The Herald of the Eternal King (Mark Sermon 1)
December 26, 2021 | Andy Davis
The Kingdom of Christ
This first sermon in the Mark series discusses the importance of studying Mark and covers the reason why the book starts with John the Baptist.
- Sermon Transcript -
I. The Beginning of the Gospel of the Son of God
A Stunning Journey Begun Today
Turning your Bibles to Mark chapter one. I have been so excited to say those words to you, been looking forward to this for probably a year, as we look at the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the son of God. Today, we begin in some sense, one of the most thrilling journeys on which we could ever embark. Ultimately that journey, which many of us have begun even years ago, is far more exciting and fruitful than any that has ever happened.
I think about the voyage of Columbus sailing west, trying to find the East China and all the routes, and courageously sailing west, and bumping into the new worlds. And that was exciting. I think about Lewis and Clark going out and exploring the Louisiana Purchase and all of the excitement of discovering the new lands that were now part of the United States, a discovery journey that led ultimately to the shimmering Pacific Ocean. A journey far more mysterious and courageous than that which led to the first man walking on the moon, the Apollo missions to the moon. All of these were exciting in their own ways. But today, as we begin a verse-by-verse journey through the perfect words of the Gospel of Mark, we are continuing our own deeper discovery of the person of Jesus Christ.
The Dimensions and Details of the Son of God
And why do I say all these things? Why do I use this grandiose language? Well, it's because the study, the person, and the work of the son of God is infinitely glorious. It has infinite dimensions that we will never finish exploring. It will extend on into all eternity. We will never be able to fathom the depths of Christ. We will never be able fully to study the dimensions and details of the person and work of the incarnate son of God, of Jesus Christ. And I think that is what heaven ultimately will be for.
Now, last Christmas, as I was writing my Christmas message, I came across a marvelous statement by the church father, Athanasius, who lived in the fourth century and defended, sometimes it seems almost alone, the Orthodox doctrine of the incarnation of Jesus against a heresy that was rising up today Arianism, or then that was rising up Arianism, which we know today as the Jehovah's Witness doctrine, that Jesus is actually Jehovah, God's greatest creature, greatest creation, rather than actually God. An Athanasius wrote an incredible work called, On the Incarnation of the Word of God. And I found a quote in that that was so powerful and meaningful and I want to read it to you today: "And in a word, the achievements of the savior, resulting from his becoming man, are of such a kind and number that if one should wish to enumerate them, he may be compared to men who gaze at the expanse of the sea and wish to count its waves. For as one cannot take in the whole of the waves with his eyes, for those which are coming on baffle the sense of him that attempts it; so for him, that would take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, it is impossible to take in the whole, even by reckoning them up as those which go beyond his thought are more than those he thinks he has taken in. Better is it then not to aim at speaking of the whole, where one cannot do justice even to a part, but after mentioning one more to leave the whole for you to marvel at. For all alike are marvelous and wherever a man turns his glance, he may be hold on that side, the divinity of the Word and be struck with exceeding great awe."
Well, in simple terms, Athanasius is likening the depths of the incarnation of Christ and his achievements to trying to study ocean, wave upon wave of power. There are too many waves and the shoreline extends beyond what the eye can see and even to comprehend one wave would overwhelm his mind. How then could anyone take in Christ? It's just too much. Now, I remember a number of years ago after Carolyn was born - our third child - and she was born in June, in Louisville, Kentucky, a landlocked state. We brought her to our home state of Massachusetts and we went to visit my mom on her house on Cape Cod and went to Nauset Beach. And I brought Carolyn there to show her for the very first time, she was about six months old, the ocean. And I'll never forget, because there's this little rise that you go out from the parking lot at Nauset Beach, and you get to the rise on the sand dune, and then there it is, there's the ocean. And there had been a very powerful storm in the days that preceded that. And I was holding this little six-month-old baby, and I knew not to look at the ocean, but rather to look at her face. And as we crested and walked down, and she saw this overwhelming sight, she obviously couldn't put into words what she was thinking, but just pointed, and pointed, and pointed. Again and again like, "Don't look at me, look at that." And I thought to myself, "The excitement and the joy of discovery inside her heart, she couldn't put into words."
Now, I'd been in Nauset Beach more times than I could count. I'd been on the Cape, I'd seen the ocean. It was kind of old hat to me. Well, why is that? Why is it that awesome, majestic, incredible things become old hat for us? I think it's just part of the problem that we have of sin. And we're just kind of used to it. It's like, "What new things can you possibly say to us, Pastor, from the gospel of Mark? Just want you to know, we've read the gospel before, we've seen it." But I think that's just the dullness that comes over our minds through sin and the fact that we have lost some of the wonder and the amazement of the person of Christ. And I'm telling you, you're going to get it back. Now, I don't know if you're going to get it back through this preaching series. I hope so. I hope that I'll be able to ignite in you that sense of wonder, but I know that when you lose the sin nature and when you are transformed in glory, you are going to have a sense of wonder and amazement at the person of Christ that will never end.
This is ONLY the “Beginning” of the Gospel
If you look at verse one of chapter one, and maybe this is a detail you hadn't noticed before, I really hadn't before. But look what it says. Mark 1:1, "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." The beginning of the gospel, that's what you're going to get here when you read this gospel of Mark. And that is what heaven is for, for us to be educated in the infinite greatness of Christ to try to comprehend the whole, even as we were to finish careful study of this magnificent gospel, became believers in Christ along the way, or did even before that. The gospel, the good news of his eternal kingship, of his majestic person, his perfect rule over his adoring people, would just be beginning. In this world that is all that we can do, begin to study the good news of the son of God, Jesus Christ.
Heaven is infinite in its scope because it will take eternity to study and comprehend all the dimensions and details of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And at that time, we're going to see him face to face, and we're going to be in this new world, which we're told in Revelation 21, "…does not need the light of the sun or the moon, but the glory of God will give it light and the lamb," Jesus, "will be its lamp." And so through Jesus, the full glory of God will be put on display in the new heaven and new earth. We will be set free. We'll be set free from everything that sin has done to us and from all of our limitations. Now, we're limited in time, limited in comprehension, limited in love, all of that will be done. And so heaven study will be infinitely better than this one. This is just another sermon series. It's another chance to do what the Apostle Paul says in first Corinthians 13, "To see through a glass darkly, then in heaven face to face." But now we're going to see through a glass darkly. And we do that by studying words - the words that come from God, the words of God. This is what God has given to us, to study the words of the scripture. And with the study of the life of Christ and with our repentance and faith, comes the salvation of our souls, that we would spend eternity in heaven and not in hell. That is the treasure that awaits the careful study of Christ through the words of scripture. The facts of the life of Christ are essential to our salvation. The history of Christ, you could say the biography of Christ, is essential to the salvation of our souls.
The Gospel is the only Power of God for Our Salvation
Now, the gospel mentioned here right away, the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the gospel Paul says is the only power that there is for the salvation of our souls. Romans 1:16 says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of God because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." So the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to save sinners from the condemnation that we deserve. Now, the word gospel means good news - means good news - and the good news is Jesus Christ himself, that he is a good and loving king, that he is calling us out of our rebellion into full submission to his kingly reign. The good news is that this good king laid down his life on the cross for those who were not good, for those who are in rebellion against his kingdom. This is the gospel story, and this gospel story must be received by faith. As Paul says, in Romans 1:17, "The righteous will live by faith." Now, in the book of Romans, Paul makes it very clear how we sinners can be saved by the gospel. And that is by calling on the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9 says, "If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." And he says a few verses later, "For everyone who calls in the name of the Lord will be saved."
The Facts of Christs Life are Essential to the Gospel
Well, the facts of Christ's life are essential to that. They're essential to the gospel. How can we know on what basis are we going to say, "Jesus of Nazareth is Lord,” that means God, that he is actually the son of God? Romans 10 makes it plain that without those facts, we can never believe in him. And we will never call on him without the facts of his life. He says in Romans 10, 14- 15, "How then can they, anyone, call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in one of whom they've not heard?" So just stop right there. Without the facts of the life of Christ, you're not going to have any basis for faith in Jesus and you're not going to call on the name of the Lord to be saved. And how can they hear those facts without someone preaching to them, and how can they preach unless they're sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news?" So, he says there in Romans 10, a few verses later in verse 17, "Faith, which saves us, comes from hearing the message" about Christ. "…the message is heard through the word of Christ." So the facts of Jesus's life, of his death and his resurrection, are essential to the salvation of our souls.
Now, God in his kindness has given us four perfect records of the life of Jesus - four relatively short biographies of Jesus. The New Testament begins with those four. The gospels of Matthew, of Mark, Luke, and John. Now, these four perfect records of the life of Jesus are equally inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. Therefore, they are perfect histories of the person, the words, the works, the miracles, the activities of Jesus Christ. They are all four of them perfectly true. And though it is sometimes difficult, they can all be perfectly harmonized with one another. So while we are studying this one gospel, the gospel of Mark, we will feel free from time to time, to reach over to some of the other gospels and get some more information about the life of Christ. And we'll take that information and feed it into what we're learning about Jesus in the gospel of Mark, but we're going to focus primarily on this one simple gospel.
A Call to Non-Christians to Hear and Believe for the First Time
Now, for are any that are listening here that are not yet believers in Christ, the gospel gives us a call right away to hear and believe even for the first time. And I believe that the Gospel of Mark may be the best book to give to somebody who is not yet a Christian. As we're seeking to win the loss here in Durham, as we seek to reach out, we're going to have conversations with people that haven't read the Bible much. They've maybe never read it and they don't understand how the Bible works. It's different than ordinary books. Really, the Bible is a library of 66 books. And sometimes Christians will give to non-Christians the Bible and say, "Read the Bible." And that's all they said. And so what are they going to do, except just begin at the beginning? And they'll be encouraged because it'll say right away, "In the beginning," so they'll think, "All right, this is the best place to start." But what's going to happen is they're going to keep reading and at some point they're going to be like, "What is this?" They're going to be somewhere in Genesis, or in Exodus, probably in Leviticus, and they'll be like, "All right, I don't get it." And they're going to give up.
I would suggest a different strategy. Tell them to read the Gospel of Mark. Some people recommend the Gospel of John, and that's beautiful, I think it's fantastic, but it's much more complex. It's got deep, fully expanded theology that Jesus gives. It's harder to understand. The Gospel of Mark reads like a simple newspaper account of the events of yesterday, like it just happened. The facts of Jesus' life start there, and the first eight chapters give us a sense of the words and works of Jesus - very streamlined. It's very efficient. There's a lot more he could have said, but those first eight chapters show the deity of Jesus. And that's the thesis statement, right from the beginning, the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God. And so the deity of Christ, the evidence of his deity, given from the very beginning, eight chapters by his mighty works, his amazing words. Then the second eight chapters showed Jesus' deity by his death on the cross for our sins and his resurrection from the dead. So for many people, this Gospel of Mark may be the first time they've bumped into the facts of Jesus's life and it's something you could read in an evening if you wanted to, in a very simple, clear way.
"The Gospel of Mark reads like a simple newspaper account of the events of yesterday like it just happened. The facts of Jesus' life start there, and the first eight chapters give us a sense of the words and works of Jesus - very streamlined."
A Call to Christians to Hear and Believe Continually
But for the rest of us, we've heard it before, we read the gospel of Mark before, we're familiar with it. Most of you have been Christians for a long time, I'm sure some of you for decades, and you've heard many sermons and you've read the Bible for years, and there's very little in the 16 chapters of the Gospel of Mark that you aren't at least familiar with, that you haven't at least at some level heard before. And yet this is an opportunity for you to hear and believe again, for you to actually hear and believe continually, because I believe you'll need your faith until you finally see Jesus with your own sight. When you lay faith aside, you won't need it anymore, you'll see him face to face. But while you live in this world, you'll need your faith, and faith is the eyesight of the soul. And faith, like any living thing, needs food in order to live, in order to keep surviving. And so, the food of faith is the word of God. And so you need to feed your soul on the Gospel of Mark. "Faith comes by hearing the Word," Romans 10:17. Faith is also nourished and sustained, fed continually by hearing the Word.
My Delightful Journey in Scripture Memorization
Now, my own recent study in the Gospel of Mark began when I was on sabbatical in Cardiff, in Wales, on October 3rd, 2020. It was my next extended scripture memory project and I began memorizing the Gospel of Mark, three verses a day, and just continuing to add more and more of the verses of the Gospel of Mark. And I must say it was one of the most delightful studies that I've ever been on in my whole life. Day after day, by the words I was memorizing and reciting, going over, day after day, I was fellowshipping with Christ by the power of the Spirit. I had a sense of intimacy, a sense of the friendship with Christ, a sense of newness of him walking with me through the day. I was amazed at his teaching, I marveled at the effortless power he displayed in his healings and the effortless power he displayed over every demon, the fact that the demons were so terrified of him and fled from him, the wisdom in his teachings, all of these things. I fed on these things, day after day. As Jesus said in John 15, "I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me, my words remain in you. Have fellowship with me. You can ask whatever you wish and it'll be done for you." That's the fellowship, the feeding of the soul day after day. And these sermons that I hope to preach over the next year, come out of the hours and hours, of the hundreds of hours of meditation on the Gospel of Mark, and I hope to be able to excite your own faith through this study as well. And so now here we begin at the beginning, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God, that's the theme of this gospel, and I believe it's the theme of all our gospels. I think they work together to achieve one end in our soul.
So, the apostle John, in giving the purpose for the gospel of John, rights in John 20:31, "These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." So, John is saying there, "I wrote my gospel so that you could believe that Jesus is God, and that you might have life through his name.” So that a man named Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, that lived 2000 years ago, actually was the incarnate son of God, the savior of the world. That is the purpose of all four gospels. And it's the purpose statement right away in the Gospel of Mark. Look at it again. The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God, so I think that's the thesis of the entire Gospel of Mark.
And it's really quite beautiful because there's a kind of a perfect bracketing of the entire gospel at the end, toward the end, not the final chapter, but at the end of Mark 15, the centurion standing there at the cross when he hears Jesus' cry and how he died. He said the words, "Truly, this man was the son of God." So, you get that phrase again, the Son of God. So, the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the son of God, and the centurion testifies, "Truly, he was the son of God." And so everything in between is to us to that point, to believe that Jesus is in effect the son of God. But that's not enough, it's to call us out of our sinful rebellion against him into the kingdom of God. And so, Mark 1:15, you can see it right there on the same page, tells us, and this is the preaching, "The time has come, the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news, that we will repent of our sins and believe in the good news of the kingdom of God and enter the king of God." That's the purpose of the Gospel of Mark.
II. The Mission of the King’s Herald
Why Start With the Herald?- To Prepare the Way of the King
Now, amazingly, the first section of this doesn't begin with Jesus himself, with the king himself, but rather with the herald of the king, a man known as John the Baptist. So we're going to talk about now the herald of this great king, and that is John the Baptist. Now, what was the mission of the king's herald? It may seem strange to us to start with the herald. Why not start with the king? But that's only because we are not used to the patterns of a king. We're not used to how they behave. A king doesn't usually just show up in a town or village, "Here I am," but he sends officials who will run before him, who will go before him, will prepare the way for him, make sure everything's set up, get everything ready for his arrival, the herald of the king. And the heralds run before and announce he's coming, that the king is coming. John the Baptist was that, he was the herald of the king, sent before him to prepare the way of the king.
The Prophetic Preparation
And that was his mission. As it says in verse two and three, "As it is written in Isaiah the Prophet, 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way. A voice of one calling in the desert prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" So, God sent his messenger ahead of Christ, whose task was clear. That is to go ahead of Jesus and prepare the way for him. Now, it's interesting he quotes Isaiah the Prophet. There was a prophetic preparation long before John the Baptist, long before Jesus was born. God went ahead of Christ and prepared the human race by prophecy. Right from the Garden of Eden, a prophecy was made right after Adam fell into sin, tempted by the serpent. A prophecy was made that someday a serpent slayer would come, who would crush the head of the serpent. That was a prophecy, a prediction of the coming of Jesus. And so, God sent prophet after prophet through the history of Israel, the Jewish people, and instructed the Jewish nation of the coming Messiah, the son of David, the Anointed One who would come and he would reign forever on David's throne and to the ends of the earth. And also another vision in which the Jews had very difficult time harmonizing of the suffering servant of Isaiah, who would die for the sins of the people, Isaiah 53. But we know now as Christians, they are the same one. The Davidic King, the Great King, the Messiah, would come and who would also be the suffering servant, who would suffer for the sins of the people. So Mark's gospel begins with two Old Testament prophecies preparing the way, but they're not focused directly on Jesus Christ, but on Christ's herald, John the Baptist.
The Mission: to PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD
Now, God speaks directly to Jesus in the first prophecy, Malachi 3:1, saying, "I [God, the Father], will send my messenger ahead of you, the son of God, who will prepare your way." And that is the mission, to prepare the way of the Lord or the road of the Lord, the journey of the Lord. So the image is one of road building, you could imagine a massive road grader that goes and levels the road and removes obstacles. So, if you were to read the fuller quote in Isaiah 40, it makes this powerfully clear. Listen to Isaiah 40, verse 3-4, "In the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up and every mountain and hill made low. The rough ground shall become level, and the rugged places, the plane."
That's very visual imagery. Isaiah was beautiful at getting images into our minds. And since John the Baptist, who fulfilled these words was not a literal civil engineer building roads out there, it's a spiritual work that he's doing, a work in people's hearts. "Every valley shall be raised up," I think refers to sinners who feel that they have sinned so much that God could never forgive them. They have no hope of heaven. They don't know how they could ever be welcomed by such a holy God. They had no hope of forgiveness of sins, like a prostitute, or a tax collector, or some kind of a thief, or murderer who thought, "There's no way that I could ever be forgiven because of what I've done." And so when it says, "Every valley should be raised up," the hearts of such crushed, broken people could be lifted up so that they have hope. They actually think they could be forgiven. And then it says, on the other hand, "Every mountain and hill made low." Well, this is referring to the opposite kind of person, who's so filled with self-righteousness, they don't think they need a savior. They have no need for Jesus. They don't need Christ. They're fine on their own, like the Pharisees and the scribes, or the teachers of the law, who were so confident in their own righteousness, they felt they needed no savior at all. Those had to be leveled. And then it says, "The rough ground shall become level and the rugged places, the plane." So, this is just kind of a universal statement of the devious nature of the human heart. We have all kinds of twists and turns inside our hearts. We can shirk our duties, and we can blame others for our sins, and we have twisted logic inside. And so all of these bizarre, twisted, strange heart states need to be leveled for the way of the Lord. And John the Baptist came to do that.
The Deity of Christ Clearly Proclaimed
Now, in these verses though, you may not see it obviously, if you look closely and know what to look for, the deity of Christ is clearly proclaimed. Fundamental to the mission of the herald was the greatness of the coming king, and you see it literally in these two prophecies. Malachi 3:1, let me read it right from the Old Testament. "Behold, I send my messenger and he'll prepare the way before me." That's what the text actually says. "And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple." And then Isaiah 40, verse 3, says, "A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord." Now, if you were to read that in the Old Testament, you'd see that the word Lord would have all four letters capitalized, capital L-O-R-D. That means Yahweh, sometimes Jehovah, the creator God, the only God there is, the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, Yahweh. And it says, "…make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God." All of that ascribed to Jesus, preparing the way for Jesus because he is the Lord. He is truly God in the flesh. And that's what these verses are claiming. So this is the king that John the Baptist came to herald.
III. The Ministry of the King’s Herald
Who is John the Baptist?
Now, how did John do his ministry? How did he prepare the way of the Lord? Well, we begin by just trying to understand who this individual is, John the Baptist. We don't have much information about him here. We have a little and we're going to walk through it today. But the other gospels, Matthew and Luke, give us more information about John the Baptist. For example, Luke 1 tells us the amazing story of how he came to be conceived. He was conceived by an elderly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were beyond childbearing years and had been barren, they'd never had any children. And so, an angel came and told Zechariah what would happen. He didn't believe it, God struck him mute for a time, and then Elizabeth became pregnant, and she gave birth to John, so it's an amazing story of how he was born. And there were some prophecies and some things around John given in Luke one.
Now, Jesus, in Matthew's gospel, after John had been arrested and was about to be executed, tells us this amazing statement about John the Baptist, Matthew 11:11. This is what Jesus said about him. "I tell you the truth. Among those born of women, there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist." It's an incredible statement by Jesus. In other words, in the hierarchy of greatness, of all of the individual that ever lived up to that point, John was the greatest. Now, literally said there's not risen anyone greater, so perhaps Abraham was equal in greatness, but not greater. And you could do the same thing, but it's not likely for people to be absolutely perfectly equal in greatness. So effectively, he's saying that John is the greatest man that had ever lived up to that point. When you think about all of the Old Testament heroes, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, all of those, think about David, think about Noah, think about Job, Daniel, all of these godly great individuals, John was greater than all of them. And Jesus made that evaluation.
A Desert Ministry
Now, Mark doesn't tell us hardly anything about these things, he just launches in. And he starts with John's desert ministry, "A voice of a one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him." And so John came, verse four, "Baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” So John's ministry was based in the desert.
This must have reminded Israel of the Exodus when God sustained them out in the desert and when they were purified of their sinful idols, 40 years wandering in the desert. The desert also just represents austerity. There's nothing to eat or drink out there. It's not a luxurious, comfortable life. And so John's manner, and his clothing, and his diet, all represented a rejection of luxury. Look at verse six, "John wore clothing made of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist and he ate locus and wild honey." So I think in this way, just by how he was living, by what he looked like, where he was, he was a rebuke to a luxurious lifestyle. Now, it is important to note that John never called anyone to imitate that austere lifestyle. He wasn't saying, "It's essential to your forgiveness of sins that you come and be like me, that you dress in camel's hair and that you eat locus and wild honey." He didn't call people to that, but I still believe that his austere lifestyle must have been a rebuke to many in Israel at that time.
Jesus later would point this out, again, in Matthew 11, "As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John, 'What did you go out into the desert to see a reed swayed by the wind?'" Was he some weak, kind of blowing one way blowing the other? He wasn't that way at all. Well, if not then what did you go out to see, "A man dressed in fine clothes?" No, those who wear fine clothes are in king's palaces. So, John had this austere lifestyle. He was an otherworldly figure, like those mentioned in Hebrews 11, men and women of faith, those of whom the world was not worthy, "They went about in sheepskins and goat skins, destitute, persecuted, mistreated - the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts, and mountains, and in caves, and holes in the ground."
In the Spirit of Elijah
Now, John, it is also said, went in the spirit and power of Elijah- in the spirit and power of Elijah. John's clothing immediately reminded any careful Bible student of Elijah, because that's exactly what he wore, and he also ministered out in the desert. On 2 Kings 1, when a wicked king sent some messengers out to find out whether he was going to live or die from some injury he had sustained, he was met by a man. "Is there no God in Israel that you're going out to Baal-Zebub to find out?" Etc. Well, they came back very quickly and they said with a man met us and he said what he'd told him to say. And he said, "'Well, he was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.' 'Ah,' said the king, 'That was Elijah the Tishbite.'" So that's how he knew him, what he wore and the leather belts.
And so, John is the fulfillment of this. He's the fulfillment of the last prophecy that was made in the Old Testament, Malachi 4:5-6, "Behold, I will send you the prophet Elijah, before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes, and he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, or else I'll come and strike the land with a curse." Those are the last words in your Old Testament. It's the last prophecy that was given, that Elijah would come. Now, Elijah himself didn't come, but as was said plainly, as the angel Gabriel foretold to his father Zechariah in Luke 1:17, "He will go on before the Lord, listen in the spirit and power of Elijah. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children to make the disobedient and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." So, it wasn't literally Elijah, but he came in that demeanor, in that spirit. The same lifestyle, the same manner of living, the same manner of preaching.
And this preaching was powerful. Remember how he said he had to level those high mountains. "Every mountain in hill will be leveled." So, Matthew gives us a sample of some of John's leveling, some of his bold preaching. Matthew 3:7-10, "When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones, God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." That's bold preaching, powerful preaching. That's what it looks like to level every high mountain and every hill.
Baptizing: Repentance & Forgiveness of Sins
John also came baptizing. Again, verse four. "And so John came baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." Now, the word baptize is just transliteration of the Greek word, which means to him immerse, to immerse in a liquid, to plunge. And so that's this word. Now, John was doing something radically new, something that had never been done in the Old Testament. There's no example of baptism in the Old Testament. It was something that seems historically that rose up in the inter-testamental period between the Old Testament and New Testament, when the Jews had been scattered all over the Gentile world and there were synagogues coming up, and so they would interact with Gentiles and Gentiles wanted to join the Jewish religion, they wanted to become Jews, they were converts to Judaism. And so sometimes the rabbis would tell them that they had to be cleansed of all of their filthy Gentile ways. And so, they would baptize them, they would plunge them in water.
Well, John picked up this image and was doing it, but not to Gentiles, he's doing it to Jews. And what he's saying by that is, "You're every bit is filthy and every bit as idolatrous, and every bit as on the outside, as the Gentiles are." It was the radical act. As he said, "Your having Abraham as your father doesn't save you. It has to go beyond that." And they were submitting and they were letting John baptize him, immerse them in water. That's what he was doing. And the baptism was a baptism of repentance, so they were being called unto repent of their sins. To repent means to turn in your mind and your heart away from sin to God and say, "I've been living a wicked life. I've been sinning and I need to turn away from sin now into God." It was a baptism of repentance. They're saying, "I want to live a different kind of life." And it was for the forgiveness of sins. John's ministry was to proclaim the possibility of the forgiveness of sins, that God was coming to work a deep work of restoration in the hearts of the people resulting in their forgiveness, in their reconciliation with God.
Now, John was incredibly popular. Look at verse five, the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him, confessing their sins. They were baptized by him in the Jordan River. So, John's ministry was electrifying. He prepared the way of the Lord by heightening everyone's expectation. Now, some misunderstood and thought that he himself might be the Messiah. That's the level of expectation where people's hearts were up. They're saying, "Maybe he's the Messiah," but his message was plain and clear.
IV. The Message of the King’s Herald
The Centerpiece of John the Baptist’s Ministry: Proclaiming the Infinite Greatness of the Coming King
Listen to the message of the king's herald, verse seven and eight. This was his message, "After me will come one more powerful than I. The thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." So, the centerpiece of John's ministry was getting the way, getting ready for Jesus Christ. The coming of Jesus Christ.
And John has humility here. He said, "I don't deserve to stoop down and untie the thongs of his sandals." I just want to stop and tell you what an impact that statement has made in my life. I don't deserve to touch Jesus' feet. I mean, the lowest of slaves, I don't think would even be asked to wash their master's feet. It would just be something they would do maybe occasionally. The lowest of the low would wash someone else's feet. John says, "I don't even deserve to do that. I don't deserve to touch the thongs of his sandals." Now, you think, put all that together. Jesus says, this is the greatest man that has ever lived up to that point and he said, "I don't deserve to touch Jesus' feet." Could it be? This is what the Spirit was saying to me. "Could it be, Andy, you think too highly of yourself? Could it be that your pride still needs a little more leveling? Could it be on the other hand, you think too lowly of Jesus, that you underestimate his greatness?" "I don't deserve to touch his feet." That was John's humility. "So, no, I'm not the Messiah. There's one coming after and I don't even deserve to touch his feet." Now, that kind of humility is essential to entering the kingdom of God. As Jesus said, "Blessed are the spiritual beggars, poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
The Infinite Superiority of Jesus’ Ministry
And look at the infinite superiority of Jesus's ministry, verse eight, "I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." So, John's baptism was symbolic only. It was just water only. He would immerse all the people that came in water, but Jesus, his ministry's superior because his baptism is superior. He would baptize people in the Holy Spirit. And that's what he says. Now, this is a direct fulfillment of a prophecy in Ezekiel, Ezekiel 36, 26, 27. "I will give you a new heart and I'll put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I'll put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." That is the work that Jesus does to all who true believe in him. He immerses their souls in the Holy Spirit of God, working a total internal transformation, removing the heart of stone, putting in the heart of flesh that prepares us for eternity in his heavenly kingdom.
"John's baptism was symbolic only. It was just water only. He would immerse all the people that came in water, but Jesus, his ministry's superior, because his baptism is superior. He would baptize people in the Holy Spirit."
John’s Fuller Message
Now, John's fuller message in the gospel of John shows that he understood how Jesus would save sinners like us. And so, in John, 1:29, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." And then he talked about a man on whom he saw the Spirit descend and remain as a dove. And God willing, we'll talk about that next time in Jesus baptism. But John said, "I wouldn't have recognized him. I wouldn't have known who he was, except that the one who sent me to baptize, God, told me, 'The man on whom you see the spirit descend and remain, he is the one who will baptize people in the Holy Spirit. I have seen, and I testify, that he is the son of God.'" So that's his full message. That's what John the Baptist came to say. The herald of the king, he made it plain that this coming king was actually both the son of God who had ruled over all the world, and the lamb of God, who's bloody death on the cross would take away our sins. The same. That is the good news, the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ available for all who will repent and believe.
"The herald of the king, he made it plain that this coming king was actually both the son of God who had ruled over all the world, and the lamb of God, who's bloody death on the cross would take away our sins."
V. The Spirit Calls Us to Respond
John’s Message and Jesus’ Message Are the Same … STILL
Now, in this text, the Holy Spirit is calling on all of us as we read it to respond. John's message and Jesus' message are the same. They are the same. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news. That's what we're called on to do. Well, how do we enter? Well, we recognize that Jesus is a king, that he has the right to give comprehensive commands in our lives. He has the right to meddle in everything in your life, because it's not meddle; he is your king. He has the right to tell you how to spend your money, how to spend your time. He has the right to tell you everything. He is the king.
How Do We Enter?
Also, we recognize that we have been rebelling against this kingly reign and that we need to enter and submit to it. And I think the best passage to talk about that is in Matthew 11:28-30, where Jesus invites us saying, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I'm gentle and humble in heart, and you'll find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, my burden is light." The only way I think to understand that word yoke is kingly authority. Jesus has kingly authority, the right to command, and he's calling on all of us to take our stiff necks and put them under his yoke. And if we do, if we submit to his kingly reign, we will find out that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. It really was sin that was crushing us, and Jesus is gentle and lowly in heart. So, this involves continual repentance, and faith, and submission. And we're only going to do that and live out that Christian life by the baptism that Jesus gives us, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Now, when we look at that expression, baptism of the Spirit, we're not talking about what some charismatic Christians talk about, about some second experience, where you then speak in tongues or something like that. I believe every single Christian is baptized by Jesus, into the body of Christ, at the moment of conversion. He immerses you spiritually in the spirit of God at the moment of conversion. First Corinthians 12:13 says plainly, "By one spirit, we're baptized into one body." And so that happens when we are converted, but think about what that word means, immersion in the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus said in John 14: 16, and 17, "I will ask the father and he will give you another counselor to be with you forever, the spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him or knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." And so that in dwelling Holy Spirit is in each one of you who are Christians.
So, what does that mean? The Holy Spirit is in you to enable you to put sin to death. Romans chapter 8:2. "By the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body." Romans 8:13. And that's negative, positively to imitate Christ-like virtues. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And by the Spirit, immersed in the Spirit, we have the power to be witnesses. So, God's going to give you perhaps some opportunities even this week, to be witnesses. And Acts chapter one, verse eight says, "You'll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you'll be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." So, we can be gospel witnesses. So, our responsibility is to "…be filled with the Spirit," Ephesians 5:18, and "…keep in step with the Spirit," Galatians 5:25.
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the beginning of this journey and the Gospel of Mark. We thank you for the things that we have learned. Lord, I pray that you would enable us to see the full power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, in the church, as witnesses in the holy living that we do, by putting sin to death in the way that we carry ourselves, the demeanor that we display. We thank you for the power of the Holy Spirit. We thank you that Jesus baptizes, not merely in water, but in the far richer, more powerful baptism of the Holy Spirit. We thank you also for John the Baptist, who came as a forerunner and a herald to the Eternal King. We thank you for his ministry and what we've learned from it today. In Jesus name. Amen.