a prophet – he looked like the prophet Elijah. 

Jesus would later speak of John in this way:  “And [the disciples] asked [Jesus], ‘Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?’ And he said to them, ‘Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him’” (Mark 9:11-13, ESV).

Some had thought that the prophecies about Elijah meant that Elijah would come back from the dead when Messiah came, but Jesus explained that John the Baptist came in the spirit and the power of Elijah to announce Jesus’ coming.

And we are given a summary of John’s preaching:

“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.’”

John preached, preparing the people for the Coming of Jesus, letting them know that the One Who was coming is mightier than he.  John was the first prophet in four hundred years.  He had preached with such authority and conviction that the people left Jerusalem for the wilderness and Jews repented of their sins and sought the symbolism of baptism in their repentance.  John was a man of power.

And yet, he explained that he was not worthy to untie the sandals of the One Who comes as the Gospel.  Now, remember, people wore sandals and walked on dirt roads with animal refuse on them – so people’s feet were covered with dirt and animal refuse.  It was often the job of a slave to wash the feet of a guest when he arrived at the host’s house.  And John said he was not worthy to untie the filthy sandals of Jesus – much less wash His feet clean.

Many of the people held John in high esteem – and they were right to do so – but John said they still had to adjust their scale of greatness to put Jesus even higher up on the scale than John.

And not only was Jesus as a person greater than John, what Jesus would do was greater than what John was doing because of Who Jesus is.

John was baptizing people with water for the repentance of sin – Jews were coming to John, recognizing that they needed to confess their sins and look forward and place their hope in the Coming Messiah.  So John baptized them with water as a public and symbolic act that they had humbly confessed their sins and sought forgiveness and now put their faith and hope in the Savior Who was to come.

But Jesus did not baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit.  What does that mean?

John could call people to belief and repentance and tell them that the Savior was coming – even that He was among them.  But Jesus called people to belief and repentance, caused it to happen, and gave them the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit to guide them and teach them. 

As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17, ESV).

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV).

John would go on to witness to Jesus being the Savior and God Himself:

“After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).

“Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.” The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.’

“He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:22-36, ESV).

Shortly after Jesus began His public ministry, people began leaving John to follow Jesus, and John said that this was completely appropriate – his ministry was to point to Jesus, to announce the beginning of the Gospel, to be the friend at the wedding – of which Jesus is the Groom.  His joy, he explained, grew as the love and worship and knowledge of Jesus Christ and His Gospel increased.

What do we make of this all in the light that we are living in the Second Advent – waiting for Jesus to return again in power and glory?

First, just as John was the voice who cried in the wilderness for the First Advent – we who believe are the voice who cries in the wilderness of the Second Advent.

We are called as believers in Jesus Alone for salvation to tell others – to tell the whole Creation – that there is salvation only in Jesus Alone – and He is returning soon to bring His people to Himself.  One of our major calls as Christians is to proclaim the Gospel which began with John’s preaching:  all people are at odds with God through sin, but we can be made right if we believe in Jesus Who came to earth and lived and died, and physically rose victorious from the dead.

God uses us to get the Gospel out to the whole Creation.  We have the great responsibility and privileged to tell others what the One Way back to God is – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Second, we understand that neither baptism nor any other good work can save us.  How many times have we heard people say that they are “better than most” and God would certainly have to let them into His Kingdom because “they tried hard and believed in God.”

God's standard is holiness and sinless perfection – and the only way that you or I or anyone else can be right before God is if Jesus takes our place before God and grants us forgiveness and His Righteousness.

We need to explain to people that God is Holy and will accept nothing less than holiness from us – His creation – so we are deceiving ourselves when we think our good works can merit anything towards salvation.

And third, we need to have a view of the greatness of Jesus in our minds and hearts that extends out to all of our lives.

John got it right:  he was not fit to untie the dirty, animal refuse covered sandals of Jesus – that was too high an honor.  The world doesn’t need to see more of me or more of you – it needs to see more of Jesus – and part of the way we let them see Him – since He lives in us – is through that humility of Jesus that we are to make ours that we looked at in the book of Philippians some months ago.

As Paul wrote:  “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11, ESV).

When we are willing to give all in trust and sure hope in the Gospel and in Christ Jesus in obedience to the Father, then they will see Jesus, the Son, and, as God is pleased, they will believe that He is the Gospel – the Only Salvation – that John announced two thousand years ago.

May we – during the Second Advent – in these last days – proclaim the Gospel.  And may God not let His Word go out in vain, but use it to bring many to Him through the salvation secured by and through His Son.

Let us pray:


Almighty God, we thank You for sending John to announce the coming of Your Son, our Savior.  Empower us and give us courage through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit that we might now announce Your Gospel and Your Soon Coming.  And may Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be glorified.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

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